Studies in John’s Epistles – 1 John 3

John continues with his themes of love and hate by showing how we must demonstrate our love to one another. Love isn’t merely a feeling; it must be demonstrated by action. Our “cosmic-lover” is none other than God the Father, and because God loves us so much, and since He proved His love by sending Jesus to purchase our redemption, we are to follow His example by loving one another.

Children of God Love One Another
3 See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. 2 Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. 3 And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.

4 Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. 5 You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin. 6 No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him. 7 Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; 8 the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.

9 No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. 10 By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.

11 For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another; 12 not as Cain, who was of the evil one and slew his brother. And for what reason did he slay him? Because his deeds were evil, and his brother’s were righteous.

13 Do not be surprised, brethren, if the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death. 15 Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. 16 We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. 17 But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.

19 We will know by this that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him 20 in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart and knows all things. 21 Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; 22 and whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight.

23 This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us. 24 The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.

***********************************************************************
Children of God
3 See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. 2 Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. 3 And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. (1 John 3:1-3)

It’s really an amazing thing to read this text and give it a chance to sink in; this is a text to read slowly, prayerfully…

While we were dead in our sinful rebellion against God, He loved us so much, even in spite of our mindset against Him, that he went to extraordinary lengths to redeem us to Himself, and once reborn, we are now His children. There are moments when we may not feel like it, but when God looks upon us, He sees His own children… what more is there to say?

If we are in Christ, God sees us, NOT in our sin and despair, but as “holy and righteous”, not because we are inherently “holy and righteous”, but because our Savior, Jesus Christ, ISholy and righteous”, and God sees us through Him. Furthermore, we are “saints”, not because we feel like “saints”, but because God calls us saints”. Our feelings don’t dictate our “status” before God. One of my previous pastors, Ray Cortese, had a favorite saying which he loved to quote often, “If God has a refrigerator, your pictures are all over it.” That is something we can relate to, because we may have family pictures all over our refrigerator also. I do…

None of us really can appreciate exactly what that entails. It’s like being asked what heaven is like… I’ve been asked this many times, but I must admit that I don’t really know. People repeat certain Biblical passages about heaven, and act as though they know all, but they are kidding themselves, for they are quoting non-literal passages that give indications of certain aspects of heaven, but not details, and do you know how I can say this so boldly? It’s easy; human language does not, nor could it ever, contain the vocabulary to describe fully, accurately and completely those things which no man has ever seen and reported directly – we have no references to comprehend.

The same is true for being children of God. Much remains “hidden” for there is simply no vocabulary to convey the full meaning. When we see Jesus Christ face-to-face, we will see all! What a glorious hope! It is only natural and proper for us to respond to this by setting aside the old life, the old ways, and to be pure as He is pure to the best of our ability, and according to His leading.

Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that He appeared so that He might take away our sins. And in Him is no sin. No one who lives in Him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen Him or known Him. (1 John 3:4-6)

John highlights the point made above about purity in these verses. For us to disregard everything He has done for us, to reject His love and His grace and remain in the old ways is simply inconceivable! That isn’t to say that we will never struggle or make mistakes; it isn’t to say that we are suddenly perfect. He came to take sin away, after all, not to catch us messing up. John is once again pointing out the contrast between the follower of Jesus Christ and the one who rejects Jesus Christ. He doesn’t appear to be referring in any way to a follower who had a bad day; however, he IS referring to someone who claims to be a “follower” of Christ but continues in a sinful lifestyle. We all have “bad days“, which the Apostle Paul laments in Romans 7:14-25.

14 For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. 15 For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. 16 But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. 17 So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. 19 For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. 20 But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.

21 I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. 22 For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, 23 but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.

What is it that really jumps out at you here?

For me, the thing that jumps out is that not only is God’s love for us amazing, boundless and tremendous, but that it holds implications that go far beyond anything that we can even begin to comprehend in our current mortal state, and that our hope for eternal life is not only assured, but far more amazing than anyone has ever understood it to be!

Doing What is Right
Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister. (1 John 3:7-10)

This is an interesting passage with which to begin any day. Don’t let anyone lead you astray! There are many who would do so, and they may try by appealing to our pride or vanity, they might appeal to greed or lust, they might even appeal to our intellect with attractive arguments or curious reasoning, but have you ever asked yourself why they would bother?

John gives the reason in this passage: They are sinful, of the devil and doing the devil’s work, because the devil has been in rebellion against God since the beginning and is looking for allies… or at least to separate us from Christ. It is really important that we get this point. It is the work of the devil to separate us from Christ, because in Christ, we are part of His work, and His work is to destroy the works of the devil. Actually, this is so simple we might miss it! In Christ, we are a threat, so there will be opposition, and one of our enemy’s most potent weapons is DOUBT.

Within this context, John speaks of doing what is right as opposed to doing what is sinful, and in this context doing what is right means following Jesus Christ, and doing what is sinful means not following Christ and trying to lead His followers astray. So far, this is very straight forward, and then John throws us a curve at the end, a curve that leads us to the next section. Doing right means that we love one another, doing wrong means that we don’t.

Wait! I thought you just said that doing right was following Jesus, and doing wrong was not following Jesus! Where did all of this love stuff come from?

Simple answer: If we do not love one another as He loved us, then we can’t possibly be following Jesus Christ, because loving one another is where He is leading.

What we have heard from the Beginning
For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous. Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him. (1 John 3:11-15)

Well, we HAVE heard this message from the beginning, that we should love one another. A quick look through Christian blogs will reveal that everybody writes about it at one time or another… or every day. Why does it take so long to sink in for so many?

John takes us right to the story of Cain and Abel, an interesting choice. He tells us that Cain murdered his brother because Cain was following the evil one, that his actions were evil and Abel’s actions were righteous; murder was the result. Now to be fair to Cain, I’ve never heard this mentioned as a motive for murder on a detective show before. The usual motives for murder are hatred, greed, fear of exposure, jealousy… wait! Maybe that’s the one; jealousy! He was jealous because Abel was righteous and Cain was evil, and that led to hatred, which led to murder. I wonder if Perry Mason or DCS Foyle would see it that way….

It would seem that John is suggesting that evil will oppress the righteous. Then he takes another interesting step, adding linkage that we should pay close attention to, because it takes the old story from Genesis and brings it starkly to life: Do not be surprised if the world hates you.

