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Saturday, February 16, 2019

We are the Bride of Christ

We are the Bride of Christ
In Scripture, Jesus is called our “bridegroom” or “husband” (Isaiah 54:5) and those who follow Him are called His “bride”, or the “bride of Christ”.  The “Church” is another name for all the followers of Christ. So, the Christian Church – all of the believers, now and down through the ages, are referred to in the Bible as the “bride of Christ.” And we Christians – the Church - are also called “the body of Christ” as we are all members of one body.  (1 Corinthians 12:27)  
Scripture says: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the Church and gave Himself for her.  That He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the Word.  That He (Jesus) might present her (the Church) to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.”  (Ephesians 5:25-27)  
Scripture says that God created the bride of Christ.  (Matthew 16:18) and she was chosen before the foundation of the world.  (Ephesians 1:4) The Father created her and paid a large dowry for His bride.  She was “bought with a price.” The blood of Christ was shed for her.  (1 Corinthians 6:20, 1 Peter 1:18-19) And the Father gave her to His only Son, Jesus Christ. (John 17:6) She is truly beloved. 
When a person believes in Christ, he or she is given the Holy Spirit to guide, comfort, and teach, and live in her or his heart.  And the Bible says that this same Holy Spirit we receive also seals us for eternity.  So, our bridegroom puts a “seal” on us to show that we belong to Him.  The Bible says: “He who establishes us with Christ and anoints us is God, who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.”  (2 Corinthians 21b-22)
Christ also pledges to His bride that He is preparing a place for her (us) in heaven and that He will return to earth for her that she may be with Him.  (John 14:3) And, as His bride, we will long for His return.  And His banner over us is love. (Song of Solomon 3:1; 2:4 and 6:3) Christ is faithful to us (His bride) so we should be faithful to Him. 
Christ washes and cleanses His bride and makes her eternal and alive and beautiful.  And He gives her His righteousness. (Jeremiah 23:6, Isaiah 53:6 and Romans 3:24-25) He rejoices over His bride (Isaiah 62:5) (John 3:29) The Bible also records the bride rejoicing over Him: “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord. My soul shall be joyful in my God:  For He has clothed me with the garments of salvation.  He has covered me with His robe of righteousness.”  (Isaiah 61:10).
The Church, the bride of Christ, is described as glorious.  The Bible says: “And I, John saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as the bride adorned for her husband.”  And the marriage of the Lamb (Christ) takes place with the bride covered in righteousness (white linen) (Revelations 19:7-9) And the groom’s “banner over her is love”. “He brings me to His banqueting table and His banner over me is love.” (Song of Solomon 2:4)
We don’t understand this “mystery” – the mystery of Christ being our bridegroom and of us becoming His glorious sinless powerful bride!  We can only vaguely imagine and wonder at what it might all mean or what it will be like when we see Jesus face to face!  But we realize that it will be glorious beyond anything we could imagine! 
Scripture says: “Beloved, we are the children of God, and it has not yet been revealed to us what we shall be, but we know that when He (Jesus) is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”  (1 John 3:2) “We now see as through a glass darkly, but then face to face.  We now know in part, but then we shall know as we are known.”  (1 Corinthians 13:12)

All are invited to come join the ranks of the Saints who will someday soon go marching into heaven.  Scripture says: “And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come”!  And let the person who hears say, “Come”!  And let the person who thirsts come.  Whoever desires, let that person take the water of life freely.”  (Revelations 22:17) And the Bible also says: “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”  (Romans 10:9) Have you accepted your invitation?  Have you tasted of the water of life?  When the Saints go marching into heaven, will you be in that number? 




