The Real Jesus Doesn’t Burn

According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a w ise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is” (1 Corinthians 3:10–13).

In this portion of Scripture, the apostle Paul was essentially saying, “I have brought to you the real Jesus. I have laid a foundation of truth for you as the people of God. The real Jesus will never fail you; He will not forsake you; He will walk with you through the fire. Whatever you have to go through, He promises to go with you.”

It is important to hold on to this truth, for we are entering a difficult season as a society that is not unlike the ones people of previous times have had to pass through. You see, there have been times throughout history when the world became hostile to the Word of God, the presence of God, and ultimately the people of God.

The prophet Isaiah spoke of the social condition in such a season: “No one calls for justice, nor does any plead for truth. They trust in empty words and speak lies; they conceive evil and bring forth iniquity… Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands afar off; for truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter. So truth fails, and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey” (Isaiah 59:4, 14–15).

At this time, the people of God were about to come under persecution because they had dealt casually with God’s Word. And as Romans chapter 1 warns us, when any nation deals falsely with the truth, they are given over to a depraved mind, and they begin to do everything that the sinful heart of man has always longed to do apart from God’s restrictions. They call that which is unholy, holy and they begin to call that which is good, evil.

Furthermore, the culture itself turns against those who believe that God’s Word is the standard of truth. Many of you today cannot speak the truth of God’s Word in your workplace. As soon as you do so, you are considered a hater. You could even be in danger of losing your employment. Sadly, the Word of God warns that the true gospel will be attacked in the last days—from without as well as from within the professing Church. Many people do not realize that the gospel has been attacked for a few decades in our nation. We are just waking up and beginning to realize what has been happening.

Paul said to his young protege, Timothy, “I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables” (2 Timothy 4:1–4).

The interesting thing about turning aside “fables” is that it does not necessarily refer to lies. The Greek word simply means “good stories.” There will be a lust for entertainment in the house of God. Many people will begin to gather around storytellers rather than preachers of the gospel. These stories may have a moral to them, and they might even bring you to tears. But if they are not the Word of God, they have no power to transform your life.

Paul says in his letter to the Corinthians, “But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted—you may well put up with it!” (2 Corinthians 11:3–4). In other words, “I fear for you being so open to entertainment that somebody might come and present to you another Jesus.”

Build-A-Jesus

Build-A-Bear is a popular store in many malls throughout the country. I went there with some of my grandchildren one time and discovered what fun it is to build bears. When you go into the Build-A-Bear store, the first thing you do is pick an image of a bear that appeals to you. Does that sound familiar? In the last few decades, many churches in America have just been franchise operations for “Build-A-Jesus!” You pick an image of Jesus that you like and then find a church that caters to it.

After selecting an image, the next thing you get to do at Build-a-Bear is choose the stuffing. Just like you might get to choose what will go inside this Jesus you are building. If some of the parts of the Bible seem a little too hard, you get to eliminate it and just put all the soft stuff in there instead—all the nice, fluffy words. Then you choose his eyes—what he decides to see. Perhaps a Build-A-Jesus overlooks sin. Next you get to choose his heart. You can even write things on the heart of your Build-A-Bear! So let’s take out all the warnings about sin and anything that makes you uncomfortable. And lastly, you get to record your voice and put it inside the bear so that when you pull the string, it says what you want it to say! When you pull the string of your Build-A-Jesus, His voice sounds a lot like you! Does that sound like some of the doctrines that have gone around in this nation for a couple of decades?

Jesus says in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” You cannot get to the Father’s hand except through the real Jesus. There is no genuine security in this world if you have a Build-A-Jesus in your heart. There is only one Jesus that will survive the coming fire. Remember, you and I are going to go into a season of trial. We have warned you from this pulpit for many, many years. The world as we know it is launching a wholesale and perhaps a final rebellion against the lordship of Jesus Christ. The lawlessness is not going to get better; the deception is going to get deeper. There is going to be a revulsion against Christ and the people of God that will intensify until the Lord Himself returns and intervenes. I am writing about this today because I do not want you to burn in the fire. I do not want you to find out at some point that the Jesus you have embraced is not the real Christ.

Remember our opening scripture when Paul said, “the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is” (1 Corinthians 3:13). A trial will test the Jesus that you’ve laid hold of. I understand this from some of the past experiences in my own life. Pastor Teresa and I have gone through fire, the loss of all things. We have gone through a flood; we have gone through sickness and trials. But by the grace of God, the real Jesus has walked with us through it all. If you have a living relationship with the Son of God, nothing and no one can triumph over you!

Three Who Refused to Bow

In the book of Daniel, we read about a season when a king called Nebuchadnezzar decided he was going to erect an image of himself and command the people to bow down to it. “At the time you hear the sound of the horn, flute, harp, lyre, and psaltery, in symphony with all kinds of music, you shall fall down and worship the gold image that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up; and whoever does not fall down and worship shall be cast immediately into the midst of a burning fiery furnace” (Daniel 3:5–6). Does that sound like the day we are living in? Once again, fallen man says, “We will tell you what truth is. We will tell you what society should look like. And you will agree with us—you will bend, you will bow, and you will do it our way. If you don’t, it is going to get exceedingly hot for you.”

Three young men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, sat over the affairs of the province of Babylon. That means they had a good income; they had influence and authority. But suddenly, in the midst of all this, they had to make a choice: Do we bow to this other image or do we hold to the true image of God? And the report came that these three young men refused to bow to the cultural order of the day.

Nebuchadnezzar called them in and said, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the gold image which I have set up? Now if you…do not worship, you shall be cast immediately into the midst of a burning fiery furnace” (Daniel 3:14–15).

They answered the king, “If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up” (Daniel 3:17–18). So the king, in his fury, commanded the furnace be heated seven times hotter—so hot that it killed the people that threw the three young men into it. But suddenly he said to his counselors, “I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire; and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God” (3:25).

Untouched by the Fire

This is my point: The real Jesus doesn’t burn, nor do those who are in His hand. The flames of fire could not touch the Hebrew boys. Each of us, too, must decide today: Who will we serve? If you are serving a Build-A-Jesus, then you will probably have no problem bowing your knee. When you pull the string, your Jesus will tell you it is okay to do that. But remember, it is not the voice of the Son of God but rather your own selective truth.

The end result of these three young men refusing to bend their knee is that the laws of the land were changed. Likewise, if we want to see change in our society, God’s people are going to be required to speak the truth and they must be willing to suffer whatever the consequences may be. Oh, may God give us the love and courage to refuse to bow to anyone but the real Jesus—that we might be able to stand and make a difference in this generation!

Carter Colan

Courtesy of http://sermons.tsc.nyc/the-real-jesus-doesnt-burn/newsletter/english/

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Excuses! Excuses! The Example of Moses

Sometimes the mental pictures we have of certain Bible characters are not quite right. Once we get a particular image in our brain, it’s almost impossible to get it out.

Take Moses, for instance.

When I think of Moses, I see Charlton Heston in my mind’s eye, about to part the Red Sea. It’s Moses and then it’s Charlton Heston and then it’s Moses.

Such is the power of the silver screen that for many people over the age of 50, Charlton Heston is Moses. Once you’ve seen The Ten Commandments, no one else could ever be Moses.

If you are younger and have seen The Prince of Egypt, Moses comes to mind as a completely different character. At the very least, you’re not thinking of Charlton Heston.

All that is harmless enough, but sometimes our images get in the way of reality.

Again, Moses is a good example.

Most of us think of Moses as a mighty hero of faith. He stood up to Pharaoh and led the children of Israel across the Red Sea on dry ground. He received the Ten Commandments and spoke with God face to face.

All those things are true.

But there’s another side to the story.  If you roll the tape back to the beginning, Moses was anything but a hero. When the Lord spoke at the burning bush, he told him: “So now, go.”

Simple and clear.

“Moses, I’ve got a big job for you to do. Put your sandals back on and head for Egypt. I want you to talk to Pharaoh for me.”

The only problem was, Moses didn’t want any part of it.

He had two objections to the whole plan. First, he didn’t want to tangle with Pharaoh, the most powerful man in the world. Second, he didn’t think the people of Israel would follow him.

In short, he thought the whole idea was a disaster and that maybe God should look somewhere else for a leader.

That brings us to our text for today. We pick up the story in Exodus 3:11. But here’s the takeaway for all of us:

When God calls, don’t make excuses!

Before we jump into the text, let’s note that Moses is 80 years old. We could hardly blame him if he felt he was too old and the job too hard.

As for his two objections, both were rooted in reality. It’s not as if Moses is making this up. Pharaoh wouldn’t be glad to see him and didn’t want to let the Jews go anywhere. Who could blame him? He was getting free slave labor. As for the second objection, Moses had every reason to worry about how his countrymen would receive him. After all, he had been gone for forty years, and the last time they saw him, he was running from the law.

I don’t blame Moses for having his doubts. Psychologists talk about the “Imposter Syndrome,” which means you secretly think you aren’t qualified for your job. You’re a faker waiting to be exposed.

We’ve all felt that way at one point or another.

Moses makes five excuses to the Lord about why he isn’t qualified to do God’s will.

See if they sound familiar.

Excuse #1: I’m Unqualified

But Moses asked God,
“Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh
        and that I should bring the Israelites
        out of Egypt?” (Ex. 3:11).

Was he unqualified? The answer is yes. From a human point of view, he’s not a likely prospect to go toe to toe with Pharaoh. After all, he had been gone a long time, he had killed a man, and his reputation wasn’t the best. If you were picking candidates to lead God’s people out of Egypt, Moses would not have been at the top of the list.

But God!

That’s the answer. God’s whole reply can be summed up in five words: “I will be with you.” That’s the bottom line. Nothing else matters. If God is with Moses, then he cannot fail.

When Moses says, “I can’t do this,” God’s answer is, “You’re right. You can’t, but I can.”

Excuse #2: They Don’t Know Me

Then Moses asked God,
        “If I go to the Israelites and say to them,
‘The God of your ancestors has sent me

        to you,’ and they ask me,
‘What is his name?’
        what should I tell them?”  (Ex. 3:13).

It’s true. He had been gone for 40 years. A whole generation had arisen that knew nothing about Moses. If they heard anything about him, it would have been that he was a fugitive from the law.

He killed an Egyptian, hid his body, and then he ran off into the desert. No one had seen him since then.

So this excuse contains a kernel of truth. But that’s not the issue. The question is not, “Who are you?” but rather, “Who sent you?”

That reminds me of a story from the days when Richard Daley (the father, not the son) was mayor of Chicago. In those days you got a job through patronage. You knew someone who knew someone who could get you a job.

One day a man went to a certain office asking for a job. But no one knew him, so the question became, “Who sent you?” The answer came back, “No one.” The man in charge famously replied, “We don’t want nobody nobody sent.”

That’s a good principle to remember in spiritual matters. If you come on your own authority, we don’t have time for you.

God knew the people would ask Moses that question, so he prepared him with the answer: “I AM” has sent me to you” (Ex. 3:14). That simple phrase contains the essential truth about who God is. He is the personal, eternal, self-existent God of the universe. He always was, he always is, he always will be.

He is above all things, beneath all things, behind all things, and in front of all things.

By him all things hold together.
In him all things have their being.
Without him, the universe does not exist.

Think of it this way. According to his name, he is the essence of whatever you need at the moment.

I am your strength.
I am your courage.
I am your health.
I am your hope.
I am your supply.
I am your defender.
I am your deliverer.
I am your forgiveness.
I am your joy.
I am your future.

God is saying to you and me, “I am whatever you need whenever you need it.”

He is the all-sufficient God for every crisis.

Go to the elders of Israel.
Tell them what I told you.
They will believe you.

Go to Pharaoh.
He won’t cooperate.
I’ll work miracles.
He will let you go.

Plunder the Egyptians on your way out.
Ask for gold and silver.
They’ll give it to you.

In other words, don’t worry about the future. God has a plan that covers all the details.

Excuse #3: They Won’t Believe Me!

So now Moses has another “What if” question:

“What if they won’t believe me and
        will not obey me but say,
‘The Lord did not appear to you’?” (Ex. 4:1).

That’s very possible.
Likely, in fact.

Moses had a checkered past. After being raised by Pharaoh’s daughter, he rejected Egypt and chose to suffer with God’s people. But then he murdered an Egyptian, covered it up, and ran away.

He’s been gone 40 years.

Now he shows up saying God spoke to him in a burning bush in the desert.

There is no way the Jews will believe that story.
It sounds crazy.

God knew that, so he asked Moses a question:

        “What is that in your hand?”
        “A staff,” he replied (Ex. 4:2).

We’re talking about a shepherd’s staff. It was a walking stick. Every shepherd had one. There was nothing special about it. Moses no doubt found it in the wilderness.

Several years ago, I had a bike accident that broke three bones in my left leg and led to three surgeries. I was laid up for almost three months. During that time, my brother-in-law Mark carved an ornate cane with a fancy top and a four-toed rubber bottom. It’s the only cane I’ve ever used. It’s quite a treasure because Mark made it by hand.

Moses’ staff was nothing like that. It was the sort of staff you found in the desert, used for a while, and then threw away.

What’s the point? God will now use the ordinary to do the extraordinary. He told Moses to throw the staff on the ground, where it turned into a snake. God told him to pick it up again, turning it back into a wooden staff.

By the way, the hard part was picking it up again!

God has three answers for Moses. The first was the wooden staff (vv. 2-5), showing that God can work miracles with ordinary objects. The second was the leprous hand (vv. 6-8), proving that God has power over the worst diseases. The third was turning water from the Nile into blood, which was a preview of the first plague (vv. 8-9).

This was God’s way of saying to Moses, “I’ve got your back. As long as you obey, my power will convince the people God is with you.”

Don’t miss the original question. Moses asked God, “What if.” We all want to bargain with God. Something in us makes us slightly suspicious of God’s motives.

“Now Lord, what if I get in trouble for speaking up for you at the office, what are you going to do then?”

“If I volunteer to teach Sunday School and the kids turn out to be brats, can I get out of it?”

“And by the way, about tithing my money, if I give my money and then can’t make my car payment, will you make it for me?”

Moses had the same problem we all have.

He knew exactly what God wanted him to do.
It was perfectly clear.

“Moses, you’re the man to lead my people out of Egypt.”

That was the whole job description. Moses’ problem wasn’t his knowledge. He knew exactly what God wanted. His problem wasn’t his education or his family background.

God had already taken care of all that.

Moses’ problem was fear. He was afraid it wouldn’t work out right if he did what God wanted him to do.

Something would go wrong.

Like maybe the Pharaoh would have him thrown to the crocodiles, or the children of Israel would laugh at him, or he would end up trapped by the Red Sea and only a miracle could get him out.

Moses wanted assurance of the result before he took the first step.

So he’s out there by the burning bush trying to “what if” the Almighty.

We do the same thing.

That’s why we hesitate to obey God.
We’re trying to “what if” the Almighty.

When God calls you, it will work out one way or the other. All your little “what ifs” are just so much wasted time.

And that really is the issue, isn’t it?

As long as you are saying “what if,” you aren’t obeying.
You’re negotiating. And there’s a big difference.

To obey means you say, “Lord, I’m ready. Now you work out the details.” Negotiating means saying, “Lord, you work out the details, and then I’ll obey.”

All Moses has to do is obey, and God will take care of the rest.

If Moses needs a miracle, he’ll get one.
If he needs an answer to prayer, it’s on the way.

He’ll get whatever he needs as long as he obeys God.

For Moses there was one issue and one issue only.
Will I obey God?

Excuse #4: I Can’t Do It

But Moses replied to the Lord,
“Please, Lord, I have never been eloquent—
either in the past or recently or

        since you have been speaking
               to your servant—
        because my mouth and my tongue
        are sluggish” (Ex 4:10).

Evidently, he thought the Lord would fix his problem:

“If I sign up for your team, you’ll make me eloquent. That’s the deal, right?”

God’s answer comes in the form of a question:

“Who placed a mouth on humans?
Who makes a person mute or deaf,
        seeing or blind?
Is it not I, the Lord?” (Ex. 4:11).

God says to Moses, “Yes, you are inadequate because I made you that way. But your weakness is part of my plan.”

God promises to give Moses whatever he needs in spite of his weakness. All Moses has to do is go and speak to Pharaoh.

The rest is up to God.

Excuse # 5: I don’t want to do it

“Moses said, “Please, Lord, send someone else.”
Then the Lord’s anger burned against Moses” (Ex. 4:13-14).

At last, we get to the heart of the problem.

God has called Moses, and he doesn’t want to do it.

No wonder God got angry.

But even now God has an answer to this objection. If Moses can’t speak, his brother Aaron will speak for him. Perhaps Moses had stage fright, or perhaps he had trouble putting his words together. Maybe he was a fast thinker but a slow talker.

God’s solution is simple. He will tell Moses what to say. Moses will tell Aaron who will do the public speaking.

Aaron must have been persuasive and a natural leader because he founded the Levitical priesthood.

Moses will be “like God” to him.

It’s a workable solution, but not without problems. A few months down the road, while Moses was talking with God on Mount Sinai, Aaron would do nothing while the people built a golden calf.

What is in Your Hand?

I remember a powerful sermon on this text by Jack Wyrtzen, founder of Word of Life, called, “What Is That In Your Hand?” Jack loved reminding his listeners that a wooden staff is not very beautiful. It’s just a staff you used to herd the sheep.

But God took the thing Moses depended on and worked a miracle.

We all have gifts, talents, and abilities.
We all have handicaps of one sort or another.

We have things God has given us.
We have doubts and insecurities.

We are just clay pots into which God has poured the treasure of the gospel. That’s always been God’s plan.

His power.
Our Weakness.

Paul said it this way in 2 Corinthians 4:7:

“We have this treasure in jars of clay,
         to show that the surpassing power
         belongs to God and not to us.”

Scholars tell us the “jars of clay” were cheap, ordinary, everyday clay pots. The kind of pots a housewife might use for milk or soup. They might even be used as a “chamber pot.”

Easily cracked.
Not long-lasting.

That’s you and me.
That’s all of us.

A pot has value if it is useful to its owner. It’s not worth much by itself. But though it is cracked and scarred, and though it will be eventually thrown away and replaced, the pot holds something precious.

It contains God’s power.

When we get to the end of all our excuses, God says to us what he said to Moses: “Trust me. I can do more through you than you can imagine. Make yourself available to me, and I will do amazing things in your life.”

Two Quick Applications

1. God has the same question for you and me: “What is in your hand?”

A staff may not seem like much, but when you place it at God’s disposal, it can be part of a miracle. Everyone has “something” in their hands.

Your “something” won’t necessarily be the same “something” your neighbor has.

You may have a gift for writing.
You may have a talent for singing.
You may have a desire to care for the needy.
You may have financial resources.
You may have time to help others.
You may have a green thumb for gardening.

You may be a painter, architect, teacher, nurse, accountant, or administrator.

You may have children or grandchildren who need your guidance.

You may teach Sunday School, or perhaps you can lead a missions trip, or maybe you will run the soundboard during the second service.

You may be a coach who can teach kids how to hit a baseball, play half-court defense, or pole vault.

You may know how to program a computer or how to make money on social media.

You may be a photographer, calligrapher, fisherman, or hunter.

Perhaps you can make reels on Instagram or TikTok videos that millions of people will watch.

Don’t waste one second complaining you can’t do what someone else can do. As I survey this long list I just made, I’m happy to report I can do almost none of those things. Perhaps one benefit of being further along in life is knowing what I can’t do so I can spend more time doing what I can do.

God has placed “something” in your hands.
Use it for his glory!

2. God will equip you with everything you need to do his will.

Moses is the only person in history to whom God spoke from a burning bush. The only one!

That didn’t happen to Abraham, David, Joshua, Nehemiah, or anyone else in the Bible.

Moses had seen God’s glory.
And he said, “Send someone else.”

No wonder God was angry with him.

It’s one thing to wait for confirmation. But while we wait, we ought to think and pray and read the Bible and consult with wise counselors.

At some point, “waiting by faith” becomes “stalling by faith.”

There’s a little Moses in all of us.
Don’t make God angry by saying no when he calls.

When God calls us, will we obey?
When we read it in the Word of God, will we obey?
When we hear it from the pulpit, will we obey?
When we discover it in our quiet time, will we obey?
When a friend gives us a piece of advice we recognize is of the Lord, will we obey?

When we dare to say “yes” to God, even when it hurts, that’s when the miracles begin.

It’s a big step forward spiritually when we can say,

“Lord, I’ll get involved.
I’ll stop sitting on the sidelines.
Here am I. Send me.”

Then, and only then, the miracles kick in, the answers begin to come, and the sun begins to shine again.

Once we obey, God is obligated to take care of us.
As He did for Moses, so he will do for us.

This world is in deep need.
There is trouble everywhere.
God has called us to go with the Good News.

He will not let us down,
He will not let us off,
He will not let us go.

So we come again to the bottom line:
When God calls, don’t make excuses!

May God give us the grace to say,
“Here am I, Lord! Send me!”

Ray Pritchard

Keep Believing Ministries

 

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Me, Myself and Lies: The Spiritual Dangers of Isolation

 

 

Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment. (Proverbs 18:1)

In March of 1876, Alexander Graham Bell made the first-ever phone call, which, in time, came to dramatically transform how we relate to one another. On the surface, the communication revolution has seemed to render isolation something of an endangered species — we’re more connected than ever, right? And yet one wonders if isolation eventually mutated into something more subtle and yet equally dangerous (perhaps even more dangerous for being subtle). At least one prominent sociologist fears that’s the case:

We are lonely but fearful of intimacy. Digital connections and the sociable robot may offer the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship. Our networked life allows us to hide from each other, even as we are tethered to each other. We’d rather text than talk. (Sherry Turkle, Alone Together, 1)

Or, as the subtitle of her book says, “We expect more from technology and less from each other.” And whenever we expect less of each other, we inevitably drift further and further from each other, leaving us as isolated (or more) as the lonely man before the advent of the telephone.

What Kind of Isolation?

Some may read the last few paragraphs and quietly envy a time when no one called, emailed, texted, or (worst of all?) left a voicemail. A life with less people actually might sound kind of appealing. You may struggle to relate to the possible dangers of isolation. Wisdom, however, knows the hazards hiding in the shadows of our seclusion: “Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment” (Proverbs 18:1).

What kind of isolation did the wise man have in mind? The next verse gives us a clearer picture:

A fool takes no pleasure in understanding,
but only in expressing his opinion. (Proverbs 18:2)

He doesn’t want to hear what others think; he only wants someone to hear what he thinks. This strikes a major nerve in the book of Proverbs. As this wise father prepares his son for the realities of life in this wild and menacing world, he wants him to see that some of the greatest threats are stowaways, striking from within. He warns him, in particular, about the ruinous power of unchecked pride.

