Is Love Is The Answer?

For February 16, 2020
Isn’t it amazing how easy it is to express our love towards others when they are reciprocated? We want to feel safe, and not vulnerable when expressing one of our strongest emotions—without feeling victimized. How often do we avoid the people whom we feel will reject us, or not reciprocate our kindness, or somehow will show through their words and actions that they do not have our best interests at heart.

So many personal, family, and social relationships fail when we choose not to consider how the other person’s concerns are just as important and/or valid as our own. As relationships break down, conflicts arise because we have not learned to listen and respond (instead of reacting out of hostility).

Death is the ultimate price anyone can pay to demonstrate his or her love. Nevertheless, the Lord Jesus Christ did this for us when He forever payed our sin debt as John 3:16-17 (NLT) teaches:

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.

Jesus Christ, the Son of God was beaten, spat upon, insulted, and crowned with thorns. Yet He still was yet willing to be stripped of his clothing, affixed to a wooden cross with metal spikes driven through His hands and feet. Then He was crucified on a hill between two thieves in front of thousands of mocking people.

He could have resisted sacrificing Himself for our benefit by commanding tens of thousands of angels to come to His rescue. Instead, He gave His life as the supreme payment for our sins. Three days later, He rose from the dead, declaring that all power is given Him in Heaven and earth. His love for us raised Him from the dead and caused Him to ascend into Heaven where He intercedes for us today.

His love prompted Him to give us His Holy Spirit to comfort us and abide in us until He returns for us. Then we will forever know His vast love and glory in full measure.

We show Christ’s perfect love as we forgive others when our anger tells us to retaliate with violence. As we show mercy instead of seeking justice for bring wronged, and we extend goodwill towards the unlovable, we are practical demonstrations of Jesus’ love in our world. Here, His Spirit is active within us to supply us with the ability to express our benevolence towards others—just as He did—without being driven by selfish recognition or repayment.

God’s redeeming love as demonstrated through Christ emphatically proves that He wants what is best for us despite our acceptance of it, for Christ redeems all humans everywhere—even those who refuse to accept His love or believe in Him. No longer is there anyone without the hope for redemption. The Lord Jesus Christ left His deity and glory just to show us what true love looks like, and not because of what we sinful humans could ever do for Him.

Is love the answer? 1 John 4:10 tells us that true love is not based on our loving expressions towards God. Instead, it is by how much He loved us and sent His Son to pay for our sins. Only through His unselfish love can we honor the Lord as active demonstrations of His amazing grace. God’s love lifted us from despair into His glorious presence forever.

What a Wonderful Savior!

Forever Established in Heaven!

For February 9, 2020
How long is forever? As temporal and finite human beings, it is difficult to fathom the vastness of eternity. This is especially true for this fast-paced, modern society where obsolescence is measured by months, weeks, and even days.

Isn’t it amazing how the newest smartwatch, or the newest smartphone…the newest technology often arrives before we are accustomed to the old technology it is replacing.

But not so with God. He is eternal, and/or “from everlasting to everlasting,”1 His plans, His faithfulness, His loving kindness, His tender mercies, along with His purpose in grace, which preserve His people of faith even today remain solid and secure. Amen!

For God is not human, that He would lie to us, as Numbers 23:19 teaches. Instead, He is true and faithful in all His ways. This is also true for His Word, as the Psalmist attests in Psalm 119:89 (KJV):

For ever, O Lord, thy word is settled in heaven.

Isn’t it comforting to know the promises found in the Bible are true and dependable, having been settled forever in Heaven?

There is no place in the world where we can one find such certainty in every situation, under every circumstance. We serve a faithful, loving God who will not rescind any of His promises. Instead He will more than adequately provide all our needs according to His riches in glory through Christ Jesus our Lord just as Philippians 4:19 tells us.

Our Bible provides a firm foundation for us. As we diligently read, study, and apply it to our lives each day, we grow more familiar with its truths and promises. Then, His Holy Spirit can call to our minds those things that will help us navigate life’s uncertainties. King David observes, “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”2 Our diligent study and preparation allow us to share biblical truths that benefit others and us.

While in seminary, and even since, I have met people who contend what God said during the time of Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Isaiah, Daniel, and what He did through Joshua, Deborah, Esther, Ruth, David, Job, Nehemiah, Malachi and all the Old Testament Saints, who lived before Christ are no longer valid nor are they binding to us as Christians.

Some of these critics of the Word have proposed—to their own peril—that because of Christ’s redemptive work performed on the cross by His death, and completed at the tomb by His resurrection we can disregard all the principles and teachings contained in the Law, Prophets, and Writings of our Old Testament Bible.

However in Matthew 5:17-19 (NLT), our Lord Jesus Christ affirmed the essential correlation between His redeeming life and ministry and the Old Testament Scripture as we understand it today. He especially stresses the critical role the Old Testament plays in the formation and development of Christian character and conduct (emphasis mine):

Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved. So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.

In short, God’s Word—whether Old or New Testament—is applicable and relevant for our understanding of God’s standards for righteous for both the First Century and the Twenty-First Century New Testament Church as 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NLT) attests:

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.

