Two Bad Examples – The Second

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Photo by Michelle Pearson

Two Bad Examples – The Second

Last time we looked at the first example from Revelation chapter 2. This time I would like to take a look at another, the church at Laodicea which is talked about in chapter 3, verses 14-22. He starts out in verse 14 by saying, “This is the message from the one who is the Amen—the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s new creation.” Notice it says that the message is “from the one who is the Amen”. The word “Amen”, has several meanings, but they are all related. For instance, when your pastor is preaching, and someone says “Amen”, they are saying “Surely, truly, of a truth”. When you end your prayer by saying, “in Jesus name, amen”, you are saying, “so it is, so be it, may it be fulfilled”. But, in this case, where it is referring to a person, it is a metaphor for faithful. So, what this is saying is, “This is the message from the one who is the faithful one.” And, we all know there is only one truly faithful one…Jesus.

Now, once He is finished identifying Himself, He get’s right into it. He doesn’t sugar coat anything, He doesn’t even make a compliment sandwich this time. He simply says in verse 15, “I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other!” If you remember, when He spoke to the church at Ephesus, he started out by talking about all the good things they were doing, but not with this one. From the looks of it, they weren’t doing anything right. Notice what He says here. The problem He had with them is that they were not hot nor cold. So, in our human thinking, not being cold should be a good thing, right? But what does verse 16 say? “But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth!” Okay, so because they were lukewarm, or tepid, it says He wants to spit them out of His mouth. Some translations say spew them out, but the Greek word used here is emeo, which means “to vomit, vomit forth, throw up”. So, what God is telling the church at Laodicea is, “you make me want to puke!”

He goes on to say in verse 17, “You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.” I think we all know this person. They are wealthy, so they are very condescending and think that people without a lot of money are not as wise as them. They think that because they have all this money and have traveled the world, that they have a handle on life. But, the truth is, that these people are often lonely. Don’t get me wrong, they probably have a lot of “friends”, but no one who is loyal and trustworthy. They are empty inside. These people are miserable, they are wretched, they are poor, blind and naked, and they don’t even realize it.

Jesus tells us in verse 18 how to remedy those problems, He says, “So I advise you to buy gold from me—gold that has been purified by fire. Then you will be rich. Also buy white garments from me so you will not be shamed by your nakedness, and ointment for your eyes so you will be able to see.” You see, we could have all the money of Bill Gates, but we would still be empty spiritually. The Bible tells us in Mark 8:36-37, 36 And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? 37 Is anything worth more than your soul?” The answer is, nothing!  Watch this video by Francis Chan that describes our life here on earth as compared to eternity (insert video). Mark 8:38 goes on to say, “If anyone is ashamed of me and my message in these adulterous and sinful days, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when he returns in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” So many people today want to believe that any religion is good when the truth is that NO religion is good. Jesus and His disciples fought against religion constantly, and the New Testament has nothing good to say about religion except in James 1:27 where James tells us what God sees as true religion. This type of person is ashamed of the gospel of Christ, and in the end, Christ will be ashamed of them. But, God always gives the answer to the problem. Verse 18 is telling us that we must come to Him for our gold, gold purified by the fire. This reminds me of when, in John 4, Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well, that if she drank from His well she would never thirst again. In this verse, Jesus wasn’t talking about a literal well or physical thirst, He was talking about spiritual thirst. And, when He is talking about gold in Revelation 3, He isn’t talking about the precious metal, He is talking about spiritual riches. You see, if we trust in God, we may never be rich, but He will take care of all our needs…He promises, Philippians 4:19. God loves us and wants to take care of us, the problem is that we want to be self-sufficient when we need to rest in Him. God not only tells us to seek His gold, He also tells us to go to him for clothing, He wants us to be clothed in righteousness, Job 29:14, “Everything I did was honest. Righteousness covered me like a robe, and I wore justice like a turban.” He also tells us that He will give us ointment for our eyes so we can see. In Ephesians 1:18 Paul said, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints.”

But, He doesn’t end there. In verse 19 Jesus lets us know that He corrects us because He loves us. Then, verse 20 is that well-known verse, “Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.” He pleads with us to fix the problem, so we can have the friendship that He wants. In verse 21 He lets us know that if we have victory over our sin, we will sit with Him on His throne. And, of course, He ends it by saying, verse 22, “Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches.”

We need to have an ear to hear. We need to take heed of what He is saying to these churches and get victory over our sin. We have all become very complacent to sin and need to turn back to our first love.

