Mishaps and Ministry

I knew the instant I hit the floor, something was wrong. At first I thought I had broken my ankle. Whatever it was, I knew something was wrong. I had an accident at work this past week. When we bring an airplane in for structural inspections and repairs, all the seats in the passenger compartment are removed so we can pull up the floorboards in order to gain access to the structure underneath. We lay down temporary floorboards so we’ll have something to walk on, but there are certain areas that must be left exposed while repairs are going on. So when we’re working in the passenger cabin, we have to do a little balancing act on the floor beams when walking to and from our work area. In a nutshell, as I was walking through the cabin on the night of my accident, I lost my balance and took a real nasty fall, the result of which was a broken fibula in my left leg. The ankle I thought was broken was only sprained.

Let me stop here and say what a blessing it is that it was only a broken fibula. If it had been the main load bearing bone, the femur, I’d still be recovering from the surgery that’s usually needed to set the bone. A broken fibula doesn’t even require a cast and as we head into the summer months here in Texas, praise God the leg won’t be in a hot, smelly cast!

As I’ve matured and grown in my Christian walk, I’ve been blessed with numerous opportunities to see God use our mishaps for ministry. I’ve seen God do this for others. And on the night of my accident, God showed something to me that I pray I will never forget. Like I said, when I fell, I knew something was wrong. When I was finally able to get to my feet, I could not put any weight on that left leg whatsoever. Out of an abundance of caution, my supervisor called for an ambulance and I was taken to Parkland Hospital. As most of you know, that’s when the waiting game begins. The injury was painful but not life threatening. It was not an immediate priority.

I called my wife while I was in the back of the ambulance and told her what had happened. When she asked if she should come to the hospital, I told her to stay put for the time being until I knew the extent of the injury. Parkland is a long way from our house in Fort Worth and she’s never been to that part of Dallas, ever. At that point, I did not know if I would be treated and released or if the injury would require surgery. I just didn’t know. So I told her to wait at home until we had more information to go on.

I arrived at Parkland at 8:00 p.m. I got the diagnosis of a broken fibula at around 12:30 a.m. The doctor said I only needed a walking boot and crutches, and could go home once all the paperwork was done. I called my wife to let her know and she said to me, “I’m coming to get you.” I was in too much pain to protest. One of my co-workers was with me at the hospital the entire time, but I did not see myself being able to drive home.

It was close to 1:30 in the morning when I hobbled out of the ER on crutches. My wife had been sitting outside the ER in her van for about twenty minutes. There was no where to park so she had to sit in one of the traffic lanes outside the ER. As I mentioned, my wife had never been to Parkland Hospital or to that area of Dallas in her life. She used the GPS on her phone and relied on the providence of God. She said so. She also told me afterwards that during the drive to Dallas, she had no idea where she was most of time. She was praying and going wherever the GPS sent her. She had no idea where she was until she actually arrived at the hospital.

When I hobbled out of the ER, words cannot describe what a welcome sight it was to see my wife there waiting to take me home. Let’s be honest, that’s not the best part of Dallas to be in at that time of night. Even if you know where you’re going, that’s not an area to venture into at 1:00 or 1:30 a.m. And you certainly don’t want to be wandering around that part of town if you’re not familiar with the area. None of that stopped my wife. She took a risk, and when were talking about it on the way home, she simply said, “I did it because I love my husband.” Let there be no doubt, if the roles were reversed, I would have done exactly the same. I would give my life for her.

When our Savior Jesus was born, He came into a world that was suffering from the ugly stain of the sin. It’s been estimated that 75% of the world’s population lived in slavery. And the region of the world where Jesus was born lived under the heavy handed cruelty of the Romans. The world was an ugly, messy place. It was a violent place. And it was a place that was being increasingly influenced by Satan more and more with each passing day. You do not see any mention of demonic possession in the Bible in the Old Testament. We do not read about that until we get to the Gospels. Demonic activity was on the rise. That is the world Jesus was born into. And do not for one second think that Jesus did not know the condition of the world at that time. He knew, yet He came anyway.

My wife and I both are imperfect people saved by the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I just want to reiterate that truth. But my wife, because of her love, and at risk to her own safety, drove to a not-particularly-good area of town in the middle of the night to bring her husband home. Jesus came to a hostile world where many have and will reject Him. But many have believed in and put their trust in Jesus. And those of us who have believed in and trusted Jesus with our eternal souls; we are the reason He came to this hostile world. He came to take us home. I said that words could not describe what a welcome sight my wife was the other night when I saw her outside the ER waiting to take me home. I think it will be equally indescribable, at least on this side of eternity, when we close our eyes for the last time and then awaken in the presence of our blessed Lord Jesus.

