We Can Lift Our Eyes

For June 15, 2019
Jerusalem is located approximately 2,500 feet above sea level. In antiquity, travelers would lift their eyes unto the hills as they neared Jerusalem or “Mount Zion,” as Psalm 121 (KJV) attests:

I look up to the mountains—does my help come from there? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth! He will not let you stumble; the one who watches over you will not slumber. Indeed, he who watches over Israel never slumbers or sleeps. The LORD himself watches over you! The LORD stands beside you as your protective shade. The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon at night. The LORD keeps you from all harm and watches over your life. The LORD keeps watch over you as you come and go, both now and forever.

The Jerusalem Temple represented the Lord’s earthly abode. Association with Him guaranteed shalom (peace), protection and providence.  Thus, the Psalmist asks and answers the central question: “Where does my help come?”  “From the LORD, who made Heaven and Earth!”

For the People of God, looking up evokes great anticipation and comfort because:

    • The Lord is the omnipotent and omnipresent Creator of Heaven and Earth.
    • The Lord is our solid foundation who will not be shaken by our adversity.
    • The Lord is the Keeper who preserves His people forever.
    • The Lord never sleeps while keeping His people secure.

We Christians “lift our eyes” to the cross of Jesus Christ. Because there He reconciled us to God and purchased our eternal peace, protection, and providence:

Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. John 3:14-18 (NIV)

In 1913 George Bennard, noted for his work with the Salvation Army and the Methodist Episcopal Church, had an experience that made him look at the cross of Jesus in light of Philippians 3:10: “fellowship of His suffering.1 From that experience, he wrote a very popular hymn that raises Jesus’ cross from a trivial religious symbol to the very heart of the Gospel for so many of us today:

The Old Rugged Cross

On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross, the emblem of suffering and shame; And I love that old cross where the dearest and best for a world of lost sinners was slain.

On that old rugged cross, so despised by the world, Has a wondrous attraction for me; For the dear Lamb of God left His glory above To bear it to dark Calvary.

In the old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine, A wondrous beauty I see; For ‘twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died To pardon and sanctify me.

To the old rugged cross I will ever be true, its shame and reproach gladly bear; Then He’ll call me someday to my home far away, where His glory forever I’ll share.

Chorus:
So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross, till my trophies at last I lay down; I will cling to the old rugged cross, and exchange it someday for a crown.

Colossians 3:1-4 (NIV) reads:

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Keep looking up!

 

An Astounding Eternal Reality Awaits Us

For June 9, 2019
Normal, everyday living often provides so many distractions that we fail to see and appreciate the astounding eternal, transcendent reality that awaits us. For we who believe in in the Lord Jesus Christ and have committed our lives to Him can expect the fulfillment of His wonderful promise:

Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. John 14:1-3 (NIV)

Although many have speculated about the precise moment of our Lord’s return over the past two thousand years, no one really knows when it will happen.

In the meantime, Jesus admonishes His followers to be vigilant and watchful, as if we are “on guard,” until He returns in glory. At that precise moment, He will call us from our labor on earth to our reward in Heaven, and we will experience the pinnacle of His redemptive work; clothed in new immortal bodies that will enable us to share in His eternal glory—in full measure!

This is the glorification recorded in Romans 8:28-31 (KJV):

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He did predestinate, them He also called: and whom He called, them He also justified: and whom He justified, them He also glorified. What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?

Exodus 33 and 34 illustrates what happened when Moses requested to see the Lord’s full glory. The Lord warned Moses that no one can see His full glory and live. However, the Lord did allow Moses to see His “back side” briefly. Yet, that brief glimpse illuminated Moses’ face to such a degree he had to cover his face to avoid frightening the other people.

No human can endure God’s full glory in natural bodies and live. Instead, God has to transform our bodies to insure our safe, eternal co-existence. 1 Corinthians 15:50-58 (NLT) describes this transformation:

What I am saying, dear brothers and sisters, is that our physical bodies cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. These dying bodies cannot inherit what will last forever. But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies. Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.

Christians everywhere anxiously await the Lord’s descent from Heaven when He will create a new Heaven and earth free from sin, Satan, or anything defiled. There, we will experience eternal bliss with Him forever (in bodies free from sin, pain and disease) in the company of other believers—past, present, and future—and experience His love, glory and majesty forever.

Today, the Lord is preparing our special place where we will have His eternal peace, rest, and comfort (from all toil, pain, and sorrow) just as Revelation 21: 3-4 (NIV) attests:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.

