The Greatest Commands: Part 5

Part 1: Love – The Foundation
Part 2: The Heart
Part 3: The Soul
Part 4: The Mind

Well, I’ve made it. It’s the last word of the Shema. This study took me much longer than I expected, but I have learned so much and I hope you have too. Thank you to everyone who has read, encouraged, and studied with me on this topic.

Strength

Strength is synonymous with power and ability. (Vines) To strengthen is to cause to increase in power and security. (King James Dictionary) The Merriam-Webster dictionary defined strength as “the ability to resist being moved or broken by a force. It applies to the quality of a property or person or thing that makes possible the exertion of force or the withstanding of strain, pressure, or attack. To be strong is to be regard as embodying or affording force or firmness.”

Strength is the ability to exert effort.

So what does the Bible tell us about strength?

Our strength can be summoned.

“And it was told to Jacob, ‘Your son Joseph has come to you.’ Then Israel summoned his strength and sat up in bed.”  – Genesis 48:2

All strength has a source.

In Judges 16, Delilah knew Samson’s strength had a source, because for one, it was supernatural. But even if it’s not supernatural, strength never comes without pain and effort. No one is born with true strength.

“For You equipped me with strength for the battle; You made those who rise against me sink under me.” – Psalm 18:39

Strength doesn’t come easily

“Seek the Lord and His strength; seek His presence continually.” – 1 Chronicles 16:11

Even if we have no outside sources to draw strength from, there is always strength to be found in the Lord.

“Then he said to them, ‘Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” – Nehemiah 8:10

“For who is God, but the Lord? And who is a rock, except our God?— the God who equipped me with strength and made my way blameless.” – Psalm 18:31-32

“The Lord is the strength of His people; He is the saving refuge of His anointed.” – Psalm 28:8

“May the Lord give strength to His people! May the Lord bless His people with peace!” – Psalm 29:11

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” – Psalm 46:1

We never have to worry about our source running out, because strength is a characteristic of God.

So much so He is called “Strength”, just as He is called Holy, Righteous, and Rock.

“Oh my Strength, I will watch for You, for You, O God are my fortress.” – Psalm 59:9

“My flesh and heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” – Psalm 73:26

Without strength, we will die.

“I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am a man who has no strength.” – Psalm 88:4

Strength is a tank. It is constantly being emptied and must be unceasingly refilled. We can’t ever take a break.

“Seek the Lord and His strength; seek His presence continually.” – Psalm 105:4

We cannot haphazardly get strength.

We must have wisdom and knowledge about our source of strength, and ask for wisdom how to use this strength.

A wise man is full of strength, and a man of knowledge increases his might.” – Proverbs 24:5

“On the day I called, You answered me; my strength of soul you increased.” – Psalm 138:3

We can choose to give our strength away.

“Do not give your strength to women, your ways to those who destroy kings.” – Proverbs 31:3

Wisdom gives us strength.

“Wisdom gives strength to the wise man more than ten rulers who are in a city.” – Ecclesiastes 7:19

Sometimes strength is quiet.

“For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, ‘In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” – Isaiah 30:15

Without strength, we are nothing. Making hard decisions is impossible.

“While their inhabitants, shorn of strength, are dismayed and confounded, and have become like plants of the field and like tender grass…”

Strength can be renewed. It’s not a one time opportunity.

But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” – Isaiah 40:31

God is the author of different kinds of strength. There is the definition “to be firm, or vigor”, as we see in the verse above. Or there is the strength that is defined as “boldness, might, and power”, like in the verse below.

“Oh Lord, my strength and my stronghold, my refuge in the day of trouble…” – Jeremiah 16:19

He gives us firmness and vigor to stand in our convictions and to keep moving forward. He also gives us strength in what we say, boldness to proclaim His truths.

Even Jesus drew from this “boldness, might, and power”, as prophesied in Micah 5:4

“And He shall stand and shepherd His flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord His God. And they shall dwell secure; for now He shall be great to the ends of the earth.

So how can we get this strength? Jesus told His disciples it comes through prayer.

“But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son ofMan.”

God’s love is so great, we need strength to comprehend it.

“…so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” – Ephesians 3:18

Strength is a physical, earthly force. We can improve our physical strength by going to the gym. We tear down what we have for the purpose of building it back up stronger. But if we rely only on this kind of strength, loving God with all of our heart, soul, and mind will be grasping at the wind. I’ve tried it before. It doesn’t work out.

Strength is a full circle. It’s the circle of life. We get our strength from God, and we in turn give our strength back to Him. God gives us the ability to exert effort, and the efforts we undertake should be things that will bring glory to Him. With our strength we shout that God is good, and He enables us to live holy lives.

Use your strength to love God in these ways; with all of your heart, soul, and mind. But remember that it’s not really yours. It’s given for you to use, and it’s only a gift. Just like our soul is a gift to be returned to God pure and spotless through Christ’s sacrifice, our strength is only given to us to be used in proper ways. When we choose to use our strength in anyway other than what God has given it to us for, we cannot expect that our strength will last, or accomplish the results we selfishly desire.

In summary…

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER

We need strength to love God with all of our heart. We must have the willingness to open up our deepest thoughts and desires to our Heavenly Father and ask Him to make them pure and acceptable. It’s hard to let go of things, and to have the courage to ask God to help us in becoming a new person. It’s hard to be different. To have a different mindset. A different perspective. We use our strength to hold on to the Rock that doesn’t move while keeping a firm hold on our heart, that we will always see the good in every situation, without succumbing to the pull of complaints and despair so common in the world.

We need strength to love God with all of our soul. Our soul cannot be made new without the cleansing blood of Christ. It cannot be kept pure from polluting influences without the armor of God and the strength He gives through our putting this on. Something worth dying for is something worth fighting for. We must see our soul  as God sees it, and only when we see it in this light will we be ready to receive the strength and put forth the effort to wage war for our purity of soul.

We need strength to love God with all of our mind. We cannot renew our minds without His presence and guiding hand. When we realize the importance our daily focus and immediate thoughts have on the very heart and soul of who we are, we know we can never win this battle alone.

God has never given us mediocrity, may we never give it back to Him.

Our love to Him is the self-sacrificial love of agapao. It’s perceiving His intrinsic worth and responding to the fervent call to duty and devotion because it’s the right thing to do. But it’s more than laying our wants and wishes on the altar. It’s putting our entire selves on the altar for sacrifice. When we truly see life and the gifts granted to us as they are, it is no hard thing to feel love towards God.

Once this love has a firm place in our hearts, the response will be for us to choose to feel joy, fill our minds with the right thoughts, spend time in God’s word, continually give thanks, believes all things, take responsibility for our direction, and test all things. These actions and thoughts must have a place to reside, so our soul must be kept with all diligence. We must ask ourselves what our desires are, because if we want our heart to be filled with the attributes of God, the desire must be there to be the engine behind the want. The soul is created to yearn for and to feel passionately about our desires, so whatever desires we have are going to end up as our focus. Once desires have found root in our soul, they are blossomed into fruition in our mind. They become all we think about, and what we relate everything else to. But our mind is fragile. It can be easily confused, twisted, and deceived. To combat this, we make sure we are making balanced conclusions, inviting God into our deepest thoughts and giving Him that place to direct our everyday cognitive functions. We choose to have the disposition to bring God glory at all times. Our minds are what we use to determine what will bring us closer to God.

There are many different ways all four aspects can relate, but here are a few that I have come up with as a result of my study. I don’t believe there is only one specific way to categorize by importance or rank in chronological order. That is why each of the three is a little different in order and purpose.

Our intentions come from the heart, take residence in the soul, enter our mind, and result in actions that are carried out only by the strength which God supplies.

The heart is the motive, the soul is the depth. The mind is the control center, the strength is the engine.

The mind is surface level, the heart is deeper and more permanent. The soul provides the resting place, the strength provides the drive to put constantly empty and refill the resting place with ladders building closer and closer to Heaven.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Greatest Command Pt. 2

If you missed Part One, you can find that here!

The Heart:

Vines: “By an easy transition, the word came to stand for man’s entire mental and moral activity. The heart is used figuratively for the hidden springs of the personal life. Scripture regards the heart as the sphere of Divine influence.”

Thayer: “The center and seat of spiritual life. The soul or mind, as it is the fountain and seat of the thoughts, passions, desires, appetites, affections, purposes, and endeavors.”

Once I got these two definitions, I grabbed a concordance and looked at every verse in the Bible that used the word heart. I would use these verses to start from ground zero and paint a picture of what the heart is and what it does. In those verses, I found that the heart can:

-feel joy (John 16:22)

-be trained for greed (2 Peter 2:14)

-be capable of thinking evil (Matt. 9:4)

-grow dull (Matt. 13:15)

-be foolish and darkened by not honoring God or giving thanks to Him (Rom. 1:21)

-be evil and unbelieving (Heb. 3:12)

-be joyful and glad (Esther 5:9; Psalm 16:9)

-wise (Job 9:4)

-faint (Job 19:27, 23:16)

-sing for joy (Job 29:13)

-be led after our eyes (Job 31:7)

-be secretly enticed (Job 31:9, 27)

Our intentions come from the heart (2 Cor. 9:7, Rom. 6:17; 10:10)

Other things can rule over our hearts (Col. 3:15)

We can hide things in our heart (Job 10:13, 31:33)

We can prepare our heart (Job 11:13)

Our heart can carry us away (Job 15:12)

Our desires come from the heart (Job 17:11)

Lastly, Psalms 12:2 shows that we can have a double heart.