In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. John 14:2-3

Through my wife’s love, God has reminded me of His great love for us.

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Freedom with Limits

I was playing with my 11 month old grandson a few days ago in one of the bedrooms in our home and was letting him play and crawl around on top of the bed. Of course, when he got too close to the edge, I reached out and pulled him back so he wouldn’t fall. I wasn’t trying to spoil his fun. I was trying to keep him from getting hurt. Otherwise, as long as he stayed away from the edge, he was free to crawl whichever way he wanted. In other words, he had freedom, but with limits.

We live in a culture today that promotes the idea that a person cannot enjoy “true freedom” unless all restrictions, limits, and boundaries are removed, that freedom with any sort of limits is not really freedom at all. I’ve had more than a few conversations with people who think that way. And whenever the conversation revolves around the Christian faith, they always bring up “all those things the Bible says we’re not allowed to do”. According to their arguments, the Bible is a rule book that restricts individual freedom. They even claim that the Bible is oppressive. Quite often, someone will ask, and it’s always with a sneer, “Why does God have to have so many rules?” It’s as though they think it’s a bad thing to be told not to commit murder, or to steal, or lie, or commit adultery.

So I always counter by asking, “Why is it so bad that God tells us not to murder, or steal, or lie, or sleep with someone else’s spouse?” When I reached over to my grandson to pull him away from the edge of the bed that day, it wasn’t because I wanted to oppress him in any way. I wanted to protect him. The limits I set were for his own good. That’s why the culture’s arguments that “God has too many rules” is so ludicrous. God is not trying to restrict us. He gave us rules and set limits for our own good. Contrary to what our culture claims, you can’t have total unrestricted freedom. There’s a word for that kind of freedom. It’s called anarchy.

The Bible teaches us that we have freedom in Christ. While we embrace that freedom, it’s understood that freedom does have limits and it comes with the expectation that we must exercise self control. Paul and Peter both wrote to believers to further explain our freedom in Christ, and the limits that accompany that freedom. For instance, in 1 Corinthians chapter 10 (I touched on this passage in a previous message not long ago) Paul wrote to the church at Corinth:

“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive.

There it is in plain terms. Paul was telling them, “Yes, you have freedom in Christ, but there are limits.”

Paul also addresses the believer’s freedom in the book of Galatians. Beginning with verse 13 in Galatians chapter 5, Paul wrote:

“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.”

I grabbed my little grandson and pulled him away from the edge of the bed to keep him from falling. Paul is telling the Galatian believers, “Stay away from the edge so you don’t fall.”

Peter had a similar message for Christians. In 1 Peter chapter 2, picking up a verse 11, we’re told:

Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves.
His message was pretty much the same as Paul’s. Do not indulge in the desires of the flesh. Do not use your freedom as a cover for evil. Stay away from the edge.

Finally, we have the words of Jesus. Jesus said if a man looks at a woman with lustful intentions, it’s the same as committing the physical act of adultery. He said if we hate someone bad enough that we want to kill them, it’s as if we actually killed them. It’s worth noting that we came to Christ freely and not by coercion. That’s part of what it means to be free in Christ. It also means He came to set us free from the bondage of sin and from the notion that we have to earn our salvation through works or by performing endless rituals. He gave us freedom from all that, but He did set limits. Stay away from the edge.

So modern popular culture, as it always does, got it wrong. The limits that God put in place are not meant to restrict our freedom, they are there for our protection. Civilized society cannot function without limits, without laws. Look at it like this. When God said “Do not commit adultery.”, the limits were put there to protect us from the disastrous after effects of an affair. So if you’re obedient to God and avoid the immoral relationship in the first place, if you stay away from the edge, you won’t have to suffer the disastrous consequences.

God’s laws are designed to protect our health, our families, our relationships. our jobs. How do those limits hurt or restrict us in any way? Obedience to God keeps us out of prison and out of the court system. Paul wrote in Romans 13 that rulers do not bear the sword for nothing. The limits God put in place not only protect our earthly relationships, they also protect our relationship with our Father in Heaven. We can enjoy freedom in Christ within the boundaries set by God and when we live like that, we can continue to enjoy fellowship with God.

Yes the Bible has rules. They’re the God given laws of morality that govern our lives. God did not give his laws out of a desire to restrict our freedom or to withhold anything from us. That was the lie the serpent spoke to Eve in the garden. God did not do that. God gave us freedom but with limits, and it’s the limits, the rules, the moral laws of God that pull us back from the edge and keep us from falling over the edge. God set the limits in place for the very reason I didn’t want my grandson to fall, because He loves us and doesn’t want us to fall. With that in mind, let’s make it our desire to show our love for Him through obedience to His word, by staying away from the edge. We thank and praise God for His Laws and His love.

 

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!

 

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!