Saturday, February 9, 2019

Come to Me and I Will Give You Rest

Come to Me and I Will Give You Rest
We are tired. Overworked. Stretched thin. We rush around with long lists of things to do.  So many people to please and so many jobs to perform.  We never catch up.  Never get everything right.  Always things left undone. And there’s always someone around wanting more from us.  Adding more burdens onto our already overburdened life. 
We stay away from church because we think that even God will expect too much from us.  Give us more burdens to carry.  And more rules and laws to keep.  It would be too much work trying to be good. But we have to be good to get into heaven, don’t we?   
 But how good is good enough? What do we have to do to be good enough?  Be moral?  Pray all day? Be honest?  Work harder? Pay our taxes? Keep the Sabbath? Keep our promises?  Pay ten percent to the church?  Stay sober? What level of good is good enough?  Good enough to get into heaven? Seems like no one can answer that question! Sounds like a lot of work and we are already tired.
But Jesus comes in and breaks all the rules.  Changes everything.  Jesus calls to us saying: “Come unto Me all you who are tired and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  (Matthew 11:28) And then He tells us that we don’t have to work or earn our way or do anything to go to heaven!  That salvation of the soul is unearned!  A free gift for us to take.  We do nothing and He does everything! “For by grace are you saved through faith and not of yourselves, it is a gift of God, not of works, lest any person boast.”  (Ephesians 2:8-9)  
God offers us a free gift. God’s grace is poured out onto us. This grace of God spoken of throughout Scripture is greater than we could ever imagine.  We don’t need to earn God’s love or grace.  We already have it.  We don’t have to perform for God or struggle to get His grace. He gives it to us freely.  The only thing we must do is take it through faith.  Faith’s only job is to receive what Grace offers.  If you don’t believe you have a gift, then you won’t reach out and take it.  But Scripture says: “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” (Acts 16:31)   It’s simple enough for a child to understand. Faith and believing are the same thing.
But some folks stumble because receiving salvation is so simple.  They want to make it more complicated! We sometimes find it hard to trust the miracle of God’s amazing grace!  We are a proud people, so used to believing that we must make our own way.  At least make part of it.  We want to run our own life and make our own choices. We tell God to get out.  We want to do our own thing without God’s interference.  He might get in our way.  We want His help but not His interference.  No strings attached.  We are special and we want it all on our own terms!
But we find we can’t do it all on our own. Our own way doesn’t seem to work very long. We are stuck fast in our sins and prejudices and pride.  No matter how hard we try we can’t wiggle out and save ourselves. And things aren’t going right in our lives either!  We struggle along through life anxious, fearful, angry and frustrated.  Where is the rest and peace and joy that we hear about in the Scriptures?  Shouldn’t God just be our bellboy in the sky handing us everything we want or demand while we do our thing and run our own life?  
Scripture says we must humbly come to God and believe in Christ as our Savior and Lord?  The Church calls it “justification by faith”.  Why does the whole Bible insist that “faith” or “believing” is so important?  Why did God command Adam and Eve, the first man and woman, to enjoy all of the fruits in the Garden of Eden or Paradise, but not to eat the fruit of just one tree?  Why was that one little thing so important?  Is God telling us humans that He will give us salvation, rest and peace and joy, that He will give us Paradise, but only if we belong to Him?  For Adam and Eve – if they only obeyed and didn’t eat that one fruit.  And for us, if we only believe in Christ!  Simple trust ties us to God.
We find we can’t run our lives on our own.  We must have God’s amazing grace! So, we stop believing we can do it all and humbly ask God to help us.  And we step out in faith and believe in Christ. And then God, in His gracious kindness declares us not guilty.  He has done this through Christ Jesus, who has freed us by taking away our sins.  (Romans 3:24-25)
“God didn’t overlook your sins, lest He endorse them.  He didn’t punish you, lest He destroy you.  Instead He found a way to punish the sin and preserve the sinner.  Jesus took your punishment and the sin, and preserves the sinner, giving you credit for Jesus’ perfection.  It’s a sweet exchange, your sins for His righteousness. (See Max Lucado’s book, “Grace”, p.36)
But God’s grace doesn’t just give us eternal salvation.  God’s grace also gives us rest and peace and joy while we are living our lives here on earth.  Christians are called to rest in His grace.  Give our problems to Him and trust Him to take care of them.  Scripture says: “Casting all your cares on Him, for He cares for you.”  (1 Peter 5:7)  
We become “citizens of the Kingdom of God” when we believed in Christ.  And the Bible tells us that the Kingdom of God is “righteousness, peace and joy.” (Romans 14:17)   In other words, it is a Paradise!  As followers of Christ that is our heritage and our inheritance.  Scripture says: “For we who have trusted in God and relied on Him do enter that rest….” (Hebrews 4:3)
God tells those who believe in Christ to ask and we shall receive, seek and we shall find, and knock and it shall be opened to us. (Matthew 7:7-8, Luke 11:9) That sounds like Paradise to me! When we pray and ask God for something, we often expect our prayer to be answered quickly and in a certain way.  But God often takes a different route in answering our prayers. That’s when we need to trust God and rely on His grace.
God may not work the problem out the way we thought He would. But He knows the way through the wilderness.  He knows our problems and He will answer our prayers and work out things for the best, and in His time frame.  He gives us the precious promise – the grace - that He will answer all of our prayers if they are in His will and if we will trust Him enough to allow Him to do that.  (Romans 8:28)
So, you don’t have to be afraid and you don’t have to worry or be anxious. Scripture says: “Be anxious in nothing but in everything by prayer and supplication, make your requests known unto God, and the peace that passes understanding will keep your minds and hearts in Christ Jesus.”  (Philippians 4:6-8) The Holy Spirit is our “Comforter”. (John 14:26) We can rest and have the peace that God has all of our problems and requests in His Hands.  We can relax and let grace happen. What can I say!  It doesn’t get any better than that! 