At that time, a final separation of the Righteous and the Wicked will occur. Our qualification or disqualification will not be based on our “good works” but on the  redeeming work of Jesus Christ performed at Calvary. (It is our gratitude for His gift of grace that compels us to commit our lives to the Lord by performing good deeds that point others to Christ.)

Through Jesus’ vicarious death and resurrection, God provides a full payment for sin, and those of us who trust in Him will experience this benefit. As a result, God will deem us as the Righteous,  and we will share eternity with Him in Heaven.

Unfortunately, those who do not trust in the merits of the Lord’s redeeming work will be disqualified since they have no payment for sin. Deemed as the Wicked, they will experience God’s eternal separation in Hell.

1 Peter 1:3–5 tells us how we are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation—ready to be revealed in the last time. Only humble, reverent, and sincere faith in Christ will assure us eternal life in glory, which is truly our hope and peace. What a wonderful Savior!

Tell Our Story…But Tell It Right!

For June 1, 2019
God created us in His image and likeness. As such, we are responsible to live a life that reflects His majesty—before Him and the world, just as our Lord Jesus taught:

A tree is identified by its fruit. If a tree is good, its fruit will be good. If a tree is bad, its fruit will be bad. A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak. The words you say will either acquit you or condemn you. Matthew 12:33-37 (NLT)

We have a tremendous responsibility to tell our story—right! No one can tell our story but us. For only we can tell a morally noble and ethically courageous story through fruitful and productive lifestyles that model His character and conduct. Such stories honor the Lord and enhance the overall human condition.

A zest for living while celebrating the “little things;” remaining “in the moment;” visionary in the sense of considering the welfare of the next generation; engaging in production, enterprise, personal and professional accomplishments are ways we tell the story right.

Some would argue that improving our thinking enables us to tell the story right. Unfortunately however, human thoughts—subject to our fallen human condition—are corrupted by sin and in desperate need of purging:

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. Ephesians 2:1-3 (NIV)

Jesus Christ allows us to experience total transformation through the Born Again experience:

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. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:4-10 (NIV)

The right story encompasses Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, and the newness of life emerging from the love, redemption, and acceptance God provides. Only He has the power to make us new creatures on the inside, which allows us to function at our full potential on the outside.

When we have this intimate relationship with God through Jesus Christ that transforms the heart, His Spirit produces improved behavior, which leaves an indelible witness that follows us beyond the grave as Revelation 14:13 (NIV) teaches: “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on. Yes, says the Spirit, they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.”

This substantive internal change allows us to disclose His virtue through morally and spiritually distinct lives; lives full of spiritual vitality, love and purpose; lives of peace and joy; lives that honor the Lord and better the human condition of other people living around us.

We reflect His purity of mind and heart where altruism compels us to help others by seeking their wellbeing just as 1 Corinthians 10:24 (NLT) declares: “Don’t be concerned for your own good but for the good of others.”

We are always cognizant of setting an example of noble and spiritual purity before the world; encouraging and inspiring others into right living as examples of God’s holiness, majesty, and purity. Ultimately, we become His reflections of justice showing mercy, kindness, forgiveness, and other noble virtues that better our overall human condition.

Let us tell our story…But tell it right!

We Have A New Lifestyle

For May 26, 2019
As followers of Jesus Christ, we have His Spirit dwelling within, Who enables us to illuminate our surroundings as a candle illuminates the darkness. And as we continue to abide in Christ, we emulate His moral and spiritual fervor just as He promised in Matthew 5:14–16 (NLT):

You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.

We will never arrive at 100% perfection in these mortal bodies; because of our human frailty. Thus, we require a Savior and Mediator—all the time. In other words, we will grieve the Holy Spirit by committing a sin, or walking in some form of disobedience, or being rebellious towards God instead of walking in His Spirit.

Typically, this happens on those occasions when we choose to disobey the Lord out of pride, selfishness, or spite, like children having temper tantrums. However, much like the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:17–20, we will eventually “come to ourselves” by repenting of (or turning from) our sin and returning to the Lord.

This is our Sanctification or the process by which the Spirit of Christ (or Holy Spirit), who inhabits at the New Birth, helps us to emulate our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ just as 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 declares.

Our sins remind us how deficient we are at achieving Christ’s perfection consistently as He did. We must rely completely on His Holy Spirit to reflect the Lord’s moral and spiritual proficiency in our thoughts, speech, and conduct.

Each day, His Spirit also reminds us of what Christ did for us at Calvary, and He supplies us with a new lifestyle that honors the Lord while benefiting others and ourselves.

