Us Four and No More

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Us Four and No More

1 Corinthians 4:5

I would not give my church upbringing for anything. I learned so much Bible there, and it is where I gave my life to Christ. It was a loving church, for the most part, but like all churches, it had its problems. My mom always jokingly said that church would be a great place if it weren’t for the people. One glaring problem with the church I grew up in was that it was an “us four and no more” kind of church. They believed that if you weren’t us, meaning their variety of their denomination, you weren’t going to heaven. Sometimes they would even preach entire sermons and even sermon series’ about why other churches were wrong.

When dealing with the subject of other denominations and churches, we must keep in mind what Jesus said. In Matthew 7:3-5, He said, “And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye?Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.” We all get things wrong in scripture; we are human. That’s why I always encourage people to check everything I say against scripture because as I always told my kids, I could be wrong, I was once before. We can’t be so dogmatic about our beliefs that we are condemning others. I keep saying this because it is so important, the only doctrine that should divide us is that of salvation by grace, through faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ, nothing else!

This is what the church at Corinth was doing, so Paul had to reprimand them one more time. In 1 Corinthians 4:5 Paul said, “Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.” A more literal translation of that first line would be, “Therefore do not go on judging anything before it’s time.” It’s not our job to judge the world. Let’s look back at the first three verses of Matthew, chapter 7, “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.” Matthew 7:1-3. Many religious people would say that they are ready to be judged by the same measure, but are you…really? Are you so confident in your pre-tribulation view over their mid-tribulation view, or your dispensationalism view, or your predestination view that you would be willing to be judged on it?

Notice back in 1 Corinthians 4:5 that it says, “before the time.” There will be a time of judgment, and Christ will be the judge. We need to stop worrying about what others believe and start making sure our lives are straight, we need to get our house in order as the prophet Isaiah told King Hezekiah in 2 Kings 20:1, “In those days Hezekiah became mortally ill. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him and said to him, thus says the Lord, ‘Set your house in order, for you shall die and not live.’” We will all die, and after this, the judgment.

What does 1 Corinthians 4:5 go on to say? “but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts.” We keep trying to judge each other, but when Christ judges us, He will bring to light all the things we thought were hidden in the dark, He will even show the motives of our hearts. But here’s the beautiful thing, 1 John 1:9 tells us, “But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.” So, if we confess our sins, He will forgive them, but it doesn’t stop there. Look at Hebrews 8:12, “And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.” We always say, “forgive and forget,” but there’s a problem with that. We can forgive each other, and we should, but we can’t forget. One of the many beautiful things about God is that when He forgives us, He can forget what we have done, it’s kind of like selective amnesia. He even tells us, “He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.” Psalm 103:12. If you want to be encouraged today, stop and read all of Psalm 103, what a blessing.

Paul ends our text verse with these words, “and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.” 1 Corinthians 4:5. We often focus on the judgment of God, and we should, to some extent, but I love that Paul ended this verse about judgment with this line. We don’t need to praise ourselves; we don’t need to go around tooting our own horns, all our intelligence and insight comes from God, so we are nothing but His tools. My handsaw doesn’t praise itself when it cuts a straight line; it cuts a straight line when I guide it that way, so why do we praise ourselves when we do something great for God? James 4:10 says, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor.” There’s a lot in scripture about humbling ourselves, that’s a blog in itself.

So, this all comes back, as so many things in the New Testament do, to unity. As the body of Christ, we must stop judging each other and start loving each other. 1 John 4:7-8 tells us, Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” If we do not love each other, we don’t know God! That’s a pretty bold statement, but true. Stop judging your brothers and sisters in Christ and start loving them, and then, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” John 13:35.

Not Seeking Approval

Ahhh ... The Sweet Life of a Gorilla
Photo by Michelle Pearson

I’m Not Seeking Your Approval

1 Corinthians 4:1-4

I enjoy people. I like to talk with people; I like to interact with people. I enjoy just being around other people. I got my first management position when I was only 21 years old, and I wanted to be the best manager I could be. I showed up early for every shift, I stayed on top of the paperwork, and I got to know my employees very well. Now, here’s the thing, in my early days of managing I had a supervisor who told me, if my employees like me, I’m not doing my job. I didn’t agree with that philosophy then, and I don’t to this day but, in the early days, I went too far in the other direction. As I said, I enjoy the company of other people, and quite frankly, I like to be liked. As a result, I had a real problem with my employees taking advantage of me. If their productivity was down, I’d help them catch up; if they didn’t show up for work, I’d pick up the slack. My employees loved me, but it wasn’t long before I was doing most of their work. I even had two employees call off together one beautiful Spring day because “it’s too nice out to come to work today.”