Some of the ideas in this blog were taken from Max Lucado’s book, “Grace” and from Joyce Meyer’s book, “Grace of God”.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Jesus Forgives a Woman Caught in Adultery

Jesus Forgives a Woman Caught in Adultery
“The Accuser” is one of the names for the devil.  He is also called “Satan”, “the great dragon” and “the ancient serpent”.  But the devil is called “the Accuser” because he never shuts up.  He is there constantly putting us down and trying to make us fall. He reminds us of every mistake we make.  He may be responsible for the voices in our head telling us that we aren’t good enough.  Or that we have failed again. Or he may urge our friends and family to keep criticizing us and wearing us down.  Day after day and month after month, never stopping. 
Scripture says that Satan’s aim is “to steal, and to kill, and to destroy” (John 10:10) Steal your joy and keep you depressed.  Destroy your peace by bringing you panic attacks and paralyzing fear in the night.  Tempt you to turn from your faith in Christ.
But not all guilt is bad.  Satan’s guilt enslaves us, but God sometimes gives us a guilty conscience when we have sinned in order to help us repent and change.  Or when we see others being treated badly, we are given God’s love and concern and we work to see justice done.  (2 Corinthians 7:11)   God gives us a conscience so we can turn from sin.  God is in the business of building us up.  It isn’t His will that any should perish.  (2 Peter 3:9) 
 When Christ comes again at the end of the age, Satan, the Accuser, will finally be stopped and put down.  Scripture says: “For the Accuser has been thrown down to earth – the one who accused our brothers and sisters before our God day and night.” (Revelations 12:9-10)
Just as Satan is our “Accuser”, Jesus is our “Advocate”.   Scripture says: “When anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous.”  (1 John 2:1b) The Bible also says: “Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect?  It is God who justifies you.  Who is he who condemns?  Since it is Christ who has died, and furthermore is also risen, and who is ever at the right hand of God, making intercession for us.” (Romans 8:33-34) (Hebrews 10:21-22) (Romans 8:24)
So, who do we trust, our Advocate, Jesus Christ, or our Accuser, Satan?  Scripture tells us that when we believe that Christ died to take away our sins, He not only cleans us up, but He covers us with His righteousness. Scripture says: “your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:30) When God looks at you, He sees Jesus first. When the Accuser comes calling and shooting his arrows of guilt, fear and doubt at us, we are told to stand behind our shield of faith and hold it up high to stop these ruthless attacks.  We can stand on the promises in the Bible that remind us that Jesus Christ has us covered. And we can also watch and pray.  Christ’s protection is real and powerful. 
Scripture commands us to “Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.  Put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.  For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.  …above all taking the shield of faith with which, you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one.”  (Ephesians 6:10-12, 16)
The Bible tells a story of Jesus being an Advocate or standing up for a woman who was caught having sex with a married man. (John 8: 2-10) Evidently the church leaders walked in and caught the woman and the married man in bed together.  Scripture doesn’t say anything about the church leaders trying to punish the married man. They seemed to blame the whole affair on the woman! Obviously, it must have been all her fault for tempting him!
It was early morning and Jesus was outside the Temple teaching God’s Word with a group gathering around Him. As He was teaching, the Pharisees and religious leaders came rushing in shoving the woman in front of the crowd.  “Teacher” they asked Jesus, “This woman was caught in the very act of adultery.  The law of Moses says to stone her.  What do you say?”  (John 8:2-5) The religious leaders were hoping to trap Jesus into saying something they could use against Him.
Several of the religious leaders began picking up stones and pacing around, anxious to begin stoning this woman. And the woman stood there trembling with her head down and tears running down her face.  Soon the crowd got very quiet, waiting to see what Jesus would do. 
Scripture says that Jesus “stooped down and wrote in the dust” (John 8:6) We don’t know what He was writing there in the dirt, but some think perhaps He was writing down sins that the religious leaders had committed.  After a while Jesus stood up and placed himself between the woman and the angry religious leaders. Finally, Jesus spoke.  He said: “Let those who are without sin throw the first stone.” Then he stooped down again and kept writing in the dust. (John 8:7-8)
Silence fell over the group.  And one by one the religious leaders, being convicted in their conscience, dropped their stones and walked out of the Temple.  The older men left first and then the younger ones.  Finally, only Jesus and the woman were left. Where are your accusers?  Has no one condemned you?  Jesus asked the woman.  (verse 10) “No one, Lord.” The woman answered.  “Neither do I condemn you.  Go and sin no more.”  Jesus told her. 
Jesus was this guilty woman’s Advocate.  He stood up for her and told her not to commit adultery any more. And Jesus is your Advocate too.  As your Advocate, He defends you and says on your behalf, “There is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.”  (Romans 8:1) 
Many of the truths written here in this blog were taken from Chapter 2 of Max Lucado’s book, “Grace, More than we Deserve, Greater than we Imagine”.