Two bad Examples

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Two Bad Examples

In the book of the Revelation, in chapters 2 and 3, God talks about seven different churches. For each one He either gives praises or warnings or both. After each one of them, He says, “Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches.” Does this sound familiar? It should, because Christ used those same words when He was talking to the crowd about who John the Baptist was, and He used them again at the end of the Parable of the Farmer Scattering Seed. In the case of the parable, Christ told the parable and ended it by saying, Matthew 13:9 “Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.” We learn in Mark’s account of this, that after He said that, He walked away, kind of a drop the mic moment. When His disciples came to Him later and asked Him the meaning of the parable, He explained it to them. You see? The disciples were the ones with an ear to hear. They wanted to understand what he was saying. They wanted a deeper relationship with Christ. All those other people just wanted to hear Him speak. They were either just curious or were following the crowd. Either way, they didn’t want to be changed, they just wanted to be entertained. Our churches today are full of people like that. These people are just filling some religious checklist, but have no desire to be transformed.

So, going back to the churches mentioned in the book of the Revelation, He gives these warnings, as well as what they were doing right, and wants us who have an ear, those of us who want a deeper relationship with Him, to seek out what He was saying. I’m not going to have time to focus on all seven churches, this is a blog after all, not a book. So, I would like to focus on just two of them. Then I encourage you to go back and study the other five if you have an ear to hear.

The first one I would like to take a look at is the first one mentioned in this passage, the church at Ephesus. You can find this one in Revelation 2:1-7. He starts out by praising this church for all the things they are doing right. In verses 2 and 3 He lists those things, 2I know all the things you do. I have seen your hard work and your patient endurance. I know you don’t tolerate evil people. You have examined the claims of those who say they are apostles but are not. You have discovered they are liars. You have patiently suffered for me without quitting.” So, they were hard working patient people, they didn’t put up with evil people, they study out everything they hear, and they Patiently suffered without quitting. This all sounds pretty good. If we were to look at the church at Ephesus from the outside, we would think they were a pretty good church group.

But, then in verse 4, He tells them that He has something against them. He says, “that you have left your first love.” This is interesting, because judging by those first things, it appears that they truly love God, but the problem He has with them is that they have left their first love. This wasn’t just their love for God, it was their love in general…their love for God, for each other, and for the world. They were complacent. Notice it doesn’t say that they lost their first love, it says they left it. It was a conscious decision. They had walked away from their first love. Charles Spurgeon said this, “A church has no reason for being a church when she has no love within her heart, or when that love grows cold. Lose love, lose all.” God is much more emphatic about love, He says in 1 John 4:7-8, “But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” So, if you don’t love others, you don’t truly know God, because God IS Love!

He goes on in verse 5 to say, “Look how far you have fallen! Turn back to me and do the works you did at first. If you don’t repent, I will come and remove your lampstand from its place among the churches.” So, He starts out by saying, “Look how far you have fallen.” He wants them to see where they went wrong because until they see that, they will not be able to fix the problem. This is good advice for any church. We need to step back and see if and where we have fallen. I used to manage restaurants. I would regularly remind my employees to stop and look around as they were walking into the store, and look as if it were their first time there. This helps us see what we are missing. When you do something over and over for years, you stop noticing things that would have bugged you in the beginning.

Once we see where we are going wrong, He says to turn back to Him and the things we did in the beginning. Stop and think about what it was like when you first came to Christ. Sadly, this is a normal process with us humans. We grow calloused over time. It happens to us in everything, our marriage, our job, even that new boat or car we had to have. So, we need to regularly step back and think about what it was like in the beginning. We need to return to our first love.

Well, is it that important that we do this? He tells us at the end of verse 5, “or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent.” I’ve heard pastors say for years now that there is no mention of a country that even resembles America in the book of Revelation. But, this doesn’t necessarily mean we will be wiped out…removed from the lampstand…it means we need to repent. Repenting means that we need to do a one-hundred and eighty-degree turn. We need to do the opposite of what we are doing now. We need to stop chasing religion and focus on a relationship with God.

Okay, so that’s a lot to think about for now, so we’ll talk about the second church next time. Until then, let’s all determine to step back and see what our church looks like. Are we making disciples or just congregations? Are we fostering strong relationships with Christ, or are we playing church? Is glorifying God our main goal, or have we become a religious institution? Just a little food for thought.

Fruit Inspector

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Fruit Inspector

The New Testament often refers to Jesus as a vine, us as His branches, and what we do for Him as our fruit. But, one passage, in particular, is often misinterpreted, which is a good example of why we shouldn’t try to interpret the word of God at all. The passage is Matthew 7:16, “You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles?” I have heard so many pastors say that we shouldn’t judge others, we should just be “fruit Inspectors”. That, if they are a true believer, their fruit will show. While it is a true statement that our fruit will show if we are a true believer, that is not what this passage is talking about, and we aren’t here to judge anyone else’s salvation.

If we take this passage in context, we see that, in this passage, Christ is giving a lot of instructions. In fact, the first six verses of this passage are telling us not to judge others, Matthew 7:1, “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged.” In verses 7 – 11 Christ is teaching us about effective prayer, telling us to keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking…be persistent in your prayers. Verse 12 is what we call “The Golden Rule”, “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.” Verses 13 – 14 are talking about the narrow gate that leads to everlasting life and the broad gate that leads to destruction.