I never cease to be amazed when Christians act all horrified and indignant that certain elements in society oppose us at every turn. What is surprising about that? Certain elements in society murdered God’s prophets and opposed the Lord Himself to the point of death, not to mention the early church, and evil regimes all through the ages. There is nothing new in any of this. No, it is not a sign that the end is near, it is a sign that we are in the last age, just as John said his readers were…

We must love one another, because we have passed from death into life. We must love one another because God first loved us and He also loves our brother, and we love our brother because we love God. This too is nothing new. How will the world know that we are in Christ? Because we love one another. Will the world hate that? Yes, but many will also want it and be attracted to it, because once you separate individuals from the society in which they live, they want what we have in Christ.

Therefore, loving one another spreads the Gospel and accomplishes God’s purpose.

Love is Active
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. (1 John 3:16-18)

This is where “the rubber meets the road”…

We now come to an amazing text regarding love and what it really is. The concept of Christian love, love of our brother or sister, is not merely an abstract idea; it is a reality of life that requires action. John gives us the model of Christ as the example of what love looks like in action. Jesus loved us, and so He set His own life aside so that we might live. In the same way, John calls upon us to set aside our own lives for the sake of others. This may not necessarily require our physical death, for there is more to the teaching of Christ than that. It will most certainly require that we set our interests aside to serve others.

John uses the specific example of one who has material resources giving them to a brother or sister who is in need in these verses. How can we possibly sit by and let our brother or sister suffer when we have the means to bring relief; to do so is not showing the person love. We can think of other circumstances in which we may have what a hurting person might need, and we must not withhold aid, even though giving aid can be quite inconvenient. Very often these days, we may come across a brother or sister who has emotional pain, and we must be ready to give whatever comfort and relief that we can.

Whatever the particular case may be, we must understand that loving one another doesn’t simply mean to be nice, it means to put others first in thought, and deed as well as in words. This is what it means to follow Jesus Christ; this is what it means to love one another!

Do You Really Know for Sure?
This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and He knows everything. Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from Him anything we ask, because we keep His commands and do what pleases Him. And this is His command: to believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as He commanded us. The one who keeps God’s commands lives in Him, and He in them. And this is how we know that He lives in us: We know it by the Spirit He gave us. (1 John 3:19-24)

Chapter 3 of John’s first letter ends with the assurance that we can know for sure where we stand with God, but it isn’t the answer that most of us give if we are asked “How can I know?“…

John’s answer is that we know by the Spirit within us.

Well steady on there, isn’t that the Spirit that so many are waiting for…until “it” decides to move…?

Yes, that one, the one that we say we can’t hear.

Yes, that’s the one John is referring to!

John takes a little different tack than we often do. He says that we will notice whether or not the Spirit within us condemns us, we know that God is greater than our hearts and knows all. I think that many of us today use slightly different terminology for this by saying that we “feel convicted” about something. When this happens, we have something to seek forgiveness for and have the need to alter our behavior or attitudes in some way. When we are not condemned by our hearts, we are confident in His presence. We know that in saying these things, John is making reference to the work of the Spirit in our lives because he says so in the last part of the passage. Now, the remaining question is whether or not this is really true in our lives.

Over the years I’ve noticed that many people will tell me about their active prayer lives. They will tell me all about the countless hours they spend with God and all the rest. On other occasions, they will tell me that they never notice the Spirit working within them, and that’s how I know for sure that they don’t have any of this great prayer life they like to go on about. The reason is that seeking His presence is how we are able to discern the Spirit that is within us! Notice that John linked the two in verse 21 and 22:

Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask,

You should notice something else here. Here’s verse 22 in full: and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him.

Yes, we will receive anything we ask in prayer, if we “keep his commands and do what pleases him.” As always in John’s writings, asking and receiving are mentioned firmly within the context of doing His will, and not in doing our will. So, can you really know for sure where you stand with God? YES!

Seek His presence and you’ll find out!

Sola Deo Gloria!

Bible Study – The True Vine

This passage is a continuation of Jesus’ “Farewell Discourse” which He gave after the Last Supper and before they went out to the Garden of Gethsemane. There are three core themes in this section, our relationship with Christ, our relationship with one another in the household of faith, and our relationship with the outside-world. Without a strong relationship with Christ, we will not be able to have a proper-relationship with our fellow believers, and without this core “framework“, we won’t be effective ministers of the Gospels or be able to withstand the onslaught of the forces of evil which will seek to destroy us.

Jesus Is the Vine—Followers Are Branches
15 “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. 3 You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. 7 If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. 9 Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. 10 If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. 11 These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.

Today we continue our study of Jesus’ remarks to the disciples in the Upper Room. Our passage is one of the best known in all of Scripture in which Jesus uses the illustration of a vine to describe key relationships within the Christian Life. The text moves to its climax in verse 16 with the word “so that” giving us a conditional statement that if our relationships are working together properly, “then” our requests will be granted.

This is the seventh and final “I Am” statement in the Gospel of John, and it is intended as an illustration of the relationship between the Father, the Son and the Church. Jesus is the vine, the Father is the gardener and the disciples are the branches. Notice that Jesus points out the fact that, in a vine, a branch has the function of bearing fruit, and no fruit can be borne by a branch that has been removed from the vine. His point here is that the disciples must remain in Him in order to accomplish their purpose. The Father, as gardener, will remove any branches that do not bear fruit, and prune the ones that do so that they may bear even more fruit… but what is “fruit”?

It is easy to say that He is referring to the making of new disciples, and certainly this is part of the answer. Considering that the Father will be pruning individual branches as well as the entire vine, however there would seem to be something more involved. In this case, it would be the removal of sin from our lives so that we will not only build new disciples, but that we would live such a life of love and purity that we would produce even more disciples than before. One could say that this pruning involves God’s fine-tuning of our spiritual lives so as to bring about maximum growth, not only in ourselves, but as a result in the entire Christian community.

Here Jesus restates the “I Am” in verses 5-6 and adds that we must remain in Him or we cannot produce anything. Consider what happens when we attempt to produce spiritual fruit apart from Christ, entirely on our own… what is the result? Usually the result is either nothing at all or the entry point for sin and wickedness into the community of believers. One might even suggest that this is the formula for the development of cults in the extreme case. Much has been made of verse 6 in certain circles, and for good reason. Many people claim to have accepted Christ as their Savior and Lord, but their lives don’t show any evidence of truly being “saved”. While we can never know their hearts and we can’t judge them, we are certainly called to be “fruit-inspectors”. Jesus, in Matthew 7:20, said; “Therefore by their fruits you will know them”.

