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A New Normal?

family photo
 
“Why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?”  Numbers 14:3
 
After 400 years of slavery in Egypt, God had delivered His people. Under the weight of Egyptian oppression, the Israelites cried out to God that things could be different. They cried out for freedom from slavery and to be brought to the land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
 
God heard their cries and raised up Moses to lead His people. Through a series of plagues and the death of the firstborn children of Egypt, including Pharaoh’s own son, God’s people were set free and began their journey to the promised land. God promised that He would be their God and that they would be His people. When they approached their destination, spies were sent in to see what was ahead for them. Behind them was slavery, ahead of them was the promised land.
 
When the spies returned, ten of them gave a report that put fear into the hearts of the people. Even though they told of a land that was flowing with milk and honey, there were also reports of giants in the land and armies that would be too difficult to defeat. Faced with this new reality, suddenly the past didn’t look so bad anymore. In Numbers 14:3 we read “Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?” Really? Go back to being slaves? Go back to the grueling life that they faced in Egypt? Was that really better?
 
When the “safer at home” order was put in place, it was not unusual to hear people yearn for things to “return to normal.” People wanted life to be like it was. In one sense, that is absolutely understandable. The restrictions and risks that we face have been very challenging for many. But were the “good old days” really that good? Think about how many young families spent their entire week running from event to event, whether sports or music or clubs. It seemed like we were slaves to our schedules. Or other adults whose calendars were packed with no room to breathe. But now life is different.
 
Do we really want to go back to life exactly as it was? Might we reconsider how we use our time and fill our calendars? While the isolation that many are feeling is a burden, consider the gift of time that God is giving us; time to spend with Him in prayer and reading His word; time to spend with family or to connect with friends. Even in challenging times like these, God is with us and blesses out for Jesus’ sake. Perhaps our future can be even better than our past.
 
Prayer: Father, we can’t go back and we don’t know what the future holds, but we do know that You are always with us. Grant us peace and comfort in the assurance of the love that is ours in Christ and it’s in His name we pray. Amen.

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Our Strength

cross mounted on gray painted wall
 
10 So do not fear, for I am with you;
    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
11 “All who rage against you
    will surely be ashamed and disgraced;
those who oppose you
    will be as nothing and perish.
12 Though you search for your enemies,
    you will not find them.
Those who wage war against you
    will be as nothing at all.
Isaiah 41:10-12


We are so strong, right? Yes, but most of us forget where our strength comes from. We often sit in fear of many things but forget that we have God Almighty on our side in this journey we call life.

Revenge is something that tends to be in human nature where we really want to get back at someone for doing something bad against us. As much as we want this, it is not in our place to do so! We must stay level headed and offer love. Our strength comes from God and our enemies and evildoers will have what is coming to them from God but all we can and must offer is love and righteousness just as Jesus did.

When I read these passages above, I get reminded that strength comes from God and revenge is no place for us. God provides for us through these times of trial where the evil of the world looks so tempting to us but we must stay strong in the truth that we have, and that is in Christ. All evil will have what is coming to it, and all we can offer is our love because that is the strength and greatest weapon that Christ has armed us with. Stay strong in these times my brothers and sisters; don’t forget to give thanks and pray often.

Prayer: Almighty and Merciful Father, you have equipped us with our strength and have helped us spread the love of your son around the world. Be with us in these times, so that we don’t lose sight of the Cross and continue to spread the Gospel news around despite the evil in the world. Through your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.

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Forgiveness

heart-shaped red and beige pendant

 

12Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. (Colossians 3:12-15 ESV)

I don’t live among perfect people—even when I am alone!  Sin has been the surge of life since our first parents grasped the forbidden fruit and brought sin into paradise.  Since that time our relationships have fallen into disharmony.

Take another glimpse into the Garden of Eden.  As sin enters the world, the man and woman run when they hear the sound of the Lord walking in the garden in the cool of the day.  A broken relationship.  When the Lord asks Adam what happened, he blames his wife.  Eve in turn blames Satan.  Relationships are broken because sin reigns.

Generations have passed since the door to paradise was closed.  Sin still wreaks havoc on our relationships.  Our modern social sciences have tried countless remedies to provide greater tolerance among us and a deeper esteem for ourselves.  Nothing has worked.

This is because we have neglected the antidote to the cause of broken relationships—forgiveness.  The Lord Jesus sacrificed Himself that we would be forgiven.

It is important for us to remember that Jesus said, “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required” (Luke 12:48).  We have received forgiveness in generous quantities that we may be generous in sharing it with others.

Forgiveness is the mortar that binds our relationships together. Forgiveness allows us into the presence of God.  Forgiveness makes marriages lasting.  Forgiveness makes friendships stronger.

 Prayer: Constantly remind me, Lord, Jesus, that I have received forgiveness, not only to have new life, but to share with others the grace that comes from Your cross and open tomb.  Use me to be a dispenser of Your forgiveness.  Amen.