Saturday, January 26, 2019

What is Christian Baptism

What is Christian Baptism?
Baptism is a picture of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ.  Scripture says: “We are buried with Christ in baptism and we are raised to walk in a new life…” (Romans 6:3-4) When we are baptized, or go under the water, we “die” to our old life of sin and pride and as Christ rose from death, we rise out of the water to a new life in Christ.  Christ takes away the old and gives us the new.  
Before we are baptized, we repent of our sins and Testify that we believe in Jesus as our Savior and Lord.  Then our baptism is a public testimony to the world of our commitment to Christ.  A public declaration that we repent of our sins and we now belong to Christ. It is the first step of Christian discipleship. 
  We are baptized as an act of obedience to the commands of Christ.  Jesus commands us: “All authority has been given to Me (Jesus) in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy spirit.  Teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you. And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  (Matthew 28:18)
Baptism symbolizes putting sin to death.  Accepting Christ as our Savior from sin and death. Christians disagree as to whether baptism is essential to the New Birth.  And whether baptism is a sacrament or not.  Most Protestant Christians and Evangelicals believe that Baptism does not make you a believer, it shows you already are one.  Like wearing a wedding ring doesn’t make you married but it announces to the world that you are married. But you can be married and not wear a wedding ring.
The Bible says that we receive salvation through belief in Christ. Most believe the Scriptures that say it is God’s grace and our faith in Christ that brings salvation. All Christians believe that God blesses a person through baptism.  That more is going on spiritually when we are baptized than we can understand.
Some churches insist on adult baptism and some churches practice infant baptism.  Some believe that a person must be old enough to accept Christ in order to be baptized.  And others believe that the parents can dedicate the baby to God and promise to bring the young child up in the Lord. The baby is usually baptized or dedicated by sprinkling a few drops of water on his or her head.  Whereas with adult baptism, the older child or adult is usually baptized by being placed under the water and then brought up. However, some churches baptize older children and adults by sprinkling water on the head.   
Scripture tells us that we are born again into a new family – the body of Christ when we believe. Scripture says: “For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ.  For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body (the body of Christ) – whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free – and we have all been made to drink into one Spirit (the Holy Spirit) .” 1 Corinthians 12:12-13)   We as believers have a special fellowship through the Holy Spirit with other Christians (our brothers and sisters in Christ) after we believe.
  You may notice in 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 it says that “by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body”.  It appears that there is a spiritual working going on here in us.  Or a spiritual baptizing of us going on when we believe, apart from the public baptism we have in a church before others. 
Recently I was in church when several children were baptized and afterwards the pastor baptized their teddy bears!!! That’s right, he solemnly baptized teddy bears up at the altar! I was so upset I almost got up and walked out.  And I feel guilty now that I didn’t.  Baptizing teddy bears, I believe, is treading on sacred ground and making a mockery of the sacrament of baptism.
After that the pastor gave his sermon about what he believes baptism means!  The sermon went something like this. – That baptism speaks of God cheering us on no matter who we are or what we do.  That we can’t get away from God’s loving and being pleased with us. That nothing is required of us although it is better if we are good.  That God’s love covers everything.
That we can go on living our lives as usual, sinning as we want, no contribution from us required, since it’s all on God.  We are free to model ourselves on the world’s standards in every sphere of life. Baptism doesn’t require church discipline, and God’s forgiveness doesn’t require repentance!  God’s love covers it all and we can just do our own thing! Of course, it’s better to follow God’s command, but if we don’t God will take care of it.  This kind of baptism and this kind of grace isn’t the kind we read about in Scripture.
Scripture says that grace is costly.  Costly grace (not cheap grace) is the treasure hidden in the field, for the sake of it a person will gladly go and sell all that he or she has.  It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all of his or her goods in order to get it.  (Matthew 13:44-46) It is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciples left all their nets and work and followed Him.  Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow and it costs a person his or her life.  But it gives a person the only true life. It is costly because it cost God the life of His Son.  Scripture says: “You were bought with a price”.  (1 Corinthians 19:10)
I don’t believe that this baptism where nothing is required of us is the baptism spoken of in the Bible. I think it is a fake baptism and a cheap man-made baptism we are making up and doing for ourselves. And this cheap baptism revolves around a cheap grace. 
Scripture tells us that true grace from God is very costly. Yes, God loves every person in the world, whether they follow Him or not.  (John 3:16) But, God is not pleased with a person who rejects Him and refuses to try to turn away from his or her sins.  And that person who rejects Christ is not “born again” into His new life. Christ calls us to “follow Him” and take up our cross.  His grace is costly because it cost Him His life.  And we are called to count the cost because He calls us to a give Him our lives. 
Some of the ideas in this blog were taken from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book, “the Cost of discipleship”. 