This is in no way an exhaustive list, I filled up 5 pages alone with select verses that I found applicable to my study, and these are just a small portion of what I chose to record in my notes. I know that the next person could come up with a totally new perspective and go even deeper into what the heart is.

 As in water face reflects face, so the heart of man reflects the man. – Proverbs 27:19

Descriptive phrases like, “it grieved Him to His heart” or “integrity of my heart” adds the dimension of depth that the word ‘heart’ implies. It wasn’t enough to simply state how they felt, they added ‘heart’ to create the extra punch.

The heart is even used to describing creation in order to bring to mind a deep innermost place.

Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea.

My ending definition ended up looking something like this:

The heart is the starting place of all actions, feelings, and words. It can be changed or trained, and it is the innermost part of us. The heart is our driving force and the defining part of who we are. It is the reason behind what we do.

So how can we love God with all of our heart?

God’s attributes and the fruits of His Spirit, love mercy, kindness, etc. will be the foundation our thoughts and actions. The driving force behind a all we do is to be because of God and who He is, and what he has done for us. The innermost part of us is to be a reflection of Christ. Not what we keep hidden while trying to cover it up with good works and a cheerful disposition. It must truly be changed and renewed. We don’t do these because we are supposed to, or make us look better. But because we are just like everyone else.

The heart is the part that most people can’t see. The hidden part that we are sometimes ok with being a little sinful. Because no one else knows! But of course we know that God knows. He sees the grumbling and impatience in our hearts while others may hear what we want them to. He sees the judging and dislike towards those we just don’t get along with and the people that take advantage of us.

His speech was a smooth as butter, yet war was in his heart; his words were softer than oil, yet they were drawn swords. – Psalm 55:21

Taking some of the verses about the heart I listed above, we can either apply or avoid these characteristics of the heart in order to live this love. We love God with all of our heart by doing these things.

-feel joy choose to feel joy, no matter the circumstances. Choosing to feel anything but joy is telling God that He is not enough for you.

-be capable of thinking evil (Matt. 9:4) so fill your mind with thoughts that are according to the new man.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. – Philippians 4:8

-grow dull therefore, spend time in Word of God and with friends who will sharpen you.

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. – Hebrews 4:12

As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another -Proverbs 27:17

-be foolish and darkened by not honoring God or giving thanks to Him so continually find ways to give thanksgiving to God.

Giving thanks always and in everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. – Ephesians 5:20

-be evil and unbelieving love believes all things. It believes God is in control and that giving Him worth is the next best thing to do.

-faint so renew your strength day by day

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. – 2 Corinthians 4:16

-sing for joy having the right mindset creates the right environment.

Rejoice in the Lord always, again, I say, rejoice. – Philippians 4:4

-be led after our eyes so take responsibility and direct your eyes

Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you. – Proverbs 4:25

-be secretly enticed which means testing everything we are around, to determine which camp it belongs in.

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. – 1 John 4:1

Other things can rule over our hearts Christ is to be the only one that is to have full access to reigning over our heart. When we give our hearts to His reign, His commands and example become our personal goals.

We can hide things in our heart So hide God’s truth in your heart so there is no more room for anything else. Hide the thoughts that create life and not death.

Your word I have hidden in my heart that I might not sin against You. – Psalm 119:11

Our heart can carry us away so be grounded.

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. – 1 Corinthians 15:58

Our desires come from the heart what we want indicates where our heart is

Psalms 12:2 showed that we can have a double heart. so decide where your loyalties lie, and stay on your side of the camp. A heart that loves God must be pure in it’s loyalty and devotion.

I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. – Revelation 3:16

Even Delilah recognized that words or actions that do not follow the heart are worthless.

And she said to him, “How can you say, ‘I love you’ when your heart is not with me?…”

Loving God with all of our heart means that we actively renew, purify and serve each other through our deepest desires. These actions define who we are.

Not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. – Ephesians 6:6

And finally, the end result of loving God with a pure heart?

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. – Matthew 5:8

What other motivation do we need to carry out this life-altering task?

The Greatest Command: Pt. 1

 

“And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”

This is a big command. Like, huge. Our God is Adonay-HaAdonim “Lord of Lords”, and He has commanded us to spend our lives showing Him our love. Different people will have different definitions or opinions on how this love is to be displayed in our lives. Which I think is part of the beauty of God’s revelation.

In the past, I just took this command to love God to mean “with all that you are”, or a way of saying the same thing over again using different words, much like the Psalmists do throughout the book of Psalms. Because at first glance heart, soul, mind, and strength seem to sort of be the same thing. I now think it goes much deeper than this. I’ve decided that in order to love the Lord, I need to know exactly what this love is to look like. That is why over the past few months I have decided to take each word and define through the Bible how this is to be exemplified in my life. I will be taking each word

The first big word in this verse is ‘love’. Most people know there are different types of love used throughout the Bible. So what type of love is this that we are to show to God?

AGAPAO

Defined in Thayer’s as ‘to welcome, to entertain, to be fond of, to love dearly.’ This just didn’t seem to cut it to me. Surely we are to be more than fond of God. Surely we are to do more than welcome and entertain God in our lives. So I began to dig deeper.

Agapao’s primary meaning is to esteem or value because of a perceived intrinsic worth. Actions arising from agagao are primarily acts of will, not emotions. This is key to understanding why agapao love can be commanded of us, as feelings are not required to practice this love. This love never leaves the realm of the will, even if emotions do come into play at a later point. Fervent agapao love is more of a fervent call to duty and devotion because it is the right thing to do. If we decide that someone has intrinsic worth, separate from any behavior, we can practice this love all the time.

Agapao love is self-sacrificial love. It is a love we show by going to the altar of God and laying ourselves down on it. It’s more than laying our wants and wishes on the altar. It’s putting our entire selves on the altar for sacrifice.

God has displayed behaviors and actions that should make it easy for us to apply this agapao love as well as the phileo love of emotion and affection to Him. When we truly see life and the gifts granted to us as they are, it is no hard thing to feel love towards God.

But there are times in our lives that we may question the wisdom and goodness of God. Even Job began to fall into this pit of lies. Despite how we feel and what we in our limited vision think we see, we are still commanded to love God. We are commanded to still see the intrinsic worth He holds and cry out of the strongholds we find ourselves in. For if out of the depths we cry, we will cry ourselves out of the depths.

If we wait until we feel like loving God, any trial will bring us down and keep us down. Our Christian life is a constantly running treadmill. If you aren’t moving forward, you’re moving backward. If we forget to choose to love God everyday through our thoughts and actions, we simply aren’t seeing His inherit worth and the worth of His daily graces. This is when we need to renew our mind. We aren’t allowed to live on our past spiritual highs.

Actions lead the emotions, just like the treadmill leads our feet in the direction we choose to go.  Even when our life seems to be completely out of our control, choosing to ascribe glory and thanksgiving to God will result in a calmness and steadfastness that will allow us to rise above our circumstances and remain victorious. We must do the work of moving our feet before we are able to activate the emotion that we actually like running. (or not, for some people… 🙂 )

Now this choice isn’t always easy. This is a choice that must be made by the day, hour, and sometimes even by the minute. I’ve failed and triumphed in this struggle at different times in my life. Anxiety plagued me for a short season and it was difficult to make this choice. When I finally realized that this choice was up to me and that I could rise above the stresses and worries that seemed to overwhelm me, even when I couldn’t name them, the path was only uphill from there. Yes, there were times when slipping backwards was a part of my walk, but only by hanging on was I able to keep the upward climb. When I made the choice to believe that God was good, He was still with me, and God had a plan, only then did my emotions finally follow. If I had waited for my emotions to tell me that it was going to be ok, I would have been stuck for a very long time sinking deeper and deeper every day.

“Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different than it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is heaven: that is, it is joy and peace and knowledge and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state of the other.” – C.S. Lewis

God has placed indefinite worth on us, in our desperately worthless state, in sending His Son, so how can we not turn around and do the same to Him? He didn’t wait for us to seem like worthy subjects (because that will never happen) before deciding to provide a way of escape.

Since we are to agapao love God, we now know that it is a choice. And a choice involves options. What else can we love besides God?

There are so many answers we can apply to this question, and everyone’s answers will be different. But in the passages I read that used the word ‘heart’, the main objects besides God that the heart could go after were idols. The sermon just the last week during the morning services touched on this subject, and these next few ideas come straight from that lesson.

Idols are not merely something we place higher than God. Idols are anything that we take a moment to look at while taking our focus off of God.

Turning our attention away from God for just a moment introduces an idol into our hearts. It starts way before putting something above God on our list.

Idols are lifeless things that turn us into lifeless things.

If we take a second to let social media, family, insecurity, selfishness, anxiety, overactive schedules, or lack of confidence take our attention away from our Lord, we have stopped giving Him agapao love. We have not placed intrinsic value on Him, His sacrifice, and the reward He has awaiting us. The intrinsic value of our cares and thoughts are now more important to us than the living and powerful Creator.

Already this love is a challenge worth taking on.

 

 

 

** Study materials used during this blog series are the ESV, Strongs, Esword, Blue Letter Bible, Vines, Thayers, and sermons preached at the local congregation I am blessed to be a part of.

“Give me liberty, or give me death”

This year, for the Fourth of July,  my family and I hosted a get-together at our house. (You can read the full adventure here!) Part of the entertainment of the night was a recitation of Patrick Henry’s famous speech, which contains the famous line that everybody knows; “give me liberty or give me death!”