Be not wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. (Proverbs 3:7)

Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes?
There is more hope for a fool than for him. (Proverbs 26:12)

There is a way that seems right to a man,
but its end is the way to death. (Proverbs 14:12)

The proud man, we learn, breaks out against all judgment because he invites destruction on himself. Arrogance makes his isolation dangerous: I don’t spend more time with other people because I don’t need other people — because I know better than other people. This pride distinguishes isolation from the virtues of solitude, which God encourages again and again (Psalm 46:10Matthew 6:6Mark 1:35).

The ways that lead to death are the ways we choose for ourselves while refusing meaningful community — relationships marked by consistent honesty, counsel, correction, and encouragement.

Alone with Our Desires

What draws us into the spiritual shadows of isolation? Our own selfish desires. “Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire.” Whenever someone leaves or avoids the community he needs, he has been lured away by sinful desires — desires for privacy or autonomy, for comfort or ease, for money or sex, even for vindication or vengeance. At root, it’s our desires that divide and isolate us:

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. (James 4:1–2)

“Whenever someone leaves or avoids the community he needs, he has been lured away by sinful desires.”

The desires that keep us from one another are varied, but they’re all rooted in selfish discontentment: We want and do not have, so we excuse ourselves from love — either by attacking one another or by abandoning one another. Our desires, Scripture says, are what isolate and undo us (Jude 1:18–19). Consider, for instance, the lazy man:

The desire of the sluggard kills him,
for his hands refuse to labor.
All day long he craves and craves,
but the righteous gives and does not hold back. (Proverbs 21:25–26)

The sluggard dies in sin because he’s been hardened by its deceitfulness: “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:12–13). Whenever we isolate ourselves from the perspective, encouragement, and exhortations of others, we open ourselves wide to the deceitfulness of sin. And why is the deceitfulness of sin so compelling? Because Satan studies and preys on our desires. He’s a master gardener, carefully seeding selfishness, discontentment, and bitterness in just the right places.

Consistent, meaningful community, however, exposes and thwarts him. It reveals just how thin and shallow his lies are, and just how far our desires can sometimes wander.

Sweetness of a Friend

The opposite of soul-wrecking isolation, though, is a life deeply rooted in the hearts and counsel of good friends. “Where there is no guidance, a people falls,” Proverbs 11:14 warns, “but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.” As is so often the case, wisdom, fruitfulness, and safety grow out of humility — out of a willingness to submit our thoughts and plans, dreams and desires, sins and weaknesses to someone else.

“The most effective and fruitful people are those who distrust themselves enough to diligently seek out guidance.”

The most effective and fruitful people are those who distrust themselves enough to diligently seek out guidance — not three or four times over a lifetime, but several times each month, maybe even each week. “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed” (Proverbs 15:22; see also 20:18) — notice, not just advisers, but many advisers. And not just many advisers, but the right advisers: “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24). Online articles, sermons, and podcasts can be a great gift, but we all need flesh-and-blood, life-on-life perspective for our particular personalities, struggles, and circumstances. We need friends who can look us in the eye and see what no one online can.

So who are your advisors? Who knows you well enough to challenge your plans and decisions? When’s the last time someone pushed back on something in your life? If you can’t remember, you may be more isolated than you think, at least in the ways that really matter.

Wounds of Togetherness

One way Satan isolates us is by convincing us that the counsel and correction we need is burdensome, not life-giving. Both Scripture and experience, however, testify against him:

Better is open rebuke
than hidden love.
Faithful are the wounds of a friend;
profuse are the kisses of an enemy. . . .

Oil and perfume make the heart glad,
and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel. (Proverbs 27:5–9)

Life in rigorous community is not a stifled life, but an enhanced one. Faithful counsel may wound us in the moment, but only so that it might heal and preserve us. As Ray Ortlund says,

When iron sharpens iron, it creates friction. When a friend wounds you, it hurts. So, do you see? There’s a difference between hurting someone and harming someone. There is a difference between someone being loved and someone feeling loved. Jesus loved everyone well, and some people felt hurt. So they crucified him. If we don’t understand this, then every time we feel hurt we will look for someone to blame and punish. We will make our emotional state someone else’s fault. (Proverbs, 168)

Don’t judge your church or small group or friendship by how much it hurts when hard words come. Ask what those hard words are producing in you over time. Is the friction you feel slowly drawing you closer to Christ and making you more like him? Has the pain you’ve felt in certain conversations led you deeper into repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10)? If so, then your wounds may be healing wounds from faithful friends — rare friends who are worth keeping at whatever cost.

Antidote for Isolation

What practical advice would I give to someone who realizes he is more isolated than he thought? My first piece of advice would be to find, join, and serve a local church.

Friendship is a great weapon against spiritual isolation, but one meaningful covenant with a church family is worth an army of friendships. When our desires begin to harden us to God, his word, and his will, friends may stay and fight with us, but our church has vowed to stay and fight — until death ushers us together, sinless, into the presence of Jesus.

Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24–25)

Isolation dies in church families that know they need, and want, to gather. For them, Sunday mornings aren’t a sweet addition to a full and happy life; they are the foundation of a full and happy life. God means for us to know him, serve him, enjoy him, and become like him as a part of Christ’s body. The more isolated we become, the more we cut ourselves off from the fountains of his grace, mercy, and guidance.

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Who Do You Trust in This Chaotic World?

Trust is defined as the firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability or strength of someone or something. Trust is to have confidence in someone or something that they will not harm you. All of us regardless of age, background, or location in life trust in something or someone. What do you trust in every morning when you get up? What do you trust in throughout the day? What do you trust in when you go to bed at night? Whose strength do you rely on? Who or what is truth in your life? All of us trust in things or people that we build our lives on? Sit down a minute, be honest and reflect what you put your confidence in day in and day out. What or who has the priority of trust in your heart? Trust is the bricks that we build our life on. Many trust their own abilities. Many trust their bank accounts and stock portfolios, many trust their relationships with people, many trust their intelligence and ability to discern, many trust a political idea or a secular philosophy, and many trust their religion. What or who do you trust?

Many of us have trust issues. We have been burned in the past in a relationship and are fearful to put our trust in anything. The world around builds mistrust. We are led to believe no one really cares about me. We fear to trust. We are afraid to get burned again. We are tired of trusting in the liars and the deceivers who we have believed the lie or the mirage and have been greatly disappointed. Things will always let you down, people will so often hurt you and fade away when you need them. Our trust issues lead to disillusionment and hopelessness in life. Our trust issues build fear and worry in our lives.

You become what you trust in. Psalm 115:8: Those who make them (idols) become like them; so do all who trust in them. We reflect like a mirror the object of our trust.

We were created in the image of God and are wired to trust in Him. He does not lie. He is faithful to His Word. He is able. He is truth. He is 100% reliable all the time. He will never let you down. It is impossible for God to lie and it is impossible for him to be unfaithful to His Word.

Romans 10:11: For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him [whoever adheres to, trusts in, and relies on Him] will not be disappointed [in his expectations].

Whoever means whoever. Anyone of any race, any location, any age, any gender, and any occupation that trusts in God will never be disappointed in his or her expectations. No one else can make that promise.

Psalm 22:4: To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

“Put to shame” in the Hebrew means “to be disappointed, to be ashamed to the point you are pale and blush, to fail in hope and expectation, to be confounded, be troubled and disturbed, and to be confused.”

We will never be disappointed if we build our life on our trust in God and are not swayed by the rumblings of the world. We will never be embarrassed by our trust in God. We will never be ashamed when we trust in God. We will never be troubled or disturbed to trust in God for He will not fail us. Only when we trust in God does rescue and deliverance come. Only He can bring us to safety and is a rock and refuge in this troubled and uncertain world.

God wants us to put Him first in our lives. He wants us to put our confidence and trust in Him, all the time, in everything. God wants us to let go and let God and to trust Him without reservation. This is not something that is done overnight. It takes time to build trust. We need to build our trust in God one day at a time.

Psalm 31:15: My times are in your hands; deliver me from the hands of my enemies, from those who pursue me.

We must trust God and put our times, passions, desires, goals, and dreams in His hands.

Psalm 9:10: And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.

The key is to know His name. Know who He is and what He promises. He promises He will never forsake you, ever. He will never desert you, never. Do you believe it? He promises that He will provide for you. Always. Do you believe it?

Proverbs 3:5,6: Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.

We cannot trust half-heartedly. We must be all in. We trust Him with all our heart, and we have to not lean and rely on our abilities and our own understanding. It is a child-like confidence in our Heavenly Father. We learn to acknowledge Him every day in everything and He promises He will direct our lives. He will guide us to where we need to be to fulfill His plans for our lives. It all begins with trust.

But as for me, I trust in You, O Lord, I say, “You are my God.”  Psalm 31:14  NASB

In Hebrew, bāṭaḥ (trust) expresses that sense of well-being and security that results from having something or someone in whom to place confidence. It is to be secure and fear nothing.

In general, the Old Testament contrasts the validity of that sense of confidence that comes from reliance upon God with the folly of any other kind of security. It is made plain that all such trust will end in disgrace and shame, whereas those whose hope is in God alone will be delivered from their enemies (Ps 22:4).

Notice how David expresses a sense of security and confidence. “You are my God.”  There is a lot packed into this declaration. First, it declares the YHVH is David’s only God.  In a polytheistic world, this declaration matters.  David is restricting any help from the divine to this God, and this God alone.  David is no Laban, keeping a few household gods on the side in case one or the other failed to perform.  If YHVH doesn’t come through, David is SOL.

Second, David asserts that he totally relies on YHVH.  His well-being and security, top priority issues in this poem, are going to be resolved only by YHVH’s hand.  He is placing no confidence in any other solution.  This is not a matter of believing some creed or dogma.  This is hope, David’s only hope.  While trusting in men may be expected to fail, with God everything is at stake.

Trust in God is more than a motto on the back of a coin.  In fact, we might wonder if biblical “trust” can even be understood apart from Hebrew thought.  The word here is batah.  It seems to have no cognates in other ancient languages.  That makes it uniquely Hebrew.  The fundamental meaning of the verb is to rely upon, to place confidence in, to experience well-being and security.

There are several Hebrew words that are translated “trust” in the Old Testament. One in particular, “batach”, stands out in terms of what it looks like to trust in God when viewed in its pictographic form. 

Gesenius’ Hebrew Lexicon defines “trust” as; “to set one’s hope and confidence upon”, “to be secure fearing nothing”

Let’s next take a look at the pictograph of each letter that forms this word “trust” (batach) and see how it can help us to wrap not only our thinking but our actions around the valuable revelation of this Hebrew word.

The Hebrew letters in “betach” are “bet”, “tet”, and, a “chet”.

Bet: Inside

“Bet” is the first letter of the Hebrew word “betach” and it is a picture of a tent, home or family. It speaks of being on the inside, abiding, and rest.

There is no security or trust outside of Him. In Him, there is nothing to fear. We are safe and protected inside God’s tent and can enjoy the warmth of His presence.

Tet: Wrapped

The second letter of the Hebrew word for trust “betach” is a “tet” and it is a picture of something wrapped.

The concept of wrapping can be related to how a baby loves to be swaddled and wound tightly in a blanket. It seems to be soothing to babies to be bundled in this way. We are securely wrapped in the blanket of God’s love and protection when we trust in Him.

Chet: Fence

“Chet” is depicted with a fence or a wall and is attached to the concepts of surrounding and protecting. This pictograph differs in thought from “bet”, in that, it speaks more of boundaries. Our part of trusting God as it concerns this letter is for us to stay within the boundaries of God’s purposed and determined ways. God has placed a divine fence around us that protects us against our enemies. God is not obligated to protect us when we step outside of those fences He has built for our protection. 

Trust in God is living without concerns.  It is the sense of confidence that comes from God’s total reliability.  It is participating in the community that depends on God’s past history. To believe is to remember. Faith is the feeling I have when I experience the reality of God’s care.  It does not exist independently of my experience.  It is not something out there, waiting for me to affirm.  It is the present-moment reliability of God’s hand in my life. My faith is the confident expectation that God is God, that what He does is good and that He cares for me. Trust is the continued expectation of deliverance.

Without trust, no relationship can last.  It really doesn’t matter if you have legally binding documents, a contract, a negotiated peace treaty or death-bed promises.  Without trust, it’s just so much air. We cannot have a relationship with God unless we trust Him. 

So, what does it mean to trust?  If we look at the uses of batah, we find that it often describes false security.  The Bible tells us that men trust in riches, property, weapons (military strength), places, and other people.  All of these are misplaced.  None will last.  Most importantly, the Bible condemns trust in myself.  Men who look to themselves for security are not only foolish, they are sinful.  When this use of the word batah was translated into Greek, the translation was pepoithenai (to put confidence in), but when the word batah was translated into Greek when it expressed trust in God, then the Greek word was elpizein (to hope in).  That distinction helps us understand the true nature of trust.  It is not principally about the context of my ordinary life security.  It is about the final outcome of my confidence.

God is completely different then anything else we trust in.  He is utterly reliable, completely faithful and totally trustworthy.  He is my only real hope.  God is Who He says He is.  That is my hope.  That is why I put all my confidence in Him. Without trusting in God our hopes and dreams eventually will vanish into thin air. Proverbs 10:28 says the expectation of the wicked will come to nothing and perish.

The hope in God is not a wish-fulfillment, but a confident expectation.  God’s chief characteristic is His faithfulness and trustworthiness  These characteristics show themselves most clearly to a believer who recognizes that he is utterly without personal resources.  The believer must trust completely on a gracious and dependable God.  Putting one’s confidence in anything but the sovereign God is complete foolishness.  In the Bible, there is a long list of false grounds for security.  In particular, the Bible heaps scorn upon those who live in complacency, never having evaluated the flimsy basis for such complacency (Isa. 32:9-11, Ezk. 30:9, Amos 6:1). 

Trust is a very serious word for a Christian.  We often say that we trust God, but our actions deny these claims.  Recovery begins when we honestly examine our lives and commit ourselves to do something about what we find.  A fearless inventory of our behavior usually reveals that we are still trying to take care of things by ourselves.  We really don’t think God is reliable in every area of life.  That is not trust.  Trust says, “God, you are able.  I put all my eggs in your basket.  I’ll do whatever you want me to do, but unless you come through for me, I’m finished”.   Start today.  Pick the one thing that you have tried over and over to fix in your life but nothing happens.  Decide to trust.

Do your actions show that you trust God, or is “trust” just another word in your religious vocabulary?

2 Kings 18:5,6: He trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel, so that there was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those who were before him. For he held fast to the Lord. He did not depart from following Him but kept the commandments that the Lord commanded Moses. 

To trust in the Lord is to hold fast to Him in all circumstances, to cling to Him always and to not depart from following Him. He is at the forefront. He is the one who leads. He is the one who directs. We know his unfathomable love for us and that He will never let us down. He will never lead us astray. To trust God is to keep His Word.

Psalm 27 is a beautiful illustration of trust in the Lord.

Psalm 27:1ff The Lord is my light and my salvation—
Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the refuge and fortress of my life—
Whom shall I dread? Though an army encamp against me, My heart will not fear; Though war arise against me, Even in this I am confident.

 
One thing I have asked of the Lord, and that I will seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the Lord [in His presence] all the days of my life, To gaze upon the beauty [the delightful loveliness and majestic grandeur] of the Lord And to meditate in His temple.
 
For in the day of trouble He will hide me in His shelter; In the secret place of His tent He will hide me; He will lift me up on a rock.

And now my head will be lifted up above my enemies around me,
In His tent I will offer sacrifices with shouts of joy; will sing, yes, I will sing praises to the Lord.

Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud; Be gracious and compassionate to me and answer me.

When You said, “Seek My face [in prayer, require My presence as your greatest need],” my heart said to You,“ Your face, O Lord, I will seek [on the authority of Your word].”

Although my father and my mother have abandoned me, Yet the Lord will take me up [adopt me as His child].

Wait for and confidently expect the Lord; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for and confidently expect the Lord.

Psalm 37:5: Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.

God will always act when we trust in Him. God never sleeps. God is a mover, He will constantly act on our behalf when we trust in Him. We need to commit our way to Him always and not waver.

Psalm 62:8: Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us. Selah

Who do you pour out your heart to? Have you ever tried to pour it out before the Lord? He hears. He understands. He knows. He cares. You can trust Him at all times and in all circumstances. He will not fail you.

Psalm 118:5ff: Out of my distress I called on the Lord; the Lord answered me and set me free.The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?The Lord is on my side as my helper; I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man.It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes. I was pushed hard, so that I was falling, but the Lord helped me.

What do you take refuge in when times get hard? Where do you run to for refuge? Who do you call on to set you free? Who is your helper? God is the only refuge that can set you free and deliver you from every burden and sustain you through every difficulty. No politician or philosophy can make that promise.

Psalm 56:3,11: When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me?

We will never be afraid when we trust in God. Fear loses its hold on us when trust in God grows in our lives. Fear and worry are a manifestation of our lack of trust in God.

Psalm 112:7,8a: He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord.His heart is steady; he will not be afraid,

Trust in God is a firm foundation in the uncertainty of our times. We can be fixed, steady, stable and solid no matter what happens around us. Our confidence is in God, not the daily news.

Psalm 32:8: I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.

God promises His instruction and counsel if we only trust in Him. He will guide us every moment of the day if we trust Him.

Jeremiah sets forth a wonderful promise to those who trust in the Lord.

Jeremiah 17:7,8: Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
whose trust is the Lord.He is like a tree planted by water,
that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes,  for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”

Four Practical steps in learning to trust God.

  1. You have to make a decision to not worry or fear and make an intentional decision to trust God. Trust and worry or fear are mutually exclusive. You cannot trust God if you are full of worry and fear. The only way to truly trust God is that you have to decide to trust God. And you can’t trust God if you’re worrying about the things you’re trusting Him with. Once you make this decision, you’ll soon find yourself having to practice it regularly. The devil will begin to hit you with situations and stressors that cause you to worry and be anxious and you’re going to have to remind yourself of the decision you’ve made. Philippians 4:6,7: Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Pray is a key in trusting God. We are not be anxious, fearful or full of worry about anything. We give it to God and He will give us peace.

Matthew 6:25ff: “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?[g] 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.                                                                      

Anxiety and trust cannot coexist together. God will take care of every need in our lives if we will only trust Him. Anxiety and worry never benefits us in anyway. They are traits of those who do not trust God.

  • Constantly monitor your thoughts and feelings.

The battlefield of life is in our mind. Our minds and thoughts are constantly speaking to us. We are also constantly bombarded by talking heads that are trying to influence us with words. We must refuse negative thought patterns and refuse to allow our minds to sink into thoughts of anxiety, worry, unworthiness and hopelessness. You control your thoughts and we can change the way we think. We must be the guardians of what we think. Proverbs 23:7: For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he. We must train our thoughts and minds to trust God and reject the noise of the world that builds mistrust in our Heavenly Father. God will help us to be aware of thoughts and begin to think right. Trusting God begins with our thoughts. Romans 12:2: And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. Our transformation begins by not conforming our thinking to the world, but renewing our minds to trust Him and His Word.

  • Saturate your mind and heart with the Word of the God

In order to take those worrisome thoughts captive, you need something to replace it with. Reading the Word of God is such an important part of our learning to trust God. Matthew 4:4: But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Just as you need physical food to survive physically, you need spiritual food to live spiritually. We must feed on His Word daily, reading it, thinking about it, digesting it, meditating on it and memorizing it. The Bible is the Word of Life. It gives light, it gives wisdom. It reveals to us the heart of God.  Psalm 119:9,10,11,42 How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.10 With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. then shall I have an answer for him who taunts me, for I trust in your word.

2 Timothy 3:16,17: All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of Godb] may be complete, equipped for every good work.

We are feeding our minds daily. They are constantly being bombarded with the images and words of this world. We must saturate our minds with the Word daily. It starts with a simple reading of Scripture every day and builds from there. It starts with spending time with God and being still in His presence. These are the building blocks of trust that will transform your life.

  • Replace the negative thoughts and feelings with the promises of God

The Bible contains thousands of promises concerning life, relationships and the circumstances we face daily. How many do we know? We need to build the promises of God in our thought life. Each promise is built upon the faithfulness and steadfast love of God. God is 100% reliable on His promises. It is impossible for God to lie (Hebrews 6:18, Titus 1:2).

Numbers 23:19: God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it? God’s name is Yahweh in the Bible and means the God who acts. God wants to fulfill His promises in your life but you must have faith in those promises. You must trust God that He is faithful to bring them to pass. Instead of dwelling on the negative or being filled with anxiety and worry, let the promises of God flood your mind and fill your heart.

God never changes His mind on His promises. His promises are God speaking into our lives.

2 Peter 1:3-4: His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence,by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. 

Romans 4:19-21: He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness[b] of Sarah’s womb. 20 No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21 fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 

Abraham is considered the father of those whose believe because he never wavered on the promises of God. He was fully convinced that God was able and willing to do whatever He promised. He trusted God would bring it to pass His promises even in the most dire circumstances. God is always faithful to what He promised when we trust in Him and believe His Word.

Pray the promises of God. Claim the promises of God over your life. Our faith and trust in God is the key to God’s promises becoming fulfilled in our lives. The world is filled with lies many of which are very deceitful and alluring. But these lies will let us down when we need them the most. These lies cannot bring us peace. These lies cannot deliver us. These lies disappoint and can give us hope. These lies are built on sinking sand. The Bible says our spiritual enemy the devil is the father of lies (John 8:44). He bombards us with these lies daily (You don’t need God; you are unworthy, you are worthless, you are not good enough; God hates you; God doesn’t care for you; you will never amount to anything; you cannot make it; no one loves you; God doesn’t hear you; you are a failure). We have to decide daily whose words are we going to believe. The father of lies or our Heavenly Father? The more we learn to trust in God, the more we trust His Word. His promises are true and cannot fail when we believe them without wavering. Our trust in God will blossom as we stand on His promises and have confident expectation that He will deliver on His promises in our lives.

Isaiah 41:13: For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I am the one who helps you.”

What a wonderful promise from God. It is His invitation of trust is to take Him by the right hand and let Him help you and lead you. What comfort to know we can go thru life holding God’s hand.

Deuteronomy 7:9: Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations.

Yahweh is the faithful God, the God who keeps His promises, who is full of mercy and love and keeps His word to a thousand generations.