Then we come to verses 15 – 20 where Christ is telling them, verse 15, “Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves.” Then he goes on in verse 16, “You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles?” You see, he isn’t saying that we’ll know if they are Christians or not by their fruit, he says we can tell false prophets by their fruit. There’s a big difference. Now, there are several verses that tell us how the world will know we are Christians, John 13:35 says, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” I believe this is the message we need to hear. There is so much fighting and feuding among people that claim the name of Christ, but the Bible tells us that the fighting and feuding proves that they are not of God.

Most of the book of 1 John is dedicated to love. He starts talking about it in 1 John 2:7 where he says, “Dear friends, I am not writing a new commandment for you; rather it is an old one you have had from the very beginning. This old commandment—to love one another—is the same message you heard before.” Next, he goes on to tell us not to love the world and then tells us how to identify an antichrist. Then he goes right back to love. He talks about living as a child of God, in chapter 3, verse 1 he says, “See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are!” In chapter 3, verse 11 he starts talking about loving each other again, “This is the message you have heard from the beginning: We should love one another.” In chapter 4 he takes a minute to tell us how to discern a false prophet, then he goes right back to loving one another. In verses 7 – 8 of chapter 4 he says, 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.” The Greek word used for love in verse 7 is agapao, which means “to welcome, to entertain, to be fond of, to love dearly”. So, he is saying that we need to dearly love each other, is that what your church looks like? Does your local body love each other dearly? I hope so, but if not, we need to pull together to help them get back to their first love, Christ.

But, did you catch what is said in verse 8? Anyone who does not love does not know God! And, why is that? Because God Is Love! We could add that to the names of God, God Is Love. Friends, as I said earlier, we are not here to judge people. I’ve mentioned in previous blogs the parable of the Great Feast. When the master told his servants to go into the highways and hedges and compel them to come in, he didn’t say to clean them up first, he said to beg them to come! It’s His job to judge their hearts. We must discern false teachers, but our job as Christ followers is to love each other and glorify our Father.

So, what is our fruit as believers? Galatians 5:22 – 23, 22But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!” What was the first fruit that Paul lists here? Love!

You see, the point all of this is getting at is that the only one we need to judge is ourselves. In fact, going back to Matthew 7 where Christ is saying not to judge others, He says in verse 2, “For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.” Let’s start inspecting our own fruit. Let’s look at our own lives and ask ourselves; is there love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in my life? If I’m being honest with you, and with myself, I fall short in many of these areas. If we all inspect our own fruit and start changing our own lives, then the world will see our lives and glorify our Father in Heaven. Earnest Humphries, the pastor I grew up under, used to say, “Your life may be the only Bible that some people ever open.” So, inspect your fruit, and let your light shine!

New Year’s Resolution

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New Year’s Resolution

I have heard many pastors talk about New Year’s Resolutions. I’ve heard some say they are a great thing and some say they are a bad thing. We hear it all the time whether it’s from pastors, or friends at work, or comedians, they are always talking about making resolutions on the first, that we will break on the second. I know, I’ve said it myself.

But, let’s think about just what exactly a New Year’s Resolution is. It’s nothing more than a goal for the upcoming year, and without goals, we will never get anything accomplished. But, we’re not here to talk about what I think, or what popular culture thinks, so let’s look at what the Bible says about goals.

In Philippians chapter 3, Paul starts out, in verses 1 – 5, by talking about what he was before Christ. You see, before Christ Paul was the most religious person around. He was not only a Pharisee, but he describes himself as a Pharisee of the Pharisees. He was circumcised when he was eight days old, he was a pure-blooded Israelite, which was very important in his religious circles. He even says that he demanded the strictest obedience to the law, not just of himself, but of everyone else. He was even, so sold out for his religion, that he persecuted and even killed the Christ followers.

So, before Christ, Paul had some very intense goals in his life. All of his goals were about keeping with the teachings of his religion. I know that some are thinking right now, “Aha, then goals are bad.” But, Paul goes on from here to talk about his goals in life, after Christ.

In verses 7 – 11, Paul starts talking about his new goals, his New Life Resolutions, if you will. He says in verse 7, “I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done.” Once he realized that all his old goals were worthless, he took a step back and set new goals. This is something we all need to learn from. Maybe you have goals for this next year, or maybe even goals for the rest of your life. Step back for a minute and determine whether these goals match up with God’s purpose, or if they are worthless. Because, if our goals don’t align with God’s purpose for our lives, then those goals are worthless. In fact, Paul says in the beginning of verse 8, “Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”