There may be times in our own lives when we may wonder who’s “side” we are on, when we need to “inspect” our own “fruit” and ask God to help us make whatever “changes” are needed. I left a Meetup group I had belonged to for several months because it was counter to what I believe the Bible teaches about intimate-relationships. After doing a LOT of studying the Bible, some “soul-searching”, and asking God for wisdom, I became convinced that it wasn’t good for my “spiritual-health”. It is also incumbent on me, as a Minister of the Gospel, to live a life which is “above reproach”. If I am going to “talk-the-talk”, I need to “walk-the-walk”.

Verses 7-8 establish clear linkage between “remaining” and being disciples. If we remain in Him… we will be seen as His disciples. Remember that a disciple is one who knows what the Master knows (and my words remain in you) and who does what the Master does (bear fruit). Thus, if we are His disciples in reality then He will answer our requests for His purpose. It would go without saying that we wouldn’t be making selfish requests.

Jesus now introduces a second analogy to illustrate this relationship, and that is the relationship between the Father and the Son. The illustration is Father/Son is the same relationship that is between Son/disciple. The Father has loved the Son, and the Son has responded with love and obedience. Therefore, since the Son has loved us, we must respond with obedience. To remain in His love is to have our joy made complete.

Disciples’ Relation to Each Other
12 “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are My friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you. 17 This I command you, that you love one another.”

Going one step further now in 12-13, Jesus tells us exactly what obedience looks like: “Love one another as I have loved you.” This is the command He is talking about, and as we saw a few sections back, this means putting others ahead of ourselves: always. The Christian life has no room for self! Verse 13 goes still further when Jesus mentions that the greatest love is to lay down your life for your friends. In His case, this meant the cross. In our case, who knows the future? One thing is clear however, to lay down our life of selfishness is paramount.

There is an interesting contrast between “servant” and “friend” in the last 3 verses, one that is even stronger than the NIV gives us, for the Greek word rendered “servant” (doulos) is the word for “slave”. The contrast is clear: A slave is an inferior relationship while a friend is an equal relationship. Don’t get crazy just yet, for this equality is entirely conditional. Go and bear fruit. Love one another. These are the conditions, and realize that the first will not happen until we accomplish the second. Then the Father will grant whatever we ask. This is the conditional nature of the Christian life, and the challenge before us today. As our culture continues to crumble and the church falters what will we do? We will remain in Him, love one another and bear fruit!

Disciples’ Relation to the World
18 “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also. 21 But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 He who hates Me hates My Father also. 24 If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would not have sin; but now they have both seen and hated Me and My Father as well. 25 But they have done this to fulfill the word that is written in their Law, ‘They hated Me without a cause.’

While the first 17 verses of chapter 15 discuss relationships within the Christian community, verses 18 and following discuss the relationship between the Christian community and the outside world. In the first instance, the relationship is characterized by love, but in the second it is characterized by hate. This is a new reality that the disciples must deal with, one that exists to this day. To begin to understand this phenomenon, we must remind ourselves that the world Jesus speaks of is continuing to live in rebellion against God. Jesus brought this contrast between God and Rebellion into the harsh light of day and the people didn’t like it. His disciples will do the same thing with the same result. We too will make this contrast easy to see if we live according to His teachings. We will also cause some to believe and be saved, but the majority will not appreciate our work. For this reason, Christians in “tolerant” America are ridiculed in the press, movies and television, and are often singled out in the public square for derision.

Christians are not “of this world” but instead “our citizenship is in heaven.” (Phil. 3:18-20) The world we live in today is “post-modern” meaning that the overriding standard of morality is what is right for me. Post-modernism doesn’t allow anyone to say that something is “right” or “wrong” based on some “moral-absolute“, but calls on individuals to seek that which is right for them and demands “tolerance” from everyone else.

Obviously, post-modernism is not the philosophical basis of the Bible, and as we all know people have a hard time listening to anyone tell them differently. This entire philosophy demonstrates that most people do not wish to be reconciled to God, or as Jesus put it, to “know the One who sent me.”

As a result of Jesus’ ministry, the world was left “without excuse.” He has spoken the truth of sin, death, right and wrong, and He topped it all off by confirming His teachings with miraculous signs so that there would be no way for anyone to claim that His teachings were simply another random philosophy: They were the very words of God. As a result, rebellious humanity in large part hated both Jesus and His Father, as the prophets had foretold.

26 “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me, 27 and you will testify also, because you have been with Me from the beginning.”

Jesus reminds the disciples about the coming of the Holy Spirit. Note that this is not a teaching about the Holy Spirit as much as it is teaching about what their responsibility would be. The presence of the Holy Spirit is beneficial in a great many ways, but it doesn’t mean that we have no work to do; our part is to teach people about the Gospel and make disciples.

Jesus, in John 14, promised that when He went away, He would send the Holy Spirit, another “Comforter” and “Councilor”, who would lead and guide them into all truth. It is only through the empowering of the Holy Spirit that we are able to do as Jesus did, and to carry out the ministry He has called us to. As we can’t live the Christian life without Christ in us, we can’t minister without the Holy Spirit.

Blessings,
Steve

The Orlando Massacre

I was shocked and deeply-saddened when I opened my news-feed on Facebook this last Sunday morning, June 12, 2016, to read that there had been a mass-murder at a nightclub in Orlando, just thirty miles from my home. It is with grief and a heavy-heart that I am writing about this heinous event, an event I had hoped and prayed that I would never write about, but have to.

Those who have died or were injured were innocent victims of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It could have happened anywhere in Orlando, or anywhere in America, anywhere large groups of people are gathered. There are many “soft-targets” within the metro-Orlando area, some of which receive over fifty-thousand visitors every day, seven days a week. The Pulse nightclub may have been chosen if the killer harbored anti-gay ideology, but we can’t read his mind after the fact. We all have targets on our backs because we can never know who will be targeted next, so it behooves all of us to be vigilant.

There will be lots of blame passed around over the coming days and weeks, and many “solutions” offered to help keep this from happening again, but they will all fall far-short of the true reason this happened. There will be many “scapegoats“…

Some people may blame the FBI for not “doing something” when they investigated the killer at least twice before he committed this heinous act. However, in a free society, where we value free-speech and free-thought, it isn’t against the law to hold to beliefs that aren’t “politically-correct“, or we would all be behind bars, myself included. As a Christian, in this increasingly-godless society, my Christian beliefs are not “politicallycorrect“.

Some will call for more “background-checks“, however the killer was a licensed Armed Security Guard and had passed a couple of “background-checks” already, so more “background-checks” would not have prevented this heinous act. “Background-checks” can only assess prior activities, but they are not good-predictors of future actions.

