Don’t be Deceived

We’re all familiar with the Parable of the Prodigal Son from Luke chapter 15 in which Jesus tells His listeners of a wealthy man with two sons, and how the younger son one day went to his father and demanded his inheritance right then and there. He had no desire to wait until after his father had passed away. He wanted everything he had coming to him…immediately. The father complied with his son’s wishes and afterwards, the younger son packed up everything he had and left. Jesus said he went to a far off land and proceeded to squander all that he had on ‘wild living’, as it’s phrased in some translations. I like the way it’s stated in The King James version. It says he wasted it all on “riotous living.”

After the money was gone, things only got worse. The land where he resettled experienced a severe famine, and the young man’s situation became so dire and so desperate that he had to hire himself out to a pig farmer who sent him out to tend the pigs. Now I want to stop there for a moment and point out how Jesus used this and other parables to paint a word picture for His Jewish audience. According to the Law of Moses, a pig was an unclean animal. And since the Jews were not allowed to eat pork chops or ham sandwiches, they had no reason to raise pigs. The only people who kept and ate the meat of pigs were Gentiles. So the people standing there listening to Jesus tell this parable would have had a picture in their minds of just how unclean and how filthy the young man had become. He worked for a Gentile tending pigs. For Jewish people in that time, it couldn’t get any worse than that.

So he’s tending pigs for a Gentile and he’s slowly starving to death. Eventually though, the young man has a moment of clarity. Picking up at verse 17, the word of God tells us, “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”‘ And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet.

In his ongoing battle to keep people from embracing the saving grace of Jesus Christ, Satan uses an arsenal of lies and deception. He’s a liar and the father of lies, but there are two in particular that seem to be especially prevalent today. And I must confess that I fell for both of them at various times in my own life. The first lie is, “There’s no hurry. You have plenty of time to accept Jesus. Do it later. Today, live however you want. There’s no hurry” The young man in Jesus’ parable is depicted as someone who wanted to live by his own rules with no thought to the future and no consideration for God or for the consequences of his choices. He indulged in wild living. The same can be said of any number of people in our day and time as well. They live for themselves, indulging in “wild living”, and if they do give any thought to God at all, they tell themselves they have plenty of time, that they can follow Jesus…..someday. After all, what’s the rush? The real truth is, none of us know how much time God has given us, so the notion that accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is something that can be put off until later in life is a lie straight out of the mouth of Hell.

Then there’s the other lie. When the father in the parable ordered his servant to bring the best robe and put it around his son, what jumped out at me was what Jesus did not say. Jesus did not make any mention of the father sending his son to the nearest body of water to take a bath! Wallowing with pigs would tend to make a person very dirty and very smelly, don’t you think? The kid would have stunk to high heavens! Yet there is no mention in the parable of the son having to clean himself up before putting on his father’s best robe. And that is the second lie Satan uses to keep people from Christ, that you are too dirty to approach God, and that before you can even think about accepting Christ, you must first get rid of all the filth in your life. You have to get out of the inappropriate relationship or give up that way of life. You have to stop fussing and cussing and drinking and using drugs and get rid of all sin in your life BEFORE you are worthy enough and clean enough to approach God, Otherwise, God could never possibly forgive you. Well, that too is a lie because we can never get clean enough.

But, it is true that a Holy God cannot look on sin. So then, how can you approach God? If God cannot look on sin and on your own you can never clean yourself up enough to approach God, how can anyone be saved? When the father in Jesus’ parable covered his son with his best robe, he did not see the dirt. All he saw was his son wearing his very best robe. The dirt and filth were covered. In the same way, when a person invites Jesus Christ to be Lord of his or her life, God covers us with His very best robe, the righteousness of Jesus Christ. And when we are covered with Jesus’ righteousness, that’s all God sees. It was no accident that Jesus made no mention of the father giving instructions to have his son cleaned up before putting on the robe. Jesus illustrated the love of the father which in turn, illustrates our Heavenly Father’s love for us. For God so loved the world, He has covered our sins with the blood of His son Jesus Christ, that is, if we choose to accept the free gift of grace. We can never get ourselves clean enough to approach God, so we must allow Him to cover us with Jesus’ righteousness. When you are covered by the righteousness of Christ, God no longer sees the sin. He only sees His Son.

The evil one can lie to you and bombard you with temptation, but you still have the freedom to choose. Satan cannot force you to turn your back on God. He cannot prevent you from asking Jesus Christ to be your Lord and Savior. He will tell you there’s no hurry. That’s a lie. He will tell you that you have to clean yourself up first because if you don’t, God cannot forgive you. That’s a lie. The decision to accept Christ is your decision to make. There’s no gray area there. We can choose life with or without Christ. And that my friends is the choice between Heaven and Hell, life and death. I urge you, don’t be deceived by the lies. Choose life. Allow God to cover you with the righteous robe of Jesus Christ, while there’s still time. As Paul said to the Corinthians, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation. If you have put off accepting Jesus Christ till “someday”, don’t wait any longer. Your eternal life depends on it.

As a footnote, these devotional messages are read by believers and non-believers alike. If you are a Christian, I hope this will give you another tool you can use for evangelism. And if you are reading this on WordPress or elsewhere and have not yet accepted Jesus Christ as your personal savior but you’re checking out the Christian faith, I hope I’ve given you something to think about.

Have a blessed week in Christ!

 

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The Strength, Discipline, and Humility of Jesus

Jesus’ Trial

From Mark 14:

The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death, but they did not find any. Many testified falsely against him, but their statements did not agree.