Ultimately, His Spirit molds us into the likeness of Jesus Christ over the course of our lifetime as we operate under His influence and give Him complete control of our lives.

In addition, since we belong to Christ exclusively, we seek opportunities to grow spiritually by reading the Bible, fasting, praying, participating in regular worship, serving others, and performing other noble deeds that honor the Lord.

We perform these “good works” not to earn God’s salvation and favor. Instead, we practice them to honor the Lord Jesus Christ—out of a heart of gratitude—because we are saved already.

In addition, His Spirit also produces a growing sense of humility and unworthiness, along with a passion for the things of God and a disdain for the things of the world.

True fulfillment will never be found by pursuing the things of this world. It will be found as we pursue the things of Christ…with a new lifestyle. What a wonderful Savior!

Nobly And Purposely Designed In The Image of God

For May 20, 2019
In the beginning, as God was completing His Creation of the Heaven and the earth, He created man and woman and placed them in the Garden of Eden. But before performing His crowning achievement, God said:

Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth (Genesis 1:26).

Yet in the grander scale, we humans are separate and distinct from—special from all other created beings just as God is special and unique; separated from all others. When He breathed in us “the breath of life,” He purposely and deliberately imparted this distinction within us giving us an eternal human spirit (Genesis 2:7).

Genesis 2:15 states the Lord placed Adam in the Garden of Eden to manage and cultivate it. Ours is a solemn stewardship because we have dominion over the land, air, and aquatic creatures and the responsibility to cultivate vegetation, minerals, and water for its proper use and our benefit.

Colossians 1:16-17 tells how the Lord created all things, including us. But, we humans are His greatest creation; greater than Mount Everest, the Grand Canyon, Aurora Borealis, Victoria Falls, Table Mountain, the Barrier Reef, the Amazon rainforest, the magnificent Redwoods, and the sun, moon, and stars combined—in God’s eyes.

It is the Enemy’s job to confuse and distort God’s perfect plan by telling us we are flawed and worthless. He has convinced many of us that we “won’t amount to anything.” As result, many of us believe we will be “nothing but failures” in this life. However, these are lies because God created us differently, much like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle; when assembled they create a beautiful portrait of His love, redemption, and glory.

The Psalmist declares God designed us with glory and honor with all things under our feet (Psalm 8:5). Truly, God has given us an amazing pedigree that is up to us to accept. However, we must never let our pride and sense of self-importance deceive us into thinking or feeling we are God ourselves. He is the Creator, and we are the created. Psalm 36:6 tells us God preserves the earth and all that is in it.

Unlike any other created being, we can choose to live a noble life that reflects our Creator’s dignity to affect eternal changes in our lives and others around us. Thus, we should never consider ourselves as mistakes or afterthoughts.

We are special and unique persons who fulfill His perfect, eternal design for the universe. In other words, God created you and I, with all our complexity, to function according to His design: to bring Him honor, not the Enemy.

God’s marvelous creation provides us with the undeniable evidence of His existence and loving care. The Psalmist observes the heavens declare His glory, and the skies above are the visual displays of His awesome craftsmanship (Psalm 19:1). Because of the undeniable witness of His creation, those who brazenly and defiantly scoff at His existence have no excuse on the day when they will account for “every idle word” (Matthew 12:36).

Yet, made in His image also means we can choose where we will spend our eternity; whether in Heaven with the Lord or in Hell separated from Him. Jesus describes Hell as a place where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth; where the tormenting worms never die and the raging fire is never quenched (see: Matthew 13:42, and Mark 9:48).

I believe the “weeping and gnashing of teeth” will be a self-imposed human torment to some degree. Because unfortunately, Hell is the place where atheism and agnosticism will no longer exist because everyone there will instantly become “believers” in God’s existence and His redeeming love and grace freely extended to everyone through Jesus Christ. But they will spend eternity regretting not taking advantage of it—when they were alive and had the opportunity.

Our minds control our cognitive and anatomical functions. We should use them for proper thoughts, feelings, perceptions, and memories. Isaiah 26:3-4 (NLT) is clear about what happens to those whose thoughts and minds are properly fixed on the Lord:

You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you! Trust in the Lord always, for the Lord God is the eternal Rock.

We also read in Philippians 4:8 (NLT):

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.

We are to use our bodies as examples of God’s love and goodness in the world and never as the Enemy’s weapons for death and destruction. We are God’s crowning achievements of creation and salvation. We are to live out—to the best of our ability—the noble plan He has designed for each of us.