Lamentations 3:21-26: But this I call to mind,  and therefore I have hope:

22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end;they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”25 The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.26 It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.

Great is God’s faithfulness! It never ceases. God’s Word to you is to prove Him. Take Him at His Word. See if He is not faithful to His mighty promises. What do you have to lose?

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Ecclesiastes and Christian Living : Contentment

By John W. Ritenbaugh

Not until I purposely took a break from this series on Ecclesiastes did I realize, while meditating on some of the material we have covered, that we have been covering a sub-theme that flows just below the surface. Solomon never names it directly, but it is nonetheless present, especially in chapters 4-6. Perhaps, if I can put a modern name to this theme, it will help bring some clarity: It is materialism. Solomon is showing that materialism is a poor source for seeking satisfaction in one’s life.

Materialism is the modern label given to the ancient philosophical doctrine that physical well-being and material possessions constitute the highest good in life. Here in this Western world, our cultures have been virtually overwhelmed by this thinking.

Materialism Is Not the Answer

Before proceeding any further, we will quickly summarize Ecclesiastes to this point. Recall that, in chapter 1, Solomon essentially states that life is meaningless. This is the starting point of his thesis, which ends with him declaring that the whole duty of man is to fear God and keep His commandments (Ecclesiastes 12:13). He thus states dogmatically that, despite what carnal men say, a clear purpose exists for life, and the concepts of materialism do not drive God’s purpose for this world.

Thus, in chapter 2, he immediately launches into what he had learned about his works of building material things like houses and gardens and seeking even greater wealth. His conclusion? All of these material achievements were nothing but vanity, a grasping after wind.

He finds no real, sustained profit in them, nothing that truly added to his quality of life, no lasting fulfillment. He does not mean they resulted in no sense of achievement or passing pleasure, but that their fruit never truly fulfilled God’s purpose for man. Therefore, those things are poor substitutes for a sustained sense of well-being. He then proceeds into an exploration of wine and entertainment. These are simply another form of materialism, ways of pleasing the flesh. He concludes that they, too, are folly, a mad pursuit.

Chapter 3 seemingly deviates from this theme, but the deviation is purposeful. He is planting a seed for further, wider, and greater understanding, a true foundation to build on. He shows that God, though unseen, is actively guiding and deeply involved in working in His creation, effectively moving both time and events to fulfill His purposes for individuals and nations. God has already given us a priceless gift: He has put eternity into our hearts to remind us that His work involves us in an eternal, spiritual—not a material—purpose. Our lives have direction.

In chapters 4-6, he shows us that satisfaction in life is produced or given as a result of gifts tendered by God, who is intimately involved with us in working out His purpose as we seek Him. Thus, he comes to a partial conclusion at the book’s halfway point.

Satisfaction in life is not derived from wealth, status in society, or any material thing. Material things can provide pleasure, and that is good, but like everything physical, the pleasure is momentary compared to the eternal. It is the eternal, spiritual relationship with our Creator, in which God gifts us with what we need to use our lives wisely, that brings the balanced and sustained measure of satisfaction. To make right use of this life in glorifying God is our goal. It is the righteous pursuit.

Satisfaction and Contentment

Part Six showed that satisfaction in life is not attained simply because a person may have an abundance of material means and goods to accompany him through life. It also requires his life to be accompanied by God, imparting gifts that provide him with the proper appreciation of the blessings he is receiving.

Chapters 4-6 have influenced my thinking to an extent I never dreamed. Some of the impact is due to my age, but I have also come to appreciate this book’s wisdom as never before. Before this study, I always found Ecclesiastes mystifying; I could not grasp its purpose. I have since found it has much to teach us. I now see it as one of the most bluntly practical writings in the entire Bible. It is, however, not an elementary book in any way. Its thoughts are brief but complex and sometimes difficult. One must research and thoroughly think through its metaphors to discover their lessons.

The primary lesson these chapters impart is how much a Christian needs his relationship with God. Not since becoming converted have I ever thought I did not need the relationship, but since beginning this series on Ecclesiastes, I now see it is an urgent necessity to hang on to it for dear life.

Why? This article takes a step beyond satisfaction in life to contentment. Though “satisfaction” and “contentment” are usually—and correctly—considered as synonyms, there is a meaningful difference. As Solomon shows in the previous chapter, contentment is a learned quality. Paul shows he learned it in his relationship with God (Philippians 4:11). Thus, it is a fruit of faith working within the relationship.

The Bible’s usage of “contentment” comes close to implying a Christian needs no more and suggesting that there is no other source for it than a person’s relationship with God. A contented person is at peace. In contrast, satisfaction contains a momentary, temporary implication. It most certainly includes a sense of gratification and thankfulness but allows room for more and greater satisfaction. It is as though a need has been met, assuring a person that he is on the right course for life, but now on to new challenges. We need both of these fruits for the quality of life that God desires us to have.

The Necessity of a Creator

David writes in Psalm 139:13-14:

For You have formed my inward parts; You have covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well.

This is a somewhat elementary, perhaps even a crude, illustration that clearly pictures why the relationship with God is absolutely necessary. It begins by admitting that we neither created ourselves nor gave ourselves life. David admits someone else made him; he did not arise to life fully formed out of nothing. Like him, we did not determine that we would physically be in God’s image. The Creator made that determination. Can we mentally picture God kneeling down in the dirt, placing Adam’s every part where He wanted it and determining how every part would function with every other system in his body? Even everyday realities such as these need a functioning Creator to bring them to pass.

The need for a relationship with our Creator is beginning to emerge. II Corinthians 5:17 carries the need of the creative relationship a major step further: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” We are now a new creation, a spiritual creation. A process begun in Eden continues.

When Paul wrote about a “new” creation, he had his choice of two Greek words. One expresses newness in the sense of “renovation.” However, Paul used the second term, which suggests new in the sense of “brand new.” He indicates, then, a person as a new individual with a new family, a new set of values, new motivations, and new possessions. Nothing new in this sense creates itself. Even a new baby in a womb does not make itself. The baby has absolutely no idea what it is in process of becoming.

Are we making ourselves spiritually? As a new creation in Christ Jesus, we are no more making ourselves spiritually than we did physically. However, this creation is far more difficult and important because it requires our mindful and willing cooperation with our Creator.

How clearly and precisely do we foresee where our spiritual Creator is headed? To say it bluntly, without God’s calling, which creates the relationship with Him, there is no possibility whatever of knowing anything meaningful about what God is in the process of creating, and therefore no eternal, spiritual salvation would exist. Do we know how to give ourselves everlasting life? Do we know where we will fit into the Creator’s finished plan?

Therefore, it is our responsibility always to do whatever is necessary to seek Him and glorify Him, helping to keep the relationship going and knowledge increasing. Without the relationship that He invited us into, there is no possibility of ever accomplishing the end that He is heading toward and yielding to what He desires. It is as though He has opened the gate to allow us back into the Garden of Eden, right into the very source of every good and perfect gift that will enable us to glorify Him by fulfilling our responsibilities to Him. It is as if He says, as He opens the gate, “Now there, let’s begin the next step in My overall purpose!”

The Point: A Fully Developed Life

Are we content with this? Part of the conclusion we can reach from the examples given in chapters 4-6 and from observing the activities and attitudes of many around us is that, somehow, almost nobody learns that enjoyment and contentment in life, not just satisfaction, are generated from within and enabled by the gifts God gives from within a relationship with Him. The basic cause of never learning this is that there is no relationship with Him. Thus, because they continuously grasp for it by other means, the unconverted never reach the state of contentment necessary for true satisfaction. We can avoid this pitfall by avoiding the temptation to reach for satisfaction in the same manner as those living under-the-sun lives.

In a relationship with God, we have the comfort of knowing that creative development is taking place and a purpose is being worked out. This provides balanced contentment and satisfaction in life, even though we do not have complete answers either. It is God within the relationship who provides hope in the face of life’s trials. He, our Creator, has deemed that we must face hardship with Him involved. Did not Israel face hardship under God in the wilderness, even though they had visible representations of Him at all times in the cloud and pillar of fire?

We learn from the Israelites’ example that hardship can come from many different directions. Much of mankind’s restlessness and dissatisfaction in life derives from his carnal nature never being satisfied, a fact that we must come to understand. Human nature forever wants more. Its desires, its cravings, its appetites, like those in our stomach, are briefly satisfied only to return hungering, as though it had never been filled. Rich or poor, wise or foolish, male or female, young or old—all must deal with this same basic issue. All have unfulfilled longings to take in hand.

One commentator compared our desires to being like a tramp, a word not used much today but used frequently during the Great Depression of the 1930s. A tramp is a person who wanders aimlessly about and never settles down in one place to hold a job, put down roots, and prosper. He is never content to stay at home. Thus personified, carnal desire loves to “window shop,” always eager to find or do something new “to make life more fulfilling.” It is as though our desires are always traveling but never arriving, which is why Solomon mentions the wandering of desire in Ecclesiastes 6:9.

Another commentator illustrates how quickly a person’s attention can latch on to a desire, even in the face of grave danger. During the famous eruption of Mount Vesuvius just outside of Pompeii, Italy, in AD 79, the gases and lava flows moved so rapidly that they caught people in the midst of various activities, entombing them right in those acts as though they had been sculpted.

One woman so “caught in the act” was apparently fleeing the eruption. Interestingly, her feet pointed in one direction, that is, apparently in the direction of escape from the dangers of the eruption, but her head, one arm, and hand were pointed behind her. It seems that even as she fled for her life, something behind her caught her attention. She reached back to grab it, but in that very instant, she died and was covered by the eruption’s debris, evidently not even falling to the ground. Was she reaching for a beautiful piece of jewelry that she did not want to leave behind? Nobody knows, but her desire was never fulfilled. It appears to have destroyed her life.

Without saying it frequently or directly, God is gradually showing through Solomon’s illustrations that it is He, giving His gifts within the relationship, who adds purpose and fulfillment to mere living. He has the power to gift us with what truly builds a life of satisfying and contented fulfillment.

Solomon is getting at something that is keenly important. Most of us live in areas where we can watch birds. Birds seem to spend all their waking hours looking for food to eat. All animals have this same characteristic. Their activity provides helpful insight: The birds are alive but not really living as we understand living. They merely exist. Yet, at the same time, they are fulfilling a purpose for which God created them, and they even sing about it.

Solomon is not suggesting at all that it is wrong to either work or eat, nor is it sin that we should have desires, of and by themselves. Working, eating, and having desires can be quite enjoyable and profitable. But if that is all we do, we merely exist at an animal level. We must do something with our lives that is positive and purposeful and conforms to God’s purpose, or we are going to waste them, achieving nothing within His purpose.

Life Is More Than Dreaming

We are part of God’s spiritual creation. A person being spiritually created in the image of God must not drift but deliberately choose to live for goals far higher, goals that God establishes. Solomon is not belittling anybody, but simply teaching a truth, a reality that material things of themselves cannot make life richly satisfying. A Christian’s life must be rightly balanced toward his relationship with God, and he must strive to follow God by living in the same loving manner as Christ did as a human and continues doing eternally.

Ecclesiastes 6:9 is Solomon’s version of the cliché, “A bird in hand is worth two in the bush.” He is essentially saying, “It is better to have little and purposely enjoy it than to dream about much and never attain it.” A problem with dreams is that, all too often, they never become a reality. Thus, a sense of satisfaction and contentment remains unfulfilled. Solomon is not saying it is wrong to have a dream on which to spend our ambition, but that our ambition must be motivated for the glory of God and not the praise of men—including ourselves. If we think material achievements will automatically produce these qualities, we are wrong.

True satisfaction and contentment comes when we do the will of God from the heart for His glory. When that happens, we get to share in real satisfaction. In John 4:34, Jesus says, “My food [meaning that which energizes Him and fills His life with satisfaction] is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work.” David adds in Psalm 16:11: “You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” That is real satisfaction and contentment. These verses reinforce the truth that satisfaction and contentment in life is within a relationship with God.

True happiness and these qualities in life do not automatically result from “making a good living.” Rather, they are a very blessed byproduct of making a good life with God as our Leader. If one devotes his life to doing God’s will, satisfaction and contentment will be its fruit.

Questions Asked by the Self-justifying

Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes 6:10-12:

Whatever one is, he has been named already, for it is known that he is man; and he cannot contend with Him who is mightier than he. Since there are many things that increase vanity, how is man the better? For who knows what is good for man in life, all the days of his vain life which he passes like a shadow? Who can tell a man what will happen after him under the sun?

The meaning of these verses is mystifying. One commentator suggests this title: “Questions Without Answers.” This does not mean, though, that one should ignore God and His way and avoid receiving godly correction. Why? Because God does have the answers, and He reveals them individually within the relationship. We may need the answers very much.

The questions must be understood, at least somewhat, against the background of the context of these last chapters, in which he is showing that the roots of true satisfaction and contentment lie within God’s gifting within a relationship with Him. In addition, we must understand them by evaluating the book’s overall theme, in which he urges us to keep God’s commandments, thus to live an above-the-sun life. We can also seek to grasp them by considering Solomon and what he reveals of himself.

Solomon presents a series of perplexing statements, but he gives no clear answers in the immediate context. Recall, however, that the overall subject of the chapter is about finding satisfaction in life, and he uses examples to illustrate circumstances about why life is puzzling and dissatisfying.

Let us consider Solomon himself. Did he know the answers? First, he probably knew the overall answer to satisfaction and contentment in life, but he did not necessarily experience it because he did not apply God’s way well. It is difficult to see how, having a father like David, as well as the personal experiences he had with God early in his manhood, that he did not know the overall answer. However, did he truly believe it? Did he live it? Both are necessary.

God has not answered this in absolute terms as He does regarding David. We have no doubt that David will be in God’s Kingdom. Based on what is in the Bible, the answer regarding Solomon is that he apparently fell short. Is he lost? We do not know.

Nevertheless, he knew intellectually what the missing link is. The answer to contentment in life hinges on whether one knows what God’s overall purpose for his life is. It is another matter altogether whether we believe that purpose is true and make the effort to seek God and live as He commands by faith.

Verse 10 is essentially saying that God is sovereign, and some things that He has established cannot be changed. Naming a thing is an indication that the thing so named is set. This is why the principles given in John 4:34 and Psalm 16:11 are so important to the converted. Being in God’s presence is the overall solution. These statements by Jesus and David give assurance that contentment in life lies within the combination of properly blending the knowledge of God’s purpose and deliberately choosing to live according to that purpose within a relationship with our very Creator.

This combination is what makes everything in life matter in a positive way, producing satisfaction and contentment in life. In this three-verse section, Solomon addresses four situations that revolve around not getting much in the way of these qualities from life because people do not give of themselves sufficiently to make the relationship work. Each verse, rather than answering, produces questions that, with a brief explanation, are helpful. If one does not get answers he can accept, then dissatisfaction and discontentment remain.

The questions that arise in these verses are expressions of justification that a converted person might give himself for not zealously throwing himself into the relationship with God. They are for the most part expressions of doubt that linger to support the lack of progress.

Solomon’s Five Questions

Solomon touches on five questions. The first is based in verse 10: “Since what’s going to be is going to be, why bother to make decisions? Isn’t it all predestined anyway?” This is broadly why some will not really cooperate with God in a relationship. Martin Luther gave this German proverb: “As things have been, so they still are; and as things are so shall they be.” In other words, the proverb is asking if there anything we actually control. Things are so far from our control, why make an effort?

In this verse, the One “mightier than he” is God. We must firmly accept that God can indeed accomplish His purposes without our cooperation. He does not need us, but He most assuredly loves us! God indeed has “fixed,” that is, named what He will accomplish, but He has also given us free-moral agency.

We must know that the world we live in is not a prison. We are free to evaluate and then choose what our personal world will be, but we are not free to change what the consequences of our actions will be. This is why we should give everything thoughtful consideration. Stepping off the roof of a ten-story building may be our choice, but once we commit ourselves and do it, there is no altering the outcome!

Everything matters! Job discovered this in a grueling and humbling circumstance with God. Job 42:3, 6 states his lack of thoughtful consideration before Him:

You asked, “Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?” Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. . . . Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.

The reality is that our choices do make a great deal of difference. Like everything in life, they matter.

The second question is also based in verse 10. Why disagree with God? We cannot oppose Him and win, can we? This question suggests that God’s will is difficult, painful to accomplish, and should be avoided at all costs.

Compare this with what Jesus says in Matthew 11:29-30: “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Add to this what He says earlier in His ministry about doing God’s will being nourishing and energizing to a Christian. Why would anyone, making a fair analysis by comparing God’s way with his self-chosen way and seeing what mankind has produced in this world, rather have his own way rather than God’s? That makes no sense whatever!

If God really wanted to make life truly difficult, He would give man absolute freedom—and that is exactly where this world is heading during this end time. It really builds satisfaction and contentment, right? No, not at all.

Like Job, we must know what our limits are, and one of them is that we do not have the wisdom to out-think and out-talk God. We must truly realize that the more we talk, the emptier our words become, which is exactly what happened to Job. This leads to the fact that humanity must accept that God, as sovereign Creator, is free to act as He sees fit in every situation. Such acceptance will help to produce the contentment that mankind yearns for.

The third question appears to be drawn from Solomon’s many words in writing this book, in addition to all the words we might hear in sermons and the like. He asks, “What do we accomplish with all these words? Does talking about it solve the problems?”

Verse 11 in the New International Version reads, “The more words, the less the meaning, and how does that profit anyone?” Are we not receiving a thorough education in this as we listen to all the convoluted political and economic arguments in recent times? Yet, these are all words of men. The Word of God is exactly what is needed because it is truth! God’s truths do not bind people; they free (John 8:32). Satisfaction and contentment are the fruits of truth that is accepted and used. One must listen to God’s Word and use it for satisfaction in life.

The fourth question arises from verse 12: “Who knows what is good for us?” This question is directly linked to the previous one. It brings to mind a saying that this same Solomon states twice in Proverbs 14:12 and 16:25: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” Human history proves that without the knowledge of God, mankind finds himself satanically deceived, drifting forever on a vast sea of human speculations. However, God knows what is good for us, and He is willing to share it with His children. Without the knowledge of God’s truth, life remains vanity, meaningless. God’s Word says, “He who does the will of God abides forever” (I John 2:17)—in, I might add, satisfaction and contentment.

The fifth question also derives from verse 12: “Does anybody know what is coming next?” This question must be understood within the context of the entire book. It is not talking about small, day-to-day issues, but rather the huge ones that pertain to the overall purpose being worked out on earth. Of course, the answer is that nobody knows perfectly except for God. Everybody else’s opinions are largely speculations. If God gave us more specific detail, it might severely damage the vital use of faith. He gives us enough information to keep us looking ahead and to encourage us to be patient and make the best use of the time that He gives us to prepare, because time is valuable.

The Correct Response for All Concerned

The proper answer to all of these questions—especially if it is correct that they are self-justifications raised by converted persons due to a lack of growth—lies in one’s use of the faith that God has given us to function within the relationship that He has opened to us.

Life is God’s gift, and He desires that we spend it involved with Him, using our faith to prepare for an eternal relationship with Him in His Family Kingdom. This will produce the enjoyable satisfaction and contentment in life that He desires for us. Involving Him is the above-the-sun life.

If there is no Kingdom of God, and if no grand purpose is being worked out, then nothing matters except for what is happening at the moment. This is the mindset of the intellectual and ruling elite in this nation, and they are continuing to slide into it more deeply. This mindset is tilted toward either humanism or secularism, and its fruit is the moral and ethical depravity of a Sodom and Gomorrah. They have nothing glorious to prepare for, so why should they deny themselves any pleasure, any excitement, that their minds and bodies desire right now? God’s children, however, because they possess the faith, cannot allow themselves to drift into such a destructive mindset.

That leads into the overall subject of the next two chapters of Ecclesiastes: wisdom. To the modern mind, wisdom seems to have evolved into a philosophical abstraction, so it is difficult to nail down as something concrete and useful for daily life.

However, the Bible takes pains to show that the ancient Israelites perceived wisdom as a practical, mental quality linked to skill and most strongly associated with skill in living. It appears primarily to be a fruit of knowledge and understanding derived from life’s experiences and fashioned into a highly honed skill. In order to achieve the highest level of this skill, a person must be working with truth, and this is exactly where the Word of God becomes exceedingly important.

Courtesy of https://www.cgg.org/index.cfm/library/article/id/1633/ecclesiastes-christian-living-part-seven-contentment.htm

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The Call to Love in a New and Wonderful Way


“Love” is a feel-good word in the English language. We even have a holiday dedicated to it.  But the world does not really know the true meaning of love. Our culture thinks love is to tolerate everything under the sun with open arms and heart, embracing all ideals no matter how destructive or rooted in sin they may be. Sin is thrown to the ground in the name of love.   In the world, love is a feeling and a very unstable emotion. When the feeling is gone, love is gone. Remember the Righteous Brothers’ You Lost that Loving Feeling lyric:  You've lost that lovin' feeling' Whoa that lovin' feeling' You've lost that lovin' feeling', Now its gone, gone, gone
Or the song by Roxette: It Must Have Been Love: It must have been love, but it's over now, It must have been good, but I lost it somehow, It must have been love, but it's over now, From the moment we touched till the time had run out.
The love of the world is here today and gone tomorrow. It fades, it runs out, it becomes barren. I have often wondered as a lawyer, how 2 people can once love each deeply at one time, and a few years later hate each other. There is no root to the love of this world. It does not run very deep and is blown about by the winds of change, and ultimately is incredibly disappointing.

Some definitions of love according to the Urban Dictionary: “An inexplainable yet incredibly strong feeling for someone. Either a horrible disease or a blessing. It is the constant source of pleasure and pain. But we can’t predict which it will be from one moment to the next. However, if it is not returned, you will become the most miserable person in the world. That awkward feeling in what feels like your stomach (affects how you feel and think) which causes you to do/say really stupid things. The reason people kill themselves. Honestly the most painful thing I have ever experienced so far in my life. Making yourself vulnerable to someone, while fully knowing that they may betray you. Avoid if at all possible.”

The world can never know true love without God and does not know what love is. The world today is wrapped up in a counterfeit love that is self-serving, shallow and without boundaries. Love is always spiritual first and is never rooted in the flesh. Love is birthed from the Spirit of God not the spirit of man.

So let’s turn to the Bible to answer the question “what is love?” I John 4:8,16: God is love. What an awe-inspiring truth! In the least common denominator, God is love. God is the only source, and the originator of all true love. He was the first lover. God is perfect, endless and supreme love. Love defines what God is and all His actions. Yahweh is love in perfection to the most minute degree. Every movement of God, every purpose of God, every word of God is the demonstration of perfect love. If you want to see love in action, look at God. God’s creation is stamped with His love. God’s faithfulness, dedication, patience, longsuffering, care, forgiveness, righteousness, justice and sacrifice are all characteristics of love. 