As I listened to the speech, I was struck at how many biblical references are in this provoking and patriotic letter.

If you want to read the letter in it’s entirety, you can find it here. I will just be using parts of the speech for this post, so I would encourage you to read the whole thing. It’s definitely worth it, especially if you enjoy historical patriotic writings.

Should I keep back my opinions at such a time, through fear of giving offence, I should consider myself as guilty of treason towards my country, and of an act of disloyalty toward the majesty of heaven, which I revere above all earthly kings.

If we, as Christians, keep our beliefs a secret or fail to speak our convictions on matters of truth, through fear of giving offense, should consider ourselves as guilty of treason towards our Heavenly country, and of an act of disloyalty toward our Father and the majesty of Heaven, which we should revere above all other opinions and earthly kings. We are to “honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” (1 Peter 3:15)

Mr. President, it is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the song of that siren till she transforms us into beasts. Is this the part of wise men, engaged in a great and arduous struggle for liberty? Are we disposed to be of the number of those who, having eyes, see not, and, having ears, hear not, the things which so nearly concern their temporal salvation? For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst, and to provide for it.

Satan loves to play the part of the siren, blinding us as we close our eyes to the reality of how sin affects us, until he transforms us into creatures like him. Fulfilling our own selfish needs and desires, not caring about what our actions may say to others or how we may be making our fellow Christians stumble.

“What’s wrong with seeing this movie? It only has a couple words in it. You hear that everyday anyway.”

“What’s wrong with wearing this? Everyone else is wearing it, so it’s not like you’re showing anything someone hasn’t seen before.”

“Why not do it now? No one else will know what you are doing.” 

The biggest lie, though? “IT WON’T AFFECT YOU.” Sin ALWAYS affects us.

Are we part of the wise? Do we shut our eyes to the painful reality of how much sin we allow into our lives on a daily basis? Do we shut our eyes at the way this country is becoming more and more godless every year? Do we shut our eyes at the needs of others? Or are we willing to engage in our great and arduous struggle for our spiritual liberty? For our struggle to receive the “Well done, good and faithful servant”? Because this is not something you want to give up on. It is worth more than we can imagine.

We are told to “be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.” – 1 Corinthians 16:13

At the same time, we are warned that not everyone will follow this command. “Son of man, you dwell in the midst of a rebellious house, which has eyes to see but does not see, and ears to hear but does not hear; for they are a rebellious house.” – Ezekiel 12:2

“The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your fathers through Isaiah the prophet:“‘Go to this people, and say, “You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive.”  For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed; lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’ Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen” – Acts 28:25-28

We should be willing to hear the truth and act on it, no matter what anguish of spirit it may cost. No matter what relationships it destroys. No matter what sacrifices we must make.

I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past.  

As Christians, we are able to judge our future because of what happened in the past. When Christ took on our sins, our future was placed before us and we were given the choice of whether or not to accept that future. No matter what this life holds, we know our future in Heaven is sure and steadfast if we remain steadfast. We need not worry about our future, because Christ has taken that on in His death on the cross. Anytime we think about what the next years may bring, it should be colored by the past and by the reassurance that we have a rock and an anchor.

Suffer not yourselves to be betrayed with a kiss.  

This of course took me immediately to the betrayal of Judas.

“While he was still speaking, there came a crowd, and the man calledJudas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He drew near to Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus said to him, “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” – Luke 22:47-48

Ask yourselves how this gracious reception of our petition comports with these war-like preparations which cover our waters and darken our land. Are fleets and armies necessary to a work of love and reconciliation? Have we shown ourselves so unwilling to be reconciled, that force must be called in to win back our love? Let us not deceive ourselves, sir. These are the implements of war and subjugation; the last arguments to which kings resort. I ask, gentlemen, sir, what means this martial array, if its purpose be not to force us to submission? Can gentlemen assign any other possible motive for it? Has Great Britain any enemy, in this quarter of the world, to call for all this accumulation of navies and armies? No, sir, she has none. They are meant for us; they can be meant for no other. They are sent over to bind and rivet upon us those chains which the British ministry have been so long forging.

Satan comes at us with full force, battles of temptation designed specifically for each and everyone of us. He sends his army to bind and rivet upon us those chains which Satan has been so long in forging. He wants all of humanity to suffer in his banishment from the presence of God. We must put on God’s armor to withstand the firey darts of the evil one.

They tell us, sir, that we are weak; unable to cope with so formidable an adversary. But when shall we be stronger? Will it be the next week, or the next year? Will it be when we are totally disarmed, and when a British guard shall be stationed in every house? Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction? Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance, by lying supinely on our backs, and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies shall have bound us hand and foot? Sir, we are not weak if we make a proper use of those means which the God of nature hath placed in our power.

Satan wants us to think we are weak, unable to say no, unable to stay pure and holy in this wicked world. But when shall we be stronger? The moment of action is always now. Never tomorrow. Shall we wait until Satan has torn our defenses down, day by day, to decide to act? Shall we wait until the day of Judgement to realize that our inaction rendered us so woefully inadequate to face the Creator?

Do we expect to get the strength to fight off the devil advances by merely going to church three times a week? Do we expect to fight a battle, that is so large in proportion that we can’t even comprehend the magnitude of the heavenly forces who are fighting daily, by lying supinely on our backs? We are not weak if we make a proper use of the means which the God of nature has placed in our power: our Christian brethren, His Holy Spirit, the avenue of prayer, and the Words of Eternal Life.

Three millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us. Besides, sir, we shall not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations; and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave.

The Heavenly Hosts, armed in the cause of the Father, and in such a Heavenly country as that which we are possessors of, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us. The battle is already won.

Besides, we don’t fight alone. Our God is Jehovah Nissi. He is our Banner.

“The Lord is near all those who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth.” – Psalms 145:18

We know that Jesus could have called ten legions of angels (Matthew 26:53) to deliver Him had He only asked. How many more do you think He is willing to send to help out those who He died for?

This battle requires vigilance, bravery, and active momentum.

Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace²but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle?

Jeremiah 6:14 – “They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’
    when there is no peace.”

Yet another of Satan’s tactics is to numb our senses to the battle that is to be fought every day. He wants us to think that we are okay where we are. Being at peace with our sins is acceptable. But we must remember the brethren who are already in the field. We must remember those who fought the good fight and persevered. Why do we stand here idle?

I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!

Joshua 24:15 – “…choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Character Sketch of Peter

Peter:

Impulsive

Mark 9:2-6 “And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and let them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. And Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified.

John 18:10-11 “Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?”

John 21:6-7 “He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea.”

Bold

Matthew 14:28-29 “And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water,” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus.

Matthew 16:15-16 “He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

John 18:15 “Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple…”

Luke 22:33 “Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.”

Matthew 16:22 “And Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

 

Timid

Matthew 14:30-31 “But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

 

Easily Swayed 

Galatians 2:11-13 “But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came, he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.”

 

Controlled by outside influences

Matthew 14:30 “But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.

Luke 22:55-62 “And when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat down among them. Then a servant girl, seeing him as he sat in the light and looking closely at him, said, “This man was also with him.” But he denied it, saying, “Woman,  I do not know him.” And a little later someone else saw him and said, “You are also one of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not.” And after an interval of about an hour still another insisted, saying, “Certainly this man also was with him, for he too is a Galilean.” But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.”

 

 

  “No man loved his Savior more sincerely than he did, yet his timidity and irresoluteness of character often led to him to courses of life suited to deeply wound his cause”

This hits home.

Peter found it easy to be different when in the presence of Jesus and his fellow peers. But once he moved out of his comfortable circle, or around influential people, it was easier for him to let go of his convictions and fit in with the masses. Fear took over once there was no outside support around him. But faith only when surrounded by fellow believers is not true faith at all.

“Faith & trust do not relieve the pain of reality.”

Peter’s faith and trust did not relieve the pain of the reality that his Savior had to die. The reality that he felt deserted and confused about why the Messiah had to die. The reality that sometimes he didn’t enjoy being the odd one out and consequently lowered his convictions. The reality that at times he only felt strong enough to be a follower of God when he was with his own crowd, but not around the people who desperately needed the truth, like when he denied Christ. The reality that he was called to be different, and sometimes that meant being put into situations that he didn’t want to be in.

He was ready to follow Jesus and do great things for him, but sometimes when the reality faced him, he backed down from the challenge.

Many of these same realities that challenged Peter challenge me. But maybe that is because God’s reality is so different than ours. Our reality is focused on this world. God’s reality is focused on His world.

Reality: The state of things as they actually exist, rather than as they may appear or might be imagined. In a wider definition, reality includes everything that is and has been, whether or not it is observable or comprehensible. (Wikipedia)

We must lose our grip on the world’s reality and focus on God’s. His reality is that no matter what we face here on earth, it doesn’t matter in the long eternal run. Because this life truly is short, and nothing is too much for us to overcome with God’s grace. God’s state of things as they actually exist is that He is to be glorified, whatever the circumstances, and one day we will spend eternity with Him in Heaven. Nothing is impossible for us to overcome with God’s grace.

But how can we make this switch of realities?