 
Then some stood up and gave this false testimony against him: “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with human hands and in three days will build another, not made with hands.’” Yet even then their testimony did not agree.

 
Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, “Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?” But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer.

 
Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?”
“I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

 
Shortly thereafter, Jesus was sent to Pontius Pilate who asked the question, “Are you the king of the Jews?”. Jesus replied, “You have said so.” According to those familiar with the nuances of the Greek language in which the New Testament was originally written, Jesus’ response was the strongest affirmation that could possibly be given. In our language, it might expressed, “Absolutely, let there be no doubt, I am the king of the Jews!”

 
Pilate then asked Jesus about the accusations and charges that were being brought against Him by the Jewish leaders. Jesus gave no answer. His response to the questioning that night is something we need to take note of. You see, He never once gave an answer to a FALSE accusation, or to their lies. The only time Jesus said anything, that night, was in response to the truth. When asked by the high priest, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of God?” Jesus responded with the truth. “I am.” In the gospels of Matthew and Luke, Jesus’ response to the high priest is recorded as the same type of affirmative response He gave Pilate. “You have said so.” – “You say that I am.” Jesus only answered to truth because the truth is, Jesus is the Son of God.

I said it’s worth noting because it takes strength and discipline to remain silent when someone slanders you or makes false accusations against you. The same can be said when someone attacks your faith, or, as I experienced recently, when they attack the work you do for ministry. Now I used the word ‘attack’ and that might be too strong of a word. It was more of a subtle jab yet the intent was very obvious. Without going into too much detail, I was on the receiving end of some rather indignant comments regarding the value, or lack thereof, of these devotional messages I’ve been sending to you all these past four years. That’s all I’ll say about that.

But I will say that my first impulse was to fire right back. But before my encounter with that person that day, I had been thinking of how Jesus responded, or I should say, how He did not respond to any of the slanderous accusations that were made against Him. In turn, I realized I didn’t owe that man any explanation for why I write these devotional messages. I know in my heart that it’s a calling, so I don’t have to justify myself before any one man. I only have to give an account to God. It is for the glory of God, not my glory. Jesus was a model of strength and discipline from the moment of His arrest till His death on the cross. Compared to what He was about to go through, being gracious in the face of verbal jabs should be a picnic. So I knew I had to be gracious.

As our Christian faith comes under increasing attack, and “attack” is the right word there, there are lessons we can learn from Jesus’ refusal to respond to lies and false accusations. He didn’t dignify any of it with a response. That’s the strength and discipline I was referring to. This is the same Jesus who spoke with authority, and not like one of the scribes – whenever he preached. Yet He saw no need to respond to lies and slanderous accusations. When confronted with lies about our Christian faith, or about the church, we need not get caught up in quarrels and arguments over the lies. We only need to commit ourselves to God’s truth and build on that truth.

So what if we are attacked and slandered personally? What if the attacker is not only attacking your faith and slandering the church, what if they are gunning for you and calling you out personally? What then? Like I said, when that person fired those indignant remarks my way, my first impulse was to fire back. And why was that? The answer is straightforward – PRIDE! Out of pride I nearly escalated that incident to a whole new level, and I would still be regretting it at this very moment. More often than not, when we find ourselves in those situations, we’re governed by pride instead of humility. And I believe that’s another reason Jesus gave no response. He was not governed by pride. He was the model of strength and discipline in that moment, and He was also the model of humility. In humility, he endured the insults and slander and false accusations, just as he later endured the cross.

But is there EVER a time when we should defend ourselves against lies and slander and personal attacks? Absolutely! Long before His arrest, Jesus was accused of being demon possessed, that He drove out demons in the name of Beelzebub, or Satan. And Jesus defended Himself against those accusations by pointing out their foolishness. But again, His defense was not motivated by pride. Whether the scribes realized it or not, by accusing Jesus of driving out demons in the name of the devil, they were actually glorifying the evil one. In His rebuke to the scribes, Jesus pointed out the foolishness of their accusations and at the same time he pointed out the danger of committing blasphemy against the Holy Spirit of God. Jesus’ motivation was to give glory to whom it rightfully belongs, to God the Father. His defense against the accusations of being demon possessed was never motivated by personal pride.

There is a passage in the book of Proverbs that comes to mind. It’s actually two verses from the 26th chapter. Proverbs 26 verse 4 says: Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him. But then in verse 5, we read: Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes. These is some very simple yet very Godly wisdom in those two verses. There is a time to speak up and a time to shut up. Jesus knew exactly when an answer was needed, and when He did not have to say anything.

Therefore, we need to use Godly wisdom when we come under attack. And the Bible clearly tells us that as we move closer to the day of our Lord’s return, we can expect attacks against us and our Christian faith to increase. There will be times when we need to give a response, and times when it will be more prudent to say nothing. In his first letter to the Corinthian church, Paul wrote these words to the believers there, ‘”You say “Everything is permissible.” But not everything is beneficial.’ So before we respond to any lies or accusations made against us, we need to stop and consider if a response would be beneficial. Would it satisfy our sense of pride or bring glory to God? In all He did and said, Jesus was motivated by His desire to bring glory to the Father. We have the freedom to respond to criticism and lies and slander, but we should never respond out of pride, or out of retaliation. If we need to respond, it should always be motivated by our desire to bring glory to God. It was Jesus’ driving force. Let it be our driving force as well.

In Christ

 

The Earth…..and EVERYTHING In It

Psalm 24, verse 1 (quoted by Paul in 1 Corinthians 10)
“The earth is the Lords, and everything in it, and all who live in it.”

