Tuesday, January 15, 2019

A LIFE REDEEMED


Have you ever seen or known a person whom you believed was completely irredeemable. Their sins appeared to be too great and their heart too hard for them to change their ways? Saul, before he became the Apostle Paul, was such a person. 

Saul was born to a Jewish family in Tarsus (Turkey). A Roman citizen, he became a Pharisee who hated Christians because he believed Jesus' teachings violated the Mosaic Law. He relentlessly pursued, brutalized, persecuted, and ordered the deaths of those who called themselves Christians. 

Stephen, a devout Christian, "a man full of God's grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people" (Acts 6:8 NIV). He was brought before the high priest and Pharisees. With false charges set before him, he reminded them of what God had done for them, calling them "stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, who always resist the Holy Spirit" (Acts 7:51 ESV). Because of Stephen's strong influence over the people, his stoning was ordered, which Saul had heartily approved. 

This story of hatred and persecution is being played out on the world's stage as society sinks deeper and deeper into apostasy. Stiff-necked, rebellious people are rejecting God because they are uncircumcised in their hearts and ears. Like the high priest and Pharisees, today's people reject truth so they don't have to admit they are sinners. 

Saul's all-consuming hatred of Christ followers drove him to go before the high priest and ask for letters to the synagogues at Damascus. Thus, if he found any people belonging to the Way (followers of Christ), he might bring them bound to Jerusalem (Acts 9:1-3).

Do you see that all-consuming fire of hatred and persecution towards today's Christians? They are taken before the courts, sued, and forced to pay exorbitant fines and "damages" that wipe out their businesses, because they choose to hold to their Christian beliefs and not cave to a hedonistic and corrupt culture? However difficult, Jesus said,  "...love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:43-45 NIV).

Saul approached Damascus and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him and falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" And Saul asked, "Who are you, Lord?" And He said, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do" (Acts 9:3-6). At that moment Saul was struck blind, so those traveling with him led him to Damascus where he fasted and prayed for three days. Saul had become a man undone.

There was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias whom God told to go and lay hands on Saul that he may regain his sight and receive the Holy Spirit. Saul's reputation preceded him, so Ananias said to the Lord, "Lord, I have heard from man about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name." But the Lord said to him, "Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name" (Acts 9:10-16 ESV). 

Despite Ananias' obedience to the Lord, he must have questioned within his heart why God would choose such a man to carry God's Word to the Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel? "Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgments, and His paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been His counselor?" (Romans 11:33-34 NIV) We cannot begin to know the mind of God for He tells us, "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways" (Isaiah 58:8 NIV).

Saul, whom Jesus would eventually name Paul, meaning humble, would say this about himself, "...Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst" (1 Timothy 1:15). "I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God, I am what I am, and His grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me" (I Corinthians 15:9-10). 

It is by grace we have been saved, through faith—and this is not from ourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9). The requirement is a repentant heart that invites Christ into the heart and expresses remorse and regret for wrongdoing and sin. It is a changing of one's mind and a turning away from sin. For it is in our repentance, that doors open for God's power to work within us. 

Scriptures do not tell us, but just maybe Christians had prayed for Saul, for there is hope for each person to be redeemed (delivered from sin). Those who confess their sins, God is faithful and just to forgive and cleanse from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

If you have been praying a long time for people and have not seen any change, do not give up hope, and do not stop praying for them. Remember, Paul, who said he was the greatest sinner of them all, became a man of Christ who used his Jewish roots and Roman citizenship to minster to both the Jews and the Romans. Other than Jesus, no single person was more influential during the beginnings of Christianity than Paul. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, He wrote 13 of the 27 books of the New Testament. During his ministry, it is estimated that he traveled over 10,000 miles to bring the Gospel to the lost.

God has all power, ability, and authority to take what the enemy would intend for our destruction and bring good from it. He certainly did that for Paul and He will do that for any who call on the name of Jesus Christ and put their hope and trust in Him.

PRAYER: Father, Your Word says that you do not want even one to perish but that all would come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. I ask that you draw (name) by Your Spirit and soften (his/her) heart to receive the life-changing truth and message of Jesus Christ. May (name) experience Your love and turn to You, so that (his/her) sins may be wiped out, making room for restoration. In Jesus name, amen.















Thursday, January 3, 2019

CIRCUMCISION OF THE HEART



How many of us made a New Year's Resolution for 2019? Maybe it was to lose weight, start an exercise program, eat healthy foods, be a better spouse, a better parent, etc. Aside from those noble resolutions, how many of us resolved to seek God more this year and allow Him to circumcise our hearts?

God had told Abraham that he would be the father of many nations and said, "This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised" (Genesis 17:10-14). Circumcision would be an external expression of a spiritual circumcision of the heart, bringing blessing to the nation of Israel, if they did not forget God and serve other gods.