Since Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God, affirmed His role as the fulfillment of God’s eternal Word, we have the assurance that every Word of God is eternal, faithful, and binding. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.3

Truly, God’s Word is established (on earth and) in Heaven forever. What a Wonderful Savior!

Wanted: Spiritual Vision (Apply Within)

For February 2, 2020
Disenchantment is a prevalent problem facing our world today. We can observe it in the lives of those who express doubt and uncertainty about their future. Who experience lives that lack purpose, meaning, and significance, and they turn to the use of illicit drugs and alcohol their coping mechanism.

In its December 18, 2019 online report1, the National Institute of Drug Abuse under the National Institutes of Health reported a significant increase of teenage marijuana vaping:

Past year vaping of marijuana, which has more than doubled in the past two years, was reported at 20.8% among 12th graders, with 10th graders not far behind at 19.4% and eighth graders at 7.0%. Past month marijuana vaping among 12th graders nearly doubled in a single year to 14% from 7.5%–the second largest one-year jump ever tracked for any substance in the history of the survey…Marijuana continues to be the most commonly used illicit drug by adolescents. After remaining mostly stable for many years, daily use of marijuana went up significantly since 2018 among eighth and 10th graders–now at 1.3% and 4.8% respectively.

Some have chosen suicide as a means to address disenchantment. Here, if one feels there are no absolutes, (e.g., God, Jesus, Heaven, Hell, eternal life, etc.), so the question is asked is: Why should my life matter? Certainly not all cases follow this thought progression per the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Instead, their findings indicate suicides often occur when a person experiences stressors that exceed his or her coping abilities. The Foundation observed the following trends as well2:

      • The age-adjusted suicide rate in 2018 was 14.2 per 100,000 individuals.
      • The rate of suicide is highest in middle-age white men in particular.
      • In 2017, men died by suicide 3.54x more often than women.
      • On average, there are 129 suicides per day.
      • White males accounted for 69.67% of suicide deaths in 2017.
      • In 2017, firearms accounted for 50.57% of all suicide deaths.

Recently, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention established a website to address our fears and concerns about the current norovirus threat to our national/global health at: https://www.cdc.gov/norovirus/index.html.

Even more telling is how our doubt and spiritual uncertainty are significant problems we face today according to a recent Barna study:3

Two-thirds of all self-identified Christians or past Christians (66%) admit to experiencing a season of spiritual doubt. More than a quarter (26%) still find themselves doubting…A common response during times of doubt was to quit attending church (46%). Three in 10 stopped reading the Bible (30%) or praying (28%). One in four (24%) ceased discussing spirituality, God, or religion with their friends and families, but such community is also the place they were most likely to turn for help (40%).

However, our worry, fear, and disenchanted can be linked to our lack of spiritual vision as Proverbs 29:18 (KJV) teaches:

Where there is no vision, the people perish; but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.

Barna further observes:

While 40 percent feel they have worked through their faith crisis…Twenty-nine percent sought answers in the Bible and one in five looked to church (21%), a spouse (19%), or a pastor or spiritual leader (19). Some addressed their doubt with spiritual or religious books (16%), online resources (12%), counseling (5%), or conferences and retreats (3%). For the most part, these approaches worked; 52 percent of these Christians say their faith is now stronger or at least unchanged (28%).

Our greatest need is spiritual vision that will honor God through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Here our greatest objective is to love the Lord first and foremost, love others, and love ourselves using His Word as our guide. Psalm 1:2-3 (NLT) reads:

But they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night. They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do.

Through faith in Jesus Christ, we are assured of God’s faithfulness in everything we experience. Along with the forgiveness of sin secured by His death on the cross, the Lord also provides spiritual vision through His Word, which brings us both direction, comfort, and true fulfillment.

Christians are not exempt from trouble. However, we can be certain that as we experience trials, the Lord comes to the rescue each time” as Psalm 34:19 (NLT) teaches. As we trust Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, we diligently serve Him, and we commit our lives to Him totally, we shall discover the rich, fulfilling life He promises for this life and the next. This is true spiritual vision.

What a Wonderful Savior!

When Your Future Becomes Now!

For January 26, 2020
I’ve often wondered what the thoughts of Joshua were as he watched Moses walk away from the Israelite camp on his way to Mt. Nebo where he was to die. For 40 years, he served the Man of God faithfully as a first-hand witness to the majesty, power, and faithfulness of God demonstrated towards His Chosen People: Israel.