I began to realize that my employees would like working with me and still respect me; it didn’t matter if they liked me as a person. I wasn’t there to be their friend. I began making them toe the line and would write them up if they didn’t. I began treating them the way I would treat my sons. If they did wrong, I would hold them accountable, but if they did right, I would praise them. I just began treating them fairly. As a result, they loved working for me. I would have employees call in sick, and when they realized I was the manager on duty, they would decide to come in because they didn’t want to leave me shorthanded. I was everyone’s favorite manager, even though I had fired more employees than any other manager. What it came down to is that I stopped caring what they thought of me and started caring about helping them do their jobs to the best of their abilities, things ran much more smoothly after that.

This is Paul’s point in the first four verses of 1 Corinthians 4. In verse 1, he tells the church at Corinth to look at Apollos and him as servants of Christ. If you are a pastor, an elder, or a church leader of any kind, you must remember that you are just a servant of Christ who has been put in charge of those people. Far too often, church leaders let their authority go to their head, but if we think of ourselves as a doulos, a bondservant for Christ, we will keep that pride in check.

The first thing Paul tells us about being a leader is that we must be faithful. You see, in trying to make my employees like me, I wasn’t faithful to my company. I was trying to pick up their slack, but one person can’t do everything well. We must be faithful to Christ in our leadership. The writer of Hebrews even told the Church, “Remember your leaders who taught you the word of God. Think of all the good that has come from their lives, and follow the example of their faith.” Hebrews 13:7. If a leader is not faithful, the Church will have no example to follow. As leaders, we must remember our place. We are here for no other reason than to glorify God. John put it best when he said, “He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.” John 3:30.

Paul goes on in verse 3 to say, “As for me, it matters very little how I might be evaluated by you or by any human authority. I don’t even trust my own judgment on this point.” I love this; he says that he doesn’t care what human authority might think of him; he doesn’t even trust his own opinion on matters of Christ. The Psalmist summed this up in Psalm 146:3-10 when he said, Don’t put your confidence in powerful people; there is no help for you there. When they breathe their last, they return to the earth, and all their plans die with them. But joyful are those who have the God of Israel as their helper, whose hope is in the Lord their God. He made heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them. He keeps every promise forever. He gives justice to the oppressed and food to the hungry. The Lord frees the prisoners.     The Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are weighed down. The Lord loves the godly. The Lord protects the foreigners among us. He cares for the orphans and widows, but he frustrates the plans of the wicked. 10 The Lord will reign forever. He will be your God, O Jerusalem, throughout the generations. Praise the Lord! We are to respect and pray for our human authority but don’t trust in them, their time on this earth, as well as their time in power,  is limited. Instead, put all your trust in the Lord, who created all things.

Paul finishes this thought by saying, “My conscience is clear, but that doesn’t prove I’m right. It is the Lord himself who will examine me and decide.” 1 Corinthians 4:4. Paul’s conscience is clear, he knows that he is right beyond a shadow of a doubt, but he tells the church at Corinth not to take his word for it. We need to seek the Lord in everything! I say this all the time; I’m glad so many read my blog and listen to my podcast and have read my book, but don’t take my word for it, seek it out yourself. There are many pastors that I love to listen to and read, but I have a responsibility to check everything they say against scripture. God does hold pastors responsible for what they teach, but He also holds us responsible for what we do with it.

Our Calling

Thomas Guesthouse
Photo by Michelle Pearson

Our Calling

If you know Michelle and me, or if you have been following this blog or have read my book, Cathedral Made of People, you know that back in 2009 through 2014 God called us to plant a church in a small rural island community in Northwest Florida. That five years was a great time for us. We made a lot of good friends and saw many people come to Christ, as well as many people delivered from addictions to alcohol and drugs.

In 2014 we left Cedar Key and took jobs managing retirement communities. We left because we felt we had done as much as we could there, but it seems God has different plans. About a month ago we got an odd phone call from an old friend on Cedar Key inviting us to a revival. We hadn’t heard from him in years, and he knows that we now live in Los Angeles, so it was a bit strange that he called. We didn’t think much of it, but a few days later we heard from someone else on the Key asking us to help them with something. Now, I don’t believe in coincidences, so we asked God to show us if we need to go back there. We told Him that we were willing to go back, but only if that is what He wanted, some of you may know that Florida is our least favorite state. Also, all our grandkids live in Los Angeles. Well, two weeks later, with no warning or reason, my job let me go.

Michelle and I have come to realize that we have some unfinished business down there and God is sending us back to finish it, so we are preparing. We are asking for prayer and have some very specific prayer requests.

First, and foremost, that God will prepare the way for revival in Cedar Key. We are praying that the Holy Spirit will go before us and go with us. We are praying that He will begin now to prepare the hearts of the locals to receive His word and that He will prepare our hearts to carry it.

Second, Pray that we will be accepted back by the locals. They often don’t trust outsiders but when we were there for five years, they began to trust us. They are used to people leaving and coming back, so that shouldn’t change things, just pray for grace and favor. We love these people and truly want to reach the island for Christ.

