A Vibrant Life

What’s the essence of Christianity?  Think about your answer to that question for a moment.  What does it mean for you and me to be Christians?  Think of your answer to that too.  What does Christianity look like lived out?  Really consider that one.

After thinking about it, I’d describe Christianity as belonging to one person: the One who bought us back from death.  Real Christianity is not the result of a series of outward actions: the clothes you wear, the music you listen to, the activities you do, the food you eat, the things you watch, etc.  The Christ-life starts inside, when you give Jesus your heart.  But it doesn’t remain there.  It moves out.  It changes every aspect of your life.  Yes, the clothes you wear, the music you listen to, the activities you do, the food you eat, the things you watch, etc.  And it touches the people around you.

Remember Jesus’ parable of the mustard seed?  He said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, which indeed is the least of all the seeds; but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.” (Matt. 13:31, 32, NKJV)

A mustard seed is really tiny.  Yet for starting out too small to provide even a decent bite for a bird, it becomes home to many birds.  This is how our Savior works.  Jesus starts inside our hearts, forgiving us, changing us, transforming us, nurturing us from newborn babies until we’ve grown up into men and women fit for heaven.

Jesus told another parable along the same lines.  “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened.” (Matt. 13:33)  That little bit of leaven, mixed in with the bread dough can’t be removed.  It permeates the entire loaf.  The same with Jesus once we surrender our lives to Him.  He’s no longer a bystander on the edge of our lives, or a once-a-week visit to a steepled structure.  He’s real, living, present, active in every part of our lives.

This is what the Christian life looks like.  It’s dynamic, not static.

Now consider that in terms of the relationship between faith and works.

Faith is important, nay vital (I couldn’t resist!)  But it doesn’t stand alone.  Jesus intended it to be mixed with works, yet never with the idea that your works are earning you a spot in heaven.  Check out these two contrasting yet complimenting passages:

“What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?  If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?  Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.  You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!  But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?  Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar?  Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect?  And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”  And he was called the friend of God.  You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.  Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way?

For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” (James 2:14-26)

“Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith.  Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.  Or is He the God of the Jews only? Is He not also the God of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also, since there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.  Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law.” (Romans 3:27-31)

“We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.

“But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is Christ therefore a minister of sin? Certainly not!  For if I build again those things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor.  For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God.  I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.  I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.” (Galatians 2:15-21)

To make it even more interesting, add love into the mix.  Just reading 1 Corinthians 13 alone makes it clear that even the best works without love are empty.  Yet check out what Jesus said about the connection between love and obedience to His law: “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” (John 14:15)  And He didn’t stop there; He repeated it again in verses 21 and 23.

Obedience is the outflow of love, not the other way around.  Obedience shows that we know God.  “Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments.  He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.  But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him.  He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.” (1 John 2:3-6)

These passages are important because they help us understand how to live the Christian life as we prepare for life with our coming King.  Satan doesn’t want us to understand.  He doesn’t want us to be ready.  He wants us to be like the unfaithful servant in Matthew 24:48-51.  But God has made His truth known in His word.  So prayerfully take a look at these verses again and hear what God is saying to you.

My point is simple: by faith, the seed was planted in my heart and began to grow; the leaven was added to the lump of bread dough and mixed in.  The end result is a life of obedience to His will, the lifestyle of the King’s daughter in a foreign land.

Danger Signals

What if you learned that nothing you trusted was quite what it seemed?

What if you came across an old, dusty book that unmasked a close-knit web of intricate, cleverly masked lies.  What if it revealed to you that the people you trusted to guide you were misguided at best, and some, downright sinister.  What if it showed you that everything you believed in was 99% truth + 1% lie = 100% dangerous?

What if?

What if this is the reality right now?

Jesus gave His disciples a multitude of warnings throughout the Gospels, but there are certain ones that stick out like giant neon danger signs:

  1. “Take heed that no one deceives you.  For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many.” – Matt. 24:4, 5.
  2. “Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many.” – Matt. 24:11.
  3. “Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There!’ do not believe it.  For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.  See, I have told you beforehand.  Therefore if they say to you, ‘Look, He is in the desert!’ do not go out; or ‘Look, He is in the inner rooms!’ do not believe it.  For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.” – Matt. 24:23-27.

The first passage warns against deception from those who claim to be Christ.  The second is a warning against false teachers who will come claiming divine inspiration and lead many away from the truth.