Psalm 50, verse 10
“For every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills.”

Psalm 50, verse 11
“For I know every bird in the mountains, and every insect in the field is mine.”

Psalm 50 verse 12
“…for the world is mine, and all that is in it.”

Ezekiel 18 verse 4
For everyone belongs to me, the parent as well as the child – both alike belong to me.

Haggai 2 verse 8
“The silver is mine and the gold is mine, declares the Lord Almighty.”

Psalm 22 verses 27 and 28
“All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will bow down before Him, for dominion belongs to the Lord, and He rules over the nations.”

In other words, God owns it all. The Bible makes that very clear. That means every person, animal, every mountain and valley, every tree, every blade of grass, and every grain of sand belongs to God. The earth, and everything in it, is His.

For us, as followers of Jesus Christ, this is a given. But let’s stop for a moment and consider what it means when the Bible says “everything.” The passages I referenced speak of things that are tangible, things can be visibly seen and touched. They speak of material possessions and money. But I don’t believe God’s ownership is limited to just tangible things. His ownership extends to things that are not seen. It includes our joys, our sorrows, our highs and lows, our successes and failures. It includes our thoughts and our emotions. And It includes all our struggles, our troubles, and the problems we face everyday.

Just so we’re clear, God is not to blame for all the trouble and misery and suffering in the world. All of that came about when sin entered the world. That’s another subject for another time. When I say God owns it all, everything that is seen and unseen, I’m simply following the logic trail and reaching what I believe is a logical conclusion. We are His. God owns our very lives and His ownership is all inclusive. He owns every aspect of our lives here on earth.

All too often, we try to fight our way through trials and difficulties ourselves instead of relinquishing control and giving them over to God. In 2nd Chronicles chapter 20, we’re told that the people of Judah were being threatened by a very sizeable army that was getting ready to invade their land. God told King Jehoshaphat, “Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but the Lord’s”. Those words can be applied in our lives today. Whatever it is we’re faced with, the battle is not ours, but God’s. How different do you think the outcome would have been if Jehoshaphat had replied, “That’s okay God, I got this. I’ll take it from here.” ?

So what is your battle? Is it a prodigal child? Is it financial difficulty or the loss of a job? Is it a difficult boss or co-worker? Is it an illness or a physical disability? According to the word of God, the battle is not yours, but the Lord’s. I don’t believe for even a fraction of a second that I’m taking that passage out of context and here’s why I believe that. When you acknowledge that the battle is God’s, you’re acknowledging God’s sovereignty over that situation, his ownership of it, if you will. Because we belong to Him, all that we have is His and that includes everything that is in any way connected to our lives here on earth. The earth…..and EVERYTHING in it….

Acknowledging God’s ownership and sovereignty requires submission. We submit to His rule and authority. Submission requires trust. In John 14, at the very beginning of the chapter, Jesus spoke these words: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in me.” In Psalm 73, Asaph was troubled by the wickedness of the people around him and could not fathom why the wicked prospered while righteous people were subjected to mistreatment and abuse. He did not understand until, as we’re told in verse 17, he entered the sanctuary of God. In other words, he was so troubled by what he saw, he had to give it over to God. It was not until Asaph relinquished control of the thing that was tormenting him that he came to understand that the owner of all creation, God, will ultimately deal with the wicked. And when Asaph came to that understanding, that was the moment he placed his trust in God. That is true for us as well.

With all that said, I need to point out that God is not a cosmic genie who instantly makes our troubles go away when we give them over to him. As Christians, we understand that. Quite often, even when we place our trust and faith in Christ, the problems that plague our lives persist. The abuses witnessed by Asaph did not go away, but acknowledging God’s ownership of that situation allowed him to gain proper understanding of justice as viewed from God’s perspective. It gave him a Kingdom perspective as opposed to an earthly perspective.

So as Christians, we understand that problems sometimes persist even when we give them to God. It’s something we just accept. And the reason we accept it so readily has to do with what Paul wrote in Romans chapter 8. “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” The reason we must acknowledge God’s sovereignty over the troubles we face – according to Paul – is twofold. First, our present sufferings are only temporary to begin with, and second, we need to spend our limited time on earth working for the glory of God. Therefore, give the battle to God. It was his all along anyway. He has more important work for us to do! And He has plenty of work for us to do. And bear in mind that God’s sovereignty and ownership of our lives does not in any way negate our responsibilities to do the work He calls us to do. God does His part and He expects us to do ours.

God owns the things that bring us joy, like the birth of a child or grandchild. He owns the joy that comes from landing a great job or getting that promotion or buying your first home. He owns our jobs, and our careers, and all our accomplishments. When we’re experiencing life’s joyful times, when we’re enjoying success, it’s far too easy for us to pat our own backs and take the credit that rightfully belongs to God. All that we have comes from God and it belongs to God. Job figured this out thousands of years ago. After losing everything he simply said, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Job reasoned that it was all God’s to start with.

Finally, in John chapter 10, Jesus said no one can snatch us out of our Father’s hands. God’s ownership of our lives includes our eternal destiny which was secured the moment we trusted in Jesus Christ as our savior. But here is where God’s ownership takes on even more importance in the lives of believers. As God the creator, He owns all that He created. That’s simple enough. But when it comes to the salvation of our souls, He is not just God our creator, he is God our redeemer. He owns our lives and our very souls and the redemption of our souls was not free. It came at a high cost. Twice, the Apostle Pauls tells the Corinthian believers, “You were bought at a price.” That price was the blood of Jesus Christ.