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and He will make your paths straight.” Sounds easy, right? Trust God and soon there will be a curvy, troublesome road being transformed into a smooth painless journey. Maybe Peter had trouble with this reality as well. Once the Messiah came and conquered the Romans, everything would be perfect. No more oppression. The reality of the Messiah and what that would require of his faith shook him and the other disciples to the core momentarily when it didn’t happen according to their plan. But this Proverb has a deeper meaning in mind than a trouble-free way to Heaven.

The Greek word translated “straight” can also mean “right, pleasant, prosperous”. But even these definitions can cause people to create the wrong idea. By ‘straight’, I believe that the idea is more about having a clear direction. Other versions will use the word ‘direct’ in place of ‘straight’, but even ‘direct’ can cause some people to think that God will show you the way to go, no hard choices will have to be made. But when the path is straight, you can see all the way to your end goal. When Jesus died on the cross, Peter may have thought the road had quite a few curves, potholes, and dead ends. He had to make a difficult choice. Continue in what seemed to be a dead end, due to the death of who he thought would be the Messiah, or admit that he had been wrong. But when he saw the risen Christ, he saw that the same road he had been traveling on was leading him on to the long-awaited Messiah. He saw the true path the Lord had in mind since the beginning of creation. Not an earthly salvation from mortal men, but a spiritual salvation from the forces of Hell. And once he saw the end goal and had a clear direction, he grew stronger. Once he saw God’s reality, that was all he needed. A straight path with no troubles makes a weak faith, no perseverance, and no seriousness of staying on the path we have laid before us. With a straight path, there is incentive to trust in the Lord, because you begin to think that you are doing fine by yourself without any help from Him.

More often than not, I’m a copier. I’m not very good at being original. I wait for others to do something before I completely make up my own mind. True, there are some areas that I’m willing to jump out there and be different. But they aren’t the majority. Instead of telling people the real reason why I choose not to participate in certain activities or actions, I let them assume other reasons, or even use other reasons why I choose not to do those things that, while still true, aren’t the Biblical reason.

I need to learn from Peter and be ready to follow Jesus wherever He leads and then consequently keep my convictions. I need to use God’s reality in my everyday life rather than the earthly one.

Are we deeply wounding our cause by our failure to maintain convictions? Maybe even by our inaction? Maybe because we are discouraged by the reality of this world?

We must leave our comfortable ships and step out in faith. We must recognize our weaknesses, not hide behind them, and then recognize the power of God.

 “Peter had to leave the ship and risk his life on the sea, in order to learn both his own weakness and the almighty power of his Lord.”

Peter still accomplished much for the Lord and loved Him enough to die for Him. But not before escaping a troubled sea and sinking before he could rise again on the Lord’s strength. He needed to realize that he could not have peace in this world and peace with God at the same time.

“We want the Bible to be applicable to our lives; to tell us how to be good Christians, and at the same time still try to squeeze everything we can out of this life. But our job is to make our lives relevant to the Bible, not try to make the Bible relevant to our already existing lives. Making ourselves relevant to God is what changes our lives, not making God relevant to us.”

 

“Sorry Not Sorry”

“Sorry” has become a word that many use as an excuse. As a way to get people off their back. “Hey, I’m sorry, can everything go back like it was before?”

Who do you say “sorry” to the most?

Your family, your friends, your co-workers? God?

It’s important that the person you say “sorry” to is convicted of the truth of that statement. If they believe that you are not truly sorry and are using that term as an excuse, your relationship with that person will start to deteriorate if this is an ongoing process. Each individual has indicators that they use to judge the sincerity of the apology they receive. And surprisingly, or not, when one person may be sincere, their recipient may not view it the same way. Many people have heard of and utilized the 5 Love Languages, and understand that there are several ways that people show love and receive love. Now there is a counterpart titled the 5 Apology Languages. It makes total sense that different personalities apologize and receive apologies in different ways. You can take the test here and find out what yours is! You can take the online version and get a description of each language. If you choose to take the PDF version, you know what apology languages you relate to the most, but without the detailed description. When I took the test, I tied for both Expressing Regret and Genuinely Repent.

Expressing Regret is the Apology Language that zeroes in on emotional hurt. It is an admission of guilt and shame for causing pain to another person. For those who listen for “Expressing Regret” apologies, a simple “I’m sorry” is all they look for. There is no need for explanation or “pay back” provided the apology has truly come from the heart. “Expressing Regret” is a powerful Apology Language because it gets right to the point. It doesn’t make excuses or attempt to deflect blame. Above all, “Expressing Regret” takes ownership of the wrong. For that reason, “Expressing Regret” is understood as a sincere commitment to repair and rebuild the relationship. The “Expressing Regret” Apology Language speaks most clearly when the person offering the apology reflects sincerity not only verbally, but also through body language. Unflinching eye contact and a gentle, but firm touch are two ways that body language can underscore sincerity.

Genuinely Repent For some individuals, repentance is the convincing factor in an apology. Some mates will doubt the sincerity of an apology if it is not accompanied by their partner’s desire to modify their behavior to avoid the situation in the future. It’s important to remember that all true repentance begins in the heart. A mate must feel poorly for hurting their loved one, and rely on God’s help in order to truly change. Admitting you are wrong creates vulnerability. It allows your mate to get a glimpse of your heart. The glimpse of true self is assurance that the apology was sincere. One important aspect of genuinely repenting is verbalizing your desire to change. Your mate cannot read your mind. Though you may be trying to change inside, if you do not verbalize your desire to change to your mate, most likely they will still be hurt. Many people have problems with repenting when they do not feel as though their actions were morally wrong. However, in a healthy relationship, we often make changes that have nothing to do with morality and everything to do with building a harmonious marriage. It is also important to make a dedicated plan for change. Often apologies involving repentance fail because the person never set up steps of action to help ensure success. A person must first set goals for their change. After you create realistic goals, then you can start implementing a plan to change. Taking baby steps towards repentance instead of insisting on changing all at once will increase your chances of successfully changing your ways. It is important to remember that change is hard. Constructive change does not mean we will immediately be successful. There will be highs and lows on the road to change. You must remember that with God’s help, anyone can change their ways if they are truly and genuinely ready to repent.

Accept Responsibility
It is very difficult for some people to admit that they’re wrong. It makes them doubt their self-worth, and no one likes to be portrayed as a failure. However, as adults, we must all admit that we are sinners and that we will make mistakes. We are going to make poor decisions that hurt our mates, and we are going to have to admit that we were wrong. We have to accept responsibility for our own failures. For many individuals, all they want is to hear the words, “I am wrong.” If the apology neglects accepting responsibility for their actions, many partners will not feel as though the apology was meaningful and sincere. Many partners need to learn how to overcome their ego, the desire to not be viewed as a failure, and simply admit that their actions were wrong. For a mate who speaks this apology language, if an apology does not admit fault, it is not worth hearing. Being sincere in your apology means allowing yourself to be weak, and admitting that you make mistakes. Though this may be hard to do for some people, it makes a world of a difference to your partner who speaks this language.
Make Restitution
In our society, many people believe that wrong acts demand justice. The one who commits the crime should pay for their wrongdoing. A mate who speaks this love language feels the same way towards apologies. They believe that in order to be sincere, the person who is apologizing should justify their actions. The mate who’s been hurt simply wants to hear that their mate still loves them.There are many effective ways to demonstrate sincerity in an apology. Each mate must learn the other’s love language in order to complete the act of restitution. Though some mates may feel as though all is forgotten with a bouquet of flowers, that may not necessarily work for all mates. Every mate should uncover what their partner’s main love language is (Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Acts of Service, Physical Touch, and Receiving Gifts) and use that specific language in order to make restitutions in the most effective way.For a mate whose primary apology language is making restitutions, no matter how often you say “I’m sorry”, or “I was wrong”, your mate will never find the apology sincere. You must show strong efforts for making amends. A genuine apology will be accompanied by the assurance that you still love your mate and have a desire to right the wrong-doings committed.
Request Forgiveness
In some relationships, a mate wants to hear their partner physically ask for forgiveness. They want assurance that their mate recognizes the need for forgiveness. By asking forgiveness for their actions, a partner is really asking their mate to still love them. Requesting forgiveness assures your mate that you want to see the relationship fully restored. It also proves to your mate that you are sincerely sorry for what you’ve done. It shows that you realize you’ve done something wrong. Requesting forgiveness also shows that you are willing to put the future of the relationship in the hands of the offended mate. You are leaving the final decision up to your partner – to forgive or not forgive.Requesting forgiveness is not easy. It often leaves one vulnerable to the fear of rejection. Along with the fear of rejection is the fear of failing. Many people have a hard time seeking forgiveness because it means admitting that you have failed. The only way to overcome this fear is to recognize that it is very common amongst mankind. The commonality makes it okay to be a failure. It allows a stubborn mate to apologize to their partner and become a healthy individual.Ultimately, it’s important to remember that there is a difference between asking for forgiveness and DEMANDING forgiveness. When we demand forgiveness, we tend to forget the nature of forgiveness. Forgiveness is a choice the offended party is supposed to make. Demanding forgiveness takes away the sincerity of asking for it.Remember not to treat forgiveness lightly. It is something to be cherished and appreciated. The act of forgiveness is hard on both ends – for the person who’s asking and for the person who’s accepting.

While it is important for our relationships that we know how to correctly express our sincerity in apologizing, there is someone else who has an apology language that we must learn.

Beginning in the Old Covenant, God has attempted to teach His children that there is a correct way and an incorrect way to seek His forgiveness and restitution.