So, what new goals did Paul set? He sums up his first goal at the end of verse 8 when he says, “For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ.” So, his first goal was to throw out all his old goals and count them as garbage. The Greek word translated here as garbage, and in other translations as dung, is the word skubalon, which means, “any refuse, as the excrement of animals, offscourings, rubbish, dregs; of things worthless and detestable.” That’s how he looked at his old goals, so when we find goals in our lives that don’t align with God’s purpose for us, that’s how we need to see them, as skubalon. From the end of verse 8 and into verse 9 he says, “so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ.” This should be our end game, our ultimate goal, to gain Christ and become one with Him! The Bible calls us the bride of Christ, and it also says that when two people get married they become one flesh, so that must be our goal, to become one with Christ. Now, I feel I need to say again that salvation is not about works, it’s about faith, but faith without works is dead. So, you will never be good enough to get to heaven, but if there is nothing to back up your faith it is worthless. James 2:19 even tells us, “You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror.” And, Paul ends verse 9 by saying, “For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith.” And, we know from Hebrews 11:6 that it is impossible to please God without faith.

Paul goes on with his goals in verse 10 when he says, “I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death.” He starts out by saying that he wants to know Christ. The Greek word translated as “know” is ginosko, which means, “to know, understand, perceive, have knowledge of” and it is used as an idiom for intimacy. So, Paul was saying that he wanted to become intimate with Christ. There’s a song that I love called Your Love is Extravagant, and its lyrics say:

Your love is extravagant
Your friendship, it is intimate
I feel like moving to the rhythm of Your grace
Your fragrance is intoxicating in our secret place
Your love is extravagant

You see, that’s how we need to know Christ. We need an intimate knowledge of Him. Paul continues in verse 10 to say that he wants to experience the mighty power that raised Christ from the dead, but he doesn’t end with the good stuff. Paul ends by saying that he wants to suffer with Christ and share in His death. That’s powerful! When was the last time that any of us prayed to suffer with Christ, or share in His death?

So, why does Paul have these goals? He tells us in verse 11, “so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!” Paul wasn’t suicidal, he wasn’t looking to die, he just saw his ultimate goal as being with Christ in Heaven. As he said just a couple of chapters earlier, in Philippians 1:21, “For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better.” You see, to the true Christ follower, death is not scary, because we know that it isn’t the end, it is the beginning of a new life.

So, as we set our New Year Resolutions, let’s keep this passage in mind. Let’s ask ourselves if these resolutions line up with Christ’s purpose for our lives. And, let’s start the new year right.

Simeon & Anna

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Photo by Michelle Pearson

Simeon & Anna

When Jesus was eight days old, His parents did what the law told them to do. They took him to the temple to be circumcised. After that, they went to give their purification sacrifice. While they were doing this, a prophet named Simeon came up to them, took their child from them, and began praising God. Put yourself in their shoes. Yes, they knew that He was the Messiah, but for a total stranger to come up to them and take their child and say, Luke 2:29-32 29 “Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace, as you have promised. 30 I have seen your salvation, 31which you have prepared for all people. 32 He is a light to reveal God to the nations, and he is the glory of your people Israel!” It’s no wonder that verse 33 says, “Jesus’ parents were amazed at what was being said about him.” Of course, they knew it, but Simeon realized who He was without being told, even though He was just eight days old. But, Simeon didn’t stop there. He went on to bless Mary and Joseph, and then say, in verses 34 and 35, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, and many others to rise. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. 35 As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.”

Okay, so let’s look at what just happened. First, he picks up Jesus and starts praying that God can take him now because he has seen God’s salvation. And, he adds that this salvation is for ALL PEOPLE! This is huge! The Hebrew religion taught that salvation was only for the Jewish people…you had to be born into salvation. This was never God’s plan, He saved Rahab and others who were not Hebrews all through history. But that’s what religion does, it divides. So, Simeon, speaking through the Holy Spirit, said that salvation has come for all people. He then expounds on it when he says, “He is a light to reveal God to the nations”. Some translations say a light to the Gentiles, but the Greek word used here is ethnos, which is where we get our word ethnic. Christ is a light to reveal God to everyone. He then says that Jesus will be the glory of Israel.

So, this is where it says that His parents were amazed at what was being said. Then Simeon blesses Mary and Joseph and it’s great, it’s all good stuff up until now. Then Simeon goes on to say that their child is destined to make many in Israel fall, and many others rise. You see, that was Jesus’ destiny, to make many fall and many rise, and we see this over and over throughout Jesus’ ministry. We see Peter rise from denying Christ, to leading the Church after His resurrection. And, we see Judas fall, even after spending day and night with Christ for three years. We also see most of the Pharisees fall because they are unwilling to let go of their religion and traditions, while we see Nicodemus tell Jesus that he knows He was sent from God. Actually, he doesn’t say he knows, he said we know. Nicodemus was saying that all of the Pharisees knew that Jesus was sent from God, but for most of them, their religion and their place of authority was too important.

Simeon goes on to say that even though Jesus was sent from God, many will oppose Him. He knew the hearts of mankind, and how we seek signs and wonders, but even when we see them, we still don’t believe. I talk a lot about taking scripture literally. Had the Hebrew people taken the Old Testament literally, and not tried to add their own interpretation, they would have seen Jesus as the Christ. All of the scriptures pointed to Him, but they wouldn’t believe.