The third is the one that should put us on the highest level of alert to security threats.  First it warns against false christs and false prophets using signs and miracles to deceive, and claiming that Jesus has come in secret places.  However the Bible is clear.  Everyone will see Jesus’ second coming (Matt. 24:27; Rev. 1:7).

But the strongest warning to be on your guard comes from verse 24: “For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.”  In other words, the deceptions will be so close to the truth that they would almost deceive God’s children who have been walking with Him and prayerfully studying His word.  These deceptions will be perpetrated by people we would trust.  They will use signs and miracles that cannot be ignored.  But they will not be from God.

All of this may sound rather frightening when you think about it, but God has not left us without hope.  Those who truly belong to God will not be led astray by these deceptions because they have obeyed His word and are actively watching and praying.  They will be able to recognize the 1% of error mixed in with the truth.  This is why He urgently calls us to beware, to watch and pray (Mark 14:38; Luke 21:36).  He warns us not to place our trust in people, but in Him alone (Psalm 146:3; John 14:1).  He admonishes us to study His word for ourselves and examine the influences surrounding us, so we may know if they are from God or not (2 Timothy 2:15; 1 John 4:1, Acts 17:11).

What a loving, merciful God!  He never leaves us floundering about hopelessly in the unknown, especially in such a dark and dismal world.  He makes sure we know the danger and seriousness of our situation, and then He promises His presence, His guidance, His protection, and hope for the future.

So let’s heed the warning.  Let’s make God’s word our guide, the standard by which all things are measured.  And let’s faithfully observe the words of His prophet:

“To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” Isaiah 8:20.

True Religion

It’s more than a brand of jeans.  More than a social cause.  It’s a lifestyle.

These days many of us are very familiar with what the Bible says in James 1:27 about the essence of true religion.  It has been the preface to many a sermon, worship talk, or speech to rouse us from our self-absorbed slumber into action for the good of those who are hurting around the globe.

Yet in all the swarm of activity around our social causes, some of us have lost something.  Before I go any further, let me say that social causes are good.  God encourages, even requires us to take care of those who need help.  But there’s something else that’s good.  It is the balancing side to a scale that is growing fearfully unbalanced.

It’s the Mary perspective.

Jesus once visited his friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus in Bethany (Luke 10:38-42).  While Martha was busy doing the good thing of preparing a meal to serve Jesus, Mary was doing the good thing of sitting at His feet, listening to the words of truth.  Both were good things.  But one was commended as better: listening to the words of Jesus.

That practice of taking time to study and learn from Jesus is often neglected in favor of active service projects.  Neither side should be neglected.  Take a closer look at James 1:27:

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”

That last part often goes unmentioned.  But God puts the two together: service for others and remaining spiritually pure.  It’s the same thing in the great commandment: love for God first, with everything you are, and then a responsibility to love others as you love yourself.  One can never be separated from the other.  This concept is all throughout the Bible:

“Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice,
 correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” – Isaiah 1:16, 17, ESV.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’” – Matthew 25:34-40, NLT.

There it is.  Care for others and love for God, shown in obedience to all His commands.  This is true religion.  It is not an unbalanced thing.  It does not take from one side only and believe that is enough.  It does not cloister itself away in a shack in the mountains, studying the Bible 24/7.  It does not overfill its plate with projects and causes until there’s no time for anything else and burnout sets in.

It balances actively seeking God in His word with serving Him by serving others.  Jesus Himself gave us the example.  He spent time teaching, healing, and preaching, but He also took time out for deep seasons of communion with His Father.  We’re definitely billions of light years from being on the same level as Jesus, so how much more do we need deep seasons of communion with God and time to study His word?

Notice Matthew 7:21-13:

“Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’”

My good works cannot save me.  But they will be important.  Through them, my obedience to God’s command to love my neighbor as I love myself will be shown.  Similarly, a pure life, washed clean from sin through His blood and kept unspotted by following His words, shows my love for Him above all others.  Both sides working together show whether or not I have truly done the will of my Father.  Love for God with everything in us first, and then love for others as for ourselves.  This is the essence of true religion.

The Basics ~ Adoption: Step 1

A Letter from Jesus

My Dearest,

I am so delighted that you have decided to become part of the family!  Your life will never be the same again.  It will be a million times better!  There is so much I and my Father have planned for you to enjoy!

You should probably know that We’ve been planning for you to join the family before the world was created.  The final part of the plan was put in place at Cross.  And now that you have accepted My sacrifice, the beautiful home I have prepared for you, and My Father as your Father, all that remains is to prepare you for royal life.  (Galatians 4:4, 5; Ephesians 1:5; John 3:16.)