Third, for our support. Michelle and I are not part of any denomination and don’t feel that God wants us to be. As such, we don’t have any funding to do mission work, so we are praying for financial support. If you feel led to help us financially, you can Click Here to go to my Patreon account and set up to support us monthly, but if you don’t feel led to do so, please pray for us. Your prayers are more important than money; we know that God will provide.

Here’s a little information about Cedar Key to help you know how best to pray. It is a very rural part of Northwest Florida. It is called the Hidden Coast and Nature’s Coast and is known as the only “Old Florida” left. For many years Cedar Key was a fishing village, fishing mainly for Mullet, but in 1995 when the State of Florida banned the use of gill nets, they lost their livelihood. Shortly after that the government came out and showed the fishermen how to farm-raised clams. Cedar Key is 11 miles from the mouth of the Suwanee River, this causes the water around the key to be brackish which encourages the growth of algae and plankton, and that’s what clams eat. This has made Cedar Key one of the largest producers of farm-raised clams in the Country.

I have told you all this history to help you realize that Cedar Key, very much, has a “Fishing Village” mentality. They work hard all day to party all night. Alcoholism and drug addiction, particularly meth, are very prevalent. In that town of fewer than 900 residents, there are already five churches, but they each run 30 to 40 people, and the people that need the help say they don’t feel welcome there. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think the church members are trying to make them feel unwelcome, for the most part, but they don’t feel comfortable in a “church setting.”

When we planted the church there in 2009, we were looking to be more like the first Church, found in the New Testament, and while we did a pretty good job, we missed the mark in many areas. We did manage to have a church that ran 40 to 50 every week, and most of those people were addicts and alcoholics, but still ended up looking more like a modern church than I think God wanted.

We are not looking to start a religious organization; we are looking to start a gathering of the Church and to bring true revival to that area. In Matthew 28:18-20 Jesus told us to go and make disciples, not congregations. He wants us to make people who imitate Him, not an audience. We will not be incorporating or getting a 501c3; I believe that when a church does this, they are removing Christ from the position as the head of the body and replacing Him with the government. I don’t understand how churches can complain about government interference when they have literally signed up for it.

Again, please pray for us as we go and support us if you can. Our prayer for Cedar Key is that it will become a beacon for Christ. We want to see the Church come together as one body the way Christ intended us to be and to be effective in our world today.

I was talking to Michelle the other day and mentioned that, when we were a young married couple, we used to sing the hymn, Lord Send me Anywhere. We truly meant it but didn’t think it meant He would send us everywhere. In our lives, Michelle and I have seen God do great things; we are excited to see what He has for us. Thank you for your support and your prayer.

18 Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere. 19 And pray for me, too. Ask God to give me the right words so I can boldly explain God’s mysterious plan that the Good News is for Jews and Gentiles alike.” Ephesians 6:18-19.

God Fights For Us

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Photo by Michelle Pearson

God Fights for Us

1 Corinthians 3:17

When my son Josh was in 7th grade, we were living in a small town in Indiana. One day he was in line at school, I believe they were in the lunch room, the kid behind him was joking around and gave him a shove. When he did, Josh fell into the kid in front of him. Clearly, Josh didn’t hurt the kid, he just bumped into him. This boy turned around and punched Josh in the nose, breaking it. Josh did not provoke it, nor did he retaliate, he just stood there holding his nose.

Well, to make matters worse, after they were both taken to the Principal’s office and had both explained their side of the story, they were both given three days of in-school suspension. When I found out what had happened, as a father, I was furious. I was mad at the kid who hit Josh, but even more angry that the school would punish him for this incident.

Michelle and I marched down to the school and gave that Principal a piece of our collective mind, but he stood his ground. He said that Josh was “rough housing” and was equally to blame. We made it clear that this was not true, that getting shoved isn’t “rough housing,” and that Josh was a victim, not an instigator. None the less, Josh had to serve the three days of in-school suspension and life went on. It was a great example of what I always told the kids as they were growing up. If they would say something wasn’t fare, I’d tell them, life isn’t fare, but we have to deal with it.

The point is that, as parents, Michelle and I were livid and marched right down to that school to defend our son. I’ll be honest, I’ve never wanted to hit a 12-year-old so bad, but I restrained myself…with the help of Michelle.

The Hebrew people of the Old Testament never thought of God as their Father, that’s why it was so strange for the disciples when Jesus gave them the model prayer in Matthew chapter 6. When He told them to Pray like this: Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy.” Matthew 6:9. They had never been taught to think of God as their Father.

Later, we see that Paul embraced this thought system when he said, “For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’” Romans 8 15. You see, the Hebrew people looked at God as an angry taskmaster, but He always wanted to be their loving Father. This term, “Abba! Father!” is a term of endearment, it’s like saying, daddy. And, notice that Paul says we were all adopted as sons. Paul wasn’t trying to cut down women here, he was showing us our place with God. You see, back then, the sons got all the inheritance, they figured that the daughters would marry men who got their inheritance. But Paul is telling us that we all, men and women, are adopted as sons. We all get the full inheritance! Isn’t that awesome?