Now, he hears from God—personally:

After the death of Moses the LORD’s servant, the LORD spoke to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ assistant. He said, “Moses my servant is dead. Therefore, the time has come for you to lead these people, the Israelites, across the Jordan River into the land I am giving them. I promise you what I promised Moses: ‘Wherever you set foot, you will be on land I have given you—from the Negev wilderness in the south to the Lebanon Mountains in the north, from the Euphrates River in the east to the Mediterranean Sea in the west, including all the land of the Hittites.’ No one will be able to stand against you as long as you live. For I will be with you as I was with Moses. I will not fail you or abandon you. Be strong and courageous, for you are the one who will lead these people to possess all the land I swore to their ancestors I would give them. Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the instructions Moses gave you. Do not deviate from them, turning either to the right or to the left. Then you will be successful in everything you do. Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do. This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:1-9 (NLT)

Joshua was in Egypt with Moses when Egypt was devastated by the 10 Plagues, which facilitated the release of God’s Chosen People from 400 years of Egyptian bondage.1 Most notably, it was the final Plague: the Death of the Firstborn, which saw the institution of two important observations that are yet observed by devout worshippers today: the Feast of Unleavened Bread and the Feast of the Passover.2

Joshua saw how the Lord protected the Children of Israel at the Red Sea. There God parted the waters so that His Chosen People could walk across “on dry ground” directly in front of the pursuing Egyptian army, which was destroyed by the receding waters as they tried to capture them.3

He also watched Lord lead His People by a Pillar of Cloud during the day, and by a Pillar of Fire at night. In addition, he saw the Lord meet Moses at Sinai where The Law was instituted; a Law which yet governs and informs the moral and spiritual standards of God’s people around the globe today.4

Moreover, Joshua benefited from God’s miraculous provision of manna, quail, and water that sustained a nation through their time in the wilderness.

Incidentally, Joshua and Caleb were spies who gave a favorable report—confident of God’s victory—when they returned to the Wilderness of Paran after exploring the land of Canaan for 40 days.

Although all 12 spies agreed Canaan was a “land flowing with milk and honey,” just as God promised. Yet 10 spies gave an evil, disheartening report that incited the people to stone Joshua and Caleb, establish a new leader, and return to Egypt.5 However, God appeared miraculously to vindicate Moses, Aaron, Joshua and Caleb and condemned the ungodly, unbelieving rabble to wander in the wilderness for 40 years.

All Joshua’s contemporaries (including Moses) were gone; having died in the wilderness, with the exception of Caleb. Now as his future hopes, dreams (and fears), opportunities, expectations, service, and victories became “today’s reality,” he held on to the promises and commands of God. And as a result, he discovered ultimate victory just as the Lord promised (in verses 5 and 9):

No one will be able to stand against you as long as you live. For I will be with you as I was with Moses. I will not fail you or abandon you. This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.

I believe Joshua needed to look no further than his own name, which means: “Jehovah is salvation,”6 to find the faith and encouragement required to preserve him through the arduous task set before him.

For the odyssey would begin in just 3 days. Then he would lead God’s Chosen People: the Nation of Israel across the Jordan River—miraculously again—on dry ground into the land of promise.

Ultimately, Joshua was a first-hand witness to the faithfulness of God, and as he advocates Jehovah worship at the completion of his mission, he articulates the following resolve to trust and serve the Lord forever (emphasis mine):

But if you refuse to serve the LORD, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the LORD. Joshua 24:15 (NLT)

Just as Joshua trusted God and experienced His faithfulness, we Christians today can trust in Jesus’ Matthew 28:20 (NIV) promise for our assured victory as He accompanies us forever: “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age!”

Therefore, when your future becomes now, trust in the Lord. For He is ever-faithful and will fulfill His divine plan through you.  What a Wonderful Savior!

 

How About Some Grace Today!

For January 19, 2020
The moon must have been especially bright on the evening when Nicodemus met Jesus privately, as John records in the third chapter of his gospel. Scripture is silent regarding the meeting’s exact time and place except where John tells us it happened during Passover, which is a major Jewish observance that runs concurrently with the Feast of Unleavened Bread from the fourteenth day through the twenty-first day of the first month of the Jewish calendar or Nisan.1

During this week of feasting and celebration, massive throngs of people flooded Jerusalem from all over the world. Every Jewish male was required to attend this observance, which commemorates Israel’s Exodus from over four hundred years of Egyptian slavery.2

It was on this very special occasion when the Lord Jesus Christ offered the hallmark passages of our Christian Faith:

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. John 3:16-18 (NKJV)

Herein lies the mystery of God’s amazing grace revealed in its fullest measure: God extending eternal forgiveness, eternal life, eternal fellowship, and eternal reconciliation to a morally and spiritually bankrupt humanity—because of His eternal love for us…alone.

Ephesians 2:8-10 (NLT) further expands on this idea:

 God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

We Christians define God’s gift of love and forgiveness as revealed through the redemptive work of Jesus Christ (i.e., His death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and future return), as grace, which is understood as:

Favor, gracious care or help, goodwill…that which one grants to another; the action of one who volunteers to do something…to which he [or she] is not bound.3

By faith alone, we benefit from His mercy. In other words, through our faith, we are spared from His wrath due to our sin. Instead, now we have access to God’s priceless gifts of eternal joy, peace, and delight. Ultimately, we no longer rely on our futile, human efforts to earn God’s favor through our own “good works.”  Instead, we rely solely on the “perfect works” of Jesus Christ—as we trust Him for everything else.

Now we have the goodness, loving-kindness, mercy, and favor He designed for us (and those around us) when He created the world. Until He returns for us, His Holy Spirit keeps, strengthens, and increases our Christian faith with an undying affection, gratitude, and power to perform His good works that benefits everyone and us while He receives the glory.

What a Wonderful Savior!