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Mighty Armor

lemonades on tray
 
13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Ephesians 6:13-17

When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade, right? What Paul is talking about here are gifts from God that must be put into use. So often overlooked, the armor of God that each of us have may be metaphorically sitting in the back closet collecting dust.

The world we live in is full of evil and evildoers. We must take a stand against these people and these talks. Jesus has equipped us to have the armor of the divine! When us Christians get attacked in word and maybe even physically, we must respond with the truth of God, the Word of God, and blast them in faith which can be so powerful.

With the mighty armor of God that each of us have, we can create and form the biggest army for Christ ever known to man. When each of us hold each other accountable and not let evil get in the way of truth, the world will start to change. Being a Christian means being a warrior of truth and righteousness in today’s very secular world. We may all struggle with putting our armor on and keeping it on, but when we are united and don’t lose sight on Christ, that is when our Gospel message becomes more powerful. Leading by example in this world is the true way to lead, and we all must lead by truth, righteousness, and most important, faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Almighty and Merciful God, you have equipped us with the strength and faith to proclaim and defend your Good News. Be with us so that we may remember that we always have your armor on us so that the truth about you is always spoken. Help us spread to others the Gospel message of Jesus to all with the help of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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What He Said Week 11

Study Eleven: HE DIDN’T SAY IT WOULD BE EASY.

 

TAKING IT IN:

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. 20 Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. 21 They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 Whoever hates me hates my Father as well. 24 If I had not done among them the works no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. As it is, they have seen, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. 25 But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’

26 “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me. 27 And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.

“All this I have told you so that you will not fall away. They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God. They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me. I have told you this, so that when their time comes you will remember that I warned you about them. I did not tell you this from the beginning because I was with you.    John 15:18 – 16:4

 

GETTING AT IT:

There is a misguided assumption, sometimes fueled by preachers of a “happiness gospel,” that believing in Jesus should mean an easier life.  To be sure, faith in Jesus means a better life – every spiritual blessing that accompanies forgiveness and eternal life; but Jesus didn’t promise health, wealth and an easier life.  More than once he told his followers to deny themselves, take up the cross, and follow him.  Identifying with Jesus will bring the world’s hatred.  The Christian’s moral life stands in judgment of the world’s immorality; and people apart from Jesus hate that.  The Christian’s certainty about absolute truth stands in sharp contrast with the world’s claim that truth is somewhere between unknowable and purely subjective; and no one wants to be told that he is wrong.  The Christian’s witness to Jesus as the only way to God and everlasting life with him challenges the illogical argument that there are many ways to perceive of God and many roads to him despite these “many” being mutually contradictory.

Like the disillusioned followers who abandoned Jesus in John 6, some people walk away from the Savior when they realize that faith in Jesus may separate them from friends and family and put them at odds with the conventional wisdom of their culture.  Others drift away from the Savior when hardship impacts their life, contrary to the easy life they expected.

Ridicule, the loss of friends, maybe even the loss of a job are possible consequences of confessing Christ in the western world.  Elsewhere, imprisonment and even execution await those who take up the cross and follow Jesus.  Jesus warned us; the world hates.

 

DIGGING INTO IT:

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. 20 Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. 21 They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me.”

The term “world” refers to everything that the fall into sin brought about in opposition to God – belief systems, institutions, and powerful people.  In Ephesians 2 St. Paul described the condition before faith in Jesus as “when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air.”  That ruler, Satan, Jesus referred to as “the prince of this world.”  There are only two camps – falling in line with the world or belonging to Jesus. Hebrews 11:3 says of those who died in faith: “They admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth.”  Inside the world’s camp you are loved by those who share a worldview opposed to Jesus.  Outside the world’s camp you will be hated by the world.  In contrast, neither Jesus nor his followers hate people who belong to the world.  They are loved by God and sought out by Christians who want to share the joy of the Gospel. 

The world’s hatred is a response to Jesus first, then to those who own him as their Master.  It’s not about you.  To openly identify with Jesus is to draw persecution from those who reject Jesus and welcoming agreement from those who confess Jesus.  Again, there are only two camps; there are no “free agents.”  These words of Jesus aren’t a popular recruitment poster; but then faith isn’t exactly “signing up.”  Jesus tells us that he has chosen us out of the world.  He reached out to us, not the other way around.  His Gospel warmed and won our hearts as the Holy Spirit drew us to Jesus. And in knowing Jesus, we know God the Father. People may think they know God in some other belief system, but apart from Jesus they cannot know God.  Jesus says so.

 

 

22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 Whoever hates me hates my Father as well. 24 If I had not done among them the works no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. As it is, they have seen, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. 25 But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’

Jesus isn’t suggesting the possibility that some people are not guilty of sin.  Romans 3:23 places every human being under the curse of sin when it says: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  The apostle continues in verse 24: “and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”  All people’s sins have been paid for by Jesus’ death, and God freely forgives; but to reject Jesus is to reject that forgiveness and remain accountable for sin. That is what the Jewish leaders who hated Jesus did.  Their accountability and guilt is far greater because they saw the Son of God, heard his words from the Father, witnessed the miracles that testified to who he is.  In John 3 Jesus said: “Whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”  In John 12 Jesus said: “There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day.”