The Israelites didn’t just come with the animal, drop it off at the door and say to the priest, “I’m sorry. Here is my sacrifice.” No. The person had to bring the perfect animal to the tabernacle, stand in the presence of the priest, put their hands on the animals head and confess their sin. Symbolically, the person’s sin was transferred to the animal. But they still were not finished. Next, the person was required to kill the animal by slitting it’s throat. The sinner had to slaughter the animal. Then the priest would take some of the animal’s blood to make atonement for the sin, and the person was forgiven for that sin. Can you even fathom having to personally kill an innocent animal every time you sinned? Imagine all that blood on your hands and mine, repeatedly, for our sin. It should make us think twice about the things we say and do. It should make us take into account the seriousness and awfulness of sin.

In Malachi, the offerings the Israelites produced were not what God required as offerings for their sin. Their heart was far from the apology. They offered whatever was most convenient for them. They did it for their convenience, so the guilt would go out of their minds.

“A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am the Father, where is My honor? And if I am a Master, where is My reverence? says the Lord of Hosts to you priests who despise my name. Yet you say, ‘In what way have we despised Your name?” You offer defiled food on My altar, but say, ‘In what way have we defiled You?’ By saying, ‘the table of the Lord is contemptible.’ And when you offer the blind as a sacrifice, is it not evil? And when you offer the lame and sick, is it not evil? Offer it then to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you favorably?” says the Lord of hosts.” – Malachi 1:6-8

Are we more sincere to others than we are to God? Because after all, we are around other people each and every day, and we want people to like us. God may seem distant and not as real as who we are around every day.

Or it may even be the other way around. We don’t see the need to be as sincere to the people around us because God is much more important. We make sure we give our best to God, we give Him the glory He deserves, but then we treat our fellow Christians like they are beneath us. Like they should be grateful for every miniscule bit of grace and forgiveness they get from us. What we did to them isn’t as bad as what they did to us. But we know that what we do to the least of these, we did it to Christ. (Matthew 25:40)

Either extreme is harmful.

Now we know that there are extremes to avoid, what does God want? And what better place in the Bible to see what God requires than Psalm 51?

1 Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Your loving kindness; according to the multitude of Your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.3 For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. 4 Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in your sight – that You may be found just when You speak, and blameless when You judge. 5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me. 6 Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts, and in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom. 7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. 8 Make me hear joy and gladness, that the bones You have broken may rejoice. 9 Hide Your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. 10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. 11 Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me by Your generous Spirit. 13 Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners shall be converted to You. 14 Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, the God of my salvation, and my tongue shall sing aloud of Your righteousness. 15 O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall show forth Your praise. 16 For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart- these, O God, You will not despise. 18 Do good in Your good pleasure to Zion; build the walls of Jerusalem. 19 Then You shall be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, with burnt offering and whole burnt offering; then they shall offer bulls on Your altar.

In verse 4 we have Expressing Regret. David doesn’t make excuses or shift blame. He comes right out and tells it how it is.

In verses 2, 7, & 10 we have the language of Genuinely Repent. We see David’s verbal desire to change, and his plan of action is his plea to the only one who can cleanse his sin.

Verses 1, 4, &  5, through the phrases “blot out my transgression”, “against You only I have sinned”, “I was brought forth in iniquity”, I see David Accepting Responsibility.

Making Restitution can be found in verses 13, 14, 15, and 17. David desires to give God his due through teaching others His way, praising Him, and giving God a broken and contrite heart. We cannot make a true restitution to God, because the debt for sin is un-payable except though death. He deserves our life anyway. Even without us sinning and needing His forgiveness. But thanks to Jesus’ death, we can have restitution made for us.

Finally, Request Forgiveness. I can see this idea coming through in verses 1, 2, 12, & 14. David is asking for favors that can only come when our sins are remembered no more.

So no matter how we tend to express our apologies over what we have done to others, God deserves each and every language of apology. We must recognize the depth of our transgressions, with a true sorrow. We must have a genuine repentance and accept that sin is our fault, and ours alone. Then we need to give God what He deserves and what He will always deserve. Honestly, recognizing the depth of our sin is the hardest part in my eyes. Sin has become so commonplace that it is hard to see it in the light of how God sees it. Furthermore, the way we address apologies, sorrow over wrongdoing, and forgiveness here on earth with our friends/family will mirror itself in how we relate it to God. We must work on being good at all of these aspects so that we can then use those in our communication with God. We must take the focus off of ourselves and take a step back. See how it looks to the other person. See how it looks to God. With earthly problems, what we think about the offense doesn’t matter. We may not think that we did anything wrong, but it is all in the eyes of the receiver. Putting others above ourselves means that we will accept that what our actions/words mean to us  may mean something else to others than what it seemed to be to us. But as far as our Heavenly Father goes, there must be a realization of how it feels to Him, as well as a recognition that we did do wrong. Our thoughts are not what determines whether or not it is worthy of apology. God has already determined that and it is up to us to abide by it. Without this realization of what sin really is and how it affected our Savior, and how it affects us, there is no forgiveness of sins. It’s empty, meaningless, and might as well have never been said.

We often make a mistake about God’s forgiveness. I find that when I think I am asking God to forgive me I am often in reality (unless I watch myself very carefully) asking Him to do something quite different. I am asking Him not to forgive me but to excuse me. But there is all the difference in the world between forgiving and excusing. Forgiveness says “Yes, you have done this thing, but I will accept your apology; I will not hold it up against you and everything between us two will be exactly as it was before.” But excusing says “I see that you couldn’t help it or didn’t mean it; you weren’t really to blame.” If one was not really to blame then there is nothing to forgive. One remedy is to really and truly believe in the forgiveness of sins. A great deal of our anxiety to make excuses comes from not really believing in it, from thinking that God will not take us to Himself again unless He is satisfied that some sort case can be made out in our favor. But that would not be forgiveness at all. Real forgiveness means looking steadily at the sin, the sin that is left over without any excuse, after all allowances have been made, and seeing it in all its horror, dirt, meanness, and malice, and nevertheless being wholly reconciled to the man who has done it. That, and only that, is forgiveness, and that we can always have from God if we ask for it.

In regard to forgiving men, it is partly the same and partly different. In our own case we accept excuses too easily; in other people’s we do not accept them easily enough. As regards my own sins it is a safe bet (though not a certainty) that the excuses are not really so good as I think’ as regards other men’s sins against me it is a safe bet (though not a certainty) that the excuses are better than I think. But even if he is absolutely fully to blame we still have to forgive him; and even if ninety-nine percent of his apparent guilt can be explained away by really good excuses, the problem of forgiveness begins with the one percent of guilt which is left over. To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you. We are offered forgiveness on no other terms. To refuse it is to refuse God’s mercy for ourselves. There is no hint of exceptions. – C.S. Lewis “Weight of Glory”

1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

The Greek word defined as ‘confess’ here is “homologeo”. Thayer defines this as:

“To say the same thing as another, i.e. to agree with, assent. To concede, to not refuse, to promise. Not to deny, to confess, declare, to admit or declare one’s self guilty of what one is accused of. To profess, to declare openly, speak out freely, to praise, celebrate.”

I love how the combination of all of these definitions fit into how we confess our sins before our Father.

But wait, how can we declare ourselves guilty and at the same time praise and celebrate?

It reminds me of the statement that I heard one time in a sermon. Satan is a liar, yes, but he also tells the truth. He lies to us about our excuses, our sins, and our temptations. But then he goes to God and tells the truth.

Revelation 12:10-11 “Then I heard a loud voice saying in the heaven, “Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down. And they  overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.”

Revelation also enlightens another facet of saying ‘I’m sorry’. In order to sincerely apologize, we must love the person we offended more than we love ourselves. So we must love God more than our lives here on earth for our apologies to be sincere. If we love our lives here more than God and all He has done for us, then our apologies are simply what we do so that we can keep on putting this world first while not having to worry about judgment hanging over our heads for the sins we haven’t asked forgiveness for yet.

But going back to confessing while rejoicing, this verse in Revelation paints a beautiful picture. Imagine yourself standing before the throne of God, with Satan before you painting your sins in the most sordid detail. But your face is serene, joyous, and without a sign of worry. Satan looks at you and confusion appears on his face. It’s your turn to speak. You affirm that Satan has told the truth. You have done all that and more. You are worthy of death. But inexpressible joy is written over your face as you lift your arms up to God. “Before you, O God, I openly declare that I am guilty of sin, of transgression of Your perfect law. No one is righteous. You are so Holy that none can live in your sight without blemish. I am not proud of these acts of defilement I have committed. It grieves me to know what I have done. But I can speak freely, I can praise Your name in spite of all of this sin on my hands. Because You saw fit to send Your only Son to redeem me and to wash me white as snow. I can celebrate in the awful fact that You and Your perfect and sinless Son loved me enough, that despite my sin, He came to die for me according to Your will. By confessing my sin and living in a right relationship with You, I know You will cleanse me and will remember the wrong things I have done no more.”
There is no room for fear in confessing our sins for God. Perfect love cast out fear. If we are fearful in confessing our sins, we have not truly recognized God’s love and grace. We need to grow our love for Him, for only then can we truly comprehend the great love God has for us. To cast out fear, we must understand, and to understand, we must first accomplish.

We can ask for forgiveness in doubt, and that is just as detrimental as fear. James 1 talks about fear in regard to asking for wisdom, but I believe the principle can be applied to any request made by prayer.

“But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind.”

While we realize that there is no room for fear and doubt in confessing, there is always, always room for sorrow. Sorrow takes up all the air in the balloon of confession. Without sorrow, the balloon will never realize it’s shape and purpose.