Simeon says that because so many will oppose Him, the deepest thoughts of their hearts will be revealed. And, then he says directly to Mary, “a sword will pierce your very soul.” You see, Mary had to realize that, yes, giving birth to the Messiah was a huge honor, but it would also be a huge burden. Think about it. Thirty-three years later, Mary had to watch her son be brutally beaten and crucified for crimes he didn’t commit. But, even before that, He was homeless for three years, He was hated by all the religious leaders, He was even hated by her other children. The Holy Spirit used Simeon to remind her of this.

Next up, Anna. Let’s look at her backstory. First, it says she was the daughter of Phanouel. This is the only time that Phanouel is mentioned in the Bible. He isn’t a prominent figure in the Bible, or in history. His name is given here because of its meaning. Her father’s name literally meant, “the face of God”, so Anna was the daughter of the face of God. And, on top of that, she was from the tribe of Aser, which means “blessed”. So, she was the blessed daughter of the face of God…wow. It goes on to say that she was eighty-four years old. It doesn’t say how old she was when she got married, but we know that Jewish tradition was that a girl was usually twelve to fourteen when they got married. So, this tells us that she was probably nineteen to twenty-one when her husband died seven years later. Then it says she lived as a widow, to this point about forty-four years, and never left the temple, but worshiped God day and night. So, it’s safe to say that Anna was pretty dedicated to God.

When Anna heard Simeon, she began praising God, then it says, “She talked about the child to everyone who had been waiting expectantly for God to rescue Jerusalem.” Luke 2:38. After living in the temple for forty years, she knew who these people were. She knew exactly who was diligently looking for the Messiah.

Here’s the thing. The Christmas season is a good time to remind ourselves that we need to be more like Simeon and Anna. First, we need to be like Simeon, we need to listen to the Holy Spirit. John 14:26 tells us, “But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.” So, the Holy Spirit is teaching us EVERYTHING…we must listen. Second, we need to be like Anna. Once we hear from the Holy Spirit, we must tell

EVERYONE. The world needs God, but they don’t know it. Jesus is as dividing today as He was when He was on earth. So, some people will hate us for what we believe, but that’s okay, we’re not here to please people.

As we go through this last week of 2017 and into 2018, we need to ask ourselves, how can I be more like Simeon and Anna? What is the Holy Spirit trying to say to me? Remember that prayer is a dialog, not a monolog, so when you talk to God, listen to what He is trying to tell you. Then, when you hear from God, go tell everyone. James 1:22 tells us, “But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.” So, when you hear a word from God, act on it! We have all missed so many blessings because we didn’t act on what the Holy Spirit is telling us. Stop missing out on blessings!

Making Hard Times Count

 

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Photo by Michelle Pearson

 

Making Hard Times Count

Has anyone else gone through a hard time in their life? I see those hands, I’m sure we all have. If your hand isn’t up, you’re either under 8 years old, or you’re not being truthful with yourself. I know I’ve had my share of them; financial, physical, emotional, you name it. When I was 8 years old my grandmother committed suicide, when I was in my 30’s my brother committed suicide, my dad died at 64 of brain cancer, when my kids were in high school we lost everything…and I mean everything, and just last May, I lost my only remaining brother to a car accident. But, I know that everyone reading this has been through similar hard times. Check out this video Francis Chan “Balance Beam”.

The question isn’t, “Have we been through hard times?” The real question is what do we do about it and how do we handle it? The first thing we must remember is this, the hard times don’t have to last. Let me give an example; You lose your job. Being without a job is hard, but it doesn’t have to last. If you put all your energy into job hunting, I’m talking about making job hunting your job, you will find a new job, quickly. But if you go home saying woe is me, my life is over, and just sit on your butt for weeks on end, that hard time will last and get worse as bills start to pile up.

Here’s the kicker. Everybody…I mean everybody, whether they are a Christ follower or not, goes through hard times. So, what this means is, if you are not going through hard times now, brace for it, they are coming. The problem is, so many churches out there are teaching that, if you follow Christ, your life will be a bed of roses. Oh yeah? Check out the life of Christ Himself, or His disciples. None of them had easy lives! In fact, Christ told us that we will have hard times, but as Christ followers, we can overcome them. John 16:33 “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” I love that last line, “take heart, because I have overcome the world”. You see, there’s nothing to worry about if we trust in Him. 1 Peter 5:7 “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.” He not only cares about you, He sings over you with joy, Zephaniah 3:17 17 “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.”

I know what you are thinking right now. I didn’t title this, “How to Cope with Hard Times”, I titled it “Making Hard Times Count.” So, how can we make them count? I’m glad you asked.