Some people will blame the weapon, an inanimate object, a tool, for what happened, however no gun has ever killed anyone without a human-operator. Guns and bullets don’t kill people, people kill people…PERIOD.

Some people will scream for more “gun-control“, claiming that if that type of weapon, an “assault-rifle“, hadn’t been “readily-available“, this might not have happened. That stance ignores the fact that if a person is determined to kill someone, they will ALWAYS find a way. Lest we get caught-up in this kind of rhetoric, Cain killed Abel with a ROCK. We must also remember that terrorists are using explosive-filled vests, “suicide-vests“, very frequently to kill large number of people. The fact is that an explosive-vest, with the right kind of high-explosives, could have killed far more people. Another thing to remember is that this type of weapon is readily-available in the underground-market even if it can’t be bought legally.

Some people will blame the religion or political-ideology of the killer for this heinous act, and that may have been part of his motivation, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. The problem goes far-deeper than that, which we will explore shortly.

Some people will even blame the LGBT community for what happened, saying that if they weren’t so “open“, so “out“, even “in your face” about their sexuality choices, this might not have happened. Again, this may have been a contributing-factor, but it is only a symptom of the breakdown of the moral-fiber of our community. Orlando is home to one of the largest LGBT communities in the world, and Disney is their largest employer. My friend and neighbor work at Disney, and she lost several friends and co-workers. It was, and is a real human-tragedy, regardless of how you stack it up.

The root-cause…
Yes, there IS a far-deeper problem than just one deranged man massacring over fifty people, and that problem is SIN! We ARE sinners. Every last one of us, and without the restraining-grace of God, any one of us could do what that evil man did, kill many people. Nobody is “exempt” from the problem of having an evil heart, and it isn’t that we are “better-people“, because we aren’t. The Bible states, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?(Jeremiah 17:9) Jesus also said, “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.(Matthew 15:19) That, my friends is the “root-cause” of what happened in Orlando this last weekend.

The “cure”…
Yes, my friends, there IS a “cure” for our sin-problem, but it isn’t: being a “better-person“, being “more-religious“, or even being “more-spiritual“. God provided the “cure” almost two-thousand years ago in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ came to save sinners, like you, like me, because we are ALL sinners in desperate-need of a Savior. Trusting in the shed-blood and finished work of Jesus Christ alone for our salvation is the ONLYcure“. That, my friends, is the Good News of the Gospel. I need to be reminded of the Gospel every day lest I become just another “religious-person“.

There is a faction of people, who call themselves “Christians“, who are celebrating this event, but they aren’t truly Christians if their hearts are so full of hate. Jesus said that the second Great Commandment was to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no room in that commandment for hate.

What was the spiritual-condition of those who died? Only God knows for sure, so I can’t even presume to make any assumptions. If they died, having never accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, they are reaping what they sowed, eternal separation from God. If they were Believers, trusting only in the shed-blood and finished-work of Christ for their salvation, they are in the joyous-presence of their Lord and Savior. What grieves and saddens me most, as a Minister of the Gospel, is that those who died without Christ will not get a second-chance. They will never have another opportunity to hear and believe the Good News of the Gospel. Their destiny was sealed the moment they took their last breath.

I am gratified by the outpouring of support that has flooded in over the last couple of days. The downtown-Orlando blood centered had way more willing-donors than they could handle, and had to ask potential-donors to make an appointment for later in the week. I don’t think that it was coincidental that I donated blood just last Friday, so my “pint-of-life” was already “in the bank” and ready to use. Food, water and other supplies also came pouring-in for those in need.

My message to fellow-Christians:
Homosexuals are NOTworse-sinners” than we are, so before we join in condemning the LGBT community, we need to examine our own hearts. Examine them for what? PRIDE!!! PRIDE is rampant among Christians, but we have nothing to be “proud” of. Everything we have is by the grace of God, including our salvation. Maybe we need a lesson in humility, because God hates PRIDE more than all the other sins combined.

Final thoughts…
I am deeply-saddened by what happened, and I join in mourning those who lost their lives, and you should too.

In Christ,
Steve

Bible Study – Ministry in Samaria

We are picking up where we left off last week, and to recap that study, Jesus, in traveling from Judea to Galilee, went the western-route through Samaria. He and His disciple had come into Sychar, where they stopped for a bite to eat and to rest awhile. It was there, at Jacob’s well, that He encountered a woman coming out to get some water. She had been married several times and was living with a man she wasn’t married to. She had met her long-awaited Messiah.

”28 So the woman left her waterpot, and went into the city and said to the men, 29 “Come, see a man who told me all the things that I have done; this is not the Christ, is it?” 30 They went out of the city, and were coming to Him.

31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging Him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” 32 But He said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33 So the disciples were saying to one another, “No one brought Him anything to eat, did he?” 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work. 35 Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest. 36 Already he who reaps is receiving wages and is gathering fruit for life eternal; so that he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together. 37 For in this case the saying is true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored and you have entered into their labor.”

39 From that city many of the Samaritans believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, “He told me all the things that I have done.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to Jesus, they were asking Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days. 41 Many more believed because of His word; 42 and they were saying to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world.”

43 After the two days He went forth from there into Galilee. 44 For Jesus Himself testified that a prophet has no honor in his own country. 45 So when He came to Galilee, the Galileans received Him, having seen all the things that He did in Jerusalem at the feast; for they themselves also went to the feast. (John 4:28-45)

28 So the woman left her waterpot, and went into the city and said to the men, 29 “Come, see a man who told me all the things that I have done; this is not the Christ, is it?” 30 They went out of the city, and were coming to Him. Why did she leave her waterpot behind? Had she forgotten why she went to the well? What if her message was more important than the water she went to get?

I can imagine her going into the city and excitedly telling everyone who would listen about her encounter with Jesus, and even though Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, she wasn’t quite sure. She may have not expected the Christ to show her her sin, but He did. I think that she, like many others, was expecting the Messiah to come as the ultimate “conquering-king” who would reunite all of Israel, but He was revealing a very different kind of kingdom, a spiritual kingdom. I doubt that we would be very comfortable either if Christ showed us our sin during a face-to-face encounter, and our reaction would probably be similar to Peter’s, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8), but until we truly-understand our sin, we will never understand our desperate need for a Savior.

Based on her testimony, many people dropped what they were doing and headed out to meet Jesus. Would we?