This preparation is a seven-step process, and some parts will seem rather difficult.  But know this: My Father and I will never leave your side.  We will be with you, guiding you, strengthening you, helping you, through every step.

know you’re going to be so happy here!  I can hardly wait for that day!

But until then, please know that I love you so very, very much.  Remind yourself of this daily, especially when you see My stars in the night sky, when you watch the sun rise and set, when you see the flowers bloom.  My love is there, in every blossom, every leaf, every part of creation.  Everything has been for you.

All My love,

Your Savior and Redeemer

Step 1: Come to Jesus

If you are exhausted with burdens and heartaches, discouraged and downhearted, spiritually hungry and thirsty, weighted down with trying to live up to human laws and the changeable expectations of others, come to Jesus.  Let Him supply your every need.  He gives rest and peace of mind, relief from all these cares.

“Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

He gives perfect peace to all those who keep their faith in Him.  (Isaiah 26:3.) His commands and principles are easy to bear.  His burden is light.  It is no difficulty to bear.  He gives you a burden of love for others, and a desire to see His family grow.  (Matthew 11:28.)

He satisfies every need and longing of your heart, whether it is for spiritual, emotional or physical food and water, because He is the Living Water and the Bread of Life.  He is the Source of everything you’ll ever need.

There’s nothing you have to do before coming; nothing you have to change.  Just come exactly as you are, and He will make you a new person.

The Basics ~ Adoption: Step 2

Step 2: Repent and Be Changed

What is repentance?  It is more than just saying you’re sorry for the things you’ve done wrong.  It is a conscious choice to turn away from doing those things.  This step is very important.  Repentance is where change begins.  Without it, your sins will bring you down to eternal death.  (Luke 13:3, 5.)  You see, sin is a fatal disease.  The only cure is found in Jesus.  He lived on Earth as a human, among humans.  He endured the same weaknesses and challenges we all endure, and He was tempted by Satan the enemy to give in to sin.  In fact, Jesus has been tempted in all the same ways you have been tempted, without failing even once! So He knows exactly how you feel when you are tempted to sin.  The Father didn’t give Him any extra special help that is not available to you.  (Hebrews 4:15.)  Jesus remained sinless, because the sacrifice for sin had to be completely pure and spotless.  If He hadn’t been, He couldn’t have died for our sins and you and I would be doomed to eternal death from this disease.

Jesus bought us back from the enemy at the price of His life.  When we accept this gift, we must leave behind the old life of sin and be changed by His power into His likeness.  This is very important!  He can’t bring us home unless this whole process is completed, because if we could bring even one sin with us into our heavenly home, it would become just as bad as or worse than this crazy world we live in right now.

If you have never asked Jesus to forgive your sins, let me give you the simple version of how this works:

You have sinned.  You realize that you have sinned and you are sorry that you did.  So you go to Jesus in prayer and confess your sins.  Maybe you don’t remember them all by name, but you know you’ve sinned and you tell Him so.  Then you apologize and ask Him to forgive you.

In heaven, there is a record in a book of all the things you’ve ever done, good and bad.  It is from this book that God will judge all people.  (Revelation 20:12.)  When you ask forgiveness of your sins, He erases them all from this book and writes your name in another book, the Book of Life.  Everyone whose name is in this Book is a candidate for heaven.  (Revelation 21:10, 27.)  
So when the Father forgives you of your sins, He doesn’t remember them anymore.  (Isaiah 43:25.)  Yes, you will still feel bad for what you’ve done, but don’t cling to the guilt.  You are forgiven, and He looks at you as if you hadnever sinned before!  And if you sin again, He is just waiting for you to repent and come back to Him, and He is more than happy to forgive you again and help you change.  But you mustn’t think you can just do whatever you want because He’ll always forgive you.  He can only take to heaven those who repent of their sins, are baptized, and are converted.

Where does baptism fit into all of this?  It is a public symbol of your commitment to God.  It shows that you accept Jesus’ sacrifice for you, and you want to follow in His footsteps, giving up your life to Him.  The act of baptism symbolizes your death to sin when you go under the water.  When you are raised up out of the water, it signifies the birth of a new you, a new creation in Christ.  The old you has died and a new you is resurrected the same way Jesus was resurrected.  (Romans 6:4; Ephesians 2:4-6; Colossians 2:12, 13; Galatians 3:26, 27.)  You are reborn, given a new chance to live your life differently than before.