As Christians, we can love our families and love with great brotherly love. But we have the inherent ability to love with the love of God. This is to love in a new spiritual dimension. It is birthed within you when you are born again. The new birth allows us to love in a way and. to a degree that was never available before. I John 4:7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.

The Greek word translated as “love” is agapao and means a love that is awakened by a sense of value in an object that causes one to prize and treasure it. This love springs from an appreciation of the value and worth of an object, its preciousness. It is to love with wonder and admiration, to cherish with reverence. It is a love that compels one to sacrifice oneself for the benefit of the one being loved. It is to love like God loves; it is to love like Jesus loves.

In John 13, Jesus gives his disciples a new commandment. Verses 34, 35:  34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love (agapao) one another: just as I have loved (agapao) you, you also are to love (agapao) one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love (agapao) for one another.”

“New” is the Greek word “kainos” which means new in kind and quality a completely new model unlike anything that existed before.

Jesus is teaching John 13 what this new love looks like in action. He sets forth three incredible acts of humility, service, and mercy as examples of agapao love. John 13:1ff: Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10 Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet,[a] but is completely clean. And you[b] are clean, but not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

12 When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. 16 Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. 21 After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” 22 The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke. 23 One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was reclining at table at Jesus’ side,[e] 24 so Simon Peter motioned to him to ask Jesus[f] of whom he was speaking. 25 So that disciple, leaning back against Jesus, said to him, “Lord, who is it?” 26 Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.” So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. 

Agapao love is not only directed toward Yahweh but is focused on community.  It is also about love for neighbor, stranger, countryman, and enemy.  The context of understanding what it means to love is found in my treatment of others, not in my feelings or emotions. Love is displayed in outward action. From a biblical point of view, love does not stand on a foundation of emotions, but rather on a foundation of ethical responsibility.  Love demands specific boundaries for behavior. It is about acting within the confines of what it means to be faithful, trustworthy, and reliable. Love is what delights God and blesses others.  Love is essentially exhibiting the character of God in community. 

Romans 5:5:  Such hope [in God’s promises] never disappoints us, because God’s love (agape) has been abundantly poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

When we are born again, God’s agapao is abundantly poured into our hearts. “Poured out” (ekcheo from ek = out + chéo = pour) means literally to pour out, and pictures not a trickle, but a lavish outpouring to the point of overflowing. In other words, God’s love is not rationed out drop by drop but is like a mighty endless current! God’s love comes into us as a brimming and overflowing river, in “immeasurable torrents” , in “unstinting lavishness”. His love in our hearts is like a shower of rain soaking parched ground.  Ekcheo is in the perfect tense which conveys the picture that the “pouring out” began at some point of time in the past (at conversion) and the effects, results, and benefits of that outpouring continue – they have not been withdrawn. God’s love into our hearts is a creative act. It kindles love in us, and love “becomes the moral principle by which we live”

The greatest example of agapao love ever starts with Yahweh:

Romans 5:6-11:  While we were still helpless [powerless to provide for our salvation], at the right time Christ died [as a substitute] for ungodly. Now it is an extraordinary thing for one to willingly give his life even for an upright man, though perhaps for a good man [one who is noble and selfless and worthy] someone might even dare to die. But God clearly shows and proves His own love (agape) for us, by the fact that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Therefore, since we have now been justified [declared free of the guilt of sin] by His blood, [how much more certain is it that] we will be saved from the wrath of God through Him. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, it is much more certain, having been reconciled, that we will be saved [from the consequences of sin] by His life [that is, we will be saved because Christ lives today]. 11 Not only that, but we also rejoice in God [rejoicing in His love and perfection] through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received and enjoy our reconciliation [with God].

Yahweh reached out to us when we were helpless, ungodly sinners and sent His Son to die in our place providing reconciliation, justification, and atonement that we can enjoy now and through all eternity.

Let’s cover some verses in the New Testament showing this agapao in action. Remember Biblical agape love is the love of choice, the love of serving with humility, the highest kind of love, the noblest kind of devotion, the love of the will (intentional, a conscious choice) and not motivated by superficial appearance, emotional attraction, or sentimental relationship. Agape is not based on pleasant emotions or good feelings that might result from a physical attraction or a familial bond. Agape chooses as an act of self-sacrifice to serve the recipient. From all of the descriptions of agape love, it is clear that true agape love is a sure mark of salvation. Agape love does not depend on the world’s criteria for love, such as attractiveness, emotions, or sentimentality. Agape is God-like love motivated and energized by God, a love that centers on the needs and welfare of the one loved and will pay whatever personal price is necessary to meet those needs and foster that welfare. We are challenged to live out this highest form of love. How could this be possible except that it be a supernatural endowment?                                                                                                                   

Romans 12:10: Love (agape) is to be sincere and active [the real thing—without guile and hypocrisy].

Without hypocrisy is literally without play-acting, without playing the part. Hypocrite (hupokrites) was “a stage–actor; it was a custom for Greek and Roman actors to speak in large masks hiding who they really were.” Anuopkritos means “without a mask” and thus unfeigned, sincere, genuine, free from deceit, authentic, undisguised, without pretense or sham, “without dissimulation” (KJV) (dissimulate = hide under a false appearance). As alluded to above, in classical Greek drama, the hypokrites was the play-actor who projected an image but hid his true identity behind a mask. Metaphorically and morally, a hypokrites (a hypocrite) is anyone who pretends to be something he is not.

See this in further action in this chapter.

Hate what is evil [detest all ungodliness, do not tolerate wickedness]; hold on tightly to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another with [authentic] brotherly affection [as members of one family], give preference to one another in honor; 11 never lagging behind in diligence; aglow in the Spirit, enthusiastically serving the Lord; 12 constantly rejoicing in hope [because of our confidence in Christ], steadfast and patient in distress, devoted to prayer [continually seeking wisdom, guidance, and strength], 13 contributing to the needs of God’s people, pursuing [the practice of] hospitality.

14 Bless those who persecute you [who cause you harm or hardship]; bless and do not curse [them]. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice [sharing others’ joy], and weep with those who weep [sharing others’ grief]. 16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty [conceited, self-important, exclusive], but associate with humble people [those with a realistic self-view]. Do not overestimate yourself. 17 Never repay anyone evil for evil. Take thought for what is right and gracious and proper in the sight of everyone. 18 If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave the way open for God’s wrath [and His judicial righteousness]; for it is written [in Scripture], “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 But if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for by doing this you will heap [e]burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome and conquered by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 13:8-10: Owe nothing to anyone except to love (agapao- and seek the best for one another; for he who [unselfishly] loves his neighbor has fulfilled the [essence of the] law [relating to one’s fellowman]. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not covet,” and any other commandment are summed up in this statement: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong (kakos-evil, godless, worthless) to a neighbor [it never hurts anyone]. Therefore [unselfish] love is the fulfillment of the Law.

I Corinthians 8:1: Love builds up. Build up-means literally to build, construct or erect a dwelling. Used here as a metaphor meaning to build up, establish, confirm, edify. 

I Corinthians 14:1 Pursue love (agape). “Pursue” (dioko from dío = pursue, prosecute, persecute) means to follow or press hard after, literally to pursue as one does a fleeing enemy. It means to chase, harass, vex and pressure and was used for chasing down criminals. Dioko speaks of an intensity of effort leading to a pursuit with earnestness and diligence in order to obtain. Sprint after. It is a stronger word than “follow.”

I Corinthians 16:14: Let everything you do be done in love (agape)

2 Corinthians 6:4:a,6b: but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way…by genuine love

Galatians 5:6:  For [if we are] in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but only faith activated and expressed and working through love.

Agapao energizes faith. Agapao is the battery for faith. Agapao activates faith. Without agapao, there is no sustaining faith.  

Galatians 5:13,14: For you, my brothers, were called to freedom; only do not let your freedom become an opportunity for the sinful nature (worldliness, selfishness), but through love (agape) serve and seek the best for one another. 14 For the whole Law [concerning human relationships] is fulfilled in one precept, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself [that is, you shall have an unselfish concern for others and do things for their benefit].” 15 But if you bite and devour one another [in bickering and strife], watch out that you [along with your entire fellowship] are not consumed by one another.

No selfishness in agapao. Serves and seeks the best for one another. No biting and devouring of one another. We have freedom so we can love like He loves.

Ephesians 3:16-20: 16 May He grant you out of the riches of His glory, to be strengthened and spiritually energized with power through His Spirit in your inner self, [indwelling your innermost being and personality], 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through your faith. And may you, having been [deeply] rooted and [securely] grounded in love (agape), 18 be fully capable of comprehending with all the saints (God’s people) the width and length and height and depth of His love [fully experiencing that amazing, endless love]; 19 and [that you may come] to know [practically, through personal experience] the love of Christ which far surpasses [mere] knowledge [without experience], that you may be filled up [throughout your being] to all the fullness of God [so that you may have the richest experience of God’s presence in your lives, completely filled and flooded with God Himself].

As Christians, we are to be rooted and grounded in agape, comprehending and getting a glimpse of this four-dimensional love of Christ that allows us to be filled and flooded with God Himself in our words and actions.   

Ephesians 4:1,2: So I, the prisoner for the Lord, appeal to you to live a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called [that is, to live a life that exhibits godly character, moral courage, personal integrity, and mature behavior—a life that expresses gratitude to God for your salvation], with all humility [forsaking self-righteousness], and gentleness [maintaining self-control], with patience, bearing with one another in [unselfish] love. 

Walk worthy of our calling is to walk in agapao.

Ephesians 4:15,16: But speaking the truth in love [in all things—both our speech and our lives expressing His truth], let us grow up in all things into Him [following His example] who is the Head—Christ. 16 From Him the whole body [the church, in all its various parts], joined and knitted firmly together by what every joint supplies, when each part is working properly, causes the body to grow and mature, building itself up in [unselfish] love.

Agapao allows for us not only to grow and reflect the image of Christ, but this is how the body of Christ works most effectively and grows and matures.

Ephesians 5:1.2: Therefore become imitators of God [copy Him and follow His example], as well-beloved children [imitate their father]; and walk continually in love [that is, value one another—practice empathy and compassion, unselfishly seeking the best for others], just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and sacrifice to God [slain for you, so that it became] a sweet fragrance.

Agapao is to be our lifestyle.

Philippians 1:9:  And it is my prayer that your love (agape) may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment.

Abound:  (perisseuo from perissos = abundant, exceeding some number, measure, rank or need, over and above) means to cause to superabound, to be superfluous, to overflow, to be in affluence, to excel or to be in abundance with the implication of being considerably more than what would be expected.

Colossians 3:12-14: Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 

Love is the power which holds together all the other virtues. There does not seem to be sufficient reason for regarding it now as a girdle, though the idea is possible. The phrase the bond of perfectness is best understood as meaning that love, in its binding power, gives perfectness, or completeness, to the other virtues in combination. For lacking love they certainly would not be perfect.

I Thessalonians 3:12: And may the Lord cause you to increase and excel and overflow in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also do for you;

2 Thessalonians 3:5: May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and into the steadfastness and patience of Christ.

Direct:  means to make straight, to straighten fully, to guide or lead directly straight towards or upon something, to guide one’s way or journey to a place. The idea is that of conducting one straight to a place, and not by a round-about course. Gives a picture of opening up the way by removal of obstacles so that the desired goal may be reached. God “clears the way” and removes the obstacles that Satan had previously placed in his path of return which made that path impassable.

2 Timothy 1:7:  For God did not give us a spirit of timidity or cowardice or fear, but [He has given us a spirit] of power and of love and of sound judgment and personal discipline [abilities that result in a calm, well-balanced mind and self-control].

Hebrews 10:24,25: and let us consider [thoughtfully] how we may encourage one another to love (agape) and to do good deeds, 25 not forsaking our meeting together [as believers for worship and instruction], as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more [faithfully] as you see the day [of Christ’s return] approaching.

Encourage: Stimulate.  Is a strong word that literally means to sharpen. It is literally a jab given to someone so they “must” respond. Figuratively speaks of a sharpening of one’s mind or incitement to some action.

I Peter 1:22: Since by your obedience to the truth you have purified yourselves for a sincere love of the believers, [see that you] fervently love (agapao) one another from the heart [always unselfishly seeking the best for one another], 

Fervently:  Literally pictures one “stretching out” to love others! It pictures “an intense strain” and unceasing activity which normally involves a degree of intensity and/or perseverance. Stretched out and extended to the limit is the idea. Jowett suggests the picture of the tension and energy of a stringed instrument, “as when the string of a violin has been stretched to a tighter pitch that it might yield a little higher note.”

I Peter 4:8-10: Above all, have fervent and unfailing love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins [it overlooks unkindness and unselfishly seeks the best for others]. Be hospitable to one another without complaint. 10 Just as each one of you has received a special gift [a spiritual talent, an ability graciously given by God], employ it in serving one another as [is appropriate for] good stewards of God’s multi-faceted grace [faithfully using the diverse, varied gifts and abilities granted to Christians by God’s unmerited favor].

Two great love chapters in the Bible. I John may even be called the love epistle.

I John 3:11, 13, 14, 16-18: For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another 13 Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. 16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

Skip Moen: When God’s great love saturates our lives, we become unexplainable oddities in the world.  We just don’t fit anymore.  We act against expectations.  We think in different ways.  We stand outside the paradigm and are outlaws to the world’s economy.  It is God’s love that makes us strange – so strange that we often appear insanely fanatical and are written off because of this.  Yeshua said much the same thing when he warned his followers not to expect any sympathy from the world.  In fact, the world is our enemy.

I John 4:7ff: Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. 16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

Let’s end with the greatest explanation of agapao love in the Scriptures.

I Corinthians 13:1-13:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned,[a] but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 

Patient: It means one’s temper is long (as opposed to “short-tempered) and does not give way to a short or quick temper toward those who fail. It describes holding out of the mind for a long time before it gives room to action or passion. The picture of this word is that of a person in whom it takes a long time before fuming and breaking into flames! Trench adds that this word refers to one who has the power to avenge himself and yet refrains from exercising this power. Makrothumeo describes manifesting a state of emotional calm or quietness in the face of provocation, misfortune, or unfavorable circumstances. Love never says, “I’ve had enough.” It suffers indefinitely. It is longsuffering and continues in spite of conduct likely to quench it. This continuance often, but not always, shows itself in restraining anger. Makrothumeo describes especially patience towards people who act unjustly toward us.

Envy: to boil over with jealousy and unrestrained emotions.

Boast: means to talk with conceit or to behave as a braggart or windbag, exhibiting self-display and employing rhetorical embellishments in extolling one’s self excessively. Love doesn’t try to prove itself and say, “Watch how loving I can be” but instead works behind the scenes. Love does not parade its accomplishments. Christian love does not vaunt (is derived from Latin vanus = vain and means to make a vain display of one’s own worth or attainments) oneself so as to parade one’s imagined superiority over others.

Arrogant: (phusioo from phusáo = breathe, blow, inflate from phusa = bellows) means literally to puff up (like a pair of bellows) and is used figuratively to describe one who becomes “inflated”, proud, haughty, or puffed up with pride. It means to cause one to have an exaggerated self-conception. In the passive voice as in this verse phusioo means to become conceited or proud. Love protects us from having an inflated view of our own importance.

or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 

Resentful: Stop “keeping score” is the idea and those of us who are guilty of this sin know exactly what this entails! We may not write it on a notepad, but we keep a mental checklist that’s just as effective and perhaps even more destructive! Agapao has a bad memory. Forgiveness instead of a scorekeeper. How many times have we kept track of the personal affronts, the indiscretions, the unsympathetic acts? A record of wrongs. Yet God says that love does not count a wrong suffered. Love is first forgiving even before the wrong occurs. And if God forgives us, how can we allow our love to be tainted by pluses and minuses? Emotional bank accounts are not found in the institution of love. Resentment is an emotional accounting system. Resentment depends on the perception that I should have been treated differently. When I resent someone’s action toward me, I have already decided that that person did not do what I wanted. I have decided that my assessment of the circumstances is the only correct one and that this person doesn’t meet my standard. Even if I say that I forgive, if I continue to nurse the hurt I simply add interest to my resentment account. Forgiveness means nothing if I still keep score. 

it does not rejoice at wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Love is the foundation and catalyst for both faith and hope. Agapao is a lifestyle, a calling, and embodies the entire gospel. There is nothing greater in this life than imitating our Heavenly Father and His Son and living our lives in the center of God’s unfathomable love. His love is at the center of every calling, every gift, and every purpose of God.

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Mordecai and Esther: The Saving of a Nation

In the book of Esther, we see the incredible example of how the holy desperation of one person can change the course of history. Let me set the stage for you. The people of God lost the presence, provision, and protection of their heavenly Father because they dealt lightly with the things of God. As a result, they were conquered, captured, and spent seventy years in Babylon.

Babylon itself was conquered by a nation called Medo-Persia, and King Cyrus eventually allowed the people of God to return home to rebuild the temple and testimony that they had lost on the earth.

When God has a plan for His people, the devil will come up with a counterplan, and it always involves oppression, threats, and even death. This theme is common all the way through history, and we see it in the book of Esther. Imagine, if those who plotted to kill all the Jewish people in that day had been successful, we can conclude that the temple would not have been rebuilt. Jewish history would be entirely different; in fact, it would have affected all of history!

So, what was God’s plan to thwart this scheme of darkness? Of course, we typically consider Esther to be the marquee player in this whole story because she was the queen. She prayed, fasted, went before the king, and petitioned him. However, I want to suggest to you that the real hero of this story is a man called Mordecai.

Passing the Baton

Now the Persian king had issued a decree that the people of God should be eliminated. When the story reached Mordecai, a family member of Queen Esther—the wife of the king—he began to intercede.

“[Mordecai] tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the midst of the city. He cried out with a loud and bitter cry. He went as far as the front of the king’s gate, for no one might enter the king’s gate clothed with sackcloth” (Esther 4:1–2). Here was a man whose heart was gripped with holy desperation, but not for himself. That is where prayer finds its power—when we finally get away from our own struggles and trials. This was not just about “God, save me,” but rather “God, save Your people.” He was just a lone voice, dressed in sackcloth and ashes, repenting for the sins of his people as much as he knew how.

Notice that Mordecai went as far as he could physically go. In a sense, this was a picture of someone going as far as he could go in his prayer. He was like a runner in a multi-person relay race. He ran as far as he could and then stretched out the baton to someone in his family who was supposed to be the next runner. The problem is, the next runner did not even know that there was a race, let alone that she was supposed to be the closer of this race! Unfortunately, this is exactly what can happen to us.

“And in every province where the king’s command and decree arrived, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping, and wailing; and many lay in sackcloth and ashes. So Esther’s maids and eunuchs came and told her, and the queen was deeply distressed. Then she sent garments to clothe Mordecai and take his sackcloth away from him, but he would not accept them. Then Esther called Hathach, one of the king’s eunuchs whom she had appointed to attend her, and she gave him a command concerning Mordecai, to learn what and why this was” (Esther 4:3–5). In other words, “What is going on with my cousin, Mordecai? Why is he doing this?”

Society was turning against the people of God, leaving them seemingly powerless to defend themselves, and Mordecai simply would not accept any comfort. He had holy desperation in his heart. Perhaps he suspected that something dreadful was about to happen if this situation was not somehow countered by the power of prayer.

“So Hathach went out to Mordecai in the city square that was in front of the king’s gate. And Mordecai told him all that had happened to him, and the sum of money that Haman had promised to pay into the king’s treasuries to destroy the Jews. He also gave him a copy of the written decree for their destruction, which was given at Shushan, that he might show it to Esther and explain it to her, and that he might command her to go in to the king to make supplication to him and plead before him for her people.

“So Hathach returned and told Esther the words of Mordecai. Then Esther spoke to Hathach and gave a command for Mordecai: ‘All the king’s servants and the people of the king’s provinces know that any man or woman who goes into the inner court to the king, who has not been called, he has but one law: put all to death, except the one to whom the king holds out the golden scepter, that he may live. Yet I myself have not been called to go in to the king these thirty days.’

“So they told Mordecai Esther’s words. And Mordecai told them to answer Esther: ‘Do not think in your heart that you will escape in the king’s palace any more than all the other Jews. For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?'”

(Esther 4:6–13).

There is a fear in the hearts of many people today that will cause them to draw back and try to preserve themselves. But Mordecai said to Esther, “Don’t be fooled into thinking you will escape because you carve out some nice little niche for yourself.” Likewise, this evil is not going to pass over your house either. You have a choice. You either perish, or you fight and invoke Holy God to do what only He can do.

“Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai, ‘Go gather all the Jews who are present in Shushan, and fast for me; neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. My maids and I will fast likewise. And so I will go to the king, which is against the law; and if I perish, I perish!’ So Mordecai went his way and did according to all that Esther commanded him”

(Esther 4:15–17).

Thank God that Esther, through the intercession of Mordecai, seriously took up the burden of prayer, throwing her life into it. She opened the door to God’s plan, God’s provision, and God’s power. She did eventually take the baton, but she took it because somebody else began to pray.

It reminds me of the situation where perhaps one might say, “Nobody in my family is walking with God. I am the only one.” If this is something you identify with, I challenge you to go to the King’s gate. Go with holy desperation. Go with the knowledge that only God can make this happen. You may be surprised when you see who rises up to take the baton in your family.

Access to the King

You see, others will not pray if we do not pray. They will not have a burden if we do not have a burden. It is not enough just to try to push somebody else into the arena. No, we must go to the gate. Remember, all it takes is one person with holy desperation in his or her heart to change history. It is the person who declares, “I am not giving up until God moves. I don’t care who tells me to be quiet. I don’t care if people tell me that I am too extreme!”

Esther came out of that time of fasting and prayer with a wholehearted dependence on God, and God gave her incredible wisdom. I believe the Lord told her when to speak, how to speak, what to speak, and why to speak. When you begin to pray and fast, watch the influence God will start to give you over your family, even if you didn’t even know that you were supposed to be in the battle.

Perhaps you have spent most of your life in self- preservation. Your prayers are all about yourself, but today God is challenging you. There is a bigger battle out there, a whole host of people who have no power to defend themselves against evil, and you are in a place where you have access to the throne of the King. They don’t; you do. They do not even know that there is a King who would move His scepter forward toward them. They have no knowledge of the goodness of God because they are so distant from the throne of power.