Sunday, January 20, 2019

Grace - What Is It?

Grace – What is it?
All through the Bible we read about grace – God’s grace!  It sounds good, but what is grace?  In this world we are used to being rewarded for good work and being penalized for failures.  So, grace is a difficult concept for us to begin to understand.  When it comes to salvation, we sometimes wonder, what proof is there that we have it?  Can we ever do enough?  Are we good enough?  Scripture says that none of us can ever do enough!  Earn Salvation on our own!  So, God in His love for us gives us grace.  When God sent His Son to earth to be crucified, He paid all the debts we will ever owe by making the only sacrifice we will ever need!
Scripture says that grace Is a gift. A free gift of eternal life from God to us. We can’t earn it!  We don’t have to pay it back. We can’t reconcile it.  But we can accept it.  Believe that it is true. Grace is a gift God gives to us through Christ.  A gift that changes us as well as gives us eternal life.  And when we receive this grace, we can pass it along to others. We can grace others with forgiveness and kindness and mercy.  And we can share God’s amazing gift of grace with them.  We can pass this grace along because grace is the Voice that calls us to change and then gives us the power to change.
Scripture says: “For by grace are you saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is a gift from God, not of works lest any person should boast.”  (Ephesians 2:8-9) This passage tells us that we are saved by God’s gift of grace, but our small part is to accept that grace. Our part is faith. Belief. Scripture says: “Without faith it is impossible to please God.”  (Hebrews 11:6)
We are changed when we believe in Christ!  When we believe we receive His Spirit coming into us and being a part of us and guiding us. We can open ourselves all the way to the Holy Spirit’s calling in our lives, or we can keep something back for ourselves. It’s our call.  Scripture says: “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.” (John 3:16) We do not receive eternal life because of our good works.  But after we believe in Christ as Savior, the grace we receive changes us (if we allow it) and causes us to start walking in good works.   
The life of the apostle Paul illustrates how the power of grace can change a person so completely.  Paul was a different person before he met Christ.  Paul’s name when he was born was “Saul”. But after Saul became a Christian, he changed his name to “Paul” to show that he was a new person in Christ.  Back when he was “Saul” he was a highly educated Jewish person who hated Jesus and hated Christians.
Saul was a wealthy well-educated Pharisee. (Acts 23:6) He studied in the best schools under the cream of the cream. – the most prestigious religious educators and Pharisees. He had developed his own interpretations of the Scriptures, and he thought he knew it all.  He was stubborn and allowed his legalistic and incorrect doctrine to separate him from God’s grace.  Knowledge of God kept him from knowing God.  Are we ever a bit like Saul?  Do we ever think we are too modern and intelligent to believe God’s Word or accept His unconditional grace? 
 Saul was with the religious group that stoned the first Christian martyr, Steven, to death! (Acts 8:1) Then later Saul, who was always eager to stamp out Christianity, was traveling to the town of Damascus to find and arrest all the Christians living there. The Jewish high priest in Jerusalem had written arrest warrants for followers of Jesus who were living in Damascus.  Saul took those arrest warrants and was on his way to Damascus to arrest Christians. He was anxious to drag those Christians off to prison and then execution.
But God had other plans for Saul.  Scripture says that while Saul and his men were on the road to Damascus, suddenly a light shone around him from heaven.  Saul fell to the ground and he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”  Saul, shaking and stunned answered, “Who are You, Lord?”  And the Lord answered, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.  It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” (Acts 9:3-9)
Blinded by the light and laying on the ground shaking, Saul asked: “Lord, what do You want me to do?”  And the Lord answered him, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”  The men with Saul were speechless as they too heard the Voice and saw the light. When Saul, still trembling, got up from the ground, he couldn’t see.  His eyes were blinded.  The men led him by the hand and brought him to Damascus.  And he was three days without sight, and Saul neither ate or drank.  (Acts 9:3-9)   
This experience may not have seemed like grace, but Saul desperately wanted to follow Jesus now that he realized that Jesus was more than a man.  The Holy Spirit spoke to Ananias, a follower of Christ, and told Ananias to go to Damascus and pray with Saul and show him God’s grace.  So, Ananias obeyed God and hurried to Saul’s bedside.  Ananias then lay hands on Saul and prayed for him that he might receive Christ.  Saul was hungry for grace and anxious to receive the Holy Spirit in his life.  When Ananias prayed for Saul, he was filled with the Holy Spirit and his eyesight was restored and the Scripture says: “Immediately he (Paul) preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God.” (Acts 9:20)
After accepting God’s grace and letting it change him, Saul changed his name to Paul and started preaching and writing about God’s grace.  Paul was a new person in Christ!  He spent the rest of his life as a missionary to the Gentiles and spreading the good news of Christ in Greece and Turkey and Rome. His passion was to share the good news of God’s grace that Christ saves and changes our lives   He was the one who said: ” For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21) Yes, Paul was martyred for his faith. He paid the price as he picked up his cross and followed Christ.  During his missionary journeys he was shipwrecked, whipped and left for dead, persecuted by his fellow Jewish Pharisees and imprisoned in Rome.  He suffered for the faith.
We are blessed to be able to read some of Paul’s sermons and writings in the New Testament. Like a flame catching fire, Christianity spread across Europe and all around the world!  But it all started when Paul, bubbling over with God’s Holy Spirit grace, spread the gospel to the Ephesians and the Colossians, the Philippians and the Romans.  The Corinthians and the Galatians and the Thessalonians and also to his fellow Jewish brothers. 
The changing power of grace is illustrated in the life of the apostle Paul, who was once the Christian hater – turned-Christ lover.  He could have resisted God’s grace.  Or only carved out a small space for God in his life and kept the rest for himself.  But Paul went all the way!  Are you listening for God’s still small Voice in your life?  Are you sharing God’s grace to those around you?   Has God’s grace changed you?  Are you going all the way?
Many of the truths from this blog were taken from Max Lucado’s book, “Grace, More than we Deserve, Greater than we Imagine” 