Conversion means a changed life.  It involves turning to the worship of the one true God with your whole life and returning to loving and obeying Him.  This conversion takes place as you spend more and more time with God.

You may ask how you can spend time together with Him when you can’t see Him.  Let me explain.  Many years ago, God inspired some of His prophets, apostles, and others to write a guide book or text book of sorts to direct you through life (2 Peter 1:21; 2 Timothy 3:16).  You guessed!  It’s called the Holy Bible, sometimes referred to as the scriptures or God’s Word.  Every word in it is God-inspired.  It has everything you need to know to pass the final test before the great Home-going.  Read and study God’s Book.  He’s put so much information in there to help you.  Read wisely and you will learn from the mistakes and experiences of some of His other children who’ve been adopted before you.  You will also learn all about Jesus, and how He lived so that you can follow in His footsteps.

God’s word speaks directly to you and your daily situations.  There are principles to direct you in every area of your life.  Your responsibility is to look for them.  They will change your life!  You will become more and more like Jesus, and more and more ready to live with Him in heaven.  But don’t just read God’s word; study it carefully every day.  As you do this, ask yourself, “What does this tell me about what my Father and Savior are like?” In this way, you’ll get to know the Father and the Son very well.

Also, talk to Him!  Continuously.  God never gets tired of hearing from you! In fact, He longsto hear from you.  There’s so much He can tell you, so much help He wants to offer!  Just ask Him for anything you need.  Anything.  True, He doesn’t give you everything you ask Him for.  Not everything you ask for is in your best interest.  Sometimes you ask for things that would do you more harm than good.  However, if it’s in your best interest, He is more than happy to supply it (1 John 5:14)!

When you talk to God, you can tell Him your deepest thoughts, desires, and secrets.  He cares about every single thing that has anything to do with you.

Another way you can learn about Him is by studying nature.  God’s creation gives you a view of His personality and character.  They show you how He feels about you.  You see, He thought of you when He created nature.  It’s not perfect as it was when He first made it, but some of its original beauty still shines through.  So when you take time to enjoy the glory of a sunrise or the tranquil beauty of a mountain stream, you can know that He made it with you in mind because He loves you.

Yet another way to learn about God is through the various experiences He permits in your life.  He knows that some of your experiences were difficult and even painful, and you wonder how He could allow them to happen to you if He loves you so much.  But all your experiences, the good and the bad, are meant to prepare you for Home.  Your experiences show you the differences in character between that of your Savior and that of the enemy, Satan.

It is important that you realize that Satan only seeks your destruction, no matter how “good” the things he offers seem to be.  God wants you to have life, and to have it abundantly (John 10:10).  Remember:  not one taint of sin can enter God’s Home, so your loyalty must lie with Him alone.

The Basics ~ Adoption: Step 3

Step 3: Live Your Life Following Jesus

Once you receive Jesus into your heart and give Him your all, it’s important that you now walk with Him and the Father.  I know, you must be wondering what it means to walk with Jesus and walk with God.  Well, they both mean the same thing; after all, if you know Jesus, you know God (John 14:9-11).

Walking with Jesus involves getting to know Him more closely every day and obeying Him.  Let’s take a closer look at this obedience thing.

This is extremely important, because Jesus can see the end from the beginning.  He knows the future.  So when He tells you to do something or not to do something, it’s because He sees the future consequences, the end results of your actions, which you cannot see.  He’s not trying to take all the fun out of your life, as the world often leads us to think.  He would never take away anything that is good for you (Psalm 34:10).

As with any good family, there are rules for all those who would live in God’s Heaven, and of course, they can be found in the Word of God.  There are two general rules that cover everything (Matthew 22:37-40).  These are broken down into ten more specific rules (Exodus 20:1-17).  They are referred to as God’s commandments or the Law.  Other terms are sometimes used to describe them, such as the “will of God” or “God’s character”.  It is His will that everyone be saved from sin and know Jesus, the One who saved them (1 Timothy 2:4).  To be saved you must know Jesus and have His character.  This is also known as being like Jesus.  Which brings us to the next step.

The Basics ~ Adoption: Step 4

Step 4:  Grow in Christ

It is impossible for you to get to know Jesus and still be the same kind of person you were before you accepted Him.  Completely impossible.  Does that shock you?  It really shouldn’t.  Think about it.

Could you jump into a swimming pool full of water and come out completely dry?  No!  That’s impossible.  In the same way, it’s impossible to know Jesus without His character, His personality, His will, and His likes and dislikes rubbing off on you.  Once you start spending time with Him, you’ll certainly come to admire His perfect character.