However, you are in a place where you can go to the King, and the King’s favor will move toward you. The king said, “Queen Esther, what is it that you would have me do for you?” (see Esther 5:3). You and I both know that Esther was seeking to have this law of sin and death canceled over her people, and a new law written that would give them power to stand up and not only fight back but be victorious.

Remember, it was not just about the people in Medo- Persia at that time. It was about those people who would eventually leave Medo-Persia and return to Israel to rebuild the temple and testimony of God. It was a link in the chain that could not afford to be broken in the redemptive history of God on the earth. Thankfully, this incredible link held, and the people of God were delivered. Families were given the power to stand up and fight back against this onslaught of hell—all because of one man who would not quit—one man with holy desperation in his heart.

Ask for Holy Desperation

If you are going to pray for something today, let it be, “God, give me holy desperation. Give me holy desperation for my family. Give me holy desperation for this generation. Give me holy desperation to see Your power released and the weight of darkness that is trying to swallow a whole society pushed back!”

I encourage you—stay in prayer. Whether it is two minutes, five minutes, ten minutes, fifteen minutes, an hour, it does not matter. Stay and pray until the power of God comes upon you. Stay and pray until you see clearly what the will of God is for your life. Stay and pray until you know in your heart that God is going to use you to reach your family. Pray for the family of God and your own family to become engaged in the spiritual battles for people today. Pray that your sons, your daughters, your brothers, your sisters, your mom, your dad would all pick up that sword of the Spirit and begin to fight the battles of God.

Pray that those who are cowering would be given courage. Pray for power to stay faithful until the answer comes, as Mordecai did. Pray, pray, pray, and let’s believe God together that there is going to be a moment of mercy in this world and an end-time spiritual awakening.

Carter Conlan

Times Square Church

http://sermons.tsc.nyc/holy-desperation/newsletter/english/

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Watch and Pray: The Admonition for 2022

Jesus, facing the greatest spiritual and physical battle of his life, taught us some great truths in the Garden of Gethsemane that should be our goal as we face the challenges of 2022. His words are a precious reminder that no matter how big or dark the challenges ahead of us might seem, we can take action to remain faithful to Him and His Word and refuse to be shaken or dismayed.

Matthew 26:36-46: Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder.37 And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy. 38 Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me. 39 And he went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt. 40 And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour? 41 Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.42 He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done.43 And he came and found them asleep again: for their eyes were heavy.44 And he left them, and went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words.45 Then cometh he to his disciples, and saith unto them, Sleep on now, and take your rest: behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.46 Rise, let us be going: behold, he is at hand that doth betray me.

“Watch and pray” is the daily call for the Christian believer in 2022. This is our sacred duty and is fundamental to our Christian walk. We cannot sleep our life away physical or spiritually. Jesus Christ is still asking us every day “Can’t you watch with me for one hour?” Jesus Christ’s most intimate disciples that lived with him and he taught daily, fell asleep and failed to watch and pray with him during this crucial time. This is not an easy task, but it is a vital task if we want to grow in our Christian walk and have an impact on the world around us. We cannot shine as lights in this wicked world unless we watch and pray. We cannot be the salt of the earth unless we watch and pray. We cannot carry out our calling as an ambassador for the Lord Jesus Christ if we don’t watch and pray. It is the foundation of all spiritual warfare: Stay awake, be alert, watch and pray in complete trust to God never doubting his faithfulness to do what He promised to do.   

Keep watching from egeiro = to arise, arouse) pictures a sleeping man rousing himself from slumber and so means to refrain from sleep and by default to be awake, alert, and watchful. A secular use of gregoreuo described a person carefully crossing a river while stepping on slippery stones. If they did not pay strict attention to their steps, they would end up in the water (compare “enter into temptation”). The disciples are to remain alert, watchful, ready to meet the danger and be quick to perceive and act. We are to be in a constant state of readiness and vigilant, alertly watchful, especially to avoid danger as this word suggests intense, unremitting, wary watchfulness; We are to be watchful and ready to respond to external influences, focused, alert for the winds of temptation or overt attacks of evil. We are to remained alert lest we be deceived by the devil the deceiver or sin which is deceitful.

 Gregoreuo is in the present imperative, which is a charge to continually stay awake! Jesus is saying that it is imperative that we not become indolent and lazy and let down our guard or we will become easy prey for our inveterate, intractable enemies – the world, the flesh and the devil. The internal and external forces that come against us demand us to be alert and vigilant. Jesus is calling His disciples to be on the alert, maintaining a constant state of vigilance (vigilance suggests intense, unremitting, wary watchfulness; keenly alert to or heedful of trouble or danger as others are sleeping or unsuspicious).

Puritan John Owen explains that keeping watch means…

as much as to be on our guard, to take heed, to consider all ways and means whereby an enemy may approach to us… (this watchfulness requires) a universal carefulness and diligence, exercising itself in and by all ways and means prescribed by God, over our hearts and ways, the baits and methods of Satan, the occasions and advantages of sin in the world, that we be not entangled, is that which in this word is pressed on us.

Vincent comments on the significance of Jesus’ using the illustration of an awake, alert doorkeeper in this parable writing that

“In the temple, during the night, the captain of the temple made his rounds, and the guards had to rise at his approach and salute him in a particular manner. Any guard (doorkeeper) found asleep on duty was beaten, or his garments were set on fire.” (Greek Word Studies)

Mark it down that the Christian who is not alert to the enemy’s attack is in for trouble. Don’t misunderstand… we are not to look for a demon behind every bush. We are simply called to a continual state of spiritual alertness. We are setting ourselves up to succumb to a spiritual attack if we do not watch.

What should we watch for? The enemy’s strategy and movement; the flesh vs. the spirit in our walk, the influence of the kosmos, the basics of spiritual warfare, and the return of Christ. Watch that we are on guard and do not succumb. We don’t want to be fooled or bamboozled. We don’t want to be susceptible to a sneak attack.

The Art of War by Sun Tzu says: If you know the enemy and you know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle

Praying from pros = toward, facing, before [idea of definiteness and directness in prayer with the consciousness on the part of the one praying that he is talking face to face with God] + euchomai = originally to speak out, utter aloud, express a wish, then to pray or to vow. In the NT is always used of prayer addressed to God (to Him as the object of faith and the One who will answer one’s prayer) and means to speak consciously (with or without vocalization) to Him, with a definite aim. Proseuchomai encompasses all the aspects of prayer — submission, confession, petition, supplication (may concern one’s own need), intercession (concerned with the needs of others), praise, and thanksgiving.

The commands to watch and pray precede the warning about temptation. In other words, don’t wait until the temptation comes to begin to watch and pray. Watch and pray before the temptation comes! Then you are ready to deal with the temptation and much more likely to come through the testing time victoriously.

Wiersbe comments on watch and pray noting it is like saying “Pray with your eyes open”… The familiar phrase “watch and pray” goes back to when Nehemiah was leading the people in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem and restoring the gates. The enemy did not want the holy city to be rebuilt, so they used fear, deceit, and every kind of ruse to hinder the work. What was Nehemiah’s defense? “Nevertheless we made our prayer to our God, and because of them [the enemy] we set a watch against them day and night” (Neh. 4:9NKJV). Jesus (Mt 26:41Mk 13:33), Paul (Col 4:2), and Peter (1Pe 4:7) commanded God’s people to “watch and pray,” to be on guard and pray with intelligence and alertness. We are soldiers in a battle and we dare not go to sleep while on duty. (Bible Exposition Commentary – Old Testament)

Are we underestimating the importance and power of prayer in the Christian life? Is prayer more of a brief mental gymnastics exercise that we keep short and sweet or is it a vital link with our Heavenly Father, a conduit for his mighty power to be manifested to the world. Has our prayer life fizzled out, pushed to the back by other priorities in our busy life? Do we go through the motions when we pray, but have failed to understand its significance in the Christian walk?

Eric Ludy in Wrestling Prayer says:

God’s vision of prayer is more epic, more majestic,  and more grand…Prayer is aggressive, growling, attacking, commanding, persevering, passionate, and feverishly unrelenting-its battlefield firing as if every utterance is chirping away at enemy strongholds and every petition is moving God’s indomitable purposes forward in the natural…realm. Prayer is nuclear in its power and revolutionary in its effect.

Does our prayer life reflect this magnificent power of God and shake the foundations of the earth or do we just produce a few sparks that soon fade away? Jesus says, “when you pray, believe…” and Paul prays in Ephesians that we might know “the immeasurable greatness of his (God’s) power for us who believe.” Prayer brings the immeasurable greatness of God’s power into our circumstances, into our fellowships, into our communities and into the world. Prayer cannot be reduced to a simple ritual where we go through the motions. It has to be more than a few words of grace before a meal or a few seconds of words before we fly out the door. Prayer is not spiritual-sounding chit-chatter but is birthed in the heart of God and wrapped in His power. Prayer changes everything.

E.M. Bounds in “Prayer Has No Substitutes” says:

Prayer is the greatest of all forces because it honors God and brings him into active aid.  There can be no substitute, no rival for prayer,  it stands alone as the great spiritual force, and this force must be imminent and acting…Many believe in the efficacy of prayer, but not many pray. Prayer is the easiest and hardest of all things; the simplest and the sublimest; the weakest and the most powerful; its results lie outside the range of human possibilities-they are only limited by the omnipotence of God.  

Prayer has not diminished in power or importance. Prayer is still indispensable to Christian living, and we must elevate our vision of prayer and utilize this mighty key daily.

Eric Ludy in Wrestling Prayer says:

We have far more faith in the power of the enemy to defeat us than we do in the power of our God to deliver us, change us, empower us, and demonstrate His mighty nature in and through us…I refuse to have a form of godliness that denies the power thereof. I                  want the real thing, not some trumped-up show of emotion, not some Christian light show, not some sugarcoated sermon about God loving me still even though I am covered in filth and once again trounced under the feet of my enemies. I want the ancient power that coursed through the veins of Joshua, the ancient strength that stirred within the soul of Gideon, the ancient passion that overcame Josiah, and the ancient courage that gushed forth from the soul of Daniel. I don’t know about you, but I refuse to accept our modern rendition of Christian mediocrity as God’s best for His church. I read the Bible and my soul is stirred…Countless millions of so-called Christians are frittering their lives away in a powerless, defeated, miserable wilderness of half-doubts, sinful bondage, and paralyzing fears. They have God, but they only have the crumbs of His person. They have life, but it’s a life upon a hospital bed, intravenously being maintained by selfish consumption and fleshly addictions. I refuse this hollow form of life and godliness. I yearn for something more, something better, something real.”

Chrysostom: “The potency of prayer hath subdued the strength of fire; it hath bridled the rage of lions, hushed anarchy to rest, extinguished wars, appeased the elements, expelled demons, burst the chains of death, expanded the gates of heaven, assuaged diseases, repelled frauds, rescued cities from destruction, stayed the sun in its course, and arrested the progress of the thunderbolt.”

The first great purpose of watching and praying is that we enter not into temptation.

Enter: entrance into any condition; to come into existence, to come and go freely. It denotes one mode of living and acting. It denotes to come to life and to take the road to enter.

James 1:13ff: Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

We enter into temptation when we are lured and enticed by the desires of the flesh. Once we enter in a conception takes place and sin is birthed. There is no 9-month waiting period. Sin is birthed immediately.

We will all be tempted we just do not to enter into it to bring it to life so it becomes the way we act and live.

Enter into temptation. It becomes our sphere of action.

Temptation isn’t just going to come at you; you’re going to sink into it. It’s going to conquer you if you don’t watch and pray.

Jesus set forth the universal principal of life while we await His second coming. “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh (sarx) is weak.”

There are 2 basic definitions of sarx, the first being the physical body (“flesh and blood”). The other main meaning of sarx is flesh in its moral, ethical sense. Flesh in this sense denotes fallen human nature apart from divine influence and even opposed to God and godliness.  The expression of the “anti-God energized” flesh is through the instrument of the physical body (“flesh and blood”), which is itself morally neutral but is the instrument of either righteousness or unrighteousness (cf Romans 6:12). In sum, flesh refers to man’s unredeemed humanness, acting apart from God and the Spirit of Christ, and in total subjection to the power of sin.

You are about to face the most serious, difficult, threatening temptation and test of your life. And you’re going to sleep in preparation for that? They slept three times in spite of three warnings: “Stay awake, stay awake, stay awake.” And the result is in Matthew 26:56, “Then all the disciples left him and fled.” That’s what you get for sleeping. That’s how much power you have, if you just sleep through the war. Jesus fought the battle and he won. What were they doing while he was fighting the battle? They were sleeping.

Be a vigilant man. Don’t be a lazy man. Don’t be a slacker. Get up. Get a vision. Be intentional. Don’t sleep your life away. It is remarkable to me here that when he says, “The flesh is weak and the spirit is willing,” he’s not mainly talking about sex. He’s talking about weariness. You’re just too tired to read your Bible, too tired to lead the family in any kind of moral enterprise, too tired to go to church, too tired to talk to anybody. You just think to yourself, “I just want to go home and sit.” You will be a sitting duck for the Devil if you yield to that kind of lifestyle.

We often experience the weakness of our flesh in the strength of its sinful cravings and compulsions. But in Christ, God sets us free not only from the penalty of our sin (Colossians 2:14), but also from the power of our sin that remains very active in our flesh (Romans 8:2Romans 7:23):

Jesus gives us his Spirit to empower us to walk in “newness of life” (Romans 6:4) so that we no longer are enslaved to cravings and compulsions of our flesh (Galatians 5:16).Sin-penalty paid, Spirit-power imparted, and the kingdom inherited (Matthew 25:34), all because our King is so gracious and lavishly generous. What a gospel!

When it comes to resisting the powerful demands of our weak flesh, the Bible describes it as dying (1 Peter 2:24). That’s because our deceived, corrupt flesh believes our life will be happier if we gratify it. Denying it can feel like dying to something life-giving. We must remember every day that “nothing good dwells in [us], that is, in [our] flesh” (Romans 7:18). When we, in following the Spirit’s direction, die to our flesh, we are dying only to what would destroy us, things like “sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness” (Colossians 3:5).

When our weak flesh seems to wield great power through its cravings and compulsions, we must watch and pray for the Spirit, for greater is he that is in the new (regenerate) us than he that is in the old us. Today, when your unruly flesh makes maddening demands on you, remember: It will not kill you to die to your flesh. You are choosing life.

Habakkuk 2:1-3: I will take my stand at my watchpost and station myself on the tower, and look out to see what he will say to me, and what I will answer concerning my complaint.And the Lord answered me: “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it.For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.

Watch and listen to the Master. Run with the vision. and purpose He has given you, wait for its full manifestation. Let Him complete its work in you.

He won the battle of Gethsemane. They lost it. But clearly this story is in the Bible so that we can watch all of that and be ready for the battle of Gethsemane. That is, be ready to move with Jesus into his saving work. To join him in making the greatest difference in the world. And the point of Gethsemane for our lives is: “Come with me into this battle. I have done, and will do, the decisive work of turning the human heart to myself. But I intend to win this battle with you at my side, speaking my word. I didn’t invite Peter, James, and John into my warfare for nothing. I didn’t warn them about the weakness of their flesh and call them to vigilance and prayer for nothing. I did it for you. I intend for you to fight and suffer and triumph with me. Do you want to make a difference in this world? He has taught you in Gethsemane how to fight. He says, “Rise, let us be going.”

Look at the secret of Charles Simeon, who endured great hardships in his powerful 54-year pastorate in Cambridge (1782–1836). His friend, T. Housman, stayed with him for a few months and tells us something of this man’s devotion: Never did I see such consistency, and reality of devotion, such warmth of piety, such zeal and love. . .Invariably he arose every morning, though it was the winter season, at four o’clock; and after lighting his fire, he devoted the first four hours of the day to private prayer and the devotional study of the Scriptures. . . Here was the secret of his great grace and spiritual strength. Deriving instruction from such a source, and seeking it with such diligence, he was comforted in all his trials, and prepared for every duty.

It is true for individuals. And it is true for churches. No prayer, no power. And we need spiritual power. Consider the first quote (above) from Mark 9. There are spiritual forces that Jesus says are very hard to overcome. His disciples asked, “Why could we not cast it out?” Jesus answered, “Insufficient prayer!” What did he mean? Probably not that they hadn’t prayed over the demonized boy, but that they had not lived in prayer. They had been caught in a prayer-less period of life. Notice: Jesus cast out the demon without praying: “You dumb and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him, and never enter him again.” But Jesus had prayed. He lived in prayer. He was ready when evil came. But the disciples had become weak and negligent in their praying. And they were powerless in the face of strong evil forces. “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” In other words, without persistent prayer we have no offense. As a church we are meant to invade and plunder the strongholds of Satan. But no prayer, no power. The same is true of defense: Continue steadfastly in prayer.  There is so much power to be had in persevering prayer. Don’t forget the “impudent friend” of Luke 11:8 and don’t forget the parable Jesus told to the effect that we “ought always to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1–8). Perseverance is the great test of genuineness in the Christian life. O, let us be a praying church, and let 2022 be saturated with prayers to the Lord of the harvest. Won’t it be great to say in the end, “I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7)?  Be watchful in your prayers. This means, be alert! Be mentally awake! We must be on the watch as we pray — on the watch against a wandering mind, against vain repetitions, against trite and meaningless expressions, against limited, selfish desires.

I Corinthians 16:13: Be on the alert, Stand firm in the faith, Act like men, Be strong. Paul like a general keenly aware of the real spiritual war surrounding every saint, uses four Greek military terms to issue a staccato command (all in the imperative mood) to the church at Corinth (and the churches of every age) and all in the present tense (continuously) calling for each to be the habitual practice for the rest of our lives! (Note: “be on the alert” = gregoreuo) All saints are to be on guard at all times. They are not to give up an inch of vital territory. They are to behave with true courage.

I Peter 5:8: Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 

MacArthur: We must have an attitude of vigilant defense.  The reason we to watch and pray, trust God and humble ourselves under His almighty hand, is because our adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour.  Peter says be on the alert, be watchful.  It’s an aorist imperative, stay awake, be ready, be alert, watch out.  The outside forces that come against us demand us to be alert, vigilance.  The enemy, by the way, is very subtle.  According to 2 Corinthians chapter 11 he disguises himself as an angel of light and his ministers as angels of light.  He very rarely shows himself for who he is.  He almost always masks himself as a religious personality, almost always endeavoring somehow in some way to be able to approach you subtly so that you can’t recognize the reality of who he is. But let’s find out about him.  Let’s find out why it’s so very, very important to be alert.  Your adversary, the devil: That introduces us to the enemy in spiritual warfare; a very personal designation, by the way, your adversary the devil.  He’s not only the adversary of God, he’s not only the adversary of holy angels, but he is your adversary as well.  “Adversary,” by the way, is a legal Greek word that means the legal opponent in a lawsuit in a technical sense.   So you have an enemy and you better be alert.  Even though you can trust God and entrust yourself to God, you need to be alert to the enemy in general. This enemy here is called the devil, diabolos, slanderer.  The term diabolos or slanderer means a malicious enemy who slanders.  It can even go beyond that and mean a malicious enemy who attacks.  He is also called destroyer and he is called Abaddon and Apollyon and both of those terms mean destroyer.  He is the slanderer.  He is the accuser.  He is the destroyer.  And he is prowling about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. He’s always active and he’s always looking for an opportunity to overwhelm us.  His aim is to sow discord, to break fellowship, to accuse God to men, to accuse men to God, to accuse men to each other, to undermine confidence, to silence confession, to get us to stop serving God.  He’s always after us.  He is called in John’s gospel three times the prince of this world.  He commands the human system.  So as he is moving around seeking whom he may devour, it is not that you have to come into contact with him individually to fall prey because he orchestrates a whole realm of demon beings and he orchestrates and controls the whole world’s system.  And so from his seat as prince of the world he orchestrates an environment which in and of itself can devour us. He is also called the prince of the power of the air by Paul in Ephesians chapter 2.  The power of the air means the supernatural demonic power that exists in the universe.  He commands that so he commands the human system, the cosmos, the world and he commands the air, the supernatural sphere in which demons move.  And so he individually and he through his demons and through his system is prowling about like a roaring lion wanting to devour someone. That’s Satan’s ploy, to move through the world to find somebody he can consume.  The prowling, roaring lion is a symbol of viciousness in Scripture.  I would just commend to you Psalm 22 verse 13, that Messianic Psalm talking about how the “bulls of Bashan have encircled me,” referring to Christ being encircled by those who hated Him at His cross. “They opened wide their mouth at Me like a ravening and a roaring lion.”  That’s a picture of viciousness, of maliciousness.  That same expression is used elsewhere in the Psalms with the same intent of one who would be vicious.  Psalm 104 verse 21, “The young lions roar after their prey.” So, Satan is going after his prey. He’s going out to consume.  He’s going out to chew someone up. That’s his goal. Satan is moving around wanting to take someone and literally rip that person to shreds, looking for someone to devour.  Satan’s goal is to devastate.  And you must understand that the objective of his devastation, listen very carefully, is not unbelievers for obvious reasons, right?  He already possesses them.  He wanted somebody like Job who named the name of God. And I believe that he goes after people who name the name of God, wanting to destroy, tear up, devastate.  Even though obviously he cannot take away their salvation, he can destroy their life, he can destroy their testimony, he can devastate them.

You better be on the alert because you have a personal adversary, an enemy, the slanderer, diabolos, Abaddon, Apollyon, the destroyer who is moving all over the earth with one goal in mind, finding people who name the name of Christ and wanting to tear them to shreds and destroy them.  You better be alert. The strategy of Satan is to oppose and attack the name of Christ, destroy His name, destroy His character, destroy anything that names His name so that you discredit Him and cause people to turn their back on Him. 

Now what is the program of warfare?  How does it work?  Let me take you a little deeper into that.  First of all, how does Satan deal with non-Christians?  Simply stated in Revelation chapter 12 verse 9, he deceives them.  He comes down and deceives the whole world.  He blinds their minds, 2 Corinthians 4:3 and 4, so the light of the glorious gospel doesn’t shine unto them.  He deceives them through ignorance, unbelief, false religion, love of sin, fleshly gratification.  He deceives them by developing a cosmos and a system that looks alluring, inviting, pleasurable, fulfilling.  And he comes at them through the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life.

What is the lust of the eyes?  I see it, I want it.  What is the lust of the flesh?  I feel it, I want it.  And the pride of life. And he moves in developing a deceptive system.  When unbelievers sin, it isn’t that Satan is there making them sin, it is that Satan has concocted the system that is infested with his demons who keep it moving down its hellish, deceptive path and it makes victims out of the human race.