Matthew 11:28-30 28 Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.29 Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” For us city folk, a yoke isn’t talking about the yellow an eggs. A yoke is that big wooden thing they put on the necks of oxen or workhorses. A yoke is a burden, they are awkward and heavy and rub you the wrong way. So, what Christ is saying here is, if you are tired and carrying a heavy burden, give it to Him. But, notice He doesn’t say that you won’t have a burden, He just says that His burden is light. Even though we will still have a burden, He will teach us and we will find rest in Him.

Jeremiah 29:11-13 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. 12 In those days when you pray, I will listen. 13 If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.” The second point is, when those hard times come, just remember, God’s Got This! He has a plan for your life, and it’s to give you a future and a hope, so we need to look at these hard times as temporary and learn from them. Ask yourself, how does this hard time fit into God’s plan for my life? What is He trying to teach me? And, then…Grow.

Jeremiah 17: 7-8 “But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.” The Bible often compares us to trees planted by a river, and that’s such a great analogy. When we trust in the Lord, we are like a tree planted by a river. What does it mean to trust in the Lord: Psalm 1:1-3 tells us, Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers. But they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night. They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do.” So, to trust in the Lord, we need to first, think about who we are hanging around with. That doesn’t mean we can’t be friends with non-Christians, Christ Himself was, but who do we look to for advice, who influences us? Secondly, we must delight in God’s word and meditate on it all the time. We all give our time and energy to what, or who, we are passionate about. As Christ followers, we get passionate about God and His word.

Psalms 9:9-10 The Lord is a shelter for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble. 10 Those who know your name trust in you, for you, O Lord, do not abandon those who search for you.” When those hard times come, run to Christ. He alone is our shelter and our refuge, and He does not abandon those who seek Him. Matthew 7:7-8 “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” Notice it says, “Keep on seeking, and you will find.” We must seek Him with all our heart. Again, we need to be passionate about Him.

Isaiah 41:10 says, Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my  victorious right hand.” That’s it…don’t be afraid, don’t be discouraged. I love that the Bible tells us not to be afraid 365 times, one for every day of the year. I said it before, I’ll say it again, God’s Got This!

So, how can we make hard times count?

  1. Know that God loves you and cares about you.
  2. Remember, God’s Got This!
  3. Trust in the Lord.
  4. Keep on seeking Him.
  5. Make Him your hope and confidence.
  6. Hide under His shelter.
  7. Delight in the Lord.
  8. Know that hard times are temporary.
  9. Let Christ teach you.
  10. Be like a tree planted by His water.
  11. Rest in Him.
  12. Know that God has a plan for your life and He already knows the end of the story.
  13. Know that, when you pray, He is listening.
  14. Be Passionate about Christ.
  15. Grow!

Names of God – Jesus

King
Photo by Michelle Pearson

Names of God – Jesus

I realize I said that El Shaddai would be the last Name of God that I was going to write about, but I would be remiss in leaving out this name. “Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:9-11.

I grew up singing a very simple, yet profound, chorus by Bill Gaither called There’s Something About That Name, it goes:

“Jesus, Jesus, Jesus

There’s just something about that name

Master, Savior, Jesus

Like the fragrance after the rain

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus

Let all heaven and earth proclaim

Kings and kingdoms shall all pass away

But there’s something about that name.”

Jesus means “Jehovah the Savior”, and as we learned before, Jehovah means I Am, so the name Jesus actually means, “I Am the Savior”. One of the first things we must realize is that His name isn’t Jesus Christ…Christ isn’t His last name. Jesus is His name, and Christ, meaning Messiah, is his title. Technically, He should be called Jesus, the Christ. The name of Jesus is only used in the New Testament, and yet, it is used 1,477 times, while His title, Christ, is used another 537 times. I don’t want to bore you with numbers, I just want you to realize that His name and title are used over 2,000 times in 27 books, that’s an average of almost 75 times per book.

I urge all of you to read Lee Strobel’s book, The Case for Christ. In this book Lee, a former investigative reporter for the Chicago Tribune, interviews experts from the fields of science, philosophy, and history about the evidence for Christ. I love this book because it’s full of facts that, first of all, prove that Jesus wasn’t some made up deity, but that He really existed, and secondly it shows Him as the Christ.

But, back to the name. When Mary conceived Him, the angel told Joseph, “And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Matthew 1:21. Going back to that first passage I mentioned. Notice that it says that God gave Him a name that was above every name. Okay, I’m going to say this one more time. All religions do NOT lead to the same place. We are not all on different roads to the same God. God gave Jesus a name that was above every other name! His name is above Buddha, His name is above Mohamed, and it goes on to say, “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Did you get that? Every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that He is Lord…EVERY…that includes Buddha and Mohamed, and every other false god there ever was will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, and that will glorify God the Father. Acts 4:12 tells us, “There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.” There is no other name that will save you! Romans 10:9 tells us, “that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved;” And, then it goes on to say in verse 13, “for ‘Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.’” Salvation only comes through Christ. The world wants us to be all-inclusive, but the truth remains that those other religions will not save your soul.