So, in our passage today, 1 Corinthians 3:17, we read, “God will destroy anyone who destroys this temple. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” God, our Father, our Daddy, will destroy anyone who tries to destroy His temple…His sons. That’s how much God loves you and me, He won’t just defend us, He will destroy anyone who tries to hurt us. And, in case you think that God has changed since the Old Testament times, Moses told the Hebrew people in Exodus 14:14, “The Lord himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.” God wanted to be their Daddy, but they wouldn’t see Him that way.

Here’s the thing about God, He will never force us to love Him, He will never force us to obey Him. Why do you think He put the two trees in the middle of the garden? It wasn’t to tempt Adam and Eve; it was to give them the choice to love Him. You see, if you don’t give someone the choice, that isn’t love, it’s slavery.

What does John 3:16 say? “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” Do you see that word? He gave His only BEGOTTEN son. We are His adopted sons, but Jesus was His only begotten Son, and He gave Him for us. That’s how much God loves you and me. He gave the life of His only biological Son so we could be adopted…wow!

I recently had someone tell me that the God of the Old Testament was an angry God, always smiting people. So, I took him to my favorite verse, which happens to be in the Old Testament, Zephaniah 3:17, which says, “For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears.  He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.” Look at this verse. God isn’t up in heaven pronouncing judgement on us, He is living among us. The verse goes on to say that He is my Mighty Savior, that He takes Delight in me with Gladness, and that He Calms All my Fears. And, then, as if that isn’t enough, it says that God, the creator of the universe, the King of kings, the Lord of lords, will rejoice over me with joyful songs! When I read this verse, I think of a father holding his baby son in his arms and singing to him. That’s what God wants to do to me, that’s what God wants to do to all of us. Does that sound like an angry God to you? To me it sounds like a loving Father.

Religion Sentenced The Messiah to Death

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Photo by Michelle Pearson

Religion Sentenced The Messiah to Death

Mark 14:53-64

Last Sunday was Easter. I’m sure we all got dressed up in our nicest clothes, put on our biggest smiles, even though we fought with each other all the way there, and scurried on to the church building for our Easter service. For many, this was the only time they will gather with the Church all year, maybe one of two times. I’m sure we all heard pretty much the same message, the message of the cross of Christ.

I believe that Easter is the most important holiday we celebrate every year. It is imperative that we remember what Christ did for us on the cross, although we need to remember it more often than once a year.

Think about it; Christ’s suffering began long before the cross. It began on that morning when He left the perfection of Heaven to come here to this broken earth. Picture in your mind a king leaving his palace to live in the gutters as a homeless man; this was infinitely worse. Christ left a place more perfect than anything we could imagine, to come here, be born in the feeding trough of a stable, live a life of poverty, spend three homeless years ministering and being rejected, only then to be betrayed by one of His own, beaten and crucified. And, He did all this for me, wow!

Today I don’t only want to talk about the Easter story; I want to look a little deeper into why He was crucified. Look at Mark chapter 14, starting at verse 53 and going through verse 64. These verses are the section where Christ has been brought before the Jewish council in a mock trial.

First of all, there was no due process here. Jesus was taken from the garden and brought before the council in the middle of the night. Verse 55 tells us, “Inside, the leading priests, and the entire high council were trying to find evidence against Jesus, so they could put him to death. But they couldn’t find any.” So, after they brought Him before the council, they began their investigation, but couldn’t find anything, so what did they do next? The passage tells us in verses 56 through 59 that they brought in many false witnesses to testify against Him, but they couldn’t get their stories straight, so even in that kangaroo court, they had to throw out those witnesses.

Finally, in the act of desperation, the high priest stood up and asked Jesus, “Well, aren’t you going to answer these charges? What do you have to say for yourself?” Mark 14:60. But Jesus didn’t answer him. Next, the high priest asked Him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” Verse 61. This time Jesus did answer him. Mark 14:62 says, “Jesus said, ‘I am. And you will see the Son of Man seated in the place of power at God’s right hand and coming on the clouds of heaven.’” Side note; if anyone tells you that Jesus never claimed to be God, take them to this verse. At this point, the Jewish leaders condemned Jesus to death for blasphemy.

The point of all this is to ask the question, why were the Jewish leaders so focused on condemning Jesus to death? Did they believe He was blaspheming? To answer this, we need to go back to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Look at the first two verses of John chapter 3. The beginning of John 3 is the story of Nicodemus coming to ask Jesus some questions. In verses 1 and 2, it says, 1 There was a man named Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader who was a Pharisee. After dark one evening, he came to speak with Jesus. ‘Rabbi,’ he said, ‘we all know that you have come from God to teach us. Your miraculous signs are evidence that God is with you.’” Take a look at what Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader, said to Jesus. Nicodemus said, WE ALL know that you have come from God.” Who? All the Jewish leaders. You see, the Jewish leaders all knew that Jesus was from God, and they all probably at least suspected that He was the Messiah, which is why they had to get rid of Him.

