Sunday, January 29, 2017

 GOD'S MERCY

The Lord is compassionate and gracious.
He is slow to anger and abounds in love.
(Psalm 103:8)

Last week's blog, "Unheeded Warnings," discussed the dangers of ignoring God's warnings found throughout scripture, along with those warnings that He speaks directly to our spirit. This week, I want to emphasize that it is because of His great mercy that He warns us of those dangers that can lead us away from Him and rob us of life and blessings.

The New Oxford American Dictionary defines mercy as compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone, when it is within one's power to punish that person. Compassion is defined as mercy, care, kindness, love, and sympathetic concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.

Who is like God, who pardons sin and forgives our transgressions? He cannot stay angry forever but delights in showing us mercy (Micah 7:18). He longs to be gracious to us; therefore, He shows us compassion (Isaiah 30:18).

King David was a man after God's own heart, because he loved and served Him. However, in a moment of moral failure, he took another man's wife, Bathsheba, impregnated her, and then had her husband, Uriah, murdered on the battlefield to cover their sin. David then married Bathsheba.

God is merciful, but He is also just. He sent Nathan the prophet to David and said, "...by doing this, you have shown utter contempt for the Lord; the son born to you will die (2 Samuel 12:14). Seven days later, David's treachery cost him his son.

God is love. He wants to bless us, but He cannot turn a blind eye to sin, for sin has its consequences. "For whom the LORD loves, He reproves, even as a father corrects the son in whom he delights" (Proverbs 3:12; Hebrews 12:6-7).

David acknowledged his sin and pled for God's mercy, forgiveness, and cleansing: "Have mercy on me, O God, because of Your unfailing love. Because of Your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins. Wash me clean from my guilt. Purify me from my sin. For I recognize my rebellion; it haunts me day and night. Against You, and You alone, I have sinned. I have done what is evil in Your sight. You will be proved right in what You say, and Your judgment against me is just" (Psalm 51:1-4 NLT).

David then asked for a purifying of his soul and restoration: "Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Oh, give me back my joy again; You have broken me — now let me rejoice. Don't keep looking at my sins. Remove the stain of my guilt. Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit within me. Do not banish me from Your presence, and don't take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and make me willing to obey You" (vs. 7-12).

Yes, the Lord responded to David's repentant heart and was merciful and compassionate to him. He and Bathsheba would have a son, Solomon, who would become the next king of Israel.

God extends that same extraordinary love and forgiveness to us, for He, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ, even when we were dead in our sin. It is by His merciful grace that we have been saved (Ephesians 2:4-5). 

"The desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh" (Galatians 5:17). Therefore, each day, we evaluate ourselves. If need be, we seek God's face and humble ourselves before Him, confessing our errors, whether it is an unkind remark, a judgment of another, gossip, profanity, a lie, or anything else that displeases God, who daily looks at our heart and our intentions.

We are warned that "the heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?"(Jeremiah 17:9). "For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks" (Matthew 12:34) So the Lord searches the heart and examines the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve (Jeremiah 17:99-10 NIV). That is why we have been warned to guard our heart, because everything we do flows from it (Proverbs 4:23). King David had not guarded his heart. Therefore, the power of sin redirected his desires and affections away from what was morally right and acceptable to God.

Jesus said, "Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God" (Matthew 5:8). What does it mean to have a pure heart? The heart represents our desires and affections. To what and to whom are our affections and desires directed? If Christ is ruling on the throne of our heart, than people will know Whom we serve. "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10). Thus, as Christians, our lives give evidence to the truth and integrity of His Word.

Jesus chastised the Pharisees, because they were self-righteous, dishonest, lacked integrity, and would say one thing and do something else, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness" (Matthew 23:27-28).

We live in a world of hypocrisy and lawlessness, where deception, dishonesty, treachery, pretense, and every form of sin have become a way of life.
"Evil men and imposters [move] from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived" (2 Timothy 3:13). This should not surprise us, because the Bible warns us that in the last days, people will be disrespectful, cruel, unloving, unholy, unforgiving,  liars, out of control, hating what is good, and slandering others (2 Timothy 3:3). "For their minds devise violence and their lips talk of trouble" (Proverbs 24:2).

Why have we seen such a huge shift away from God? The Barna Research Group determined that only four percent of Americans hold a "biblical" worldview of morality. This worldview was based on the following questions: Do absolute truths exist and if so, are those truths defined by the Bible? Is the Bible accurate and relevant today? Did Jesus live a sinless life? Is Satan real? Is God the Creator of the universe, and does He rule today? And is it a Christian's responsibility to share the gospel? The answer to all of these questions should be a resounding "Yes!" by every person who calls themself a Christian.

"So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure (Philippians 2:12-13).

Work is an activity that involves our daily mental and/or physical effort to achieve a purpose. What is our purpose? Our purpose is to be a vessel of honor that reflects God's love and His Word.