So next time you hear a pastor or teacher say that God owns the earth…and everything in it, stop and think about what that truly means. Reflect on it. Dwell on it. And be thankful that He loved us so much, that He was willing to pay the price that redeemed our souls.

To our Lord Jesus Christ be the glory!

 

“I Don’t Believe in Organized Worship!”

About ten years ago, when I was still at my former place of employment, our managers called us together one afternoon to let us know that one of our co-workers had been let go. He was an aircraft engine mechanic with an Airframe and Powerplant license and that means he had spent about two years of his life in trade school to get that license. In the world of aviation maintenance, we’re subject to random drug tests and we learned later that same afternoon that he tested positive for marijuana. Everything he had worked for was gone, in an instant.

Though we weren’t in the same department, I knew the man quite well. He professed to be a fellow Christian. He was in fact, very well versed in scripture. His memory of the Bible was so good I used to joke that he could quote scripture forward and backwards. We had many spiritual conversations during the time we worked together. It came as quite a surprise when I learned why he had been let go. But it’s important to understand that only God knows the heart, so only God knows if he was truly saved. The fact that he got fired from his job for testing positive for an illegal substance does not mean he wasn’t. As Christians, we are constantly bombarded with temptation, and sometimes we stumble. We’re not immune to temptation. We’re not perfect.

Like I said, we had numerous conversations over the Bible but when I first asked where he went to church, he slammed on the brakes. “I don’t believe in organized worship.” he said. He went on to say that all he ever did was read the Bible at home. He did not see the need to worship with other believers. He flat out rejected the idea and refused my invitations to visit my church.

The sad part is, he was the sole means of support for his wife and their six children. A positive drug test is an automatic one year suspension of your license. Additionally, you’re required to undergo mandatory drug counseling, at your own expense, to get reinstated. His moment of weakness was costly not just for him, but for his entire family. I can’t say with 100% certainty that, had he been part of a church family and attended church regularly, things would have turned out different for him. But I have to believe the odds would have been greatly improved in his favor.

He argued that the only thing he needed to do was read the Bible. I’m not denying the power of God’s word and yes, we need to set aside time to read the Bible in the privacy of our homes, free from distractions. That’s a necessary part of our walk with God. But it’s equally important to be part of a body of believers who come together on a regular basis to worship God. I have to believe that if he had been an active member of a Bible believing church where Christ is taught and honored, he would have had a congregation of Godly people walking with him and praying for him and calling on God’s power to help him spiritually when he needed it most.

I want to interject something here. These messages not only go out to fellow believers, they’re also posted on a blog at WordPress.com and are read by people who may not necessarily be followers of Jesus Christ. They might be checking out Christianity or are just curious about our faith. If you’re one of those reading this on WordPress, I realize you may have had a church experience at some time in your past that left you disillusioned. I get it. Maybe you’re turned off by televangelists who seem more focused on money than God. Here’s a revelation for you: There are wolves among the sheep! The Bible warns of churches that will stray from the truth of God’s word in the last days, and we are seeing that being fulfilled today. Some of your reasons for avoiding the church might be valid, especially if your first experience was with one of the wolves. But most of your reasons are not. Regardless of your past experiences or your perceptions of the church, there is a truth that is undeniable; you need a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. And just so we’re clear, salvation comes through Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ alone. I’m not saying otherwise. Just showing up at church won’t save you. But in order to grow in your relationship with Christ, you need to be part of a Bible believing church that puts Jesus front and center!

All throughout history, God instructed His people to gather together for worship. They started in a tent in the desert and eventually built the temple in Jerusalem. In the first century, Christians gathered in each others’ homes. In 1st Corinthians 12, the Apostle Paul used the parts of the human body as an illustration to show how important believers are to one another and to show the importance of cultivating healthy relationships within Christ’s church. He concluded that illustration in verse 27 where he wrote, “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” God intended for His people to worship together.

Someone not in the faith might ask, “If Jesus is all we need, then why do we need other believers?” In that same chapter of 1st Corinthians, Paul explains how all believers have something to offer our particular congregations. We all bring something to the table, so to speak. Paul called them “gifts of the Spirit.” And he went on to say that these gifts are given for the common good. In other words, God uses our gifts to help others. In the case of my former co-worker, there might have been someone God could have brought alongside him to help him at just the right time. It may have been a minister or a pastor or a fellow believer could have counseled him or given him the advice he needed to hear. He might have had the opportunity to be part of a Bible class or life group that could have prayed with him and for him. But he never gave them that chance. As it turned out, Satan was able to isolate him and find a weakness. I believe it’s for this reason that Jesus never sent his disciples out alone. At the very least, He sent them out in pairs. There is strength in numbers and we need the strength and encouragement that comes from worshiping with our brothers and sisters in Christ. There are times we may need to draw on the strength of a fellow believer, whether through prayer, a timely word, or wise counsel. There are times when we may need to offer that to someone else. None of that happens when we choose not be part of a fellowship of believers.

I gave several reasons why it is necessary for us as believers to worship together. But there is one very important reason I have not mentioned till now. We come together to glorify and honor God. It should be something we do with gladness of heart as it was in the first century church. In Acts 2 verse 46 we’re told “Every day they continued meeting together in the temple courts.They broke bread in each other’s homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, PRAISING GOD, and enjoying the favor of all people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” We strengthen and encourage one another and ultimately we all draw strength from God. But the main reason we gather together is to give praise, honor, and glory….to God.