31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging Him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” 32 But He said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33 So the disciples were saying to one another, “No one brought Him anything to eat, did he?” 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work. His disciples had brought food from town, but Jesus put kingdom-work ahead of physical-sustenance. When it came to the kingdom of God, Jesus had tunnel-vision. He knew His mission, and as we saw last week, nothing was going to get in His way.

34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work. 35 Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest. 36 Already he who reaps is receiving wages and is gathering fruit for life eternal; so that he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together. 37 For in this case the saying is true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored and you have entered into their labor.”

Jesus took that opportunity to give His disciples more instruction in kingdom-work. They would become “sowers” and “reapers“. Some would do more “sowing“, and some would do more “reaping“, but both are equally-important. Thus it is with all kngdom-work. We may see some of the fruits of our labors, but not always, and another laborer may get to enjoy the fruits of our labors. We have entered into the labors which Jesus and His disciples began two-thousand years ago, and even though they aren’t here to see it, the disciples would be blown-away by how fruitful their ministry was. Those labors had, and continue to have eternal-significance.

39 From that city many of the Samaritans believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, “He told me all the things that I have done.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to Jesus, they were asking Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days. 41 Many more believed because of His word; 42 and they were saying to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world.”

As mind-blowing as her testimony was, those who saw and heard Jesus for themselves became even more convinced that Jesus was the Christ, the Savior of the world.

Had Jesus been a typical Jewish Rabbi, He wouldn’t have gone through Samaria, let alone spend a couple of days there, but Jesus was anything BUT typical. I can imagine that His disciples got a bit antsy when He stayed because they would have been eager to get back into “Jewish” territory. Rubbing shoulders with Samaritans wasn’t comfortable, let alone eating and staying with them, but there may be a lesson for us also.

43 After the two days He went forth from there into Galilee. 44 For Jesus Himself testified that a prophet has no honor in his own country. 45 So when He came to Galilee, the Galileans received Him, having seen all the things that He did in Jerusalem at the feast; for they themselves also went to the feast.

Even though Jesus and His disciples were “delayed” in getting to Galilee, His stay in Samaria was just another part of His kingdom-ministry. Jesus hadn’t been well-received in Jerusalem, and as a “local-boy“, He wasn’t well-received in Judea either, but that wasn’t the case in Galilee. Many of the Galileans had gone to Jerusalem for Passover and had heard His teaching and seen His miracles, so their hearts were already prepared to hear and receive His message when He got to Galilee. We need to note also that Galileans weren’t well thought-of by Judeans either, particularly by the religious-elite.

Is there any group of people you would be uncomfortable associating with? We are “Samaritans” to the vast-majority of the church because we live a lifestyle that they can’t understand, and they don’t have a clue how to ministry to us in our environment. That is why I, as a fellow-“Samaritan“, am ministering to you.

In Christ,
Steve

Remember Me…

Those two words, spoken by a dying man, both changed his eternal-destiny and remind us that we can’t save ourselves.

Three crosses…

Three men condemned to die…

Two men died for crimes that they had committed…

One man died who was innocent, but died for crimes that were not His own…

39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43)

He didn’t walk an aisle, pray a prayer, sign a card, get baptized or join a church. He simply confessed his deepest need to the only person who could satisfy that need, Jesus. His simple faith in Jesus gave him what he couldn’t earn or merit – salvation and an eternal reward. Why do we have to make it so difficult?

Have you confessed your need for a savior?

In Christ,
Steve

Bible Study – Promises II

And the Word became flesh…

As we saw last week, the coming of a Savior – the Messiah, was foretold through promises given to Godly men and women beginning in the Garden of Eden. We saw how God preserved a holy line, beginning with Seth, up to and through the great flood, establishing the house of Shem as the lineage from which the Savior would come. We are now up to the promises given to Abraham, that Isaac would be his heir, and that all nations would be blessed through him. As we pick up there, we will see how God selected certain families to carry the guide-on towards the coming of the Savior.

Isaac Is Born
21 Then the Lord took note of Sarah as He had said, and the Lord did for Sarah as He had promised. 2 So Sarah conceived and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the appointed time of which God had spoken to him. 3 Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore to him, Isaac. 4 Then Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. 5 Now Abraham was one hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. 6 Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.” 7 And she said, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.”

8 The child grew and was weaned, and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. (Genesis 21:1-8)

The Offering of Isaac
22 Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2 He said, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you.” 3 So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him and Isaac his son; and he split wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. 4 On the third day Abraham raised his eyes and saw the place from a distance. 5 Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go over there; and we will worship and return to you.” 6 Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son, and he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. 7 Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” And he said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” 8 Abraham said, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together.

9 Then they came to the place of which God had told him; and Abraham built the altar there and arranged the wood, and bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 12 He said, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.” 13 Then Abraham raised his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram and offered him up for a burnt offering in the place of his son. 14 Abraham called the name of that place The Lord Will Provide, as it is said to this day, “In the mount of the Lord it will be provided.”

15 Then the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven, 16 and said, “By Myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this thing and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies. 18 In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.” 19 So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beersheba; and Abraham lived at Beersheba. (Genesis 22:1-19)

Isaac’s Sons
19 Now these are the records of the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham became the father of Isaac; 20 and Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, the sister of Laban the Aramean, to be his wife. 21 Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord answered him and Rebekah his wife conceived. 22 But the children struggled together within her; and she said, “If it is so, why then am I this way?” So she went to inquire of the Lord.

23 The Lord said to her, “Two nations are in your womb; and two peoples will be separated from your body; and one people shall be stronger than the other; and the older shall serve the younger.”

24 When her days to be delivered were fulfilled, behold, there were twins in her womb. 25 Now the first came forth red, all over like a hairy garment; and they named him Esau. 26 Afterward his brother came forth with his hand holding on to Esau’s heel, so his name was called Jacob; and Isaac was sixty years old when she gave birth to them.

27 When the boys grew up, Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the field, but Jacob was a peaceful man, living in tents. 28 Now Isaac loved Esau, because he had a taste for game, but Rebekah loved Jacob. 29 When Jacob had cooked stew, Esau came in from the field and he was famished; 30 and Esau said to Jacob, “Please let me have a swallow of that red stuff there, for I am famished.” Therefore his name was called Edom. 31 But Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.” 32 Esau said, “Behold, I am about to die; so of what use then is the birthright to me?” 33 And Jacob said, “First swear to me”; so he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. 34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew; and he ate and drank, and rose and went on his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright. (Genesis 25:19-34)

Jacob’s Deception
27 Now it came about, when Isaac was old and his eyes were too dim to see, that he called his older son Esau and said to him, “My son.” And he said to him, “Here I am.” 2 Isaac said, “Behold now, I am old and I do not know the day of my death. 3 Now then, please take your gear, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field and hunt game for me; 4 and prepare a savory dish for me such as I love, and bring it to me that I may eat, so that my soul may bless you before I die.”