Monday, January 14, 2019

The Pitfall of Confusion

The Pitfall of Confusion
The way to salvation is simple enough for a child to understand. Scripture says: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him, should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) All we have to do is believe.  We don’t have to work to receive this gift of salvation from God.  Ephesians 2:8-9 says “For by grace are you saved, through faith, and not of yourselves, it is a gift from God, not of works lest anyone might boast.”  We are saved through faith.  Faith in Christ as Savior.
Simply believe.  Believe in Jesus.  Believing in Jesus will bring great joy into your life. Believe that He paid the price on the cross for your sins and is giving you His righteousness.  Ephesians 1:7 says: “In Him (Jesus) we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.”  We are bought with the blood of Christ.  Acts 20:28 says: “Be shepherds of the church of God, which He (Jesus) bought with His own blood.”   At the last supper when Jesus was eating with His disciples He said: “This cup is the new Covenant in My blood, which is poured out for you.”  (Luke 22:20)
The good news of our Christian faith is simple.  We are saved by faith in Christ. Faith that Jesus Christ is our Savior and Lord.  But as we walk the Christian walk, joyful and believing, there will be pitfalls along the way that we must watch out for.  Pitfalls that we must stay away from and walk around. One of those pitfalls is the pitfall of confusion. Scripture says that:” God is not the author of confusion, but of peace.” (1 Corinthians 4:33) We must stay away from that ugly  pitfall of confusion.
I have a friend, Sally, who has fallen into this pit of confusion.  Sally’s joy in her faith is gone now because she is so confused.  She used to enjoy her Bible study with her friends.  But someone told her that it was silly to study the Bible with others since each person reading the Bible would come up with a different meaning and no one could agree on what the Bible was really saying.  Sally believed this person and it has changed her world.
Sally worries that since Baptists have beliefs that Presbyterians don’t have and Catholics have their differences with the Greek Orthodox Christians, that there is no common faith, no basic belief among Christians. Sally doesn’t want to continue reading or studying the Bible now.  The joy has gone from her face. Where is the truth she asks? She has fallen into the pit of confusion. 
My words to Sally are these; That all the major Christian faiths, Protestant, Catholic and Greek Orthodox around the world and down through the many centuries have always believed a group of basic common doctrines. We Christians all agree on the few basics of our faith. But we can disagree with issues that are not basic.  The Holy Spirit who lives within each Christian guides us into all truth.  (John 16:13)
The early Christians put our basic Christian beliefs or doctrines into a creed that Catholics, Greek Orthodox, and Protestant Christians have held to down through these two thousand years.  Here is the Apostles Creed: “I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
 I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord.  He (Jesus) was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary.  He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.  He descended to the dead.  On the third day He rose again.  He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.  He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins (through Christ), the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.  Amen. “
We can disagree on whether we baptize by putting water on the head of the person being baptized or by putting the person being baptized under water.  We can disagree on when the end of the age will come.  Do we believe in the Pope to be the vicar or Christ or do we believe that every Christian is a priest and represents Christ?  Are we liberal in interpreting the Bible or are we conservative?  Are we part of a liturgical or formal church or do we worship informally? We can differ in these issues and still be one body in Christ.  But Christians all believe the same basic doctrines.  Christians all believe that Jesus died for their sins. A few cult groups that call themselves Christian, do not believe in Christ as Savior and Lord.  They are not real Christians. 
Some Christians are confused about who God is.  They start wondering if God is really capable of helping them in their difficult situation.  But no situation is too hard for God.  Nothing is impossible with God.  He is always faithful. Jesus warns us: “Watch and pray that you will not enter into temptation.”  (Mark 14:38) And Paul warns us: “Now I beg you brothers and sisters, look out for those who cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrines which you have learned, and avoid them.” (Romans 16:17) In other words, hold on to the basic doctrines of Christianity.  Hold on to Jesus. Stand on the solid Rock. 
Scripture says: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not unto your own understanding.”  (Proverbs 3:5) Your Christian faith is very precious. Scripture says we are given eternal life because of our faith in Christ. Don’t let anyone or any idea take that away from you.  Hold onto your faith in Christ and watch out for the pitfalls.  Especially that pitfall of confusion.   

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Some Question the Accuracy of Scripture because of this Bible Story