In today’s society, people keep saying that Christians aren’t tolerant of other religions, but the problem is that they have redefined tolerance. If I tolerate another religion, that means I agree to disagree and go on with my life, it does not mean that I give validity to their belief…that’s lunacy. If I say that all religions are right, then I have just nullified the death of Christ. In fact, Galatians 2:21 says, “I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die.” So, other religions aside, even if I try to get to heaven by keeping God’s law, I have nullified the death of Christ. Hebrews 10:29 puts it this way, “Just think how much worse the punishment will be for those who have trampled on the Son of God, and have treated the blood of the covenant, which made us holy, as if it were common and unholy, and have insulted and disdained the Holy Spirit who brings God’s mercy to us.” I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be one of those people. I don’t want to insult and disdain the Holy Spirit. You see, God loves us so much, that He gave His only Son to die on the cross for us. Jesus, the Lord of lords, the King of kings, died in our place, and to give validity to other religions is a great insult. You see, Buddha did not die for me, Mohamed did not die for me, in fact, Mary did not die for me! Jesus, the Christ…the Messiah was the only one worthy to die for me. He was God in the flesh, He came to earth and lived a sinless life, then He died on the cross. He was the perfect sacrifice. But wait, it doesn’t end there. Three days later, He overcame death and the grave. He rose from the dead and was seen by hundreds of people. This is what I’m trying to say, there is only one name given under heaven, by which we MUST be saved…Jesus!

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, there’s just something about that name.

Names of God – El Shaddai

King
Photo by Michelle Pearson

Names of God – El Shaddai

If you are as old as I am, and grew up in the church, you probably remember a song by Amy Grant titled, El Shaddai. This song actually uses several of the Hebrew names of God. Names like; El Elyon and Adonai, which we have already looked at, but I want to look at the title name today. The name El Shaddai is another of my favorites, it means Almighty, and Most Powerful, and The Lord is More Than Enough. That’s sort of a “drop the mic” kind of name, isn’t it?

So far, we have looked at 16 names of God, and we’ve only scratched the surface. Originally, I didn’t have this one as the last on the list, but I decided to make it that because it just sums the rest of them up. I mean, think about all the names we have looked at. Names that mean The Lord is My Provider, My Banner, My Healer, etc. But, this name ties them all together…The Lord is More Than Enough.

Once again, we see a name of God that brings us back to the fact that we have no need to fear. He is our Provider, He is our Healer, He is Peace, He is our Shepherd, He is the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, and He is More Than Enough. This name just brings it all together and wraps it up in a neat package. Are you afraid? God is more than enough to calm your fears. Are you tempted? God is more than enough to deliver you from that temptation. Are you distraught? God is more than enough to comfort you.

We first see this name in Genesis 49 in Jacob’s last words to his sons. When he is talking about Joseph in verses 24 and 25 he says, 24But his bow remained taut, and his arms were strengthened by the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob, by the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel. 25 May the God of your father help you; may the Almighty bless you with the blessings of the heavens above, and blessings of the watery depths below, and blessings of the breasts and womb.” In these two verses, Jacob uses several of the names of God, names like El Elyon, Jehovah Ra’ah, even one we didn’t look at, Eben Yisra’el, the Stone of Isreal, and El Shaddai. Notice he ends his list with, El Shaddai, here it is translated, The Almighty. Every one of these names is good, and every one is true, but this one just sums them all up.

We see examples of this all throughout Scriptures. Like in, 2 Corinthians 9:8 “And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others” Here we see that Jehovah Jireh, our Provider, is El Shaddai, more than enough. Again, we see it 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.” In this one we see Jehovah Shalom, The Lord is Peace, is El Shaddai, more than enough. Also in, Hebrews 13:5 “Don’t love money; be satisfied with what you have. For God has said, “I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.” So, He is Jehovah Ra’ah, our Shepherd, who is El Shaddai, More Than Enough.

He is Jehovah, the Great I Am, He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last, He is the All-Powerful, Almighty God…The one true God. This is something that you will see me repeating over and over in my writings, because it is so important, especially in today’s world. The fact is that all paths do NOT lead to the same God. We do NOT all worship the same God. As we have seen, we worship El Qanna, a jealous God, and He refuses to be shared with other gods. Jesus said, John 14:6 “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” The Bible also tells us in 1 Timothy 2:5, “For, There is one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus.” I know this is a polarizing subject in today’s society of all-inclusiveness, but I can’t bury the truth. Buddhist’s do not worship the one true God, neither do Hindu’s, nor Shinto’s, nor Muslim’s. This is displayed all throughout Scripture. We see it in Deuteronomy 4:35, 39, 6:4, 32:39, 2 Samuel 7:22, 1 Kings 8:60, 2 Kings 5:15, 19:15, 1 Chronicles 17:20, Nehemiah 9:6, Psalm 18:31, 86:10, Isaiah 37:16, 20, 43:10, 11, 4:6, 8, 45:21, 46:9, Hosea 13:4, Joel 2:27, Zechariah 14:9, and in the New Testament in Mark 12:29-34, John 17:3, Romans 3:30, 1 Corinthians 8:4-6, Galatians 3:20, Ephesians 4:6, 1 Timothy 1:17, 2:5, and James 2:19, to name a few.