5 Rebekah was listening while Isaac spoke to his son Esau. So when Esau went to the field to hunt for game to bring home, 6 Rebekah said to her son Jacob, “Behold, I heard your father speak to your brother Esau, saying, 7 ‘Bring me some game and prepare a savory dish for me, that I may eat, and bless you in the presence of the Lord before my death.’ 8 Now therefore, my son, listen to me as I command you. 9 Go now to the flock and bring me two choice young goats from there, that I may prepare them as a savory dish for your father, such as he loves. 10 Then you shall bring it to your father, that he may eat, so that he may bless you before his death.” 11 Jacob answered his mother Rebekah, “Behold, Esau my brother is a hairy man and I am a smooth man. 12 Perhaps my father will feel me, then I will be as a deceiver in his sight, and I will bring upon myself a curse and not a blessing.” 13 But his mother said to him, “Your curse be on me, my son; only obey my voice, and go, get them for me.” 14 So he went and got them, and brought them to his mother; and his mother made savory food such as his father loved. 15 Then Rebekah took the best garments of Esau her elder son, which were with her in the house, and put them on Jacob her younger son. 16 And she put the skins of the young goats on his hands and on the smooth part of his neck. 17 She also gave the savory food and the bread, which she had made, to her son Jacob.

18 Then he came to his father and said, “My father.” And he said, “Here I am. Who are you, my son?” 19 Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn; I have done as you told me. Get up, please, sit and eat of my game, that you may bless me.” 20 Isaac said to his son, “How is it that you have it so quickly, my son?” And he said, “Because the Lord your God caused it to happen to me.” 21 Then Isaac said to Jacob, “Please come close, that I may feel you, my son, whether you are really my son Esau or not.” 22 So Jacob came close to Isaac his father, and he felt him and said, “The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” 23 He did not recognize him, because his hands were hairy like his brother Esau’s hands; so he blessed him. 24 And he said, “Are you really my son Esau?” And he said, “I am.” 25 So he said, “Bring it to me, and I will eat of my son’s game, that I may bless you.” And he brought it to him, and he ate; he also brought him wine and he drank. 26 Then his father Isaac said to him, “Please come close and kiss me, my son.” 27 So he came close and kissed him; and when he smelled the smell of his garments, he blessed him and said, 
“See, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field which the Lord has blessed; 28 Now may God give you of the dew of heaven, and of the fatness of the earth, and an abundance of grain and new wine; 29 may peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you; be master of your brothers, and may your mother’s sons bow down to you. Cursed be those who curse you, and blessed be those who bless you.”

30 Now it came about, as soon as Isaac had finished blessing Jacob, and Jacob had hardly gone out from the presence of Isaac his father, that Esau his brother came in from his hunting. 31 Then he also made savory food, and brought it to his father; and he said to his father, “Let my father arise and eat of his son’s game, that you may bless me.” 32 Isaac his father said to him, “Who are you?” And he said, “I am your son, your firstborn, Esau.” 33 Then Isaac trembled violently, and said, “Who was he then that hunted game and brought it to me, so that I ate of all of it before you came, and blessed him? Yes, and he shall be blessed.” 34 When Esau heard the words of his father, he cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry, and said to his father, “Bless me, even me also, O my father!” 35 And he said, “Your brother came deceitfully and has taken away your blessing.” 36 Then he said, “Is he not rightly named Jacob, for he has supplanted me these two times? He took away my birthright, and behold, now he has taken away my blessing.” And he said, “Have you not reserved a blessing for me?” 37 But Isaac replied to Esau, “Behold, I have made him your master, and all his relatives I have given to him as servants; and with grain and new wine I have sustained him. Now as for you then, what can I do, my son?” 38 Esau said to his father, “Do you have only one blessing, my father? Bless me, even me also, O my father.” So Esau lifted his voice and wept.

39 Then Isaac his father answered and said to him,
“Behold, away from the fertility of the earth shall be your dwelling, and away from the dew of heaven from above. 40 “By your sword you shall live, and your brother you shall serve; but it shall come about when you become restless, that you will break his yoke from your neck.”

41 So Esau bore a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him; and Esau said to himself, “The days of mourning for my father are near; then I will kill my brother Jacob.” 42 Now when the words of her elder son Esau were reported to Rebekah, she sent and called her younger son Jacob, and said to him, “Behold your brother Esau is consoling himself concerning you by planning to kill you. 43 Now therefore, my son, obey my voice, and arise, flee to Haran, to my brother Laban! 44 Stay with him a few days, until your brother’s fury subsides, 45 until your brother’s anger against you subsides and he forgets what you did to him. Then I will send and get you from there. Why should I be bereaved of you both in one day?”

46 Rebekah said to Isaac, “I am tired of living because of the daughters of Heth; if Jacob takes a wife from the daughters of Heth, like these, from the daughters of the land, what good will my life be to me?” (Genesis 27)

Jacob Is Sent Away
28 So Isaac called Jacob and blessed him and charged him, and said to him, “You shall not take a wife from the daughters of Canaan. 2 Arise, go to Paddan-aram, to the house of Bethuel your mother’s father; and from there take to yourself a wife from the daughters of Laban your mother’s brother. 3 May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples. 4 May He also give you the blessing of Abraham, to you and to your descendants with you, that you may possess the land of your sojournings, which God gave to Abraham.” 5 Then Isaac sent Jacob away, and he went to Paddan-aram to Laban, son of Bethuel the Aramean, the brother of Rebekah, the mother of Jacob and Esau. (Genesis 28:1-5)

Jacob’s Dream
10 Then Jacob departed from Beersheba and went toward Haran. 11 He came to a certain place and spent the night there, because the sun had set; and he took one of the stones of the place and put it under his head, and lay down in that place. 12 He had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants. 14 Your descendants will also be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed. 15 Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” 16 Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” 17 He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

18 So Jacob rose early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on its top. 19 He called the name of that place Bethel; however, previously the name of the city had been Luz. 20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me on this journey that I take, and will give me food to eat and garments to wear, 21 and I return to my father’s house in safety, then the Lord will be my God. 22 This stone, which I have set up as a pillar, will be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You.” (Genesis 28:10-22)