2 Corinthians 7:10 “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.”

Psalm 51:17 “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart- these, O God, You will not despise.

Sorrow is painful, and not a trite emotion. It is to be felt deeply, but not to linger once we have taken that sorrow to God.

We know by 1 John that God is willing to forgive us. He wants all men to come to repentance. We can go to God and know that He will forgive us. But never go to the extreme that because He is willing to forgive, it’s cost is cheap and any attitude we bring is accepted as long as we utter the correct words. This is another pitfall I believe that it is very easy to fall into. Because we know that God will forgive us our transgressions, it is easy to not be as sincere as He requires us to be. Even here with our worldly relationships, if we hurt someone’s feelings or treat them unkindly, and we already know that they are ready to forgive just about anything, it’s a little bit harder to be really sincere and truly acknowledge the wrong we have done. Sometimes we forget that God is as just as He is loving. He still has requirements for how we are to come to Him with our sin and request to be made whole once again. Never doubt that God is willing to forgive you and know that He does not withhold forgiveness from those with a humble and contrite heart. But never doubt that God will require that you consider and remember the great sacrifice that provided this opportunity and respond appropriately.

 

 

Dehydration

“The cries of the mob suddenly changed to screams of excitement and exultation. Trembling from weakness, Caleb stood and took a few steps so he could see what was happening. Water gushed from a rock in the side of the mountain, forming a stream that raced down and pooled. Thousands sank to their knees and fell forward onto their hands to thrust their faces into the water and drink like animals. Another  miracle! Another, just when they needed it most. Stumbling, Caleb made his way down the rocky slope. Pressing his way through the celebrants, his gaze never leaving the rock that flowed water, he squatted, cupped his hands, and drank. The rock itself was the well of life-giving water. The stream flowed straight from the stone, fresh and clear and cool. As Caleb drank deeply, he felt his body renewed, strengthened, revitalized. Closing his eyes, he held the precious water and washed his face, longing to immerse himself in it.” – Francine Rivers,  “The Warrior”

(The above section comes from Francine Rivers series of books called the Sons of Encouragement, a re-telling of the Biblical accounts of Aaron, Caleb, David, Amos, and Silas)

Israelites, recently freed from slavery, were stumbling along thirsty and in need of fluids to replenish their body. They complain to Moses, then the rock is struck and water flows.

We are likewise stumbling along, thirsty and perishing for life-giving water. There was also a Rock that was struck for us and life-giving water flowed for all men. But how many will choose to keep on stumbling along, dying of dehydration because they don’t see the water, or they don’t like the source from whence it comes? Or how many will not realize their thirst until it’s too late?

Once you are made aware of the flowing stream and you realize your dehydration, you need to know that dehydration cannot be cured just by dipping your toes in the water or taking one drop of water once or twice a week.

“This is my endlessly recurrent temptation; to go down to that Sea (I think St. John of the Cross called God a sea) and there neither dive nor swim or float, but only dabble and splash, careful not to get out of my depth and holding on to the lifeline which connects me with my things temporal.” – Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis

Because we are afraid of what full acquiescence to this sea will require of us and we are not willing to give up the temporal lives and amenities we have now, we don’t want to commit to being fully hydrated and the responsibilities that come with that. C.S. Lewis goes on to say,

 “It is different from the temptations that met us at the beginning of the Christian life. Then we fought (at least I fought) against admitting against the claims of the eternal at all. And when we had fought, and been beaten, and surrendered, we supposed that all would be fairly plain sailing. This temptation comes later. It is addressed to those who have already admitted the claim in principle and are even making some sort of effort to meet it. Our temptation is to look eagerly for the minimum that will be accepted. We are in fact very like honest but reluctant tax payers. We approve of an income tax in principle. We make our returns truthfully. But we dread a rise in tax. We are very careful to pay no more than is necessary. And we hope – we very ardently hope – that after we have paid it there will still be enough left to live on.”

After we have admitted that we need the eternal life-giving stream and are making an effort to replenish our starving body, then comes the temptation to get as little as possible while still holding on to the temporal and our wants and wishes.

But we misunderstand what God is asking of us. We think He requests our time and attention. While this is something we must use in the service of our Lord, it is not what He will be satisfied with.

“For it is not so much of our time and so much of our attention that God demands; it is not even all our time and all our attention; it is ourselves. He will be infinitely merciful to our repeated failures; I know no promise that He will accept a deliberate compromise. For He has, in the last resort, nothing to give us but Himself; and He can give that only insofar as our self-affirming will retires and makes room for Him in our souls. Let us make up our minds to do it; there will be nothing ‘of our own’ left over to live on, no ordinary life.

What cannot be admitted – what must exist only as an undefeated but daily resisted enemy – is the idea of something that is “our own”, some area in which we are to be “out of school”, on which God has no claim. For He claims all, because He is love and must bless. He cannot bless us unless He has us. When we try to keep within us an area that is our own, we try to keep an area of death.”

God wants our all. What is your all? Following Jesus demands certain steps must be made. When Jesus called His disciples the first step was to cut the disciples off from their previous existences. Peter, Andrew, James and John left their boats immediately. (Matthew 4:18-22) Matthew left his tax booth at Jesus’ words without a backwards glance. (Matthew 9:9) We see in Luke 9 that the men who told him that they must either bury their father or say farewell to those at home  were not worthy to be followers of Christ. They tried to keep their lifeline still attached to the shore. It’s not something we can do all on our own. Otherwise we would have something of which we can boast. We would be able to point to our own righteousness in obtaining holiness.

“Mortification of our earthly desires and temptations and the old man must be done by the strength and under the direction of the Holy Spirit. But though mortification must be done by the strength and under the direction of the Holy Spirit, it is nevertheless a work we must do. Without the Holy Spirit’s strength there will be no mortification, but without our working in His strength there will also be no mortification. The crucial question is, “How do we destroy the strength and vitality of sin?” If we are to work at this difficult task, we must first have conviction. We must be persuaded that a holy life of God’s will for every Christian is important. We must believe that the pursuit of holiness is worth the effort and pain required to mortify the misdeeds of the body. We must be convinced that without holiness no one will see the Lord.” – Deitrich Bonheoffer

When you aren’t used to drinking the appropriate amount of water and you subconsciously train your body to ignore the signals of thirst, you don’t realize how dehydrated you are. Once you begin to drink more water, you become more thirsty, more quickly. Immersion in the Word is the same way. If you start to force yourself to drink more water, your body realizes it’s need. If you begin to form habits about reading the Scripture, you will realize your great need for Jesus and His life-giving spiritual water. This cannot happen if we try to keep a lifeline to shore and never fully immerse ourselves in the sea. As everyone knows, the longer you stay in water, the more raisin-like your skin gets. Our body more resembles the wrinkled bodies of the elderly.

2 Corinthians 4:16 “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.”

The longer we stay in the life-giving water the younger our spiritual bodies grow, regardless of how our outer bodies decay. But it all depends on making that choice. Without being immersed in the water, both our spiritual bodies and our physical bodies will be decaying and will end up cast in the lake of fire for eternity. It would be so remiss of me to be talking about water and using it metaphorically to explain our relationship with God and not mention baptism. Just as C.S. Lewis used water as a metaphor for becoming one with God, so Jesus shows us it is one of the steps we must take to have our sins washed away, by following Him in a death, burial, and resurrection.

  • 1 Peter 3:21 “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,
  • Romans 6:4 “We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

Baptism is not an offer made by man to God, but an offer made by Christ to man. It is grounded solely on the will of Jesus Christ, as expressed in his gracious call. Baptism is essentially passive – being baptized, suffering the call of Christ. In baptism man becomes Christ’s own possession… From that moment he belongs to Jesus Christ. He is wrested from the dominion of the world, and passes into the ownership of Christ. Baptism therefore betokens a breach. Christ invades the realm of Satan, lays hands on his own, and creates for himself his Church. By this act past and present are rent asunder. The old order is passed away, and all things have become new. This breach is not effected by man’s tearing off his own chains through some unquenchable longing for a new life of freedom. The breach has been effected by Christ long since, and in baptism it is effected in our own lives. We are now deprived of our direct relationship with all God-given realities of life. Christ the mediator has stepped in between us and them. The baptized Christian has ceased to belong to the world and is no longer its slave. He belongs to Christ alone, and his relationship with the world is mediated through him. The breach with the world is complete. It demands and produces the death of the old man. In baptism a man dies together with his old world. This death, no less than baptism itself, is a passive event. It is not as though a man must achieve his own death through various kinds of renunciation and mortification. That would never be the death of the old man which Christ demands. The old man cannot will his own death or kill himself. He can only die in, through and with Christ. Christ is his death. For the sake of fellowship with Christ, and in that fellowship alone a man dies. In fellowship with Christ and through the grace of baptism he receives his death as a gift. This death is a gift of grace: a man can never accomplish it by himself. The old man and his sin are judged and condemned but out of this judgment a new man arises, who has died to the world and to sin. Thus this death is not the act of an angry Creator finally rejecting his creation in his wrath, but the gracious death which has been won for us by the death of Christ; the gracious assumption of the creature by his creator. It is death in the power and fellowship of the Christ of Christ. He who becomes Christ’s own possession must submit to his cross and suffer and die with him. He who is granted fellowship with Jesus must die the baptismal death which is the fountain of grace, for the sake of the cross which Christ lays upon his disciples. The cross and death of Christ were cruel and hard but the yoke of our cross is easy and light because of our fellowship with him. The cross of Christ is the death which we undergo once and for all in our baptism, and it is a death full of grace. The cross to which we are called is a daily dying in the power of the death which Christ died once and for all. In this way baptism means sharing in the cross of Christ. Baptismal death means justification from sin. The sinner must die that he may be delivered from his sin. If a man dies he is justified from sin. Sin has no further claim on him, for death’s demand has been met, and its account settled. Justification from sin can only happen through death. Forgiveness of sin does not mean that the sin is overlooked and forgotten, it means a real death on the part of the sinner and his separation from sin. But the only reason why the sinner’s death can bring justification and not condemnation is that this death is sharing of the death of Christ. It is the baptism into the death of Christ which effects the forgiveness of sin and justification, and completes our separation from sin.