1. Set aside a time and a place each day, and don’t leave it to chance.

The devil defeats most praying before it happens because we didn’t make a plan. If you don’t plan — believe me — you won’t pray. I have been at this a long time, and the devil hates me and my prayer life. You wouldn’t believe how many good things keep me from praying — not sin. Sin does not keep me from praying; righteousness keeps me from praying: answering holy emails or just checking out one more piece of relevant news to pray about at whatever news service you click on. It’s not evil that keeps us from praying; it’s good things. And the devil is shrewd to the bottom. So pick a place, and pick a time, and show up.                                                                                                                                     

2. Combine your praying with reading the Bible.

Take what you read in the Bible and turn it into prayer, because your brain, if it’s a typical human brain, will have a very hard time holding a train of thought while you pray with no help from the Bible. Try it for just ten minutes without your brain flipping out on the dust you see on the venetian blinds. Just try it. Satan is wicked in his goodness. He might whisper, “It needs to be dusted. It wouldn’t be sin to get up and dust it, would it?” Use the Bible and turn the Bible into prayer. Read, pray; read, pray; read, pray; read, pray as long as you want to or as long as you can.

3. Pray from the inside out or visa versa.

You can either pray from the outside in or the inside out. Start your prayers:

  • Have mercy upon me. Convict me. Kill my fleshly lusts. Change me. Guard me. Humble me. Destroy those aspects of me.  And then you move out from me to my family. Then I move out to you, the church. And then I move out from there to the wider movement of Christ around the world — our missionaries and the whole global cause of Christ. And then I move out from there to the political-historical arena of the world. Or you could go the other direction and move from the outside in. If you wonder why I don’t put God in the middle, it’s because he’s in every circle. And the main point of every circle is “hallowed be thy name.”

Structure Isn’t Legalism

The hard truth is we Christians don’t do very well. We don’t pray very much. We pray at meals maybe, unless we are still stuck at the adolescent stage that thinks good habits are legalism. We may whisper prayers before a tough meeting that we’re walking into. We may throw God a kiss as we crawl into bed. But we don’t set aside significant, regular, daily, disciplined time to pray in those ways much. And we don’t think it’s worth it to meet with others to pray, by and large. And we wonder, “Why is my faith weak? Why is my hope feeble? Why is my passion for Christ small?” And meanwhile, across these rooms, the devil is whispering in your ear, “The pastor is getting legalistic now. He’s moving into the legalistic phase of the sermon. He’s starting to use guilt now. He’s getting the law out now.” That’s what he’s saying. To which I say, to hell with the devil and all of his destructive lies.  Is intentional, regular, disciplined, earnest, Christ-dependent, God-glorifying, joyful prayer a duty — a discipline?  It’s a duty the way it’s a duty for a scuba diver to put on his air tank before he goes underwater. It’s a duty the way pilots should listen to air traffic controllers. It’s a duty the way soldiers in combat should clean their rifles and load their guns. It’s a duty the way hungry people eat food. It’s a duty the way thirsty people drink water. It’s a duty the way a deaf man puts on his hearing aid. It’s a duty the way a diabetic takes his insulin. I hate the devil. I hate the way he is killing some of you by persuading you it’s legalistic to do regular, set-aside, disciplined praying. I hate the devil and the way he’s killing you, telling you that it is legalistic to be as regular in your prayers as you are in eating your food, in sleeping, in internet use. Is it legalistic to eat three times a day? You sleep every night for goodness’ sake. Mix it up. The devil is laughing up his sleeve at how easy he can take out Christians. You should just look at him and say, “I’m older than that. I’m not in fifth grade anymore. I’ve grown up a little bit. Get out of my life. I’ve got work to do, because I am a sinner in desperate need of talking to my King every day. If I don’t set a time and a place, I’m a goner.” If we don’t eat, we starve. If we don’t drink, we die of thirst. If we don’t exercise a muscle, it atrophies. If we don’t breathe, we suffocate. And just as there are physical means of life, there are spiritual means of grace. It’s so simple. So many of you are trying to live your life spiritually without breathing, eating, drinking, exercising, and you wonder, “What’s wrong? It’s your fault, God.” It’s not his fault.                                             

Watchfulness and prayer are inseparable. The one discerns dangers, the other arms against them. Watchfulness keeps us prayerful, and prayerfulness keeps us watchful. To watch without praying is presumption, to pray without watching is hypocrisy. The eye that sees clearly the facts of life will turn upwards from its scanning of the snares and traps and will not look in vain. These two are the indispensable conditions of victorious encountering of temptation.

Each of us must ask: What is my Achilles heel? We need to know our on the Lord for His help, we will be protected from “the fiery darts of the wicked one” (Ephesians 6:16). Leave no unguarded place, no weakness of the soul: Take every virtue, every grace and fortify the whole-Wesley.

Never forget to watch for his return:

Mark 13:31-37: Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away. 32 But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father. 33 Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is.34 For the Son of Man is as a man taking a far journey, who left his house, and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch. 35 Watch ye therefore: for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cockcrowing, or in the morning:36 Lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping. 37 And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch.

We watch and pray with Him and are never taken by surprise with His return. We are ready, we are alert, we are engaged in wrestling prayer, we stand against the onslaughts of our enemy, knowing the final victory is coming. We are deceived by our enemy but stand in the evil day until the final trump sounds.

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Shepherds and Wise Men

God chose two groups of people who had the privilege of seeing the Messiah, the Savior, and the future King in person. It should be noted that it was not a king, a high priest, a religious Pharisee or Sadducee, or an emperor that received the invitation. It was not in the Temple or the court of a king or on the political or cultural stage. God chose cultural outcasts and Gentiles to partake in the greatest moment in history in a stable and a simple home. The world was too preoccupied to be listening and too prideful to be shown the glory of God. Christmas is truly a celebration of joy as God moved not in culture or religion or politics but in the hearts of common people who were humble to see and obey the heavenly vision from Yahweh.    

Luke 2:7,8:  And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger because there was no place for them in the inn.And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 

The irony is that shepherds with no name given were to hear the announcement of the coming of the Chief Shepherd whose Name would be above every name. Normally the birth of a prince would be announced to kings and other dignitaries, but this “princely” announcement was given to lowly shepherds, not to priests, rulers, kings, Pharisees nor Scribes, not to the great men of Israel but common shepherds, who as a class were actually considered as “outcasts” by the Jewish hierarchy!

John MacArthur on shepherds – The good news of the Savior’s birth came first to a most unlikely group of people. Shepherds were near the bottom of the social ladder. They were uneducated and unskilled, increasingly viewed in this era as dishonest, unreliable, unsavory characters, so much so that they were not allowed to testify in court. Because sheep required care seven days a week, shepherds were unable to fully comply with the man-made Sabbath regulations developed by the Pharisees. As a result, they were viewed as being in continual violation of the religious laws, and hence ceremonially unclean. That is not to say, however, that being a shepherd was an illegitimate or disreputable occupation. Two of the greatest figures in Israel’s history, Moses (Ex. 3:1) and David (1 Sam. 16:11–13), were shepherds at some point in their lives. Moreover, the Old Testament refers metaphorically to God as the “Shepherd of Israel” (Ps. 80:1; cf. 23:1Isa. 40:11), while Jesus described Himself as the “good shepherd” (John 10:1114; cf. Heb. 13:201 Peter 2:255:4). Shepherds were, however, lowly, humble people; they certainly were not the ones who would be expected to receive the most significant announcement in history. That they were singled out to receive this great honor suggests that these shepherds were devout men, who believed in the true and living God. Such people are later described as those who were “looking for the consolation of Israel” (Lk 2:25) and the “redemption of Jerusalem” (2:38).

Kent Hughes – According to the Mishnah, shepherds were under a ban. They were regarded as thieves. (Quoting from TDNT, Vol 6, pp 488-491) The only people lower than shepherds at that particular time in Jewish history were lepers. God comes only to those who sense their need. He does not come to the self-sufficient. The gospel is for those who know they need Jesus! There was the unbelievable appearance of a real angel to shepherds. In the eyes of many, an angel would never appear to a shepherd. Shepherds would seldom be found praising and worshiping God; as a result, they were looked upon as anything but worshippers. Their reputation was lowly at best, and religious people snubbed and ignored them. They were despised because they were unable to attend services and to keep the ceremonial laws of washing and cleansing. Their flocks just kept them too busy. What a beautiful foretaste of the salvation to come: God gave the first message of His Son to common shepherds, those looked upon as sinners.

Shepherding had changed from a family business as in David’s time (1 Sam. 16:11) to a despised occupation. Many shepherds were accused of robbery and using land they had no rights to. Shepherding was also a lonely occupation, particularly at night, as a shepherd stood his watch, making sure sleeping sheep did not wake up and wander and that prowling predators did not attack and devour the sheep. Only God would visit those in such a low occupation and raise them to witness to his salvation. Yet, shepherds had a tender side, counting the sheep constantly (Jer. 33:12-13), lifting the weak on their shoulders (see Isa. 40:11), and creating crude pens where the sheep could sleep (John 10:1). (Ibid)

Lenski adds “The question is still asked skeptically as to why these shepherds should have been selected for the angel’s announcement. The answer is as simple to the believer as it ever was: because God found them the kind of people to whom he could communicate such news.”

Have you ever considered why the text does not read (Luke 2:8), “Now there were in the same region scribes and Pharisees, keeping watch over their scrolls and religious rituals”? Nor does it say, “There were in the same region kings and princes keeping watch at the palace.” God chose to reveal the birth of the Savior to simple shepherds. Shepherds had not been schooled in the law and thus were considered ignorant. According to another Jewish treatise, help was not to be offered to shepherds and heathen (see Godet, Luke [I. K. Funk & Co., 1881], p. 81). God chose shepherds to show that…The gospel is for the simple, not for the sophisticated. God puts His cookies on the bottom shelf. Because of that, the sophisticated and scholarly sometimes miss the truth of it. They’re looking too high; it’s beneath them to stoop to the lowest shelf, and so they miss what God offers freely to all. If it were any other way, men could boast before God. If the gospel were some complicated philosophy that required a high I.Q. and years of study to grasp, then those who had attained it could congratulate themselves on how much more intelligent they were than the rest of the population. Those who were illiterate or not as intellectually gifted as others could never hope to qualify for salvation. But the beauty of the good news about Christ is that it was first announced to lowly shepherds. They probably couldn’t read and write. They weren’t leadership material. But God’s love in Christ extended to them. The danger is that we will miss the gospel because it is so simple.

2 Corinthians 11:3: But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.

Verse 9: And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.

Shift the spotlight once more from earth’s lowly shepherds enduring a dark night to heaven’s most glorious messenger. With the angel came God’s glory, his shining majesty, the side of God humans can see and to which they can respond in confession, worship, and praise (see Isa. 60:1-3).

And the glory of the Lord shone around them – Can you imagine this? In this passage, the glory points toward the visible and manifest divine presence. One is reminded of John’s description which all believers will one day be privileged to behold “And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb.” (Rev 21:23ff).

Glory in simple terms means to give a proper opinion or estimate of something and thus the glory of God expresses all that He is in His Being and in His nature, character, power and acts. He is glorified when He is allowed to be seen as He really is which is exactly what this angel did! To be where God is will be glory. To be what God intended will be glory. To do what God purposed will be glory. Glory refers to the majesty and splendor accompanying God’s presence (Ex 16:724:17Psalm 63:2Isaiah 40:5). Glory of the Lord – this phrase occurs 38x in 37v most of the occurrences being in the Old Testament – the manifestation of God’s presence among His people. Utley observes that “This phrase is often used in the Septuagint to denote the glorious personal presence of YHWH 

And they were terribly frightened – Fallen finite men are frightened by the sight of the normally invisible spiritual realm! NET Note comments that the Greek phrase (phobeo phobos megas) literally reads “they feared a great fear”  which is a Semitic idiom that intensifies the main idea, in this case, their fear.” Those who experience the presence of the holy God are acutely aware of their sinfulness. Isaiah cried out, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts” (Isa. 6:5),                                                                                                                                                                                              This Christmas song captures the moment: “O holy night! The stars are brightly shining, It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth; Long lay the world in sin and error pining, Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.” 

Back then no one thought God would be interested in shepherds, or that shepherds would be interested in God. Shepherds were notoriously irreligious, ranked by the rabbis with prostitutes and other “habitual sinners.” They were outcasts, barred from the synagogue and polite society. They assumed that God would never accept them, and they feared Him. But God spoke to them. I think He knew that these shepherds, like so many people who appear indifferent to spiritual things, were quietly longing for God. All of us have a longing for something more. And no matter how hard we try to appear self-sufficient, sooner or later we run out of something essential—love, money, time, or life. Isolation, loneliness, and fear of death lead us to acknowledge our need for a Savior.

Luke 2:10: And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 

They did not have to be afraid because the “Gospel is coming, good news. The Gospel elicits joy, not fear. Joy is the inward feeling of happiness and contentment that bursts forth in rejoicing and praise. Joy comes not just to lowly shepherds or isolated parents far from home. Joy comes to all people. In the most unlikely place amid the most unlikely spectators, God brushed aside the world’s fears and provided the world reason for joy (Isa. 9:3). Joy centers not on something you earn or possess. Joy comes from God’s gift, a tiny baby in a feed trough.

I bring you good news – We need not wonder at these words. The spiritual darkness which had covered the earth for four thousand years was about to be rolled away. The way to pardon and peace with God was about to be thrown open to all mankind. The head of Satan was about to be bruised (Gen 3:15). Liberty was about to be proclaimed to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind (Lk 4:18). The mighty truth was about to be proclaimed that God could be just, and yet, for Christ’s sake, justify the ungodly (Ro 3:26). Salvation was no longer to be seen through types and figures, but openly, and face to face (Col 2:16,17). The knowledge of God was no longer to be confined to the Jews but to be offered to the whole Gentile world.

I bring good news (I evangelize to you) (euaggelizo/euangelizo from eu = good, well + aggéllo = proclaim, tell; English = evangelize) Euaggelizo was often used in the Septuagint for preaching a glad or joyful message (1Sam. 31:92 Sa 1:204:10). Isaiah 52:7 How lovely on the mountains Are the feet of him who brings good news (Lxx = euaggelizo), Who announces peace And brings good news (Lxx = euaggelizo) of happiness, Who announces salvation), And says to Zion, “Your God reigns!” Isaiah  61:1+ The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me Because the LORD has anointed me To bring good news (Lxx = euaggelizo) to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to captives And freedom to prisoners; 

Euaggelizo/euangelizo in the NT refers especially to the glad tidings of the coming kingdom of God and of salvation obtained through Jesus Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. Gospel is always good news of great joy.

Great joy: Joy comes from the word grace and is a feeling of inner gladness, delight or rejoicing. Joy in the NT is virtually always used to signify a feeling of “happiness” that is based on spiritual realities, and independent of what “happens”). Joy is not an experience that comes from favorable circumstances, but is God’s gift to believers. Joy is the deep-down sense of well-being that abides in the heart of the person who knows all is well between himself and his God. What is fascinating is that there is not only joy on earth but also joy in Heaven and both have to do with the Good News in some way, Luke recording “I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance…..In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Lk. 15:710ff)

Peter writes “and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory.”  (1 Pe 1:8ff)

Christmas should be a time of great joy and rejoicing. It should be a time of great celebration. All great joy is always rooted in Jesus Christ.

The good news is for all people, not just for the elite. As Paul told the Corinthians, “Consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised, God has chosen, the things that are not, that He might nullify the things that are, that no man should boast before God” (1 Cor. 1:26–29). The beauty of the good news is that even an uneducated, illiterate tribal man in the jungle can understand that he is a sinner and the Jesus Christ is God’s Savior, and by God’s grace, he can believe and be saved.

Remember the words to the Christmas song “Joy to the world! The Lord is come! Let earth receive her King; Let every heart prepare Him room, And heaven and nature sing.” The joy of Christmas is Jesus Christ.

Verse 11: For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 

Do not miss the phrase for you – You is in the plural. Yes, Jesus came to the shepherds, to Israel, but also to redeem all humanity and for you. This personalizes this Good News of a Savior who in the crib had open arms just as He did on the Cross! God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son to be born for you, for any and all who will call upon the Name Jesus, SaviorChristLord!

The city of David “is vastly more significant to the shepherds than “in Bethlehem” would have been, for the king’s name and his ancient home recall all the Messianic promises made to David. 

Savior (soter from sozo = rescue from peril > from saos = safe; delivered) refers to the agent of salvation or deliverance, the one who rescues, delivers, saves and preserves and in the case of Jesus, specifically rescue and deliverance from sin’s penalty, sin’s power and in glory from sin’s presence and sin’s pleasure. The name Jesus means “He will save His people from their sins.” (Mt 1:21)

Christ (Christos from chrio = to rub or anoint, consecrate to an office) means one who has been anointed, symbolizing appointment to a task. The Messiah had come to sit on the throne of David and deliver Israel from oppression, not from the Romans, but from sin and Satan. Sadly they wanted the former and were blind to the latter! Christos is the “Fulfiller of Israelite expectation of a deliverer, the Anointed One, the Messiah, the Christ.” 

The New Jewish Encyclopedia defines the MESSIAH as “a modified form of the Hebrew word mashiach meaning ‘anointed,’ applied in the Bible to a person appointed for special function, such as High Priest or King. Later the term Messiah came to express the belief that a Redeemer, that is a divinely appointed individual, will, in the end, bring salvation to the Jewish people and to the entire human race”

Luke 2:12: And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

The sons of kings and princes in the East today are still “salted and swaddled.” A tiny bit of salt is rubbed on the baby to indicate that the parents intend to teach the child to be truthful. The baby is then wrapped in swaddling clothes. These are fine linen strips about two inches wide  which are wrapped round and round the baby’s body to straighten him out: arms and legs are all made straight as a ramrod. This is a sign to God that the parents will rear the child to be straightforward before the Lord, and free from crookedness. The child is left in this position from fifteen minutes to two hours, while the parents meditate and make their vows to God concerning their sacred trust which was given them when they received the child This was a common custom for babies born into royal families. Because Mary knew that her son was the Son of God, she treated him as the King he truly was.

Luke 2:13,14: And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

The angels praised God at Creation (Job 38:7), and now they praised Him at the beginning of the new creation. The whole purpose of the plan of salvation is “glory to God” (see Eph. 1:61214). God’s glory had dwelt in the tabernacle (Ex. 40:34) and in the temple (2 Chron. 7:1–3), but had departed because of the nation’s sin Now God’s glory was returning to earth in the person of His Son (John 1:14).

Luke 2:15-20: When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

So they came in a hurry – Don’t miss their reaction!  No hesitation. No procrastination, like “We need to pray about this!” or “Perhaps we should seek the counsel of the wise rabbis.” No, they heard the divine revelation, they accepted it as a divine sign and they hastened to view the Divine Redeemer!

That should be our response when we read the Word of Truth and sense the Spirit of Truth “speaking” to our heart regarding some action we are to take in accord with the Word we have just read. God does not stutter! Are you in humility hearing and heeding like these lowly shepherds? They hurried off and found.…” The obedience of faith brings blessed results.

Shepherds were not permitted to testify in court, but God used some humble shepherds to be the first human witnesses that prophecy had been fulfilled and the Messiah had been born. Telling others about the Saviour is a solemn obligation as well as a great privilege, and we who are believers must be faithful.

Don’t celebrate Christmas without inviting the Guest of honor.

The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God – What irony, for in the religious center Jerusalem the leaders did not truly worship God, but here in the fields outside Bethlehem were the common, non-religious shepherds worshipping God! There is another observation and it is a sad one — even though the shepherds had spread the message of Messiah, Luke records that the shepherds alone were praising God. No one else is seen seeking or praising the Savior! What’s wrong with this picture? Don’t we see the same thing today! They had been changed by their “moment of grace.” As they stepped back into their real world, they carried the good news about Jesus in their hearts and voices. May we too take God’s grace into the real world this Christmas and every day of the new year.

Wise Men

Matthew 2:1,2: Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.

Who were the wise men? They were Gentiles who saw his star-they had knowledge of God’s Word as written in the stars. How? Greek-Magi-a specific religious caste prominent in Near Eastern society especially in Persia.  The magi from the east (the word literally means “from the rising” of the sun, and refers to the orient) who came to see Jesus were of a completely different sort. Not only were they true magi, but they surely had been strongly influenced by Judaism, especially that of Daniel. They appear to be among the many God-fearing Gentiles who lived at the time of Christ, a number of whom—such as Cornelius and Lydia (Acts 10:1–2Acts 16:14)—are mentioned in the New Testament. 

Many Magi adopted Zoroastrianism and became priests of that religion. There were several parallels between Zoroastrianism teachings and the Old Testament. Thet believed in a supreme God who created the heavens and the earth, who authored all that is good. They also believed in a spiritual adversary who authored evil. They believed in a coming Redeemer, a prophet who be sent by God to save all mankind. They strictly forbade the worship of idols. They believed in angels and devil spirits and the eventual triumph of good over evil. They set forth a system of laws and ethics stressing a strict code of moral behavior.

They were reputed for their knowledge of religion, astronomy, and the spiritual significance of astronomical phenomenon. The book of Daniel records that the Judeans like Daniel wielded great influence in the royal courts where the Magi served. Daniel was made master of the Magi (Daniel 5:11). Daniel fully instructed them in the accurate knowledge of biblical prophecy written in the stars. This knowledge was preserved by the Magi. Even Suetonius, the Roman Historian, said that it was a firm belief that long prevailed through the East that it was destined that the Empire of the world at that time would be given to someone arising out of Judea. Judean teaching on the celestial message in the stars was attentively listened to as the Magi set much importance on the celestial motions.

Psalm 19:1-6: The heavens declare the glory of God,  and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard.Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them he has set a tent for the sun,  which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them, and there is nothing hidden from its heat.

God’s revelation of His Word is set in the heavens, the stars prophesy, they show knowledge, they tell of God’s glory, and set forth His purposes. The stars declare God’s plan of redemption and the coming seed of the woman which is Christ.

Genesis 1:14: And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years

Signs in Hebrew means “to mark” and is marking someone significant to come.   

First written promise of the Messiah: Genesis 3:15: And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.

Biblical astronomy is the true understanding of the names of the stars as they depict the coming of Christ.

Psalm 147:4: He determines the number of the stars;  he gives to all of them their names.

God has named every single star in the universe and they all point to Christ.