Some Question the Accuracy of Scripture because of this Bible Story!
It’s an old favorite Bible story!  The story of Joshua fighting the battle of Jericho as the walls come a tumbling down.  Down through the years, I never heard of any Christian who questioned this story in Scripture.  So, I was shocked and surprised last year to find three people who all say that they question that the Bible is God’s Word all because of the story of Joshua and the battle of Jericho!
Let’s go over this Bible story which is an important part of the history of the Jewish people and written in the book of Joshua chapter 6.  The date that God led Joshua to fight the battle of Jericho was approximately 1400- 1375 B.C.  Many hundreds of years earlier, God had made a covenant with Abraham, who is the father of the Jewish nation.  In this covenant God had promised to make Abraham and his descendants into a great nation and to give them the land of Canaan (the present land of Israel) as a homeland on the condition that they remain faithful and obedient to Him. (Genesis 17)
All the Jewish people knew about God’s promise of this special homeland!  But they didn’t know when God would fulfill His promise.  Abraham and his son Isaac and grandson, Jacob were shepherds and lived in tents in their Promised Land.  But during grandson Jacob’s life, a terrible drought covered the whole land and Jacob and his large family had to move to Egypt in order to find food and water.  For four hundred years, Jacob’s big extended family (the Jewish people) lived in Egypt.  And God blessed the offspring of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob with many children.  Over their four hundred year stay in Egypt, Jacob’s family grew to become the Jewish nation of perhaps two million people. 
The Egyptians were afraid the Jews would outnumber them, so they forced the Jews into cruel slavery.  But God heard the cries of the Jewish slaves, and with signs and wonders He set them free.  God called Moses to lead the Jewish people out of slavery and on to the “Promised Land” – the land He had promised their forefather, Abraham. 
For forty years, while on the way to Canaan or to their Promised Land, the Jewish people lived in the wilderness or desert and God faithfully and continually fed them manna – or bread.  An d God showed Moses where springs of water could be found throughout the vast desert, so the people could drink and bathe and water their flocks.  Miracles attended their way as God was leading them by day and protecting them by night.
The Jewish nation was the only nation in the ancient world that worshipped the One true God.  All the other nations worshipped idols.  Finally, when the Jewish people arrived at the city of Jericho and the entrance of Canaan, Moses died, and Joshua was chosen by God, to lead the Jews into the land they have waited so long for, the land of the Canaanites - their promised homeland!
Scripture tells us that the Canaanites, the people who lived in Jericho at that time, were a very evil people.  A people who worshipped idols and sacrificed their little children to their demon idols.  Prostitutes performed sexual acts in their temples and had sex with worshippers.  And children were made to walk through fire to their death.  The Canaanites in Jericho were morally depraved, sadistic, lawless, and brutal.  And they were teaching their children to be the same.
The Canaanite religion emphasized sex, serpent worship, and child sacrifice.  Archeologists have found the remains of the mutilated bodies of babies under the entrances of each ancient dwelling in the ruins of Jericho.  Perhaps God loved the world too much to allow evil people like those in ancient Jericho to continue their terrible acts indefinitely.
When the Jewish nation had traveled through the desert and had finally arrived at their Promised Land, Scripture tells us that an angelic Person appeared to Joshua as the “Commander of the Army of the Lord” and as a Soldier with His sword drawn in His hand.  Joshua fell on his face and worshipped God, knowing that God was completely in charge of the battle to take the Promised Land from the Canaanites.  That as God’s servant, Joshua was to trust and obey God’s leading.  (Joshua 5)