God spoke through Moses to the Israelites in the wilderness, "And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear (honor and respect) the LORD your God, to walk in ALL His ways and to love Him, to serve the LORD your God with ALL your heart and with ALL your soul, and to keep the commandments of the LORD and His statutes which I command you today for your good" (Deuteronomy 10:12-16). Instead, their hearts became hardened towards God as they worshipped idols and no longer performed circumcisions. Thus, God caused them to wander in the wilderness for forty years until the older generation died.

The older generation had failed in following God's commandments, but He is a God of love and is faithful to His Word, so when the nation of Israel crossed the Jordan into the Promise Land with the new generation, the LORD immediately commanded Joshua, "Make for yourself flint knives, and circumcise again the sons of Israel the second time" (Joshua 5:2).

Physical circumcision was spiritually significant because it signified the Jews separating themselves from the old sin-life so they could serve and worship God with clean and pure hearts. Although Gentiles were not part of the original Abrahamic Covenant, God made a new covenant with us through the blood of Jesus Christ. And in receiving Christ as our Savior, God calls us to surrender to circumcision of our hearts.

The Apostle Paul tells us, "...circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision is uncircumcision" (Romans 2:25-29). Paul goes on to say that circumcision is a matter of the heart, by God's Spirit. It is not by the letter of the law. For if the heart is sinful, then physical circumcision is worthless. In other words, the law says, "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain." Yet the uncircumcised heart condones cursing and uses God's name in vain. 

The Law can never be enough to cover an uncircumcised heart that refuses to recognize sin and acknowledge truth. The person with a circumcised heart knows truth and is convicted of sin. The flesh no longer controls them, because they have surrendered their heart and will to God and His commandments.

Throughout the Old Testament, the Israelites tried to combine idol worship with worshipping God. This angered God for He had said, "You shall have no other gods before Me" (Exodus 20:2; Deuteronomy 5:6). They forgot God and all that He had done for them and chose to serve other gods. Is America any different? We see the blatant and willful disregard for God as people worship celebrities, live in fornication, chase after pleasures of every kind, seek power, money, materialism, the supernatural, and so much more.

Whatever owns our earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, and greed, is idolatry (Colossians 3:5). The Apostle Paul said that since creation, people have known God but have not glorified Him nor given thanks to Him. Rather they have exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and serve created things rather than the Creator" (Romans 1:25)

How can a person know if he or she worships the things of this world more than God? One must examine their heart to see what they value most, because that which is valued most becomes an idol that is worshipped.

The dictionary defines "worship" as reverence and adoration for something or someone. The Bible defines "worship" as an extreme expression of love for God. God tells us that we are to love the LORD our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our might (Deuteronomy 6:5). When we do, we rejoice in spending time with the Lord in prayer and studying His Word, for our love and passion for God and His Word should be greater than the love we have for a spouse, children, or anything else that captures the human heart.


All humans arrive in this world with a sin nature. Jesus told the Pharisees of their inability to keep the Law of God, because they were spiritually bankrupt. It was faith and not physical circumcision that would make them a child of God. Fortunately, because of God's great love for us, He provided rebirth through the blood of Jesus Christ to set us free from our old sin nature. That freedom is empowered by the presence of the Holy Spirit who dwells within the hearts of the redeemed. If we belong to Christ, whether Jew or Gentile, we are Abraham's seed and heirs according to His promise (Galatians 3:29).

If we are truly in Christ, we have been circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Our old self, once ruled by the flesh, was put off when we were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with Him in baptism, in which we were then raised with Him through our faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead (Colossians 2:11-12).

As we begin 2019, it is important to discern between God's truth and the world's version of truth. If we allow the Spirit of God and His Word to lead, guide, and direct our steps, He will lead us into all truth (John 16:13).

God will not take a back seat to the things of this world for He says, "No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other" (Matthew 6:24). It is impossible to love both God and the world.

Jesus said, "If anyone love Me, he will keep My Word..." (John 14:23-24). Therefore, we are to treasure His Word in our hearts that we may not sin against Him (Psalm 119:11). For God's Word is the scalpel that can daily circumcise the human heart, revealing those things that  keep us from living for Him. Jesus said to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all the things that we need, will be added to us (Matthew 6:33). Therefore, we should each ask this question of ourselves, "Whom and what will I be seeking and serving in 2019?" 


PRAYER: FATHER, I desire to begin 2019 with You as my first priority. Help me to be faithful in praying and reading Your Word each day. May Your Word be a sharp scalpel that will reveal and circumcise those areas of my heart that are not surrendered to Your will and purposes. In Jesus name, amen.







Monday, December 10, 2018

ROYAL ROBES DON'T MAKE A KING


For to us a Child is born, to us a Son is given, 
And the government shall be upon His shoulder, 
And His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, 
Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Isaiah 9:6 ESV

Humans have the propensity to judge by outward appearances. We clearly see that in Israel's rejection of the LORD and their demand for an earthly king. God then directed the prophet Samuel to go to the family of Jesse and select God's choice for a king. 