Please don’t get me wrong. I don’t harbor any animosity toward anyone for what they believe. You can be wrong, and not be a bad person. I have friends from other beliefs, I have friends who are, according to the Bible, living in sin. I don’t hate them for this. In fact, it makes me love and care for them that much more, because they just need God. They need to experience Jehovah Shammah and Jehovah Jireh. They need to be healed by Jehovah Rapha and comforted by Jehovah Ra’ah. They need to know that El Olam is always there for them and that El Shaddai is all they will ever need.

So, please, take these names of God to heart, and then take Him to the world. Don’t be stopped by political correctness, just trust God for the strength and boldness you need. Remember that 1 Peter 3:15 says, “Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it.” We must always be ready! So, if you don’t know what that hope is, get into His word and find out for yourself. Let’s show the world who our God really is.

Names of God – Adonai

King
Photo by Michelle Pearson

Names of God – Adonai

The name Adonai means, Lord and Master. Just as in the name Elohim, Adonai is the plural tense with a first-person singular pronoun, once again demonstrating the Trinity. Now, there are those who don’t believe in the Trinity because the word is never used in the Bible. While it is true that the word trinity is never used, the Trinity itself is very clearly portrayed. There are many examples other than the use of plural tenses to refer to one God. There is also Christ’s own words where He said in John 10:30, “The Father and I are one.” Notice He didn’t say the Father and I are like one, or the Father and I are similar, He said we are one. Another example is the name Jehovah, which means “I Am”. When God was talking to Moses through the burning bush, He told Moses to tell Pharaoh that I Am has sent you. All throughout the Bible God the Father refers to Himself as “I Am”, and then Jesus said in John 8:58, “Jesus answered, ‘I tell you the truth, before Abraham was even born, I am!’” See there? He didn’t say I was, He said I Am. He was revealing Himself as God. What he said was before Abraham was, Jehovah!

I could go on, but this isn’t a blog on the Trinity, it’s on the name Adonai, and as I said it means Lord and Master. David used it in the 110th Psalm when he said in verse 1, “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit in the place of honor at my right hand until I humble your enemies, making them a footstool under your feet.’” If you look at this verse in the original Hebrew, it says, “Jehovah said to Adonai”. Adonai is translated “My Lord”.

God is our Lord, He is our Master. There are so many who claim the name of Christ but don’t make Him their master. I’m sorry to be the one to break this to you, but you can’t do that. He is an all or nothing kind of God. Remember the name we recently looked at, El Qanna? It means that He is a jealous God. The last thing that Jesus said to His disciples before ascending to heaven, what we call the Great Commission, was Matthew 28:18-20, 18 Jesus came and told his disciples, ‘I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’” First, He says, go make disciples. A disciple is one who imitates the one they are following. The Pharisees had disciples, and their job was to follow that Pharisee around and imitate everything he did. God doesn’t tell us to make congregations, He doesn’t tell us to make religious people, He tells us to make imitators of Himself. The name Christian means “Christ-like”. I have a friend, Joshua Hackworth, who said in one of his blogs several years ago that he calls himself a Christ follower, not a Christian because that’s for you to decide. That’s so true if we are living as Christians, then others should recognize us as such. Actually, it’s somewhat arrogant for us to call ourselves Christians. When we do that, we are telling others that we are Christ-like. But, if He is our Lord and Master, we will be following His examples. The other thing this passage says is that we are to teach these new disciples to follow everything that Christ has taught us. Notice He didn’t say to teach them the 10 commandments or to teach them the Lord’s Prayer, He said to teach them the commandments that He has taught us. And, what was the greatest of those commandments? Matthew 22:34-40 34 But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees with his reply, they met together to question him again. 35 One of them, an expert in religious law, tried to trap him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?” 37 Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” Love God, and Love Each Other…it’s that simple!

The Bible makes it very clear that we are not saved by our works, Ephesians 2:8-9 God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.” But, we are saved for good works, Matthew 5:14-16 14 “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. 15 No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house.16 In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” As with everything, our good works are there to glorify our Father…our Lord and Master. Our Adonai.

If you call yourself a Christian but haven’t made Him your master yet, stop what you are doing and take care of that right now. Go back and read my blog titled “Doulos”. Many of the books of the New Testament started out by saying: Paul, or Peter, or James, or Luke, a doulos of my Lord Jesus Christ. A doulos is a bondservant or a servant by choice. Ask yourself, am I a doulos, or do I try to be my own master?

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