The God of the universe calls to His Church to "wake up," "...If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land" (2 Chronicles 7:14). "Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard. [Church], hold fast and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you" (Revelation 3:3).

Humans have a carnal nature that they fight because of daily temptations. Though I strive to be all that God calls me to be, I have my moments of failure. Like our children who make mistakes and come to us seeking forgiveness, we can approach our heavenly Father and humbly acknowledge our mistakes and our need for Him, knowing that in His abundant mercy, He forgives and restores. 

PRAYER:
Lord, thank you for Your unmerited mercy and love that never fails and is new every morning. Examine my heart, for You know everything about me. You know my every thought, everything I do, and what I am going to say before I say it. Place a guard over my mouth that I may measure my words. Test my thoughts, point out anything in me that offends You, and do not let my heart turn away from You. ThenYour "...goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever" (Psalm 23:6). In Jesus name, amen.








Sunday, January 22, 2017

UNHEEDED WARNINGS

On April 10, 1912, the RMS Titanic departed Southampton, England, on its maiden voyage across the Atlantic Ocean to New York City. Titanic, touted to be the fastest, safest and the most modern and luxurious ship built, had a hull divided into 16 compartments, thought to be watertight. Considered unsinkable, it was believed that four of the compartments, if flooded, would not lose buoyancy.

Let us think about 1,343 passengers and 885 crewmembers that boarded the Titanic. That was 2,228 souls traveling on a ship thought to be the safest and fastest to ever cross the ocean. Consequently, they had the expectation of reaching their destination without incident. 

Unbeknownst to the passengers, Thomas Andrews, the chief naval architect for the Titanic, had suggested that the ship be manned with 46 lifeboats instead of the proposed 20 and to double the hull and to watertight the bulkheads up to the B deck. Both suggestions were overruled.

Four days into the crossing and about 375 miles south of Newfoundland, the Titanic crossed the point to where messages from ship at sea could be exchanged. Fifteen minutes before she hit the iceberg, Cyril F. Evans, a wireless operator on the S.S. Californian, attempted to contact and warn the Titanic about dangerous icebergs ahead.

“The captain said, "… better advise [the Titanic] we are surrounded by ice and stopped,” Cyril Evans, the telegraph operator on the Californian, testified in a U.S. Senate inquiry.  “So I went to my cabin, and at 9:05 p.m. New York time, I called [Jack Phillips] up.  I said, ‘Say, old man, we are stopped and surrounded by ice.’ He said ‘shut up, shut up, I am busy; I'm working Cape Race.'" 

Evans listened for a little while longer, and at 23:35 he turned off the wireless and went to bed. Five minutes later, Titanic hit an iceberg. The glancing collision caused Titanic's hull plates to buckle inwards along her starboard side and opened five of her sixteen watertight compartments to the sea, causing the ship to fill with water. Twenty-five minutes after that, the Titanic transmitted her first distress call.

Why tell the story of the Titanic? The Titanic is a profound lesson in what happens when warnings are ignored. The architect had warned about the need for reinforced bulkheads and more lifeboats. Titanic's telegraph operator ignored the warning from the S.S. Californian that icebergs were straight ahead. Appallingly, just five miles away, Titanic's lights could be seen by Captain Stanley Lord of the Californian, who ignored her pleas for help after she struck the iceberg and was sinking.

The Bible gives us many warnings to avoid disaster, but how many heed the warnings? "...mark this [warning]: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people (2 Timothy 3:1-5). 

Does this description sound familiar? Isn't this what we are witnessing on our televisions, smartphones, and computers? People are slandering each other. Too many children are abusive, entitled, ungrateful, and disrespectful to their parents and to authority. People are treacherous and out of control as they destroy property and reputations. They are unforgiving, hateful, brutal, and are not lovers of what is good. 

The Word of God says, "To whom can I speak and give warning? Who will listen to Me? Their ears are closed, so they cannot hear. The word of the Lord is offensive to them; they find no pleasure in it (Jeremiah 6:10).

Jeremiah (known as the weeping prophet) had to deal with the unfaithfulness of God's people from kings, princes, priests, prophets, to most of the people. Although many came to the temple and offered sacrifices and called on God, they lived their lives in sin. God ordered Jeremiah to speak these words to the people, "Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, and then come and stand before Me in this house, which bears My name, and say, "We are safe" — safe to do all these detestable things? Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! Declares the Lord" (Jeremiah 7:9). Jesus would repeat those words, "It is written: 'My house will be called a house of prayer.' But you are making it a den of robbers'" (Matthew 21:13).

It is important to know that the principal pillar of Baalism was child sacrifice, sexual immorality, and the worship of creation over the Creator. Baalism is more prevalent today than ever before, as 57 million unborn babies—and counting— have been and continue to be brutally murdered. Sexual immorality in every form covers the earth, and all attention and value is given to creation rather than to the Creator.