Verse 2: “In the east” means “in the rising”-refers to the rising of a star shortly before sunrise called in astronomy the heliacal rising of a star. In ancient times all astronomical bodies were called stars even planets. So the Magi saw a celestial body in its helical rising above the eastern horizon.

Verse 3-12:  When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 

Amazing all of Jerusalem was troubled also. Jesus Christ is always troubling to the unbeliever. Troubled means to shake back and forth, to be agitated, to stir up like boiling water. We never have to be troubled, for we have Jesus Christ and have His peace and His joy. John 14:27: Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. John 16:11: These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. The world will never celebrate the birth of Christ. The world is only troubled by his birth. There is no joyous celebration.

John 3:16-21: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

So many people would rather sit in darkness than come to the light of the world, Jesus Christ. The world today loves darkness and hates the light. They do not want their evil works to be exposed.  

Matthew 2:4: And assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 

Isn’t it amazing that the top religious leaders of Judah had not been aware a king of Judah had been born, but religious Gentiles from Persia knew this. Herod was mad at the religious leaders for not telling him, but they had no clue. Herod had the religious leaders as sycophants. They fawned his person for special favors. Therefore it was no trick for him to gather the religious leaders together to learn where the Christ-child was born. There are always those ministers who are more interested in political clout than they are in spiritual clout. They prefer the recognition of the powers that be to the recognition of the Power that is, namely, God. “They loved the praise of men more than the praise of God” (John 12:43).

Matthew 2:5-7: They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,  are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 

Herod demanded accurate, precise information on his star.

D A Carson says Herod “was wealthy, politically gifted, intensely loyal, an excellent administrator, and clever enough to remain in the good graces of successive Roman emperors. His famine relief was superb and his building projects (including the temple, begun 20 B.C.) were admired even by his foes. But he loved power, inflicted incredibly heavy taxes on the people, and resented the fact that many Jews considered him a usurper. In his last years, suffering an illness that compounded his paranoia, he turned to cruelty and in fits of rage and jealousy killed close associates.”

Matthew 2: 8,9: And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 

To rest over the place means when the star reached its apex, the highest point in relation to the observer, which is called the meridian. This is the second time they saw the star. Between December 4, 2BC to January 9, 1BC the Magi saw the star as revealed in verse 9 that led them to the house where the infant Jesus was.

Matthew 2:10-12: When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. The revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ always brings exceeding great joy. You cannot separate joy and Jesus Christ.

The hope (absolute certainty, not “hope so” but “hope sure”) that we as believers will one day (SOON) see our Savior face to face (the Goal of our life’s journey) ought to stir in our hearts exceedingly great joy today! Are you downcast, despairing? Then preach to your soul to hope in God (Ps 43:5). Ponder your future appointment with Jesus the Lover of your soul. Let that thought invigorate your heart. We need to heed Peter’s exhortation  to “prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:13) We need to obey Paul’s command to “Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.” (Col 3:2-4) And we need to heed the exhortation of the writer of Hebrews to fix “our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb 12:2). 

Matthew could have simply said “they rejoiced” and we would have understood him. Instead, he piles up words that literally read “they rejoiced with exceeding great joy” It is almost as if they could not experience a greater degree of joy. So as stated above their “over the top” joy was because of their anticipation at their imminent meeting with the real “Star,” the King of the Jews

Herod was not rejoicing (HE WAS TROUBLED. HE WAS SCHEMING). Evil people are too busy doing evil to rejoice and to know joy. Their joy is hallow, unreal, superficial, but when God gives joy, it supersedes anything the world has to offer. The wise men knew tremendous joy because Christ was their focus. He is the key to true joy. There is no true joy apart from Jesus. We rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice. Phil. 4:4. Joy is our lifestyle in Jesus Christ.

11 And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

The word “child” in Greek and Aramaic does not mean newborn babe which was the word used in Luke. Here they went into a house, the shepherds went to a stable. These two events are not simultaneous. but happened about 1 year and 3 months apart. This is why Herod ordered all children 2 years and younger to be slain.

King Herod was living at the time of Jesus’s birth. Josephus recorded that a lunar eclipse occurred shorting before Herod’s death. The lunar eclipse occurred on January 9, 1BC and it is estimated as he did some events after the eclipse that is death was around February 26th 1BC.

I do not have time in this article to get into all the details of the astronomical signs in the sky that the Magi observed, but from August 12, 3BC until August 27th 3BC, there were seven astronomical events in the constellation of Leo that represent His star. Leo was the Lion of Judah and represented the constellation associated with the tribe of Judah. All seven events involved Jupiter which was the King planet and the Hebrew name of Jupiter means righteousness and Christ was the righteous branch prophesied in Scripture. Venus is known as the morning star and Jesus Christ is referred to as “the bright and morning star”(Revelation 22:16). Regulus is the brightest star in the constellation Leo and is often referred to as the heart of the lion. It was also referred to in antiquity as the king star associated with rulership and dominion. The last event in the heavens occurred on August 27th, 2BC, and was a massing of planets of Jupiter, Mars, Mercury, and Venus.

The birth of Jesus Christ as well as I can document this with much previous research is between 6:18PM and 7:39PM on September 11, 3BC which was Tishri 1 on the Hebrew Calendar (Rosh Hashanah). It is said in ancient Jewish literature that this was the day Adam was born. It also was the Day of Trumpets. Edersheim says during New Years Day horns and trumpets were blown in Jerusalem from morning until evening. Whenever trumpets were blown in Jerusalem it was a public acknowledgment that Yahweh was king. These trumpets heralded Jesus Christ as the newborn king. Tishri 1 was used in counting the years of a King’s rule. It is said Abraham was born on this day and Joseph became ruler over all of Egypt on this day.

Three gifts are mentioned in Scripture, but no indication 3 Magi. Probably large caravan, the astronomical elite of the far east. The Magi showed utmost respect and humility by falling down and worshipping him. God never had them return to the scheming Herod as they were warned by God to flee.

The Shepherds and Wise men-two unlikely groups that God chose to reveal the greatness of the birth of Christ and bring them to be eyewitnesses of His Majesty. The religious and political elite were not listening and were more concerned to consolidate and revel in their power than the birth of Christ. Jesus was a threat to them as is seen by Herod’s actions.

Matthew 1:23: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). 

We can condense all the truth of Christmas into three words “God With Us,” Immanuel is a transliteration of the original Hebrew word derived from Immanu (with us) and El (God),  Indeed, Jesus’ Name IMMANUEL emphasizes His nearness, for His birth brought the infinite, holy God within reach of finite, sinful man. God came to live WITH US through the work of His Son us so we could live WITH HIM! The Son of GOD became the Son of MAN that He might change the sons of MEN into sons of GOD (1Jn 3:1), who can forever “draw near with confidence (boldness) to the Throne of grace” through Immanuel (Heb 4:16).Spurgeon declares “If GOD be WITH US, we are in ennobling company, even though we are poor and despised. If GOD be WITH US, we have all-sufficient strength (2Cor 12:9), for nothing can be too difficult for the Lord (Ge 18:14). If GOD be WITH US, we are always safe, for none can harm those who walk under His shadow (Ps 57:1). Oh, what a joy we have here! 

In Christ, all depression ceases. In Christ, all fear and worry melt away. In Christ, all oppression is crushed. In Christ, all addictions are shattered. In Christ, all the chains of bondage are loosed. In Christ, all condemnation is obliterated. In Christ, we are made free from all the forces of darkness that plague mankind. No religion, idol, or god whether Islam. Buddhism or Hinduism can set a person free from the exercised kingdom of darkness and the clutches of sin and death. Only in Jesus Christ is our redemption, salvation, and liberation finished.

This wonderful Savior Jesus Christ whose birth we celebrate is the Red Thread of the Bible! The thread that binds the Word of God together. You find him everywhere in the Bible, the Word of God! In Genesis, he is the promised seed of the woman. In Exodus, he is the Passover Lamb. In Leviticus, he is the high priest. In Numbers, he is the star to rise out of Jacob. In Deuteronomy, he is the two laws-love God and love your neighbor. In Joshua, he is the captain of the lord of hosts. In Judges, he is the covenant angel named Wonderful. In Ruth, he is the kinsman-redeemer. In Samuel, he is the root and offspring of David. In Kings, he is the greater than the Temple. In Chronicles, he is the king’s son. In Ezra and Nehemiah, he is the rebuilder. In Esther, he is the savior of God’s people. In Job, he is the daysman. In Psalms, he is the song. In Proverbs, he is the wisdom of God. In Ecclesiastes, he is the one among a thousand. In Song of Solomon, he is the bridegroom of the bride. In Isaiah, he is Jacob’s branch. In Jeremiah, he is our righteousness. In Lamentations, he is the unbelievers’ judgment. In Ezekiel, he is the true shepherd. In Daniel, he is the stone that became the head of the corner. In Hosea, he is the latter rain. In Joel, he is God’s dwelling in Zion. In Amos, he is the raiser of David’s tabernacle. In Obadiah, he is the deliverer on Mount Zion. In Jonah, he is our salvation. In Micah, he is the lord of kings. In Nahum, he is the stronghold in the time of trouble. In Habakkuk, he is our joy and confidence. In Zephaniah, he is our mighty lord. In Haggai, he is the desire of the nations. In Zechariah, he is our servant-the branch. In Malachi, he is the son of righteousness.

In Matthew, he is Jehovah’s Messiah. In Mark, he is Jehovah’s servant. In Luke, he is Jehovah’s man. In John, he is Jehovah’s Son. In Acts, he is the gift of holy spirit. In Romans, he is the believer’s justification. In Corinthians, he is the believer’s sanctification. In Galatians, he is the believer’s righteousness. In Ephesians, he is the believer’s heavenly standing. In Philippians, he is the believer’s self-adequacy. In Colossians, he is the believer’s completeness. In Thessalonians, he is the believer’s soon glorification. In Timothy, he is the faithful men. In Titus, he is the fellow-laborer. In Philemon, he is the love of a believer. In Hebrews, he is the high priest for sin. In James, he is the royal law. In Peter, he is the pastor. In John, he is as we are. In Jude, he is the beloved. In Revelations, he is the King of kings and Lord of lords.

He is the doom of the adversary as promised in Genesis 3:15 and accomplished in Revelation 20:10. He is the “no night” of Revelation 22:5, of which Genesis 1:1 is night. He is the light of Revelation 21:13, of which Genesis 1:16 and 17 is the sun and moon. He is the “no more death, neither sorrow nor crying” of Revelation 21:4, of which Genesis 3:16 and 17 is sorrow, suffering, and death. He is the “no more curse” of Revelation 22:3, of which Genesis 3:17 is the curse. He is the welcome home to paradise of Revelation 22:2, of which Genesis 3:22 to 24 is the banishment from paradise.

Who is this Jesus Christ?

He is Abel’s sacrifice, Abraham’s ram, Isaac’s well, Jacob’s ladder. He is Judah’s scepter, Moses’ rod, Joshua’s rams’ horn, Samuel’s horn of oil, David’s slingshot, Hezekiah’s sundial, Elijah’s mantle and Elisha’s staff. He is Job’s prayer, Isaiah’s fig tree, Ezekiel’s wheel, Daniel’s Jerusalem window, Jonah’s sea monster and Malachi’s storehouse. He is Peter’s shadow, Paul’s handkerchiefs and aprons. He is the lily of the valley and the rose of Sharon in life’s desserts. He is the pearl of great price. He is the rock for pilgrims in a weary land. He is the believer’s justification. He is the believer’s righteousness. He is the believer’s sanctification. He is the believer’s redemption. He is the believer’s knowledge. He is the believer’s wisdom. He is the believer’s all-in-all in all. He is the believer’s completely complete completeness. He is the bright and morning star, and he’s my Lord and my Savior.

He is knocking at the door of your heart right now. He is inviting you this Christmas to open the door and let him into your heart. Confess him as Lord and believe that He is alive because God raised him from the dead. Repent and turn to him and receive the power of the gift of holy spirit and receive the new birth. This is the greatest Christmas gift of all. It is a new season, a new beginning, a new life. The past is gone. With Jesus you start with a clean slate and there is no limit to what he can do in your life. You belong to Him. He wants all of you. This is the message of hope and joy tonight. This is the true meaning of Christmas.

I appreciate the work of Precept Austin,  Jesus Christ our Promised Seed by Wierwille, Ernest Martin, EW Bullinger, and many other sources that contributed to this article

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Fundamental Christian Attitudes: Thankfulness

Let’s open our Bibles tonight to the next in our study regarding the anatomy of the church.  One of the essential attitudes, one of the essential motivations, essential spiritual realities in the life of the church, through which its life flows, is gratitude.  As we’ve been talking about the church – and we’ve been having such a wonderful time over the last number of months – as we have been talking about the church, we have been talking about its various internal systems; those attitudes, those concepts, those spiritual realities, those motivations that carry the life of the church, that carry its spiritual life, its real life.  We talked about faith, and obedience, and attitudes of love, and humility, and unity, and forgiveness.

And this morning we talked about joy.  It was a wonderful, wonderful study, I think, for all of us, and in some ways, these studies come and go too fast.  We can hardly imbibe one.  I really have never done this in the years of ministry here – that is, to do a series Sunday morning and Sunday night.  I always kind of give you a week to think about it and let it sort of settle in your heart, but we’re moving pretty fast – but you’re up to it, and you can carry two messages through the week, and let God use them both in your heart.  But we want to talk about this spiritual attitude of thankfulness, of gratitude. 

I can remember many, many years ago reading a very fascinating story in Luke’s gospel that has stayed with me as one of those passages that lingers in my mind, and the Spirit of God brings it back to me.  It comes in chapter 17 of Luke, and verse 11.  “And it came about, while He was on the way to Jerusalem, that He was passing between Samaria and Galilee” – up on the north part above Jerusalem – “and He entered a certain village.  And as He did, ten leprous men who stood at a distance met Him.”  Lepers always stood at a distance because it was believed, and probably true, that their particular disease had infectious capabilities, and so they were basically quarantined, and isolated into leper colonies, and they were kept to themselves, apart from any interaction with healthy people. 

And so these ten lepers stood at a distance from Jesus, “and they raised their voices.”  They had to yell at Him from a distance.  Verse 13, “saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.’  And when He saw them, He said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’”  It might seem like a strange command, but it wasn’t, because when a leper believed that he had indeed recovered from his disease and was well, he was to go the priest, and there was to be a purification ceremony to assure that that, in fact, was the case, as much as they could in ancient times.  And then he could recirculate among the people.  And so Jesus said to them, “‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’  And as they went,” it says, “they were cleansed.”

Now, they started out in an act of faith heading for the priests.  Nothing had happened before they started in that direction; it happened as they were going.  Ten of them – this is the remarkable part of the story.  “One of them, when he saw that he had been healed, turned back, glorifying God with a loud voice, and he fell on his face at His feet, giving thanks to Him.  And he was a Samaritan.”  It’s almost inconceivable that one could be cured of something as terrible as leprosy; something which rendered a person socially unclean, and ceremonially unclean, and put you in an isolation with others of that same frightening disease.  Cut yourself off from the family, and loved ones, and the synagogue, and all the social events, all the interaction that makes up life.

And then to be totally cleansed – you would think that ten of them would have come back, and fallen at the feet of Jesus, and given thanks.  The only one who did, interestingly enough, is a Samaritan.  And the interesting part about that is there was no love lost between Jews and Samaritans.  There was a mutual hate that had been engendered by the fact that Samaritans were a half-breed people.  That race of people came from the loins of Jews who intermarried with Gentiles, a despicable thing to most Jews in the ancient world.  And so this was remarkable indeed, for here came a Samaritan, falling on his face at the feet of a Jew, and thanking Him.

“And Jesus answered and said, ‘Were there not ten cleansed?  But the nine, where are they?  Was no one found who turned back to give glory to God except this foreigner?’  And He said to him, ‘Rise, go your way; your faith’” – literally in the Greek – “‘your faith has saved you.’”  Ten got healed, one got saved.  It’s a wonderful story for the one; it’s a tragedy for the nine.  It illustrates that how ugly ingratitude is, being unthankful – how hard to understand that these people could so quickly forget the very one who was the source of their cleansing.  In Romans, chapter 1, as we think about this matter of gratitude, when the apostle Paul indicts society, sinful society, when he indicts the nations of the world, the indictment is very specific. 

He says in verse 21, of Romans 1, “Even though they knew God.”  Everybody coming into the world knows God, they don’t know Him personally, they don’t know Him savingly, but they know Him.  They know Him through reason; they can observe creation, and reason to a first cause, and know a lot about that first cause by the character and nature of creation, in all of its manifestations.  And they can know God as judge, by the understanding of moral law that is written into the fabric of their life; Romans 2 talks about that.  The Gentiles who have no law have a law written in their hearts, and a conscience to go with it, which activates the law in response to their behavior.  So they know God through reason, and they know God through the moral law in their hearts. 

But you notice in verse 21, “even though they knew God they did not honor Him as God or give thanks.”  It is right at the top of God’s list of damning sins – ingratitude – ingratitude.  It so characterizes fallen men, it certainly shouldn’t characterize God’s people.  We can understand that nine lepers who didn’t know God could be thankless.  We can understand a world of thankless people.  I cannot understand a thankless Christian when we understand what the Lord has done for us.  Nor can God understand a thankless Christian.  Turn to 1 Thessalonians, again chapter 5, where we were this morning, and let’s go back to another command there; verse 18, and again a very brief command. 

Verse 18 says, “In everything give thanks.”  And that’s all we need to look at.  Obviously, “this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.”  In everything give thanks.  God desires this.  That little phrase at the end of verse 18 actually follows all three commands, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and in everything give thanks.”  All three of those sum up God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  In the Old Testament sacrificial system there were sin offerings, and sin offerings were to be constant reminders to the people of their sinfulness.  They would just go in and give them over, and over, and over, and over – it was not only the offering of the day of atonement, but all through the year there were necessary sin offerings being made, and the people of Israel were making them at all times. 

There were actually twenty-four courses of priests who came down to Jerusalem, and each course of priests served for two weeks, and that made up the full year.  And they spent those two weeks coming from their various towns and villages where they lived, coming to the temple, and they spent those two weeks with blood up to their elbows, butchering incessantly the animals that were coming in to be offered as sacrifice.  None of those animals could take away sin but they were constant reminders to the people of their sinfulness, and the requirement of sinfulness which is death, the desperate need of forgiveness, atonement, cleansing, and righteousness before God.  But there were another kind of offering that was given in the Old Testament; they were called thank offerings – you remember them – and also called in Leviticus peace offerings. 

And those were designed not to remind the people of sin, but to remind the people of their need to be thankful to God for all of His merciful, gracious provisions for their needs.  They would bring in a sheaf of grain as a thank offering.  They would bring oil and wine as a thank offering.  And those were symbols of all of God’s provision, and reminders that they needed to be thankful to God, who supplied everything.  Even today as a church, since our Lord Himself ordained it, we have a ceremony as Christians.  We call it communion, or the Lord’s Table, or the Lord’s supper, and it combines both the elements of the sin offering, in terms of its memorial character, and elements of the thank offering into one. 

We remember Christ, the sacrifice for our sins, and we offer up thanksgiving for all that that sacrifice has accomplished for us.  So when you come to the Lord’s Table, you come to what is a table of thanks.  Now, let’s go back to this text, even if it is so brief, and remind ourselves of this simple command: “In everything give thanks.”  It’s a lot like “rejoice always,” because it has that unlimited requirement – in everything, en panti in the Greek.  It has the idea of being in connection with everything that occurs in life, no matter what it is, and as I noted this morning, with the exception of personal sin – with the exception of personal sin.  In everything give thanks, no matter what the situation is, no matter what the difficulty, no matter what the trial, we are to find reason to thank the Lord. 

And as I noted for you, thanklessness is a sin that characterizes the unregenerate, those who know not God.  In fact, just to expand your understanding of that a little bit, remind yourself of 2 Timothy 3.  In that text it says, “Realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come.  For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy.”  And what Paul is saying there is that in the last days, ingratitude will characterize people.  Down in that same chapter, in verse 13, he said that “evil men will get worse and worse.”  The closer we get to the coming of Christ, the more wicked men become; the more wicked they become, the more thankless they are. 

Thus we are not surprised to see unsaved people going through life complaining, bitter, angry, thankless, without any gratitude, expecting everything good that comes their way, and a lot more.  The unregenerate man in our culture, in our time, views life as moving along a path of manipulation and luck combined.  He manipulates as much as he can, and hopes for luck to come in and help him.  Or he may view life fatalistically, as some inevitable force which he must reluctantly accept, and he can’t do anything about it.  Or he may view life as the end product of his sheer genius, of his great effort, of his amazing skill.  And we even hear people today be so brash as to thank themselves for what they are.

So there are those people who just complain and hope for some lucky break.  There are those people who fatalistically think they can’t change anything, and so reluctantly accept what comes with a thankless heart, believing they are at the mercy of the fates that are purely random.  Or there are those people, those unsavory and egotistical people, who think that everything good that comes their way in life is purely the product of their own human genius.  But for believers, we know God is at work.  And we know that God is unfolding a divine agenda, and a divine plan, and a divine purpose.  Each component determined by Him for our benefit, and our good, and His glory. 

He’s leading us to a sovereignly designed goal.  We quoted that wonderful verse this morning: “For we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.”  God is unfolding a purpose, and the end of that purpose is good for His own.  In fact, 1 Peter 4, in verse 12, Peter says, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you.”  It’s not strange to go through a fiery trial.  It’s not strange to go through testing when God knows the end result.  So as we said this morning, whatever may come into life should be treated with joy, and now we want to add with gratitude – with gratitude. 

As Christians, we sin often, I think, with our ingratitude.  It’s not just the lack of joy that is a sin; it’s the lack of gratitude.  We ought to be thanking God for every blessing, every small blessing, every small goodness, every large goodness, every little thing that God provides for us.  And I think that’s why, in 1 Timothy 4, the apostle Paul said that you can eat anything, as long as you receive it with thanksgiving.  Sometimes, when I bow my head in some circles to thank the Lord for my meals, which I always do at every meal, somebody will say to me, “You know, that’s a little bit legalistic.”  And my response to that is, “Nah, it’s not legalistic, it just reminds me of where every single thing comes from.” 

And I need that – I need that so I don’t take God’s goodness for granted.  The early church made thanksgiving an actual part of their fellowship, and that is not a bad idea, believe me.  In 1 Corinthians, chapter 14 – by the way, a very interesting chapter, with a lot of interesting issues – but one of the things that gets passed over in this wonderful chapter is down in verses 16 and 17.  He’s talking about blessing.  In verse 16, he says, “If you bless in the spirit only, how will the one who fills the place of the ungifted say the ‘amen’ at your giving of thanks?”  He’s talking here about speaking in tongues, or if you’re praying with the spirit, that is, in a way that is not a language that can be understood, if you’re singing with the spirit, people don’t know what you’re singing. 