God told Joshua that the city of Jericho was his to take.  (Joshua 6) That Joshua was to instruct all the Jewish people to march around the walls of the city of Jericho each day for seven days.  Seven priests, each holding a trumpet and carrying the Ark, were to march ahead of all of the people.  For the first six days, each day the priests and people were to march silently around Jericho just one time.  No one was to talk or say a word.  The battle would be won by faith.
 But on the seventh day they were all to march around the walls of Jericho seven times, and then the priests should blow their trumpets.  And all the people should shout with a great shout of victory.  And then the Lord promised Joshua that at that moment the walls of Jericho would all fall down.  God ordered Joshua’s soldiers to kill all the people and animals in the city and the Jewish people were not to take anything in the city for themselves because they would be defiled by anything these people had. 
All of the Jewish people obeyed God and marched silently around the walls of Jericho for six days.  And on the seventh day when they all shouted, and the trumpets sounded, they stood there and watched as their God caused the walls of Jericho to come down.  The Jewish soldiers obeyed God and destroyed the city and all the evil people in it through the mighty power of God.  The Canaanite civilization was so totally corrupt that coexisting with them would have been a serious threat to the survival and spiritual welfare of the Jewish nation.  (Deut. 9:5,18:12, Gen.15:16)
In the past year, I have talked with two church friends who said that they can’t believe that the Bible is accurate because they don’t believe a God of love could command Joshua and his soldiers to kill all the evil people in Jericho.  And I have also watched a video of a beloved and famous Methodist pastor who said the same thing. The pastor claims that this important part of Jewish history is a just a “myth”!  And the other two persons say that it isn’t fair for God to command us not to kill and then for Him to kill the people in Jericho.  It seems to me that we are putting God on our level.  If God were just another person, then I could see their point.  But God is God, our Creator and Redeemer, and He alone can judge.  We are commanded to forgive and not to ever take revenge on an enemy.  But God, who sees and knows all things, says that “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.”  (Deuteronomy 32:35 and Romans 1219)
It is so important that we Christians believe that the Bible is the living Word of God.  That all Scripture is God-breathed, and all Scripture is profitable.  The Word of God is our spiritual food.  Our Christian faith stands on the Word of God.  Our faith is so precious that we need to protect it and build it up.  If we could understand all that God is doing, then God wouldn’t be God.
Scripture records times in the past when God, as Judge of His world, has judged a city or a tribe when the city or tribe has been extremely evil.  We read of God commanding Noah to build an ark.  God was planning to cause a flood of water to cover the earth.  Scripture says that God sent the flood because the people on the earth had reached a certain point where their evil ways had gone too far.  (Genesis 7-10) We also read of Sodom and Gomorrah, two cities that God destroyed with fire because their cup of evil was full.  (Genesis 19) There are many more examples throughout history of God’s judgments upon cities or tribes or nations who have given themselves over totally to evil. 
Scripture tells us that our God is a God of love.  A God who loves us too much to allow the cancer of evil to remain in the body and choke out our life. And He is also a God of justice.  A holy, fair and merciful Judge who created us and knows everything. He is the Judge who someday will bring justice and righteousness rolling down as a mighty river over the land. (Amos 5:24) The whole book of Revelation is about that final judgment.  There will be great victory and rejoicing when sin is finally judged and is finally rooted out.