The warning to Israel in that day is the same warning to us today. "Since they heard the sound of the trumpet but did not heed the warning, their blood will be on their own head. If they had heeded the warning, they would have saved themselves" (Ezekiel 33:5 NIV). The Israelites were sinning and living in rebellion, and too many in America are sinning and living their lives in rebellion. 

When King Solomon finished building the temple and the royal palace, he offered a prayer to the LORD. The Lord appeared to Solomon and acknowledged his prayer and chose the temple for Himself as a temple for sacrifices. Then God warned, "When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among My people, if My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land (2 Chronicles 6:41-42; 7:11-14).

God was warning Solomon that when God sends adversity, it is a sign that the nation's people need to repent and humble themselves and pray and seek His face, so that they may hear from heaven and receive forgiveness and the healing of their land. That same admonishment applies to America who was founded on the tenets of Christianity. Despite what anyone would argue, the United States of America is a Christian nation and had been blessed, because God was placed first and acknowledged as Creator, Provider, Sustainer, Healer, Peacemaker, and Savior.

God warns us that when people are saying, “All is well; everything is quiet and peaceful”—then, all of a sudden, disaster will fall upon them as suddenly as a woman’s birth pains begin when her child is born. And these people will not be able to get away anywhere—there will be no place to hide (I Thessalonians 5:3).

Those who boarded the Titanic looked forward to a wonderful adventure on what was assumed to be the safest and largest ship every built. Little did those passengers and crew members know that because a few men had refused to heed warnings, that men, women, and children would be sent to a frigid and dark watery grave.

God warns us not to walk as the world walks, for the world walks in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of their ignorance (unawareness) and hardness of heart. They are callous, having given themselves over to sensuality and every kind of impurity with greediness (Ephesians 4:17-18). 

We are told to understand the present time. The hour has already come for us to wake up from our slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed (Romans 3:11). For that day is coming, when those who don't heed God's warnings and are careless in how they conduct their lives, will feel secure in their sinful ways. Sadly, they will be visited by God's judgment. 

PRAYER:
Lord, I surrender all that I am to You. Help me to be ever mindful of Your presence and sensitive to Your still small voice that speaks into the human spirit. Draw me closer so that I will know and respond to Your warnings and Your instructions. Give me discernment to know evil when it cloaks itself as "truth." Be my Shepherd, in whom I have everything that I need. Give me peace, and quiet my soul in these troubled times. Guide my steps so that my life honors You in everything that I do. Guide the leaders of this nation and fill them with Your wisdom. Give them discernment to recognize Your warnings, so that they will make good and righteous decisions, according to Your will. For if this ship of state places You at the helm, we will be guided safely through uncharted waters. All this, I commit to You in Jesus name. Amen. 


Monday, January 16, 2017

DON'T BE DECEIVED

You live in the midst of deception;
In their deceit, they refuse to acknowledge me," declares the Lord.
(Jeremiah 9:6)

Things are not always as they seem. The enemy has a way of painting sin a golden hue, but we know that all that shines is not gold. What was once considered evil, deception declares it to be good, and good is now seen as evil. Deception first raised his ugly head in the Garden of Eden.

God created Adam and placed him in the Garden to "work it and care for it." As the caretaker of the Garden, we might surmise that part of his duties included caring for the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

From the beginning, God had commanded Adam,
"You are free to eat from any tree in the garden, but you must not eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, for when you eat from it, you will certainly die" (Genesis 2:15-17). God never instructed Adam not to touch the tree.

We all have an innate curiosity to know what we don't know and see what we can't see. Most likely, Adam's curiosity about the forbidden tree grew as he daily worked in the Garden.  

"Now the serpent (the devil, Satan) (Revelation 12:9) was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made" (Genesis 3:1). Crafty means to be cunning, calculating, designing, artful, scheming, dishonest, devious, shrewd, and deceitful.

Satan clearly knew what God had said regarding the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, so he seized the opportunity to pose a misleading question to Eve, "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?" (Genesis 3:1) Did God really say...? How often do those same words of doubt enter our thoughts, after God makes a promise to us, or He tells us not to do something? 

Satan trapped Eve into responding, "We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden...but we must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and [we] must not touch it, or [we] will die.'" Clearly, Adam had informed his wife of God's commands, but she added that they couldn't touch it. Could it be that she thought that just touching the tree or its fruit would be too great a temptation and might even cause death? (Genesis 3:1-3)

The enemy will always manipulate the truth for the purpose of disguising and engaging us in his deceptions. His response was deceptive, "You will not certainly die..." Yes, they would not die a physical death at that moment, but they would most certainly die spiritually at that moment. 