Jacob Wrestles With God
24 Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25 When he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he touched the socket of his thigh; so the socket of Jacob’s thigh was dislocated while he wrestled with him. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking.” But he said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27 So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28 He said, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.” 29 Then Jacob asked him and said, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And he blessed him there. 30 So Jacob named the place Peniel, for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved.” 31 Now the sun rose upon him just as he crossed over Penuel, and he was limping on his thigh. 32 Therefore, to this day the sons of Israel do not eat the sinew of the hip which is on the socket of the thigh, because he touched the socket of Jacob’s thigh in the sinew of the hip. (Genesis 32:24-32)

Closing thoughts…
As much as we would like to think that all the patriarchs were “saints“, they weren’t. When God didn’t provide the promised son soon enough to suit Abraham, he took matters into his own bedroom with another woman. Jacob was a master of dirty-dealing, bilking Esau out of both his birthright AND his father’s blessing. While we didn’t look at the chapters dealing with Jacob’s marriages and his dirty-dealings with his father-in-law, he was no “saint” there either. Jacob didn’t “deserve” the wonderful promises God gave to him, but God gave them anyway. These things should remind us that “God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called“, and as inadequate as we may feel to do the work of the Lord, we have His sure-promise that He will be with us all the way.

In Christ,
Steve

Shattered Dreams…

Everything seemed to be looking up, all the pieces seemed to be in place, when suddenly all their hopes and dreams came crashing down around their ears. Their dream had become a nightmare. Dead. Crucified. Buried. Gone.

Had they misread the signs? Were all the prophesies wrong? What had happened? How could everything have gone to hell so quickly, so abruptly? Why???

Who can’t relate to this story? We have all been there, done that, and gotten the T-shirt. We have all been in times and situations which seemed to be so full of hope and promise that we were dreaming of a rosy future, when our dreams turned into nightmares and our hopes were extinguished.

A highly-anticipated pregnancy turns into a miscarriage, or worse yet, the baby is born with horrible birth-defects and only lives a few hours. A cancer surgery, which was hoped to be life-saving, turns into a closed-up incision with the verdict of “The cancer has spread too far, so it was impossible to get it all.“. A man goes in for open-heart surgery which will give him a new lease on life but dies on the table before surgery even begins. A person with cancer is given six months to live and dies less than six weeks later. Grieving parents, a grieving widow, and grieving family and friends are left behind to pick up the pieces of their dream-shattered lives.

A new relationship seems to be going well, but ends abruptly a few weeks later. “Til death do us part” turns into “Til death or disconvenience do us part“. “Happily-ever-after” turns into “Nightmare on Rainbow Chase Place“. What happened? How could everything that seemed to be going so right abruptly go so wrong? Why???

Were we all wrong to get our hopes and dreams up? Another question might be “Were we hoping for all the wrong things?“. Is there something better in store for us that we could never dream of or anticipate? Did the “good” get sacrificed to make way for the “best“?

Two thousand years ago, two men trudged along a dusty road, disappointed that their dreams and hopes had died, talking about what had brought those dreams and hopes to naught. They had witnessed their dream, their hope of a new and better future, being crucified on a Roman cross. Maybe they had even helped prepare His body for burial. The only thing that they knew for certain was that Jesus of Nazareth was dead, buried, and with His death and burial was buried their dreams and hopes. Grieving family and friends were left behind to pick up the pieces of their dream-shattered lives. Luke recorded this scene for us in detail.

On the Road to Emmaus
Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.

He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

“What things?” He asked.

“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed Him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified Him; but we had hoped that He was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find His body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said He was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”

He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning Himself.

As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. But they urged Him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So He went in to stay with them.

When He was at the table with them, He took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him, and He disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when He broke the bread. (Luke 24:13-35)

They had heard Jesus teach, they had witnessed His miracles, they had been part of the adoring crowd as He rode into Jerusalem, but they were totally-baffled by His crucifixion. We certainly can’t blame them for being despondent, because had He become their King, Jerusalem would have become His capitol and they would be in training as Ambassadors. They were dreaming of an earthly-kingdom, not realizing that Jesus was establishing a heavenly-kingdom.

Their despondency turned into amazement and jubilation when their risen Savior broke bread with them, and just a few weeks later, they were given their new assignments and received the Holy Spirit to enable them to carry them out. He WAS their King and they became His Ambassadors, but in a very-different way. The “good” had been displaced by the “BEST“.

Final thoughts…
We DO lose loved-ones to death and are left to pick up the pieces of our dream-shattered lives, but did their death spare them future or further suffering? Relationships DO go awry, but sometimes the opportunities we gain outweigh the loss of that relationship. That is certainly the case with my most recent debacle, because I have gained ministry-opportunities which wouldn’t have been possible had everything gone as “planned“. I am NOT saying that everything has turned-out peachy, but in spite of the pain, it has turned out well. One dream has been replaced by a far-better dream, so stay tuned.

In Christ,
Steve

Good?

What is “good“? There are as many answers as there are people, because everyone has their own ideas of what is “good“. Some people love saurkraut, but I can’t get it past my nose. I love chocolate! I think that chocolate is one of God’s finest gifts to mankind, and one of my all-time favorite desserts is “death by chocolate“. We find the same principal at work in our human experiences. When my friend is in pain and goes to her doctor for a pain-shot, the shot HURTS, but the “good” is the pain-relief later on. We have events in our lives which can in no way be considered “good“, and that brings us to a verse which is both difficult to understand, and at the same time, comforting.

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28)

The most difficult word in that verse is “all“, because it trips-up our ideas of what is “good“. If that word was “some“, it would be a lot easier for us to accept, but it isn’t. “All” means “ALL!!!” What was “good” about my wife committing suicide in 1997? What was “good” about her family taking my own children and turning them against me? What was “good” about my current “wife” moving out six weeks after we got married? I can see some “good” in that last event, but I am still scratching my head about the other two. I have had a LOT of that kind of events, maybe not as dramatic, but still “Romans 8:28 events“.

Our problem…
Our problem is that we are NOT God, and God often has very different ideas of what is “good” than we do. Sometimes the “good” God has for us is what He wants to do in our own life, and sometimes the “good” God has for us is to do something “good” for someone else. My latest “adventure” combines both of these.

Perspective…
If I wasn’t where I am now, this blog would not exist, because this blog is growing out of what God is teaching me day by day. Yes, I am hard-headed, and sometimes God has to use a two-by-four to get my attention, but He isn’t shy about using it. I have learned some hard lessons in the last two-and-a-half years.