These religious leaders had a good thing going. The people did whatever they told them to do, they had positions of authority and power, all respected them, and the people gave them whatever they asked. Religion had made these guys rich and powerful, sound familiar? They had a good thing going and weren’t about to give it up for anyone, not even the Messiah!

Because of their misinterpretation of scripture, they thought Christ was here to set up His Kingdom, and that would put them on the street. So, what did they do about it? In their ignorance, they fulfilled the scripture, “But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed.” Isaiah 53:5. They kept their position, but at what cost? These men sold their souls for religion.

Sadly, many of us today are right back where these men were two thousand years ago. We are so caught up in our religion and traditions that we have forsaken Jesus. Read the New Testament. Jesus and His disciples spent their entire ministry fighting religion. Paul kept saying how he left the religion of his fathers to follow Christ.

There is only one verse in the New Testament that portrays religion of any kind in a positive light, that verse is James 1:27, which says, “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.” You see, the only religion that God recognizes as pure and genuine is not religion at all in the sense that we know it. What God sees as true pure and genuine religion is simply, taking care of widows and orphans and keeping yourself pure from the world.

Lets all purpose in our hearts to practice God’s religion, not man’s. Let’s practice caring for widows and orphans while keeping ourselves pure. Don’t let the world or its religion corrupt you, don’t conform to its mold as it says in Romans 12:1-2. And, show God’s love, that’s true religion.

You Can’t Even Imagine

 

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Photo by Michelle Pearson

You Can’t Even Imagine

1 Corinthians 2:9

I can remember it like it was yesterday. I was 19 years old and traveling across the country with a Christian musical drama team. We had just spent a week ministering at a small Baptist church in Cedar City, Utah and had a couple of down days before our next stop, so we decided to go to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

It was about a 4 1/2 drive, and I remember all the way there just trying to imagine what I will be experiencing. Of course, I had seen pictures of it, as well as scenes on TV shows and movies, but two-dimensional pictures can’t do it justice. The entire trip, I couldn’t stop thinking about it and talking about it to my friends. Some of them had been there before and did their best to describe it, but even that didn’t prepare us for what we were about to see.

As we stepped down off that last step of that 1969 GMC coach we were traveling in, I remember being awestruck. I walked across the parking lot and right up to the edge of the canyon. I had been working on overcoming a fear of heights that year but didn’t even think about how high we were up. The view was breathtaking; it was so much more than I had expected. I stood there for what seemed like hours just soaking in the majesty of this creation that God had made just for us to see.

This is the way it is with God. If you read last weeks blog, you will remember we were talking about speaking wisdom. Paul goes on in 1 Corinthians 2:7-9 to say, No, the wisdom we speak of is the mystery of God—his plan that was previously hidden, even though he made it for our ultimate glory before the world began. But the rulers of this world have not understood it; if they had, they would not have crucified our glorious Lord. That is what the Scriptures mean when they say, ‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.’”

So, the wisdom Paul was speaking of in verse 6 is the mystery of God. This plan, the mystery of God, was made for our ultimate glory, way back before the world began, but He kept it hidden until the time was right. That’s the thing with God; He knows the end from the beginning. Isaiah 46:9-11 says, “Remember the former things long past, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, 10 Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, ‘My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure’; 11 Calling a bird of prey from the east, The man of My purpose from a far country. Truly I have spoken; truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it, surely I will do it.” Before God created the world, before it was even without form and void, He knew that man would sin, that Jesus would have to come to earth to be our savior and that I would be sitting in my office tonight writing this blog. The best way I’ve heard it described, in human understanding anyway, was to think of time as a line, and God is outside that line. He sees the beginning of the line, the end of the line, and everything in between, all at the same time. He sees the end from the beginning.

Paul goes on to say that if the rulers of this world, the wise, the elite, could have understood the wisdom of God, they would have never crucified Christ. You see, that’s our problem as humans. We think we are so smart; we think we know everything and no one, not even God, can tell us anything.

He then says that all this is what is meant in scripture when it says, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” This came from the prophet Isaiah when he said, When you came down long ago, you did awesome deeds beyond our highest expectations. And oh, how the mountains quaked! For since the world began, no ear has heard and no eye has seen a God like you, who works for those who wait for him! You welcome those who gladly do good, who follow godly ways.” Isaiah 64:3-5.

There’s a great song that I’m sure most of us know very well. It’s a song by the group MercyMe called, I Can Only Imagine, and the lyrics say:

I can only imagine what it will be like
When I walk, by your side
I can only imagine what my eyes will see
When you face is before me
I can only imagine
I can only imagine

Surrounded by You glory
What will my heart feel
Will I dance for you Jesus
Or in awe of You be still
Will I stand in your presence
Or to my knees will I fall
Will I sing hallelujah
Will I be able to speak at all
I can only imagine
I can only imagine

I love this song, but the truth is, as this verse says, we can’t even imagine what it will be like. There have been several people lately who say they got to go to heaven. They have written books about it and talked about it, and while I don’t think they are lying and I’m sure they truly believe that is what happened, I have one problem with it. Every one of them that I have heard or read keep talking about the beauty of heaven, the streets of gold, and the pearly gates, but let’s take a minute to look at the word of someone we know actually got to see heaven.