Satan then appealed to Eve's ego by telling her that her eyes would be opened and she would be like God knowing good and evil. This aroused her curiosity and carnal nature, so when Eve saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, the temptation became too great and she took the fruit and ate. She not only ate it, she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate (vs. 4-6).

Hadn't God specifically told Adam not to partake of the Tree of Knowledge? So why didn't Adam stop Eve and remind her of God's commands? Could it be that his curiosity and desire had given way to temptation? God's Word cautions us, "If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door, and its desire is for you, but you must master it." (Genesis 4:7) Adam failed to master his desire and joined her in the sin of disobedience, which caused separation from God and their spiritual and physical deaths (vs. 7).

You might ask why God placed the forbidden tree in the garden? God has given us the freedom to obey or disobey Him. He wants our obedience to come from hearts that love Him and long to please Him. He does not force His will on us but gives us freedom to either submit to Him or to reject His will.

Satan is a very cunning liar and the father of lies (John 8:44). He has a way of making evil appear attractive, beautiful, and very appealing. That is why God tells us to always pray for wisdom and discernment. If we don't know and trust the truth of God's Word, then we will trust what we see and experience with our physical senses. For that reason, God wants us to develop our spiritual eyes, so that we may discern between His truth and the enemy's deceptions.

God has given us warnings throughout His Word. "Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard, so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position (2 Peter 3:17 NIV). For that reason, we must listen very carefully to the truths we have heard, or we may drift away from them (Hebrews 2:2). Deception can easily take over when we allow ourselves to be led by feelings and passions. Instead, we are to be led by God's Holy Spirit that guides, leads, discerns, directs, and gives wisdom.

We are most vulnerable to deception when trials, disappointments, and temptations come. Those are the times when we question God and even doubt Him. I have certainly done that at various times in my walk with God over the last 46 years. However, we are encouraged to consider it pure joy whenever we face trials of many kinds, because those things test our faith, which then produces perseverance. Perseverance works maturity in our faith, so that we are complete and lack nothing. If we lack wisdom, we should ask God, who gives generously to all, but when we ask, we must believe and not doubt (James 1:2-7).

Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against rulers, authorities, and powers of this world's darkness, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 6:12). Christians, who have invited the Holy Spirit to indwell them, learn to discern between God's blessings and the enemy's deceptions. Often those deceptions come during our most vulnerable times and are cloaked in the most convenient, attractive, and convincing ways.

Deception plays to our deepest desires and becomes sin when those desires become  uncontrolled impulses toward a particular object,  activity, or person. It can be the desire for that "perfect" job, that "perfect" relationship, or other opportunities and "get-rich-quick schemes" that seem too good to be true. Deception tells us that if we play the lottery or gamble at the casino, we will "hit it big." Deception tells us that if we are sad, alcohol and drugs will help us forget our troubles. Deception tells us that pornography is okay, and fornication and adultery are justified. Deception takes every lie and turns it into a false "truth" that is acceptable to the one who wants to believe it.

Satan also deceives through material things. Most people want to be financially secure, and there is nothing wrong with that. However, we need to use wisdom in spending and growing our money but recognize when money and the acquisition of things is becoming our sole goal. If not, "we can fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge [us] into ruin and destruction" (1 Timothy 6:9 NIV).

God looks at the heart and our priorities. He gave Solomon untold riches because he asked for wisdom and not for riches.

God said to Solomon, “Ask for whatever you want Me to give you.” Solomon answered, "Give me wisdom and knowledge, that I may lead this people, for who is able to govern this great people of Yours?” God responded, “Since this is your heart’s desire and you have not asked for wealth, possessions or honor, nor for the death of your enemies, and since you have not asked for a long life but for wisdom and knowledge to govern My people over whom I have made you king, therefore wisdom and knowledge will be given you. And I will also give you wealth, possessions and honor, such as no king who was before you ever had and none after you will have” (2 Chronicles 1:7-12 NIV).

Like Solomon, we cannot govern our lives, make good decisions, and discern the many deceptions that the enemy throws at us, without God's wisdom and discernment directing us. As our first priority, we must seek wisdom through His Word, and through our daily relationship with Him in prayer. For it is wisdom that brings knowledge and happiness (Ecclesiastes 2:26); instructs, protects, watches, and guards (Proverbs 4:6), provides justice, understanding, success, hope, and peace (James 3:17); and defeats our enemies, builds nations, and provides long life (Job 12:12).

PRAYER:
Father, Your Word tells me that the enemy of my soul comes to steal, kill, and destroy, but You came that I may have life and have it to its fullness (John 10:10).  Your Word also tells me that those who find wisdom and gain understanding are blessed (Proverbs 3:13). I ask for the gifts of discernment, wisdom, and understanding, so that I may discern truth from clever deceptions. Help me to make choices that will enable me and my family to serve you according to Your will and live life to its fullness. In Jesus name. Amen.