Samuel saw the first son and thought certainly this is God's anointed King. But the Lord told Samuel, "Don't look at his appearance or how tall he is, because I have rejected him. God does not see as humans see. Humans look at outward appearances, but the Lord looks into the heart," because outward appearances deceive (I Samuel 16:7).

Samuel looked at seven sons and rejected each one. He then asked if Jesse had more sons. David was fetched from the fields and the Lord said, "Go ahead—anoint him. He is the one." Samuel anointed the young boy, and the Lord's Spirit came over him and remained with him (I Samuel 16:8-12).

Seven hundred years before the birth of Jesus, the Prophet Isaiah told of the birth of Christ, a King, Mighty God, Prince of Peace, who would come into the world. However, the Jews perceived that their king would arrive as a great military leader, and not under the dark of night, born in a stable, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and tucked inside a lowly trough where animals ate. Only the angels, a few shepherds, and the Three Wise Men would herald His arrival. 

Jesus grew and thrived, living a humble and uneventful life among His people for His first thirty years. Although His earthy parents raised Him, He "grew up before [God the Father] like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. 
He— 
 *  had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him 
* Nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him. 
* He was despised and rejected by mankind, 
* A man of suffering and familiar with pain. 
* Like one from whom people hid their faces, 
* He was despised 
* And we held Him in low esteem" (Isaiah 53:1-3). 
·  Although He was in the world that was made through Him, the world did not know Him. He came to His own (the Jews), and His own people did not receive Him (John 1:10-11)

After Jesus' baptism and temptation in the desert, He returned to His hometown of Nazareth, and went into the synagogue to read from the scroll:
       "The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

He then rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on Jesus as He said, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." They responded, "Isn't this Joseph's son?" The people in the synagogue became enraged and tried to throw Him off a cliff (Luke 4:14-30 NIV).

Jesus lived when the Roman Empire ruled. There were major tensions among Jews regarding Roman policies and the high priests. They were hoping for a messianic redeemer, a great military leader, and man of power, who would restore Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel. They did not recognize Jesus as their long-awaited Redeemer, because they could not see past the simple, ordinary carpenter and son of Joseph.

The Jews viewed Jesus as just a prophet, teacher, and a wannabe king. He did not wear royal robes or a crown upon His head. His crown would be a crown of thorns driven into His skull and a purple robe draped over His shoulders to mock His Kingship. His death and resurrection would forever defeat Satan, who comes to steal, kill, and destroy. Jesus' shed blood would give us life, abundantly (John 10:10). 

Jesus left us a warning that in the last days, deceivers will come in His name to lead many astray. We will hear of wars and rumors of wars. Nation (people) will rise against nation and kingdom (countries and states) against kingdom. (We see civil unrest across the world.) There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. Believers will be persecuted and hated by all nations (people) for His name's sake. Many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. False prophets will lead many astray. Lawlessness will increase and love will grow cold. (Hate and vitriol have escalated to unprecedented levels.) Therefore, we are cautioned to stay awake, for we do not know the day our Lord is coming (Matthew 24:4-42 ESV).

The Apostle Paul prophesied that in the last days, a "man of sin," a liar and deceiver will come on the scene, whom Satan will enhance his natural abilities with supernatural power to confuse and ensnare people (2 Thessalonians 2). People will see him as the savior of the world and a great religious leader. He will appear as a lamb but will speak like a dragon. He will imitate Jesus Christ, but he will be empowered by Satan (Revelation 13:11).

There is an old saying, "Don't judge a book by its cover." We might wonder how the Jews could hear Jesus' teachings and witness His miracles and not recognize Him as their Redeemer, the Promised One. But how many people today are deceived by a secular philosophy and lifestyle and reject God's Word? We are witnessing an escalating hostility and hatred towards Christians and Jews. The Bill of Rights, which was written to afford liberty to all, is continually being adulterated to take away rights and protections from Christians. 

People are looking for a new "savior" who will bring change, unification, and world peace. Unfortunately, they are not looking to The Prince of Peace and true Savior of the world, Jesus Christ.

Jesus warned, "Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man" (Luke 21:36 NIV). Therefore, stay awake (spiritually), for you do not know what day our Lord is coming (Matthew 24:42).

So, as we celebrate the birth of Christ, we must remember that He defeated the Prince of Darkness, and He will return as a conquering King, wearing a royal robe, and on His thigh there is a name written, "KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS" (Revelation 19:11).

PRAYER: FATHER, I thank you for Your Son, who came to earth as a servant and suffered an undeserved death in my place. Give me discernment for these days. Help me to pray, to stay spiritually awake, to daily seek Your Word, to place You first above all else, and to live a consecrated life in You, so that I will not miss the Lord's coming. In Jesus name, amen.