Jesus points to the hatred of those who rejected him as fulfillment of prophecy. “In their law,” Jesus says, indicting them from the Scripture they claimed.  That prophecy is in Psalm 69:4.  We might miss the prophetic nature of David’s words in the psalm if Jesus didn’t make the connection.  Jesus and the apostles in the New Testament unveil from the Old Testament the countless passages that point to the Messiah and salvation in him.

 

26 “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me. 27 And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.

Three times in chapters 14-16 of John Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit, who would “teach and remind” “testify about Jesus,” “convict the world of guilt,” and “guide into all truth.”  He is called the “Advocate” because the Greek word is a legal term referring to someone who takes your side and pleads your case.  The word has also been translated as “Counselor” and “Comforter,” for it literally describes someone who stands at your side.  The Holy Spirit’s work is everything that pertains to our life of faith.  Jesus here calls him the Spirit of truth, for he inspired the Holy Scriptures and convinces us by those Scriptures of the truth God has revealed about himself and our relationship with him.  His role, Jesus says, is to testify to the Savior.  Everything about Christianity centers on Christ, and the Spirit’s work is to keep us focused on Christ.

The phrase in the Nicene Creed, “who proceeds from the Father and the Son,” is based on verse 26.

It is not only the Holy Spirit who testifies about Jesus.  The disciples (learners, followers) are to become apostles (those sent on a mission).  They who were eye-witnesses to what Jesus said and did are sent to bear witness to him.  Earlier, in Mark 13:11, Jesus tied together their witness, the Holy Spirit’s witness, and persecution for that witness.  He said: “Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say.  Just say what is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.”  While the injunction to testify about Jesus and the promise of the Holy Spirit’s assistance were given to the first disciples, Christians today have the same mission and the same promise.

 

“All this I have told you so that you will not fall away. They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God. They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me. I have told you this, so that when their time comes you will remember that I warned you about them. I did not tell you this from the beginning because I was with you.   

You’ve probably heard the maxim “forewarned is fore-armed.”  If persecution came as a sudden and violent surprise, followers could become disillusioned and fall away from faith.  Jesus prepared his disciples for what would come, so that they would be forewarned and fore-armed. To be put out of the synagogue meant not only excommunication from one’s religious community, but also ostracism from family and friends.  This was a threat to keep dissenters in line; and it was the experience of Jewish believers in Christ.  Misguided zealots would go further.  From Stephen to the Christians Saul (later named Paul) captured and condemned to death, following Jesus would mean execution.  The hatred Jesus spoke of in the verses earlier would be acted out by people who convinced themselves that they were doing God’s work.  Such extremism was the result of their refusal to believe who Jesus is and, therefore, who the Father is.  “Their time” would come, and tradition tells us that all the disciples except John died as martyrs (the word means “witness”).

Till this point, the eve of his crucifixion, Jesus hadn’t needed to so bluntly prepare his disciples for the cost of discipleship.  He hints at his ascension to heaven as he informs them of what lay ahead.  May we be forewarned and fore-armed for the opposition that our faith may meet.

 

SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT:

We live in a world of gray, moral positions muddied and religious convictions blurred.  So-called postmodernism makes truth indistinct, whatever one believes to be true.  Into this gray world Jesus speaks black-and-white truth.  What contradicts his word is falsehood.  There are choices to be made.  One cannot have one foot in the world and the other in the kingdom of God.  Think about some of the choices God is calling you to make, and the impact those choices have on who you are.

 

SOMETHING TO TALK ABOUT:

Read John 17:14-18, where in his prayer to the Father Jesus identifies his followers as IN but not OF the world.  What does that mean in practical terms?  What happens if Christians withdraw from the world?  What happens if they adopt some of the worldview of the world and appear to be OF the world?  How do we live out the delicate balance of IN but not OF the world?

 

SOMETHING TO PRAY ABOUT:

There are Christians living under the threat of death for their faith, especially in areas of the world where radical Islam is in control.  Pray that these brothers and sisters in faith will have the courage to face persecution and the peace in knowing that they are by that persecution identified with their Savior.

 

SOMETHING TO DO ABOUT IT:

One way that Christians testify about Jesus is with letters, emails, text messages, and social media posts.  Choose one such means and at least one person to whom you can testify for Jesus.  Many have found that quoting a Christian author, attaching an article, or suggesting a book is an effective way to testify to someone who is uncertain about what to believe.

To learn more about the persecution of Christians around the globe, look on-line at the website for “Voice of the Martyrs.”

 

SOMETHING FOR FURTHER STUDY:

Read 1 Peter 4:12-19 where this apostle, soon to be martyred, talks as Jesus did about the suffering for the faith that a Christian can expect.


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