And whomever you love and admire, you become like (2 Corinthians 5:17).  As you get closer to Him, you will learn to know His voice and the different ways He speaks to you.  You’ll find yourself sharing the deepest parts of your heart with Him and seeking advice from Him in every area of your life.  You’ll start bringing your decisions before Him, so He can help you make the best choice.

In case you didn’t know, your heavenly Father had a plan for your life since long beforeyou were born (Jeremiah 29:11).  He dreamt of your happy, desirable future for so long, that He is ready and eager to advise you on what to do to bring it about.  And don’t worry, He hasn’t chosen a future for you that you will dislike or find boring.  After all, who else knows the future, and knows and cares about your secret thoughts and your deepest desires?  So He knows what you’ll want way before you ever do.

But back to what I was saying before.  Your goal is to become a new person in Jesus Christ.  You already know about getting to know Him, but it doesn’t stop there.  Jesus wants an on-going relationship with you.  He doesn’t do temporary or short-term.  He does permanent. He wants to be connected with you and just keep getting closer and closer.

And how does it happen?  By learning about Jesus, contemplating Him, examining His character, surrendering your whole self (heart, mind, body, soul) to Him.  The “old you” will put up a great deal of resistance against the new character that Jesus is forming within you, but as long as you stay close to Jesus and surrender daily to His will, you’ll have all the help you need to get over the rough spots.

This is how you will become a new person, a person like Jesus.  Of course, you’ll still be a unique individual.  In fact, you’ll be more of an individual than you ever have been before.  An individual after God’s pattern, not the world’s.  Your personality will be unique, as well as your own favorite color and stuff like that, but you’ll possess Jesus’ qualities: love, kindness, compassion and sympathy, patience, gentleness, a forgiving spirit (Galatians 5:22, 23).  All the rough edges will be smoothed out. This character is a must if you are to live in Heaven.

The Basics ~ Adoption: Step 5

Step 5:  Share Him With Others

As with every good thing you receive, there is a level of responsibility.  Once you begin a relationship with Jesus, you are responsible to share the joy you’ve found and what you’ve learned from Him and about Him with others.  When you really think about it though, this is more of a natural response to getting to know Jesus than a chore to check off a list.  Once you are focused on Jesus, your love and admiration for Him grows, and you can’t help but tell others what you’ve found in Him.

A good example can be drawn from the Book of Nature.

Consider this:  The sun shines its light on the moon in such as way that during the night, you can see the moon shining in the sky.  You see the light of the moon, but not the light from its source.  If the sun is shining on the moon but no light can be seen, you know that something is definitely wrong.

In the same way, Jesus, the Son of Righteousness, is shining the light of truth on you (John 8:12; 9:5; Matthew 5:14-16). Can you help reflecting that light for others to see?

There are many ways that you can let the light of Jesus shine through you.  God has given gifts or talents to everyone (Ephesians 4:8-13).  These talents are to be used to help others grow strong in Jesus.  Each person has a different talent.  Some people are good at speaking and explaining things.  They make good teachers, preachers, and evangelists.  Some may not speak as well, but they can sing or write.  Some are good at practicing hospitality: opening their hearts and homes to people who are physically, spiritually, and emotionally in need.  There are those who have the talent for drawing, painting, or sculpting.  Others have pleasant, winning personalities and are good at making friends and sharing Jesus one-on-one.  Still others are exceptionally skilled at caring for those who are ill.  There are so many gifts that God has given!  Too many to name here in one letter.

God has given you many talents.  Use them for Him!  You may not think you’re very gifted in certain areas, but the more you make use of your gifts in His service, the more you will develop (Matthew 25:14-30).

The Basics ~ Adoption: Step 6

Step 6:  The Test of Love

My dear friend, when you reach this step, you’re nearly home!  This is the final step before the great Homecoming, but it’s not an easy one.  In all the epic love stories there is always some test of love.  In the same way, your love for Jesus must be tested.

You see, God must know that you want Him because you love Him; not just because He’s rich and you’ll live eternally in a mansion and walk on streets of gold.  Your love for Him is shown in how you keep His commandments (John 14:15, 21; 1 John 5:3; 2 John 6).  Remember I said earlier that obedience is important?  This is why.

God’s law (the commandments) is His character.  Everything it in points to the loving, just, and merciful God that He is.  His law is who He is.  That’s why keeping it is important.