If you’re blessing with the spirit, in verse 16, and they cannot understand what you’re saying, how can they say “amen” at your giving of thanks?  Now, the thing I want to point out here is it must have been a common part of worship when the people of the Corinthian assembly came together for public thanks.  They were singing, they were praying, and we do that, and they were saying thanks.  Verse 17, “You are giving thanks well enough, but when you do it in a way that people can’t understand, the other person is not edified.”  So the point to draw there is that part of the church’s celebration of worship involved a time of giving thanks. 

I try to do that in the prayer that I pray.  We try to do that in the hymns that we sing, but we want you to do that from the heart.  It would be impossible, as you can imagine, in a church this large, for everybody to stand up and say thanks, but that attitude of thanks should be rising up within you.  And how often this kind of attitude is missing in the discontent of this age, when we have so much, so much, but not enough to be thankful.  It would be so much easier if we were deprived of almost everything, and we would be filled with exhilarating thanks with just the smallest morsel of bread.  In 2 Corinthians, chapter 4 – again, this is such a wonderful verse, 2 Corinthians 4; we studied it some months ago, verse 15. 

Paul is here defining his ministry as to its purpose, and he says, “For all things are for your sakes.”  I mean he didn’t do what he did for himself; if he had his own way he’d go to heaven, he said that, “Far better to depart and be with Christ.”  He didn’t do what he did because he enjoyed persecution, and suffering, and pain.  It was all for their sakes.  He endured it all, took the pain, took the suffering, for their sakes, “in order that the grace which is spreading,” that’s saving grace, “which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to redound to the glory of God.”

Christians today, fussing and fuming and stressed out, and disappointed, depressed about every little thing in their life that doesn’t go right, and that’s a really disgusting sin.  Your heart ought to be so overflowing with thanks that it ought to redound, as it says at the end of the verse, or abound to the glory of God.  That’s what happens, you see, when saving grace comes and spreads among people; it just causes more giving of thanks.  Paul’s saying it’s like every time somebody is converted, we add them to the “Hallelujah Chorus.”  It should be the normal pattern for Christians to be grateful, and thankful, and overwhelmed with thanks. 

I’m very disappointed in people who are discontent, and unsatisfied, and unhappy, and don’t like their circumstances, and don’t like this, and don’t like that, and want to change their environment, and change this, instead of being overwhelmed with gratitude for God’s great grace.  In the ninth chapter of 2 Corinthians, Paul reminds all of us about how great God is, and how rich He is, and how He pours out those riches on those who give.  Remember, this section in chapter 8 and 9 is about giving, but pick it up in verse 11, where he says, “You will be enriched in everything for all liberality.”  In other words, when you give, and you bring your money, and you give it to the Lord, and you give your resources, and you give all that you are and have to Him, it says you will be enriched. 

In other words, you can’t out-give God.  Remember, “Give and it shall be given unto you, pressed down, shaken together and running over,” it says in Luke?  “Sow sparingly, reap sparingly; sow bountifully, reap bountifully,” it said earlier.  “God” – in verse 8 – “is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed.”  The whole principle here is that when you give God pours it back.  You’re investing and He pours back a dividend.  You’re sowing and He brings in the crop.  You’re putting something in the cup and He fills it to overflowing.  You’re investing with God and He pours it back.  Why?  Verse 11, “You will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing” – what – “thanksgiving to God.” 

God wants to be thanked.  And when He indicts the whole of the fallen human race, He says, “They’re not thankful – they’re not thankful.  They don’t acknowledge Me as the source of everything.”  God is worthy to be thanked.  And that’s one of the reasons He saved you, to add you to the “Hallelujah Chorus,” and you’re going to spend forever thanking Him for it – you ought to start now.  And that’s the reason that when you give, He gives back, because He wants to hear your thanks.  In fact, verse 12 follows it up.  “For the ministry of this service” – in other words, when you give, when you give your money – “is not only fully supplying the needs of the saints” – it’s not just that you’re giving so that needs can be met and ministry can go on – “but is also overflowing through many thanksgivings to God.” 

Now, look, this is a big picture.  You give generously, God gives back, and you say thanks.  The church takes your money, translates it into ministry to other people, and they say thanks, and thanks is multiplied, and God is glorified.  You see, in verse 13, he says – remember the scenario here.  The Corinthians were giving money.  The money would be taken to the poor saints in Jerusalem.  It would be given to them to meet their needs.  And, in verse 13, he says, “Because of the proof” – the proof of your love – “given by this ministry” – this money – “they will glorify God for your obedience to your confession of the gospel of Christ.”  They’re going to praise God that your salvation is real.  They’re going to praise God for how He’s changed your life, as manifest in the liberality of your contribution.

And then, verse 14: “While they also, by prayer on your behalf, yearn for you because of the surpassing grace of God in you.”  And then everybody is going to say, “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!”  God wants our thanks in everything.  He wants it in everything.  Turn to Ephesians, chapter 5.  Thanks should be a part of our normal speech.  I suppose if we get this new greeting “rejoice” going we talked about this morning, and somebody says, “Rejoice, good morning, good evening, rejoice,” you might say, “I am, because I have so much” – what – “to be thankful for.”  Look at Ephesians 5: “Do not let immorality” – porneia, sexual sin – “or any impurity” – that’s a word that would mean every other form of sexual sin – “or greed even be named among you, as is proper among saints.” 

“And” – verse 4 – “there must be no filthiness” – dirty talk – “no coarse jesting” – that’s a word for obscenities; no filthy talk, no foolish talk, no obscenities – “which are not fitting, but rather” – what – “giving of thanks.”  Boy, those two are far apart, aren’t they?  When you open your mouth, give thanks – give thanks.  I was in the home of Pastor Constantine in Belarus, and he had been in prison for many years; and a godly, saintly man, pastor for many, many years.  I have preached in his church many times, many, many hours.  I taught the whole New Testament there.  They invited me for six days.  I said, “What do you want me to speak on?”  They said, “We want you to teach the whole New Testament.” 

In six days, to 125 young pastors in training, in Minsk, in Belarus.  I said, “That’s very difficult, to cover the whole thing in six days, especially through translators.”  And they had to use three translators, ’cause it’s tiring to do translation.  And so they kept changing, and I just kept going, for six days.  Look, I like potatoes better and they have those, so I don’t know who told them that.  And I felt terrible when this dear lady said she got rice, because she knew I liked rice.  I mean who likes rice?  Rice is rice, but that was – put something on it I like it, you know.  But, I mean that’s the kind of people they are.

And so we sat at the table, and we ate this lovely meal, and we talked about the things of Christ through the interpreter, and he’s a great, great man of God.  So I said to him, I said, “You know, Constantine,” I said, “you’ve suffered, and you’ve gone through all this, and you went through the Communist regime, and the whole business.  What was it like?  I mean what kind of things did you suffer, and what do we need to know about that time?  What do Christians need to know about that time?”  And he looked at me, and he said, “Oh no,” he said.  “No, no,” he said.  “I will only thank the Lord.  I will not speak of sudch things.”  He wouldn’t speak of them.  He would just thank the Lord.  That’s all he would speak about. 

That is a marvelous thing, when you open your mouth and that’s all that comes out is thanks.  The Christian life is not nearly as complicated as some people think.  It’s just these attitudes that we’ve been talking about, practiced.  In the fifth chapter of Ephesians, you have an extended command, that really says the same thing that 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says.  It says in verse 18, “Do not get drunk with wine, that is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit.”  There was this ridiculous idea in the pagan religions that if you got drunk, your drunken stupor induced a higher state of consciousness, in which you communed with the deities.  It was that very same theory, by the way, that Timothy Leary borrowed from ancient religions, and translated it into the fifties drug culture.

If you really want to transcend and touch the infinite, get high.  Remember?  That was really out of the old pagan religions.  And instead of that, Paul says, “You’re not going to commune with God that way; just be filled with the Spirit.”  And the result of that is speaking to one another in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord.”  We could sum that up in one small word, the theme of this morning; what is it?  Joy.  And then, verse 20, “Always giving thanks for all things, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to God, even the Father.”  Constantly, always giving thanks – that’s what a Spirit-filled person does; they’re characterized by joy, and they’re characterized by thanks. 

Now, thanksgiving is the normal pattern, and we should be in the “Hallelujah Chorus” thanking the Lord for His mercy in saving us.  We should be thanking Him for all the blessings He pours upon us; for the way in which we can give, and extend those gifts into the lives of others, and cause more thanks.  Thanks should come out of our mouths every time we open it.  We should be thankful in everything, constantly, unceasingly, because the Spirit is controlling our lives, and if He is, we will be.  And when you’re not thankful, the Spirit’s not in control.  You say, “Well, you mean to be thankful even for the difficulties?”  Of course, because as we saw this morning, those are the things working together for good; those are the things that are perfecting. 

“After you’ve suffered a while,” 1 Peter 5:10, “the Lord make you perfect.”  As we saw from James 1:2, this morning, “Count it all joy when you fall into various trials, because they have a perfecting work.”  Turn to Philippians, chapter 4, as we continue this little pilgrimage on this marvelous theme.  It says in verse 6, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your request be made known to God.”  Just be thankful, even when you’re bringing up your petitions, even when you’re praying, and your supplications are going before the Lord, it ought to be in an attitude of total thanks.  I can’t resist Colossians 2.  “As you” – verse 6 – “have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him” – be like Christ. 

“Having been firmly rooted” – verse 7 – “now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed” – and listen to this – “and overflowing with gratitude.”  Boy, I’m telling you, people, this is such an essential thing.  You ought to be overflowing with gratitude.  You know, Thomas Hardy was right.  You know, he said, “There are some people who can find the manure pile in any meadow.”  I mean it doesn’t matter what is going on, they can be negative.  Why?  You have nothing to be thankful for?  You ought to be overflowing with gratitude all the time.  It ought to be, for all of us, an absolutely constant way of life.  Now, as if what we’ve read isn’t already enough, go one more chapter in Colossians, chapter 3, and verse 15.  And he says, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” 

Don’t be stressed, don’t be anxious.  “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.”  Be thankful.  Now, some of these Christians to whom Paul wrote were really stressed out.  But I’ll tell you, Paul himself was a prisoner when he wrote all of this.  “Let the word of Christ richly dwell in you,” he says, “with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to the Lord, to God.  And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.”  I mean it’s getting pretty repetitious, isn’t it?  Just be thankful.

And as if that’s not enough, go to chapter 4.  “Masters, employers, grant to your employees, slaves, servants, justice and fairness” – be careful how you treat the people that work for you – “knowing that you too have a Master in heaven.  Devote yourselves to prayer, keep alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving.”  So marvelous – we are called to incessant thanksgiving, constant thanksgiving.  We noted this morning, in Acts 16, how Paul and Silas were in jail, singing praise and thanks to God; the apostle Paul – always thankful.  You say, “Well, there are a lot of things in life you can’t be thankful about.”  Well, look, if I were Paul, there would be one thing I wouldn’t be thankful about, and that would be a really messed up church that was a lot of trouble. 

And the one that comes immediately to mind is Corinth, right?  Listen to what he said: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  I thank my God always concerning you” – and that was just before he laid them out.  See, I mean you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do, but it shouldn’t mess with your thankfulness.  You say, “What was he thankful about?”  They were saved.  They were God’s own – much to be thankful for, even though they broke his heart.  So this is very important, we are called to an inward, incessant joy and a constant thanks.  The model for this – I can’t resist taking a minute to just show you this.  The outstanding model for this, who transcends all others, of course, is our Lord. 

In Matthew 11:25, just listen: “Jesus answered and said, ‘I praise Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that Thou didst hide these things from the wise and intelligent and didst reveal them to babes.  Yes, Father, for thus it was well-pleasing in Thy sight.  All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.  Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you shall find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My load is light.’”

Jesus is approaching the cross, and this is what He says: “I praise You, O Father.”  Or actually, better translated: “I thank You, O Father.  I thank You for the privilege of serving You.”  He had a thankful heart.  It wasn’t easy, obviously; He was going to go through agonies we would never be able to comprehend, but He had a thankful heart.  You see it repeatedly, pouring out thanks to God.  We can’t look at all of those times, but just another one maybe, John 11.  In John 11, you know, He’s dealing with the death of Lazarus, and Mary and Martha, and Jesus says to Martha, who is worried because Lazarus has been dead four days, and as the King James says, “By now he stinketh.” 

So verse 40, “Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not say to you, if you believe you will see the glory of God?’  And so they removed the stone.”  And they were afraid this horrifying stench would come out.  “Jesus raised His eyes, and said, ‘Father, I thank Thee that Thou heardest Me,’” and then He said, “Lazarus, come forth,” and he came forth.  You know, you wouldn’t really think that Jesus would need to thank the Father for anything, since He was God, and since the plan was really equally His.  But what a wonderful example it is.  He thanked the Father for the privilege of ministry.  He thanked the Father for hearing His prayer for power on behalf of Lazarus.  He could even thank the Father for the death that He would die to redeem sinners.  In fact, in all that was so terrible about His humiliation, He was thankful to the Father.

Paul tells us, then – back in our text – what we need to hear again and again.  In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you.  This is His will.  Now, as I said this morning, there are some things that come into our lives that tend to cause us to be hindered in these right attitudes.  Let me make some suggestions, and they’ll be much like what I said this morning.  If you have trouble being thankful, let me tell you perhaps why.  And I’m going to start where I started this morning.  Maybe you’re not a Christian.  Maybe you’re deceived.  Maybe you just think you’ve been regenerated.  Maybe you had some emotional experience, and nothing more.  If you can’t find in your heart endless cause for thanksgiving, then maybe you don’t have a new life.  And maybe you ought to do as 2 Corinthians 13:5 says: examine yourself to see if you’re in the faith. 

Moving beyond that let me give you a second thing that can hinder your gratitude: doubt about God’s sovereign power.  Or let’s say, doubt about God.  If you don’t think God is really in charge, if you’re ignorant about that or don’t believe it, if you’re not sure God is really all-wise, if you’re not sure He knows everything about everything, if you’re not sure He really loves you as His own, if you’re not sure He really has your best interest in mind, if you’re not sure He’s trying to perfect you into the image of His Son, if you don’t understand your God and His purposes, then you may not be thankful.  Or, I might add, if you do understand them, but you tend to forget them. 

Why not be thankful for anything, if You know God’s power is at work in it, God’s wisdom is at work in it, God’s purpose is at work in it, God’s love is expressed through it?  But if you doubt that, you’re going to have a problem being thankful.  There’s a well-known counsellor in our country who tells people that there are times when you need to get angry at God.  Shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody that he comes from an Arminian background, where they’re not too sure just exactly how involved God is.  There are times when you need to get angry with God; it’s good to vent that.  It’s a sin to do that, and it may rise out of ignorance of a sovereign God, always with a good purpose for your good and His glory, and always in control.

A third thing that may be the cause hindering gratitude is selfishness.  And this links up so much with joy – that’s why I wanted to them both today.  It’s that attitude that says, “No matter what I’ve got, I don’t have what I really want; I don’t have enough.  I just – I want more – and my will is more important than God’s will.  I don’t know what God has for me, but I know what I want for me, and God ought to deliver.”  Boy, that will really destroy gratitude.  “I want my circumstances different.  I want my children different.  I want my life different.  I want my ministry different.  I want my spouse different.  I want my job different.  I want a lot of things different.  I want more of this, and less of that.” 

If that’s what drives you, and you’ve set your own agenda, then you’re going to have trouble.  On the other hand, if you say, “I only want what God wants, and I’ll believe that God will give me what He wants me to have,” then you can be thankful, right?  Fourthly: worldliness – awfully hard to sort yourself out from that in this culture.  If you’re into the pleasures, and the people, and the places, and the possessions, and the pursuits, and the popularity, and the prestige, and you just want all the stuff that the world says makes people satisfied and happy, you’re going to have trouble being thankful, ’cause you’re never going to have all of that, and when you get some of it, you won’t have enough of it.

A fifth thing that I might mention is a critical spirit.  If you’re bitter or negative, if you just kind of have a sour attitude on life – and you know how you get that?  You get that by having unrealistic expectations of what you deserve.  You get that because you think you ought to control everything, and there’s some things you can’t control, and that bothers you.  And you get that – and, you know, this is the sad part – and then you feed it like a monster, until it gets as big as a dinosaur.  And every time you speak – or most of the time – the dinosaur roars, because you’ve cultivated it.  Don’t let yourself be critical two days in a row, or two hours in a row, or two half-hours in a row.  Don’t build that kind of habit. 

If it’s unchecked, it will just smash a thankful heart into bits.  This attitude will corrode your love, it will corrode your joy, it will corrode your peace, it will corrode your spirituality – a critical spirit that always criticizes, sees what’s wrong with everybody else, what’s negative, what isn’t the way you want it, what isn’t under your control.  Always looking at things from the negative side is a terrible, terrible thing to do.  And when you cultivate that habit, you get so into it, it becomes a monster to slay.  A sixth hindrance to gratitude is impatience – impatience.  God isn’t moving fast enough.  It’s not so much that they want this or that; it’s that they want it now. 

They’ve got their own timetable.  And the perception is that God’s not on their schedule – they’ve got it in their appointment book, and He’s not keeping the appointments.  They want God to work for them when they want Him to work – impatience.  You need to learn to just be patient.  Let God unfold His purposes in His time, and be thankful that He knows better the timing than you do.  I’ll give you two more – coldness.  And by that what I mean is spiritual lukewarmness, lack of zeal for God, lack of diligence in the Scripture, lack of passion in prayer, lack of interest in worship, neglect of the Bible, wasting your time on trivia, spiritual lethargy, spiritual indifference – that produces a coldness and a lukewarmness that just kills gratitude. 

When you spend your time in the Word, and you spend your time in prayer, and you spend your time in worship, and you spend your time in service to the King and the kingdom, it excites gratitude.  And one last point – I guess this would be number eight if you’re listing them – rebellion – rebellion.  And this is the strongest attitude, I think, that mitigates against gratitude, and this is when you’re in a settled state of outright anger toward God because things didn’t go the way you wanted them, and it’s become a settled state of rebellion.  You are angry with God.  I got a letter on e-mail – oh, e-mail.  I’m telling you, it’s not enough to get regular mail.  Now it’s this new thing, stacks and stacks of this stuff, that you have to answer.

And I got this letter in e-mail, and it starts out – I just read through the stack today – this letter from a sweet lady from back in somewhere on the east.  And she says, “Thank you for your ministry in radio, and my husband and I listen, and we love Grace To You.  And my husband had a job, and he felt through listening to you, and the development of ministry began to well up in his heart, and he decided God wanted him to preach, and so he went off and got into a small church,” and, you know, I’m reading and I’m saying, “This is wonderful, and this is a great story.  And then, “Something didn’t go the way he wanted it to go,” she said, “in the small church, and it turned him bitter at God, and for fourteen years he has not entered a church.” 

Fourteen years – he is angry.  And she said, “As a loving wife, I have prayed for him fourteen years.”  She said, “I’m at the end of my rope.  Would you please pray for him, and if it’s in your heart, write him a letter?”  Well, I will – fourteen years of rebellion against God?  Would you like to live with a thankless person like that, in a constant state of rebellion?  That woman must be some woman.  She’s patient.  It took her fourteen years to write me.  I thought the second half of the – some of you would rattle off that letter three days after the rebellion started.  Now, all of that stuff, all of that doubt, selfishness, worldliness, critical spirit, impatience, coldness, rebellion – all of that is sin – sin. 

That man should have said, “What was God saying to me?  What was He trying to show me?  What could I have learned, and how can I praise Him and thank Him?”  And the reason he’s been in that condition for fourteen years is the reason he’ll stay there; it’s because he’s got such a bitter attitude toward God, until he deals with that sin, he can’t be used.  All this kind of stuff, ingratitude, just destroys the church.  You want to have a church full of joy, and blessing, and happiness, and peace where people love each other, and the church grows and flourishes, then have a church full of thankful people.  And if you want to really mess up a party, just bring in somebody who is negative and unthankful.  Watch out for those hindrances.  Don’t let them get cultivated in your life.

We have so much to be thankful for, beloved.  God’s holiness that makes Him perfect, and He never makes a mistake.  God’s goodness and mercy, which is always available; which is overflowing and abounding toward us the gift of Jesus Christ; that unspeakable gift, for which we are thankful.  All good gifts that flow down from the Father of lights: the victory over sin and death, divine guidance, complete provision for all our needs, the hope of heaven, the power of the Word, and on, and on, and on, and on we go.  Lots of reasons to give thanks, and if the church is to be the church of Jesus Christ, and His life is the flow through that church, it will be people who are filled with gratitude, even for the trials, even for the pain, even for the suffering. 

And my prayer is that God will fill your heart with joy no matter what, and that you’ll rejoice always and in everything give thanks; that’s crucial to the life of the church.  And you can do on the basis of this one little verse in Philippians 2:13: “It is God who is at work in you.”  Isn’t that great?  And what’s He doing?  “To will and to work for His good pleasure.”  And since He’s at work in you, using all this stuff to work for His own good pleasure, the next verse says, “You can do all things without grumbling.”  You can all things with joy and gratitude.  Father, we thank You so much for Your mercy and kindness toward us.  We thank You for the way in which You have consistently demonstrated Your goodness. 

And, Lord, fill us with thanksgiving.  We have so much to be thankful for, even the difficulties, for those we thank You – it’s easy in the good times.  Should be easy in the hard times, if we understand the purpose.  Lord, we pray that You’ll even use the strength of Your Spirit to break patterns of critical spirit, rebellion, worldliness, selfishness, impatience, all those things that hinder gratitude.  And may we begin every day, no matter how challenging it might be, by thanking You for being faithful in making your mercies new every morning.  Great is Your faithfulness.  By thanking You for all that is ours in Christ, by thanking You for eternal life, the hope of heaven, guidance, direction, truth, trials which humble us, trials which shape us. 

Give us thankful hearts.  You are worthy to be praised.  You are worthy to be thanked.  It is a sin not to do so; forgive us for that sin, and put us in a path of righteousness where we are, in everything, thankful.  And may it be infectious to those around us, that the thanks may redound to Your glory, in Christ’s name.  Amen.

John MacArthur

Courtesy of https://www.gty.org/library/sermons-library/90-123/fundamental-christian-attitudes-thankfulness

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