Jesus taught on the sides of hills, by the seashore, and in open fields. He taught in people’s homes and in synagogues. Can you imagine anyone who might have said, “I don’t really need to hear Him in person. I can learn all I need about God by staying home and studying my scrolls.” Sure, they could have learned all about God’s law and their history, but they would have missed the chance to see, in person, the love of God being put on display through the life of Jesus. It’s one thing to read about God’s love, it’s yet another to experience it and share it firsthand and that’s hard to do alone in your living room.

Finally, I’m not saying that church membership or belonging to a body of believers guarantees us a trouble free existence. Jesus pretty much guaranteed that we will face trouble. He said, “In this world you have trouble.” (John 16:33). For me, when trouble comes, I want all the help I can get. So I go to God. And in turn, I go my brothers and sisters in Christ. I go to my church family. I cannot imagine trying to walk this walk alone.

On Spiritual Droughts

For the past several months I have not had the opportunity to sit down and write. We moved to Florida and back to Fort Worth within a span of five months. Having to work graveyard shift for a while didn’t help matters any. And on top of that, there were some health issues. All of those things combined were draining. Hopefully things will settle down now, and I believe they will because I feel called to do this, and when God calls you to do something, He will give you the means to do it.

On Spiritual Droughts,

In the eighth chapter of the book of Amos, the prophet speaks these words against the people of the Northern Kingdom of Israel:

“The days are coming” declares the sovereign Lord, “when I will send a famine through the land – not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord.
People will stagger from sea to sea, and wander from north to east, searching for the word of the Lord, but they will not find it.”

Amos told the people a famine was coming, but not of food and water. The coming famine Amos warned of was far worse – it would be a spiritual famine during which there would be no word from God. There would be no prophets to deliver messages from God which in turn also meant there would be no one to speak to God on their behalf. There would be no revelation from God.

Though Amos was originally from the Southern Kingdom of Judah, God sent him to preach a message of judgment against the Northern Kingdom of Israel. By the time Amos arrived on the scene, the people of Israel had become very prosperous. Unfortunately, that prosperity did not translate into gratitude to God. Instead, they turned away from the God of their fathers and turned to the false gods that were worshipped by the people of the surrounding countries. So God sent Amos to warn them that judgment was coming. And when that judgment came in the form of an invasion by the Assyrians, the people probably cried out to God and pleaded with Him for deliverance as they had done so many times before. This time however, God would not deliver them. In 2nd Kings chapter 17 we’re told that God “removed Israel from His sight”. And if they were out of God’s sight, it would stand to reason, in a manner of speaking, that they were out of God’s earshot as well! When you cry out to God, nothing can be worse than for God to remain silent. This time their pleas for deliverance would go unanswered. That was the famine. That was the judgment God pronounced on the people of the northern kingdom through His prophet Amos.

Several weeks ago, I experienced what felt like a famine of my own, a spiritual drought if you will. In my case, it was due to a work schedule conflict that kept me from being able to go to church for about six weeks. It was not because God had cut me off, and my drought was not of the same scale and magnitude as what the people of the Northern Kingdom suffered. Nonetheless, I still felt isolated. I felt cut off. It felt like something was missing. It was, for a short time, my own spiritual famine.

Now you might ask if I was praying and reading my Bible during that time and the answer is yes, I most certainly was. I believe in the power of prayer and in the power of God’s word, that they can carry us through times of spiritual famine like the one I was in. So shouldn’t that have been enough? Yes, absolutely. I believe in the sufficiency of God’s word. But God knows how important it is for us to worship with other believers. That’s why, in Hebrews chapter 10, the author reminds us not to neglect meeting together in corporate worship. We still live in a fallen world – we’re sinners saved by grace – yet we’re still subjected to temptation every day. Though we’re in the process of becoming more like Christ every day, we have a ways to go. That’s why we need the fellowship of other believers. We need to uphold one another, to lift each other up. We need the encouragement that we get from being around other believers. And I believe fellowship is vital to our growth as Christians.

To be clear, during that six week time frame, my faith did not waver. There was no danger of backsliding. It was nothing like that. In reality it was a little thing but it was still a tough time. If you’ve ever been away from your loved ones for an extended period of time, then you know what it’s like. If you’ve experienced a prolonged illness or injury that kept you at home or in a hospital for a period of time and unable to get out and go to church, then you may have had that feeling of being in a spiritual drought. But there’s one thing we can always be certain of when we’re in a drought. It’s something I learned while growing up in farm and ranch country in south Texas. Whenever there was a prolonged dry spell, the farmers and ranchers used to quip that they always knew when a dry spell would end. And when was that? When it rains!! It was a little tongue in cheek humor, but they were exactly right. It always rains at the end of a drought!

Amos’s prophecy, as is true of most Biblical prophecy, had a short term and long term fulfillment. In the short term, we know from history that the Northern Kingdom was invaded by the Assyrians and the people were scattered among the surrounding nations. Because of their stubbornness, because they refused to listen to the prophets God had sent in times past, God, as we’re told in 2nd Kings, removed them from His sight. That was the short term fulfillment. In the long term, there would be another famine of hearing the words of the Lord, a period of 400 years during which time there would be no word from God. In our Bibles, this is the period of time between Malachai and Matthew. It’s the Intertestamental Period. Some refer to that time as the “silent years” when there was no word from God.

The years that separated the time of Malachai and the preaching of John the Baptist were indeed a time of spiritual drought. But like I said, it always rains at the of a drought! When Jesus came into the world, He was both the Bread of Life and Living Water. The birth of Jesus, His life, His death, and His resurrection signaled the end of the drought. The Bread of Life and Living Water was made available to everyone who calls on His name and trusts in His death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sin and the redemption of their eternal souls.