When he called men to follow him, Jesus was summoning them to a visible act of obedience. To follow Jesus was a public act. Baptism is similarly a public event, for it is the means whereby a member is grafted on to the visible body of Christ.

Finally, one last quote from C.S. Lewis.

“Thomas More said… later, in his richer, Behmenite period, ‘If you have not chosen the Kingdom of God, it will make in the end no difference what you have chosen instead.’ … We shall have missed the end for which we are formed and rejected the only thing that satisfies. Does it matter to a man dying in a desert by which choice of route he missed the only well. It is a remarkable fact that on this subject Heaven and Hell speak with one voice. The tempter tells me, “Take care. Think how much this good resolve, the acceptance of this Grace, is going to cost.” But our Lord equally tells us to count the cost. Even in human affairs great importance is attached to the agreement of those whose testimony hardly ever agrees. I do not think any efforts of my own will can end once and for all this craving for limited liabilities, this fatal reservation. Only God can. The process of doing it will appear to me (and not falsely) to be the daily or hourly repeated exercises of my own will in renouncing this attitude, especially each morning… We may never, on this side of death, drive the invader out of our territory, but we must be in the Resistance, not in the Vichy government.”

 

Living in the past

How many of us have had one time in our lives that we found ourselves on top of a spiritual mountain, and we loved how it felt? We knew what we were doing, what we needed to do, and that we were where we needed to be. But then, as life goes, everything constantly moves forward. There is no moving backwards or staying stationary. Sooner or later you find that you aren’t on that mountain anymore. But the struggle to get back just seems too hard. Or maybe you don’t know how to get back. So instead, you start to live in the past. You tell yourself, maybe even subconsciously, that your spiritual mountain was all you needed to secure your spot in God’s favor. As long as that is in your past, you’re good. While you may not be where you were on that high point, you definitely aren’t where you were at before that high point. You’re still okay where you are. Maybe you’re even deceiving yourself and you think that you are still on that mountain when you really aren’t. But that spiritual high point is what you reassure yourself with. It’s your trophy. Your achievement that you can point to as proof of your spirituality. No matter that you might have slipped along the way.That one high point is proof that you had it right. And noting major has changed in your life, you don’t drink, you don’t cuss, you don’t commit any sexual sins, you don’t lust, you don’t covet, and you are selfless most of the time. It’s what you tell people about when the topic of spirituality comes up, bringing up the time in your life when you were doing all you could for God, praying regularly, and studying God’s word. You don’t ever seem to bring up anything about what you’re doing in the present. You talk about how great you felt, but not how you’re feeling now. You don’t really search yourself because you’re afraid of what you might find. It’s easier to assume you’re not far from that time, when in fact, if you looked back behind you the mountain would be just a speck in the distance, covered in fog.

Paul is a perfect of example of the opposite mindset. The Corinthians had been doubting and questioning Paul’s apostleship, as we see in 1 Corinthians 9. They thought themselves high enough to question the validity of Paul’s authority, so he begins to show them how he is without blame in the works of God, and how he puts forth the effort to be able to preach the word of God without reproach and avoids any situation where his works could be called into question. First he brings up the fact that he does not ask any support from the brethren where he preaches the word, choosing rather to support himself, so that no one can say he preaches for the worldly gains even though he would rightly be entitled to monetary support. (v. 8-17) Then he goes on to show that he has made himself a servant to all men. He didn’t do it for the praise of men, but “for the gospel’s sake, that I might be a partaker of it with you.” Lastly, he disciplined himself in the same way that an athlete does. Denying himself that which is harmful and doing only that which was beneficial to his spiritual health. So what was Paul’s spiritual mountain he could have rested all his hope on? I would say it was his conversion account, which we read of in Acts 9. After all, what higher plane could you be on than if God spoke to you? Paul heard the voice of God and was struck blind as well. It was in this high moment of his life that he was converted. He could have merely said to the Corinthians, and anyone else who questioned him, “God spoke to me on the road and blinded me. Surely you can see from this that I was appointed by God, and He Himself has validated me in this service of an apostle.” Paul might have rested contented with this remarkable manner of his conversion, content he was on the right track. He might have supposed that that put the matter of his apostleship and authority that is derived from this time beyond all possible doubt. But he didn’t. It wasn’t enough. He felt it was necessary to have evidence day by day that he was then a Christian. Of all people, Paul was perhaps least disposed to live on past experience, and to trust such an experience. Of all people, he had perhaps the most reason to trust such experience, yet he seldom refers to it. The great question with him was “Am I now a Christian? Am I living as a Christian should now? Am I convincing to others, and I giving myself daily, constant, growing evidence that I am actuated by the pure principles of the gospel?” He didn’t let that one moment of his life define him. He pushed on to even higher ground. To be without blame, he knew that he would have to push on to the future. No living in the past. The past was not enough to assure him of the current state of his soul.

So we should daily ask ourselves, “Is the gospel is the object of my highest preference, and my endeavor every day to live and act for Christ and for souls with as much steadfastness and fidelity as did the apostle Paul? Or am I letting my past rule the actions of my future?” Don’t let something in your past define the rest of your life. Push on to higher ground, and ever strive to let each day define you as a Christian. Plan to convince others around you that you are a Christian by your words and deeds. Don’t fall on your past to support your future. Things decay with time and the one thing we don’t want to decay is our relationship with Christ. If we don’t continually build on the foundation each day, but instead let it slowly rot (whether it be intentionally or not) before we know it, what we thought was our foundation will crumble beneath our feet, never to be regained in the day of Judgement.

Wrestling for the Light

After spending a wonderful week down in Tampa, FL for  a Bible lectureship, I was supposed to come back and lead a bible discussion that my friends and I do bi-weekly. So after spending the whole week at the feet of preachers and teachers who expounded on the scriptures and fundamentals of God’s nature and Christianity,  I couldn’t help but pull from their lessons to make my own. So, I ended up combining a short talk from last Tuesday, with a Sunday night sermon, with an evening lecture to comprise my discussion. So, of course I thought, why not post it on my blog as well?

 

First off, think of some of the goals you have set for yourself to complete during your lifetime. Spiritual or physical.

My list went something like this:

  • Stay a strong Christian
  • Be fit / Eat healthy
  • Build up my photography business
  • To spread love and joy to others
  • To evangelize
  • Continue to grow academically and spiritually
  • To listen and be available for others
  • etc.

Now, think of some of your worries, again, spiritual or physical.

My list:

  • I worry that I give myself too many cheat days (as far as fitness and healthy eating)
  • I worry that I don’t talk to enough people who are lost, and try to spread God’s word
  • I worry that I’m not growing, and I’m making the walk of a Christian too easy for myself
  • I worry that I’m too concerned with myself
  • I worry that I’m too passive about growing my photography

 

See any similarities? Many times the very things we set for goals are the same things we worry about. I want to be healthy, but I worry I’m not healthy enough. I want to be evangelistic, but I worry that I’m not evangelistic enough. And the list goes on.

Psalm 139, in my opinion, is a great place to go to get a full description of God and His attributes. It easily separates into three sections:

1. Verses 1-6 – God is omniscient. He knows all things, He is concerned with all our thoughts and is always aware of us.

You have searched me, Lord,
    and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
    you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
    and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain.

2. Verses 7-12 – God is omnipresent. There is nowhere we can go where He is not.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

3. Verses 13-16 – God is omnipotent. Nothing is too far from His grasp or power. He is the great God.

For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.

Then David comes to a conclusion after saying all of these wonderful things about God.
Verse 17

How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
    How vast is the sum of them!

Not only was God precious to David, but God’s thoughts were precious to David. David wasn’t concerned about David’s thoughts or concerns. He instead chose to think about God’s thoughts. He didn’t leave any room to think about his earthly problems.

So the next thing to ask yourself is, when do you tend to worry? (time of day, circumstance, environment, etc.)

For me, it’s either when I’m laying in bed where it’s dark and I’m alone, or when my mind isn’t occupied with something else. I can’t really worry about things as easily when it’s daytime and there are other things to get my attention. People and my responsibilities distract me. Light pulls me away and distracts my attention to better things. So there is also a better spiritual light is available for us to pull us away from the things of this world.

The lectures theme this past week was about light, and how God relates to this. Almost every time God did something dramatic in the Bible, light was involved. I’ve listed a few below.