Let’s look at the book of Revelation, Chapter 1 and starting at verse 12. John said, 12 When I turned to see who was speaking to me, I saw seven gold lampstands.13 And standing in the middle of the lampstands was someone like the Son of Man. He was wearing a long robe with a gold sash across his chest. 14 His head and his hair were white like wool, as white as snow. And his eyes were like flames of fire. 15 His feet were like polished bronze refined in a furnace, and his voice thundered like mighty ocean waves. 16 He held seven stars in his right hand, and a sharp two-edged sword came from his mouth. And his face was like the sun in all its brilliance. 17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as if I were dead. But he laid his right hand on me and said, ‘Don’t be afraid! I am the First and the Last. 18 I am the living one. I died, but look—I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and the grave.’” Do you see what I’m getting at? John didn’t talk about the beauty and majesty of heaven; he only talked about the beauty and majesty of Jesus. In fact, throughout scripture, anyone who got to ascent to heaven only talked about the beauty and majesty of Jesus.

One last thing, there is a qualifier. He said that we couldn’t even imagine what God has prepared for who? For those who love Him. So, we need to ask ourselves how much we love God. Do we love Him as much as He loved us? If we’re being honest, most of us, and I include myself in this, will have to say we don’t. This is for what we must strive. We must remind ourselves daily how much He did for us. We must love Him above all else.

You Are Blessed Because You Believed

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Photo by Michelle Pearson

You Are Blessed Because You Believed

Luke 1:26-45

 

For many, the Christmas season is a truly blessed time, it’s my favorite time of the year. We get to be with family, see our children or grandchildren and watch them open their presents. But sadly, the Christmas season is not a blessed time for everyone. This time of year has the highest incidence of suicide. I believe that everyone, in their core, want’s to be blessed. We all know people, and maybe we are that person, who will say to someone as they are leaving, “have a blessed day.” The Bible tells us that Mary was blessed, but why was she blessed.

In the first couple of chapters of Luke we read the story of the birth of Jesus. This time of year, we often focus on chapter 2, but for this let’s look at chapter 1 for a minute. The first 4 verses are Luke introducing himself and telling why and how he wrote this book, then he gets right into the story. But he doesn’t start with Mary, instead he starts with Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin.

Now, Zachariah and Elizabeth were quite old. They had been praying for a son for years, but Liz was said to be barren. Zach was a priest of the order of Abijah and we read in verse 6 that they were both righteous in God’s eyes. Zach was chosen by casting lots to burn incense in the sanctuary. You see, there is no coincidence with God, He even controls where the dice will fall. While in the sanctuary, an angel appears to Zach. The angel tells him that God has heard his prayers and that his wife was pregnant. The angel even tells him that it is a boy, they didn’t even have an ultrasound first, and that he was to name the boy John. Now, look at what the angel tells Zach about his son in verses 14-17, 14 You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord. He must never touch wine or other alcoholic drinks. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth. 16 And he will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God.17 He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly.”

So, this angel tells him that his wife is pregnant in her old age, that it will be a boy and then all these other details about his life, and what is Zach’s response? “How can I be sure this will happen? I’m an old man now, and my wife is also well along in years.” Luke 1:18. So, what does the angel say next? “I am Gabriel! I stand in the very presence of God. It was he who sent me to bring you this good news! 20 But now, since you didn’t believe what I said, you will be silent and unable to speak until the child is born. For my words will certainly be fulfilled at the proper time.” Luke 1:19.

Let’s take a look at what just happened. The angel Gabriel came to Zach and let him know that he was about to receive what he had been praying about for years, and Zach didn’t believe him. So, this means that, although Zach had been praying for a son for years, he didn’t really believed that God would do it. Don’t we all do that sometimes? We ask God to provide something, all the while in the back of our minds, not believing He will do it.

We’ve all probably heard this story many times. Gabe made Zach a mute until John was born because of his disbelief.  So, now let’s look at how Mary handled the same event in her own life.

Six months later that same angel, Gabriel, appears to Mary and says, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!” Luke 1:27. This confused and disturbed Mary, but Gabe said to her the same thing he said to Zach, “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” and once he calms her down a little bit he says, “for you have found favor with God!31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!” Luke 1:30-33.

Notice what happens next. Mary questions this but doesn’t doubt its possibilities. So, Zach doesn’t believe that his wife can get pregnant when she is old, even though he would have undoubtedly known the story of Abraham and Sarah, While Mary believes that she can conceive, even though she is a virgin. She says, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.” So, because she asks an intelligent question, without doubting, he answers her by saying, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So, the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God. 36 What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she has conceived a son and is now in her sixth month. 37 For the word of God will never fail.” Luke 1:35-37. And, this is how Mary responds, “Mary responded, ‘I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.’ And then the angel left her.” Luke 1:38.