In the life of every believer, and for certain in my own life, there was a time of famine, a time of spiritual drought. For the majority of us, before we accepted Jesus Christ and invited Him to be Lord of our lives, we lived in a drought. But the moment we surrendered to Christ, the drought was over. The rains came! They came by way of the blood of Christ shed on the cross for our sins. They came in the form of God’s grace and the promise of eternal life with Christ. Imagine a farm or ranch that gets all the rainfall it needs and never suffers through a drought. Imagine the crops or livestock it would yield! In a very simple way, that describes for us the abundance of God’s grace. We will go through the ups and downs of life, even as followers of Christ. But we can take comfort in the knowledge that God has already given MORE than enough grace to bring us through our times of spiritual drought.

Ephesians 2 verse 8 – For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this is not from yourselves – it is the gift of God.

Hebrews 4 verse 16 – Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

The grace that saves is the same grace that restores and replenishes! Praise be to God!

 

Keeping Our Focus on Christ

Here’s a little experiment you can try this coming Sunday at church. It’s a little experiment involving facial recognition. As we walk around inside the church and make our way to our classrooms or to the sanctuary before the service, we pass by dozens of people, most of whom we recognize even if we don’t know them by name. Generally, as a human figure enters our peripheral field of vision, we automatically shift our focus to that person’s face and look directly at them. It’s a reflex action. That’s how God programmed our brains. Even if that person turns out to be a total stranger, we know that he or she is someone we don’t recognize.

So here’s the experiment: When walking through church or in some other setting where you’re in the midst of people you know, and when someone enters your peripheral field, do not allow the reflex action to take over. Instead, force yourself to shift your focus off to one side as though you were looking at something a couple of feet off to one side over that person’s shoulder. Keep that person in your peripheral field but do not look at him (or her) directly. See if you’re able to recognize who it is. It only takes a few seconds. Then go ahead and make eye contact. If that person is someone familiar to you, odds are, it will surprise you when realize you did not immediately recognize who it was until you looked directly at that individual. With few exceptions, in order to recognize someone when we come into contact with them, we have to look directly at them.

When the disciples realized Jesus was walking to them on the surface of the water, Peter called out to Him and said, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water“. Jesus said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus, But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Peter got distracted. He took his eyes off of Jesus for just a moment and began to sink. I don’t think Peter turned his head completely around. Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. But all it took for him to begin sinking was to shift his focus away from Jesus, however much or little that may have been. Maybe Jesus was still in his peripheral field, but Peter’s focus was on the wind. It’s an important lesson for us and one that I had to learn recently.

Over the course of the past several months, actually the past couple of years to be honest, there have been distractions that caused me to shift my focus ever so slightly away from Jesus. I was looking toward Him but not directly at Him. It’s as though I was looking over his shoulder.

This is the most important lesson I took away from that experience: We cannot effectively serve God if we only have Jesus in our peripheral field. Our focus must be directly on Him. Remember the experiment? If we allow our focus to shift away from Christ, even slightly, we may not recognize Him, which is to say we may not recognize His miracles, or His answers to our prayers. We may not recognize His work in our lives. We may not recognize a calling to go help someone or to share the gospel. We may not recognize a need. We may not recognize when are called to meet that need. That’s what can happen when Jesus is in your peripheral field of vision, but your focus is not centered on Him.

We keep our focus centered on Christ by doing His will, even if it’s in conflict with our will. We keep our focus centered on Christ by seeking His will in prayer and accepting the answer, whether it’s yes or no. And those times when the answer is no, we keep our focus centered on Christ by thanking Him when He says no to our prayers, by giving Him praise when He closes a door we wanted opened. That’s a big one for me because He has recently told me no, and He has recently closed some doors that I wanted opened, and in the aftermath, I can’t begin to thank Him enough! I am absolutely ecstatic that the answer was no! He saved me from making a major mistake in life at a time when we can least afford to make those kinds of mistakes. And that is also how we keep our focus centered on Christ, by recognizing that our ways are not His ways, and that He truly does know best!

Great Testimonies Live On

When I was in high school in the mid 1970s, I worked after school at a Texaco gas station in the town where my wife and I grew up, Moulton, Texas. Moulton is a small farm town about halfway between San Antonio and Houston, situated roughly ten miles south of interstate 10. The population was, and still is to this day, about 950 people.

My job at the Texaco station was to pump gas and fix flat tires. Of course, that was back in the day when there were such things as full service gas stations where all you had to do was sit in your car while someone filled the tank for you and offered to check the tires and oil. But selling gas and changing oil and fixing flat tires was only part of the business. Moulton is located in a region of south Texas that’s made up mostly of German and Czechoslovakian descendants. Most of the locals still spoke German and Czech and had heavy German and Czech accents. They still clung to a lot of central and eastern European traditions and one of the more notable traditions, if you can call it that, was their fondness……for beer! So on one side of the Texaco station was the lube rack and the bay where we fixed flats, and on the other side was a bar. In that part of south Texas, in the heart of German and Czech country, that was not an unusual sight at all. The gas station side where I worked closed at 8:00 p.m. The bar stayed open till midnight. I just did my job and went home.