God also had a mission for me, one that I never could have done where I was, and that is to care for my friend and neighbor. Sometimes caring for her takes my undivided-attention. I have become her “support-system” because the only person in her family who actually cares is her father. Caring for her is part of the “good” in my current situation.

More “good”…
If we “divorce” Romans 8:28 from the next two verses, we miss God’s ultimate “good” in our lives.

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. 29 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; 30 and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. (Romans 8:28-30)

Do you see it? Does this passage “rearrange” some of your “furniture” and change your perspective? God isn’t content with leaving us where we were at when we accepted Jesus as our Savior. God wants us to become more and more LIKE our Savior. He wants us to talk and act like Jesus, because He wants sons and daughters, not rebels, and His ultimate goal is to bring us to glory.

The “GOOD NEWS”…
If you are a follower of Christ, a Christian, you didn’t get there by accident. God claimed you before you were born…

After God claimed you, He called your name…

God didn’t put your name on His “wish-list“. When God claimed and called you, it was a done-deal, even though you may not know it until you are on your death-bed. If you haven’t accept God’s free offer of salvation, He will keep calling your name until you do. God is persistent, because God ALWAYS gets what He wants.

I think it is important to note that all of God’s actions are in the past-tense. There are a done-deal. If God has called you, there is no way that you can slip away from His grasp.

More “GOOD NEWS”…
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? 33 Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; 34 who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 Just as it is written,
“For Your sake we are being put to death all day long;
We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39)

As much as Satan would LOVE to trip us up and keep us from God, he doesn’t have a snow-ball’s chance in Hell. As much as Satan would LOVE to make us think that we are not “worthy” of God’s grace, he is right, but the GOOD NEWS is that it isn’t our own “worthiness” which matters. God has claimed us, and He is the One who makes us “worthy” in Jesus Christ.

When we face God in the Courtroom of Heaven, Satan will do everything in his power to convince God that we don’t belong there, but at that moment, Jesus will step in and say “His debt is already paid. I paid it for him.

God claimed you!

God called you!

You belong to Him!

NOTHING ELSE MATTERS!

It is a done-deal, even when there are events in yours and my lives that don’t seen very “good“. We are promised that ultimately “GOOD” will come from them. If you are in Christ, I will see you in Heaven if I don’t meet you here before then.

If you are not in Christ, I tearfully-plead with you to accept God’s free offer of salvation, because even if your life here in Earth seems to be Hell-on-Earth, the GOOD NEWS is that Heaven awaits you.

In Christ,
Steve

Amazing People

I have an amazing circle of friends and acquaintances, and that circle is growing all the time. Some of them are Christians. Some of them are Agnostics. A few are Pagans. Some are even Atheists. Quite a few are married, and some of those are monogamous, but some of them are polyamorous. Some of my friends are straight, and some of them are gay, lesbian or bisexual. Some are into kink, BDSM or S&M. A couple of them are even transgendered. What is so amazing about them?

They were all created in God’s image, and God the Father loves them so much that He sent His only Son, Jesus, into the world to die for them. He would rather die for them than live for all eternity without them. But, do you want to know the most amazing part of it? I need a Savior just a badly as the “worst” of them, because, even as a Christian, I am no better than they are. How can I NOT love them?

Steve

Are You A “Samaritan”?

Every church has its share of “Samaritans“, people who don’t quite “fitin“. No, I am not talking about people from the territory of Samaria in Israel. I am talking about people who, for whatever reason, don’t conform to the “norm” in the church.

The first-century people of Samaria were part of the children of Israel, but they didn’t “fit-in“. They didn’t worship in the temple in Jerusalem. They didn’t always wash their hands when they were “supposed to“. They had rejected all the nit-picky rules of the Scribes and Pharisees, and, in the case of the woman to the well, they hadn’t tossed her out of the community just because she had been married and divorced five times and was living with another man out of wedlock. The Jews would have stoned her, but Jesus met her with grace and mercy.

I got to thinking about this topic several weeks ago when our senior pastor mentioned looking out over our congregation and seeing and knowing who the “Samaritans” are. Many people would have been surprised by how many “Samaritans” are in our church, but I wasn’t, because I am one of them. I commented to him after the service what I am one of those “Samaritans“. How well a church accepts and loves its “Samaritans” is an important “benchmark” for how Christ-like the church is. OUCH! What many “good” Christians fail to realize is that they are in as desperate need of a Savior as the “worst” “Samaritan“.

Only God knows the depths of our struggles better than we do, because if others knew, we would probably be tossed out on our ear. Couples get recognized for how long they have been married, but nobody wants to know how many times a person has been married. I believe that is one of the reasons why most relationships between people in the church are so superficial. People just don’t want to know about other people’s struggles.

What does a “Samaritan” look like?
I came from a dysfunctional family. I have struggled with sexual addiction for most of my adult life. I have been married four times, widowed once, divorced twice, and my current “wife” is living with another man. I went through deep depression and desperate soul-searching for most of 2013. I am a nudist. I often question “traditional” interpretations of the Bible… the “traditions of the Elders“. I have a beard and long hair. I smoke. In case you haven’t put all the pieces together, I am a MESS. I am a work-in-progress, and that progress is pretty slow most of the time. I may look good and smell good, but I am in as desperate need of a Savior as any person who has ever lived. Jesus has met me with grace and mercy, just as He did the woman at the well.

The Church…

But you shall receive power, when the Holy Spirit is come upon you: and you shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. (Acts 1:8)

Jesus hadn’t forgotten the great spiritual need in Samaria when He commissioned His disciples. “Samaria” may be somewhere else, but “Samaritans” may be sitting in your church.

The church is called to be a field-hospital for the sin-sick and suffering, for “Samaritans“, not a social-club for the goody-two-shoes. I have seen churches with “No Smoking” signs on their property. Is that because they are “health-conscious“, or is it to keep the “wrong kind” out? Are “Samaritans” welcomed with open arms in your church?

How about you?
Do any of these things ring a bell in your life? This is NOT a message of condemnation for all of your failings. It is a message of hope, and as badly as you have failed, there IS a Savior who wants to extend His grace and mercy to you, as He has to me, as He did to that Samaritan woman at the well so many years ago. He is reaching out His nail-scarred hands, not to pick up a stone, but to enfold you in His arms, and as bad a mess as you are, He wants to make you His mess. Have you accepted His offer? Will you accept His offer?

In Christ, 

Steve