  • Plague of Darkness (while light still shone over Israel) (Ex. 10:21-23)
  • Pillar of Light leading the Israelites (Ex. 13:21)
  • Day stood still for Joshua (Josh. 10:13)
  • The sundial moves backwards (Isaiah 38:8)
  • Elijah’s sacrifice is consumed (1 Kings 18:37-38)
  • The stars announce Jesus’ birth (Matt. 2:2,9)
  • Paul blinded on the road (Acts 9)

This light that God used indicated that He was with them. But it wasn’t only to say, “I am here” but also to say, “I am here for YOU.”

If we constantly stay in the light, it’s harder to give in to worry. We are illuminated to the truth that there are better things to do than worry. The light shows us what needs to be done, spiritually and physically. The light gives us someone to talk to about our worries. Sometimes if we just talk to a friend about our worries, and get them out in the open, we see them there and realize, “You know, that really isn’t worth worrying about.” Sometimes things get blown out of proportion and made bigger than they really are in our minds. Sometimes all we need to do is bring them out in the open by talking about them and realize they aren’t so big and bad after all. Guess what? There is always someone willing to listen to you talk about your worries, and He created you. His light is always available. Sometimes electricity goes out, or light bulbs and batteries die, and we are left to grope about in the dark. God never leaves us to grope in the dark.

But sometimes we may feel that He has left us in pitch black darkness. Maybe even feel that He is hiding or fighting against us. Jacob is a prime example of this scenario, so let’s focus on his life just a bit.

So, in Genesis 29 is we see Jacob meets the woman of his dreams, Rachel. And of course, we know that “whoever finds a wife, finds a good thing.” So Jacob most likely praised God for this blessing. But as the Bible continues, we see that Jacob is tricked and receives Leah instead. Going on to chapter 31, verse 7, we see that this isn’t the only time that Laban tricks Jacob.

“Yet your father has deceived me and changed my wages ten times, but God did not allow him to hurt me.”

So Jacob probably had a lot to worry about. He hasn’t known when or what Laban is going to pay him with, and he also has two wives vying for his attention and love. God has told Jacob at this point to go back home, and that’s something to worry about as well. Esau was pretty hot the last time Jacob saw him, so Jacob’s not really sure what he’s walking into. So that night on the road, after splitting his camp up for safety measure, he prays to God.
Genesis 32:10-12

“I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies and of all the truth which You have shown Your servant; for I crossed over this Jordan with my staff, and now I have become two companies. 11 Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, lest he come and attack me and the mother with the children. 12 For You said, ‘I will surely treat you well, and make your descendants as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.’”

Jacob is asking in complete humility. No bargaining on his part. He recalls the promise God made to him originally back in Genesis 28:14. Sometimes we get in a bargaining mentality when we want reassurance and promises. Not so with Jacob. So God answers and sends His messenger to Jacob that night. But not with comfort or reassurance. Instead, He comes to wrestle with Jacob. The only obstacle between Jacob and the promise is God Himself. But Jacob holds his ground and demands a blessing. The important thing to note here, though, is that Jacob is not wrestling against God, he is wrestling FOR the blessing God has promised him.

Obtaining God’s promise is not always easy.
Acts 14:22

“strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.”

Sometimes we get injured on the way to the blessing, just like Jacob in verse 25. (“Now when He saw that He did not prevail against him, He touched the socket of his hip; and the socket of Jacob’s hip was out of joint as He wrestled with him. “) We can also look in 1 Corinthians 12:7, to see how Paul’s thorn in the flesh was something that pained him for the rest of his life.
God will let our struggle be more than we want, but not any more than we can survive.

Concentration is key
Wrestling takes full concentration. You must watch the opponent closely, with no room for anything else. Jacob’s full attention was on God. If he had started thinking about the quarrels that were going on at home, or about his reception with Esau, or Laban’s deceptions, he wouldn’t have been able to last until the dawn. Jacob didn’t allow anything to distract him from his purpose, and that was to receive God’s blessing.

God will bless us, if we hang on to Him.
Sometimes God is just testing how much we value His blessings. Are we giving everything we have to obtain God’s blessings? Are we enduring until day break, or giving up before the fight is won?

Job had the same mentality as Jacob, as we see in Job 13:15

“Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him: but I will maintain mine own ways before him.”

How badly do we want God’s blessings?
Even if it seems as if the darkness is overwhelming and God is nowhere to be found, remember that we need only to hang on until the night passes.

What are your building materials?

Today I was doing my 1 & 2 Corinthians Journable that I received for Christmas. (If you don’t know what Journables are, check them out here!! ( http://www.graceandtruthbooks.com/category/the-journibles )

Right now I’m in chapter 3, and I got down to verses 11-13.

“For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is.”

We know from verse 11, and also from Ephesians 2:20 that Jesus Christ is our foundation and chief cornerstone. Each one of us is another stone in that building which is the church. But we can take this illustration a step farther. We have our own building, our spiritual bodies, which is to be the temple of God. (1 Corinthians 6:19) And we alone are in charge of building and strengthening our spiritual temples.

So number one, we must make sure that our foundation is sure. Our foundation is to be on Christ. Not man and his wisdom. Not what we think God would like. Not what we think is a good idea. Only what we see revealed as truth in God’s word. If our foundation is bad, then the whole building will be bad. The foundation is the most important part of anything, so we must be doubly sure that our foundation starts off right, and that it never cracks.

But a foundation alone will do nothing for us when trials and tribulations come, and the elements of Satan rain down on us. Without walls and a roof, we will find ourselves demolished by whatever comes our way. This building will also never have a completion date, until God calls us home. We need to keep building day by day. If we ever find ourselves saying “I’m strong enough”, or “I’ve learned enough about the Bible”, Satan has already given us faulty materials, and we put them right into our structure. Each day whatever we do, whatever we say, and however we act is another brick on our personal building. We have the choice as to what building materials we use. Are we using peace, joy, love, selflessness, and forgiveness? Or selfishness, envy, strife, anger, and cowardice? Just one faulty piece is enough to bring the entire structure down. Furthermore, our structure must be built with all of the same materials. We can’t have some silver and gold, and then a few pieces of wood or hay. The pieces that differ will surely be prime targets for Satan’s darts. A strong structure is built on truth, and truth alone. We should not have even one issue where we deviate from God’s will. Our walls must be firmly connected to the foundation.

Secondly, we must test our materials to make sure they are sound. An architect doesn’t just take whatever materials are available. He researches and tests what is available, to determine which ones are sound and built to last. So we cannot blindly take whatever is out there to build up our temple. Anger and spite may feel good for a moment, but down the road they will destroy relationships.  Forgiveness and love will be durable throughout your life, and will be doubly rewarding. We must also be constantly testing the truth, and determining if it is from God or man. Our building is also to be a fortress. It is what is to be used against Satan and his forces. It is to be built with the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, shod with the preparation of the gospel, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit. As we grow, we are better able to learn where our defenses need more stability and fortification, and use that knowledge as we build.

But thanks be to God, that if we do use faulty materials at times in our temple, we can have those taken away through forgiveness, if we but ask. But we must make sure to replace it with stones better quality, lest the bad materials come back seven-fold, as we see can happen in the parable of the man with demons in Matthew 12:43-45

As I continued on in my Journable, verse 15 of 1 Corinthians 3 gave me a little bit of trouble.

“If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.”

All the commentaries I was reading interpreted this passage to mean those who preach or practice error, as long as their heart is right, will still be saved. I don’t see this as being harmonious with the rest of scripture, so I believe that Paul is going a different direction. I believe it conveys the idea of a man tried by the fire of God’s word, and being convinced by the light of all the errors his structure contains, will burn every single last piece of his structure down. Because he knows that with it being built of erroneous materials, he will not be able to enter the kingdom of God. So we must be willing to do the same if we are to inherit eternal life. Don’t be afraid to throw all that you know and are comfortable with in the fire. It’s worth it.

Another way to look at this verse is in light of 1 Peter 4:12-18

Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter. For the time has come for judgement to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? Now ‘If the righteous one is scarcely saved, where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?’ Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator.”

Sometimes trials are what bring us closer to God. Trials attempt to burn everything we have to the ground. Take Job for example. But though his temple was bombarded,when the smoke cleared, it was found holding fast. He was burned, but also saved, through fire. His faith passed through the refiners fire, and while he had some moments of doubt, it came out free of impurities.

We are never allowed to be apathetic or lazy about strengthening and building our structure. because as we see in 1 Corinthians 3:13 that:

“Each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is.”

No one will want to be found with a faulty building, or an unfinished building in that day.  We will all pass through a refiners fire, and some will withstand and be found true, while others will fall and be destroyed.  Matthew also tells us that in his gospel.

Matthew 13:47-50 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet that was cast into the sea and gathered some of every kind, which, when it was full, they drew to shore; and they sat down and gathered the good into vessels, but threw the bad away. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come forth, separate the wicked from among the just, and cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”

In Matthew 25, we have the Parable of the Talents. To paraphrase, there are the three servants who receive varying amounts of talents. Two servants go out and use the talents and receive even more than they had been given. The last servant decides to hide his talent. The master comes back and commands that the servants come to him and give him the rewards of their work. Then in verse 30:

“And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Thirdly, we must remember that we are also to be aware of our other builders who are on the same foundation.

Ephesians 2:20-22

“Having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.”

We are not alone in this structure. We all have an influence, whether it’s good or bad. If we are a faulty stone in the building of God’s church, it causes the whole to be faulty. Disease spreads, and if we have the disease of sin, it will only spread to other stones. We need to be grounding ourselves with the other stones around us with the mortar of love and unity.

So as tomorrow starts a new year, let us all commit to being better builders, using better materials, and better supporters in this short life.