I worked at the Texaco from my sophomore year in high school until I graduated. It was hard not to notice the things that went on in the bar. And it was also not hard to notice who the regulars were and one of those regulars was a middle aged woman named Judy. For the life of me I cannot recall her last name. At that time she was probably in her early to mid forties and it was obvious she had lived a rough and hard life. But it was also plain to see that she chose that life. She was brash. She was loud. She drank as hard as any man and could out cuss most men. She was quite proud of the way she lived and the more she drank, the more brash and loud she would become. She always had a smile on her face. It was more of a smirk actually, that I’m-living-my-life-my-way smirk that often accompanies pride and arrogance. And speaking of things that weren’t hard to notice, it wasn’t hard to notice that she liked to hang on the men and didn’t always leave with the same man. It was a bar. That kind of stuff was routine.

That was in the mid 70s. Fast forward to around 1984. My parents had just bought a small café in Moulton. My wife and I helped out in the café and one afternoon I walked in the front door and noticed a group of about six or seven people sitting at one of the tables up front. My mother was sitting with them and they were all talking and drinking coffee. I looked around and greeted everyone and lo and behold, there sat Judy, the same Judy who used to hang out in the bar at the Texaco station. She was sitting there drinking coffee, but she wasn’t nearly as loud and brash as I remembered her. She still had a smile on her face, but it was not same. There was no pride and arrogance in her smile. There was something different. She was having a conversation with my mother and I don’t recall the topic of the conversation, nor do I recall what my mother said to her, but I do recall her response to whatever it was that my mother said to her. She said, “My life changed so much…….when I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior!” And she went on to describe the peace that her relationship with Jesus had given her. The smile of arrogance had been transformed into a smile that reflected her love for Christ. About three or four years later, we heard that Judy had been diagnosed with cancer and died shortly thereafter.

Like I said, I cannot remember her last name now, it’s been so many years. But our Lord and Savior knows who she is. That’s all that matters really. And she’s at home with the Lord now. She had a great testimony. It’s a shame that she can no longer share that testimony with anyone who’s alive today……or can she? The more I think about it, I believe God put me in a time and place where I could see the way she lived before she met Jesus Christ. I was a witness to the way she lived back in the 70s. And I also got to see the new person Judy became after she accepted Christ! Looking back, I have no doubt that her transformation was genuine!

We often hear testimonies from people who tell us what they were like and how they lived before they came to know Christ and how their lives changed after accepting Christ, but we usually only hear those testimonies from someone after they’ve given their lives to Christ and have no firsthand knowledge of who they were or how they lived before Christ. And that’s perfectly okay. But God gave me the privilege of witnessing Judy’s transformation first hand. I worked at that gas station next to the bar. I was there in my parent’s restaurant when she shared how Jesus had changed her life. She is no longer with us so I’m telling her story today. She was as rough and crude as anyone I’ve ever seen. But she was transformed by the power of God and was living proof that God can change anyone!

“Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.” John 5:24

The Barter System

In our modern, free enterprise economy, the price of a product is determined by a number of factors. There are costs associated with research and development, labor, cost of raw materials to manufacture the product, marketing and sales, and that’s just to name a few. Once a product has been developed and manufactured, the price has been set, and it’s finally offered for sale, the consumer exchanges money for whatever it is that’s being sold. In simple terms, we exchange money for goods.

But there is another form of trade that has become popular among certain groups of people in recent years known as the barter system. The barter system is different in one aspect. The goods being offered for trade are generally not brand new. With some exceptions, trading (or bartering) usually involves used goods. And when two parties engage in a bartering transaction, the monetary value of the goods being exchanged may or may not be taken into account. In the barter system, it’s more of – “You have something I want. And I have something you want. Let’s trade” And sometimes, the trade involves bartering goods for certain types of services, like trading a flat screen TV for car repair.

Like I said, you don’t always consider the monetary value of an item in a barter transaction. I recently engaged in a barter transaction in which the item I gave up was worth more monetarily than what I received in return. But the other guy had something I wanted and I had something he wanted. So we made the deal.

Of course, all of this is within reason. No one’s going to give up a yacht for a riding mower. With that said, however, think about the value of what God gave up to secure our eternal souls. Billy Graham once said, “The blood of Jesus was God’s own life.” In keeping with the spirit and tone of this message, it was the ultimate one-sided barter transaction. God brought His own Son to the cross at Calvary. All we bring to the table is the debt of sin. What can we possibly give God in exchange for what He gave for us? But God made the exchange. Our sin debt cancelled – exchanged for the life of Jesus at the cross.

In 1 Corinthians 6 verses 19 and 20, God’s word tells us, You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. And I love how this is stated in the New Living Translation – God bought you with a high price.

We bring nothing to the table but our sin, yet God wants us. We bring nothing to the table but our brokenness. We have nothing that God could ever want or need, yet God was willing to pay the price. All He asks is that we believe in His son Jesus and put our trust in Him, that we make Him Lord of our lives. He asks us to have faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Faith, as Peter wrote, is more precious than gold because gold will one day perish. But what we get in return for placing our faith in our Lord Jesus Christ is eternal. It seems like such a one sided transaction, but God, because of His immeasurable love, was willing to do it anyway!

Grace, and Why We Need It

Ephesians 2:4-9
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.

Those few verses from Ephesians chapter 2 sum up the message of the gospel in a nutshell. Every individual who is alive and all who came before, as well as those who are yet to be born, are condemned because of sin. That passage reminds us of our sinful nature. It’s a reminder of our need for a Savior and that there is only one Savior, Jesus Christ. And that passage makes it very clear that our salvation is a gift from God. Remember, this was written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit by the Apostle Paul, who, in his letter to Timothy, described himself as the “worst of sinners”. He better than anyone understood the meaning of grace and he knew full well that grace is a gift that only God can give because that truth was played out in his life so dramatically on the Damascus Road.