Next, Mary immediately goes to visit Liz. It says that she went to Judea a few days later and this is where we see the unborn John the Baptizer leaping in his mother’s womb when they come together. Think about this, Mary had just conceived Jesus a few days earlier and John recognizes Him.

But I love what Liz says in verses 44-45, 44 When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. 45 You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said.” She said that Mary was blessed because she believed the Lord would do what He said he would do. Here’s the thing, God wants to bless us, but He won’t do it if we don’t have faith. He wants to see that we believe first, then He will bless us to overflowing. Have a blessed week.

Peace, Love, Faithfulness, and Grace

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Photo by Michelle Pearson

Peace, Love, Faithfulness, and Grace

Ephesians 6:21-24

 

The next passage in Ephesians chapter 6 is the passage that tells us to put on all of God’s armor. I’m going to skip this one because it was the first passage I blogged on, more than a year and a half ago. If you would like to read it, the blog is titled, All of God’s Armor. Also, in case you don’t have time to go back and read it, I will be launching a new Podcast by the same title, Cathedral Made of People, that should debut in about a week, and The Armor of God will be my first topic.

So, this blog will finish up the book of Ephesians, and I want to look at Paul’s final greeting. In the first 2 verses of his final greeting Paul says, 21 To bring you up to date, Tychicus will give you a full report about what I am doing and how I am getting along. He is a beloved brother and faithful helper in the Lord’s work. 22 I have sent him to you for this very purpose—to let you know how we are doing and to encourage you.” Ephesians 6:21-22. Paul is sending this letter to the church at Ephesus with Tychicus, I call him Tych for short, and his main reason for sending him was to let this church group know how he was doing.

It is important for those of us who claim the name of Christ to keep tabs on each other, especially if it is someone we support. This is one reason I don’t understand Christians who won’t use social media. Yes, there is a lot of bad on social media, and in many ways, it was set up for evil intentions, but let’s take advantage of it. We need to join all the social media platforms and flood them with scripture, encouragement, and inspiration. Let’s take social media for Christ! Especially use memes, their algorithms can’t filter most of them out, they just show up as a picture. But, also use it to keep tabs on each other. Post how you are doing. Tweet when you have had the privilege of leading someone to the Lord. If you speak before a group live stream it, then post the video. Put up prayer requests, answered prayer, and victories. Let your “friends” and “followers” know what and how you are doing, and how they can best support you.

Nine years ago, God told me to write a book, so I did, which is now available on Amazon. While writing it I started realizing how much we need to use these platforms to get the word out. I am now working on 2 other books, I have this blog, I am on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and will be releasing a podcast in the next week or so. I spend all my spare time, and often create spare time, writing and trying to encourage others. So, join me! Sit down at your computer or relax on the couch with your smartphone and start spreading the gospel. Because, if you noticed, Paul didn’t just send Tych to tell them how he was doing, he sent him with a letter to let them know how he was doing and to instruct and encourage them.

Paul starts out verse 23 by saying, “Peace be with you, dear brothers and sisters.” So, he starts out by wishing them peace. The word peace is used 362 times in the Bible. One of the names used to describe God in the Old Testament is Jehovah Shalom, which means The Lord is Peace. I did a series of blogs on the names of God over a year ago and you can go back and read this one if you would like, the title of it was, Names of God – Jehovah Shalom. The important thing is that the meaning of this name isn’t The Lord Brings Peace, or The Lord Gives Peace, the name means The Lord IS Peace. True peace only comes from God. Jesus said in John 14:27, “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So, don’t be troubled or afraid.” The peace that we receive from Christ cannot be found in the world, it is true peace. God’s peace surpasses all human understanding, in fact, we read in Philippians 4:7, “Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” Do you see that? His peace will guard our hearts and minds. This is what we need. The peace that will protect us.

Guarding our hearts is essential in the Christian life. Proverbs 4:23 tells us, “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.” The prophet Malachi tells men twice to guard our hearts to stay loyal to our wives in Malachi 2:15 and Malachi 2:16. And, as we saw in Philippians 4:7, God’s peace will guard our hearts. In fact, in the model prayer that Christ taught His disciples he said to pray, “And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one.” Matthew 6:13. When Christ told us to pray “don’t let us yield to temptation,” He was telling us to pray that God will, “guard our hearts.”

The next thing Paul says in the second half of verse 23 is, “and may God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you love with faithfulness.” He says that God the Father and Jesus Christ will give us love with faithfulness. In the same way that God IS Peace, God IS Love. Look at 1 John 4:8 which tells us, “But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” God can give us Love because He IS Love! But not just love, he says love with faith. How did he end 1 Corinthians 13? He said, “Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:13.