The act of giving a gift is a two step process. First, a gift must be offered. Second, it must be accepted. God’s offer is the gift of grace, the forgiveness of sins for anyone who professes faith in Christ. The gift of grace then, is accepted by our profession of faith.

Before I go any further I want to clarify something. There are always those who ask “What about babies and little children who die before they’re old enough to grasp the meaning of the gospel?” Let me assure you, infants and little children who die before they are old enough to understand the gospel message are in Heaven and are in the presence of Jesus Christ. I have no doubt about that. Go back and read that line in Ephesians again: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” Infants and small children who die at a young age.are saved by grace. If that were not true, then grace would not be grace. Mercy would not be mercy.

For many years, in fact, for much of my life, I lived under the notion that being a good person was good enough to get me into Heaven. I talked about my belief in God, not very often I might add, but what little I did say about God was little more than lip service and since I didn’t start reading and studying God’s word until I was almost 50 years old, I didn’t have whole lot to say about God anyway because I really didn’t know that much about Him. I bought into the lie that good enough was…good enough. Plus, I did what many people do: I compared myself to some really bad people. I figured since I had never committed any heinous crimes, never abused my wife and kids, never did any hardcore drugs, and so on and so on, well….that was….good enough.

Here’s the problem with that sort of thinking and I praise God for opening my eyes to the truth: God doesn’t compare us to other people. He does not compare us to the murderer on death row. He does not compare us to that person who has no conscience when it comes to stealing. He does not compare us to the adulterer who habitually cheats on his or her spouse. God uses a much higher standard. We are not compared to other flawed human beings. We are compared to the standards of God as lived in the life of Jesus Christ, and when we are compared to such a holy and righteous standard, we all fall short.

As Christians, we know Romans 3:23 by heart, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Paul expressed that same truth in Ephesians 2. We are all dead in our transgressions…..all have sinned. And that should be a warning for anyone who believes, like I once did, that all you have to do is be better than “bad people”. It may be true that when you’re being chased by a bear, you only have to outrun the slowest camper! But no one escapes from the punishment for their sin. No one can outrun the fate that awaits them if they die without Christ.

So yes, the words of Romans 3:23 are a warning, to be sure. But notice that in both Romans chapter 3 and in the passage from Ephesians 2, Paul followed his “warning” with a message of hope. We all know Romans 3:23, but the message of hope is in verses that follow – “…and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement through the shedding of his blood – to be received by faith.

That is the message of hope. We need a Savior. We have a Savior in Jesus Christ. There is nothing we can do to earn God’s grace. And the good news is, there is nothing we need to do because grace is the gift of God. Like I said, that’s the message of the gospel in a nutshell.

The Pain of Separation

Update, March 2019: This was written shortly after we moved to Florida in June 2018. Some things came up that were unexpected and beyond our control, and we had to move back to Fort Worth in November. 

For the past several months, I’ve taken a bit of sabbatical from writing these weekly devotionals. My wife and I had a lot going on.  The whole process of selling our home in Keller, Texas (which took way longer than we thought it would) and buying a home here in Florida was very time consuming and distracting….to say the least. And there were some other things going on that I don’t need to mention here. But now that we’re getting settled in, I can start writing with some consistency again. At least, I hope so anyway.

As part of the process of getting settled in, my wife and granddaughter and I joined First Baptist Church of Palm Coast [Florida] Sunday the 22nd of July by transfer of letter. We’re still in the process of looking at Bible classes, but we have a found a church home.

As for the title of this devotional – The Pain of Separation – I recently transferred to a new position within Southwest Airlines, moving from Dallas to Orlando. Although I believe God had his hand on this transfer, since the door was opened at just the right time, it still came with its own set of challenges. You see, our home in Palm Coast is exactly 100 miles from my job at Orlando’s airport. Because of the distance involved, I had to find a room to rent in Orlando during the week when I have to work. It has not been fun. In fact, being away from my family four days a week is downright painful. It’s not something I’m accustomed to and it’s more difficult when you’re older.

However, the separation from my family during the week has given me some insight into what it must be like for military personal who are deployed overseas for long periods of time. At least I get to go home at the end of the week. It’s also given me a glimpse of another type of separation, one that no one should want to experience, and that would be the separation that a person will experience for all eternity should he or she die without accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. If being away from family for a few days a week is this difficult, then I shudder to think about what it would mean to be separated from God for all eternity.

Jesus made it very clear in the parables that are recorded in Matthew chapter 13 – The Parable of the Weeds, The Parable of the Net – that a time is coming when wicked and sinful people will be taken away.

“Matthew 13:40-43 – As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out His angels and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. they will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”

Those who have rejected Jesus Christ will be separated from those who have accepted His grace. Jesus made that very clear. And they will be separated from God forever. Worse yet, they will know it did not have to be that way. When an unbeliever dies, they will know that at that moment that everything written about Jesus Christ in the Bible is absolutely true. They will know because the Bible says they will know. I believe Paul makes this very clear in 1 Corinthians 13 verse 12 where he wrote, “Now, I know in part; then I shall know fully…” The believer will know the joy of being in the presence of Christ forever. The unbeliever will know nothing but the pain of separation from God for all eternity, a pain that will be made all the worse by knowing that their fate could have been avoided. And that is a pain that no one should want to experience. We don’t want our loved ones or our neighbors to experience the eternal pain of being separated from God for all eternity. That is why we must never, never stop sharing the love of Christ. There is too much at stake. The pain of eternal separation from God is too great for us not to share His offer of grace.