Paul ends this letter by saying, “May God’s grace be eternally upon all who love our Lord Jesus Christ.” Ephesians 6:24. Do you remember how he began this letter? He said, “May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.” Ephesians 1:2. Paul began and ended his letter with grace and peace. These are two things that are essential to the Christian life. We need Gods grace and the peace that surpasses all understanding as our foundation, then we will have a firm foundation to build on.

So, I say to you, may the Peace, Love, Faith, and Grace of God be with you this week, and may you serve God with all you have.

Instructions to Children and Their Fathers

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Photo by Michelle Pearson

Instructions to Children and Their Fathers

Ephesians 6:1-4

 

My father was a hard man. He was always a Marine at heart, even though he only served a couple of years in the reserves. He was demanding, loud, overbearing, and was never wrong. My dad loved to argue more than anyone I ever knew. For most of my life, including my adult years, I did not honor my father. I feared him as a child, hated him as an adolescent, and was apathetic toward him as an adult. Then one day I got the news that dad had brain cancer and only had one year to live, he was only 63 years old. I took my family down to see dad several times that year, even though we lived about a thousand miles away. During that last year of his life, I got a chance to get to know my dad. Sad to say, it took the brain tumor’s help, it softened his personality quite a bit. I got to hear about some of the struggles of his youth and some of the events that shaped his personality. In fact, it seemed that his lack of respect for his parents was partly what fueled his personality.

The Bible has a lot to say about relationships. It talks about the relationship between a husband and wife, as we saw last week, it talks about relationships between servants and masters, God and His Church, and many others. Today we are going to look at this relationship between children and their parents, as well as fathers and their children.

Paul starts Ephesians chapter 6 by saying in verse 1, “Children, obey your parents because you belong to the Lord, for this is the right thing to do.” We often focus on the next verse, but let’s take a minute to look at this one. Why should children obey their parents? Because they belong to Jesus, and it’s just the right thing to do! When you truly belong to Jesus, you will want to do what is right. As Bob Jones Sr. used to say, “Do right until the stars fall.”

After telling us that it’s just the right thing to do, he reminds us that it was the first commandment given with a promise attached. And, he rewrites that promise in verse 3, “If you honor your father and mother, ‘things will go well for you, and you will have a long life on the earth.’” So, God told us from the beginning that, if we honor our parents, we’ll have a good, long life.

Take a minute to look at the 10 Commandments. Honor your father and mother is the fourth commandment. The first three commandments are all about honoring God, then honor your parents comes before don’t kill, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t bear false witness, don’t covet your neighbor’s wife, and don’t covet your neighbor’s stuff. Here’s the thing, if we honor God, and honor the parents He put over us, all these other things will fall into place.

In my day job, I employ several young people. Let me start out by saying that Millennials often get a bad rap and I’m just as guilty as anyone else in this, although many of them have earned that reputation. As a whole, they can be very demanding and quite self-centered and disrespectful, but I have to say that this doesn’t apply to all of them. I have a couple of teenage sisters who work for me and are a delight. They are extremely well mannered and very respectful to authority, and elders in general. So, what makes these two young ladies so pleasant, well in my observation I can only see one difference between them and the rest of the young people, their dad was career military, so I’m sure they were raised with some discipline.

Here’s the thing. Many people my age and a little younger were raised by parents who followed the advice of Dr. Spock and others who said that you shouldn’t spank your child, you should reason with them. These kids who were reasoned with by their parents have grown up to reason with their kids, and their kids have become entitled, demanding self-centered brats. These kids don’t honor their parents, they look at them as their friends, their equals, not their authority.

Now, look at verse 4, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.” Notice it doesn’t say for kids to honor their father unless he provokes you to anger, this is a separate thing. I justified my attitude toward my dad for many years by this verse. I said that I didn’t have to honor him because he provoked me to anger, but that is not at all what this is saying, I was taking it out of context to justify what I wanted to do…sound familiar? Paul has told us to honor our parents, now he is warning fathers not to provoke his kids to anger, then he goes on to say to bring them up in Godly discipline and instruction. Disciplining and instructing are not provoking your kids, it’s teaching them to do right. The Bible never says, “Spare the rod, spoil the child,” it says, “Those who spare the rod of discipline hate their children. Those who love their children care enough to discipline them.” Proverbs 13:24. If you love your child, you will discipline them. If your toddler is trying to stick a fork into an electrical outlet, you will smack their hand, so they know not to do that.

Going back to my father, had I done the biblical thing and just honored him throughout my life I would have had a different view of him, and that could have changed his personality. My dad died at 64 years of age when I was only 39 and my boys were 12 and 16. Fortunately, my sons’ relationship with their grandfather was somewhat better. He would play pool with them and he taught them to shoot and use gun safety in his backyard shooting range. But, think how much better my life, as well as the lives of my kids,  could have been if I had just honored my dad.

Honor is not conditional. We are to honor our parents no matter what they do or how they treat us. If you are a Christian father, don’t provoke your kids, just lovingly discipline and instruct them in the ways of the Lord.

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