Now, you might be frustrated and wondering, “How can I keep all God’s commandments?  Some are easy enough, but others are so hard for me.  Nobody’s perfect.  No one can keep the whole law.  Why did God make the test so difficult?”

Well, clearly none of us can keep all of God’s commandments on our own.  Our greatest efforts are pitiful and our willpower is weak.  But with Jesus’ help, anyone can keep all of them.  Remember, I told you that God’s law is His character?  And do you also remember that you must develop a character like His?  Well, guess what?  That’s the key!  God wants to write His law on your heart.  God’s law will be in you!  (Jeremiah 31:33.)  It will be your character, a part of who you are, seen in the way you live!

Some people will tell you that this is impossible because they’ve never seen a person who never, ever sinned anymore after coming to God.  Well, check out the book of 1 John.  God’s Word makes it clear that we should live our daily lives in the way that Jesus has revealed to be right.  This is the essence of walking in the light.  It’s all about obedience to His Word, the day-to-day, moment-by-moment choices to follow in your Savior’s footsteps.

So Jesus invites us all to be reborn, to start our lives afresh with Him, walking in His light.  As long as you are walking in that heavenly light, you can’t stumble.  But if somewhere down the road, you walk away from the light and choose to do your own thing, don’t stay in your fallen state and continue living in sin.  Repent!  Run straight back into the arms of the One who loves you and gave His life for you!  He will forgive you, clean you up again, and put you back on the lighted path.

So putting the two concepts together, when you walk in obedience to Jesus, you are developing His character.  His law is being written on your heart.  Your heart is being knit together with His heart, the natural result of love  which is displayed in obedience (John 14:15).  And this is what puts you on the enemy’s radar.

You see, the enemy has created his own counterfeit of God’s law, a false law that reflects his own selfish, cruel, and evil character.  In this test, he will try to persuade you that his counterfeit law is superior to God’s true law.  He’ll come at you with lying arguments and fake miracles, and if all else fails, he’ll resort to force.  He will even go so far as to take your very life if you won’t follow his law.

Yes, your love for Jesus will be tried in the fires of some very hard experiences.  Jesus spoke of those who love Him being arrested, beaten, persecuted, and even killed by those who have chosen to follow the enemy and his laws (Matthew 10:17-22; Matthew 24:9, 10).  Some of the persecutors you face may even be people you once cherished as close friends, or even family (Mark 13:12).  They will hate you because you love Jesus, and you will feel it keenly (Mark 13:13).  Jesus never sugar-coated this bitter reality; but He did include a beautiful promise to all who would be faithful to Him even it means dying for their faith.  “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” Revelation 2:10, NKJV.  Jesus won’t leave you to face this alone.  He said, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  Matthew 28:20, NIV.  So be strong!  Hold on to your faith and keep trusting your Savior to keep you to the end, because the reward is totally worth it!

The Basics ~ Adoption: Step 7

Step 7:  The Homecoming

This is it!  The moment you have waited for forever!  God has prepared you to enjoy abundant life in heaven with Jesus.  All your worries and troubles are over.  No more trials or heartaches ever again.

You see your beloved Savior descend from heaven on a cloud with a shout, the voice of the chief of angels, and the sound of trumpets.  All God’s children who have experienced death are resurrected and begin ascending towards Jesus.  You recognize some of them.  They are your friends and family members who passed away!  The next thing you know, you and the rest of God’s children who never tasted death begin to rise with them, and together you all meet Jesus in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17).  No words in any human language can describe the splendor of that moment!

Can you even begin to imagine what heaven will be like?  Think of all the things Jesus has prepared for us there and can’t wait to show us!  In your lifetime you’ve seen mountains, hills, seas, rivers, lakes, plants, and animals, the wonders and beauty of nature.  But none of it even comes close to what awaits us there!  Everything there is perfect, never stained by sin.

Do you realize that we have never actually seen beauty until we’ve seen His Country?  The grass is truly green.  And the flowers!  So many different kinds and colors far beyond the limits of our current color spectrum.  The water is clear as crystal, and the crystal is clearer than the purest crystal we have on this earth.  And the food!  The taste of the food is indescribable (Revelation 22:1)!  The twelve gates of God’s City are made of twelve pearls,real pearls, and the streets are paved with pure gold–nothing like the “gold” we see in this world (Revelation 21:21).

It’ll be so amazing to finally be there!  Our imaginations don’t even come close to doing it justice.  “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” 1 Corinthians 2:9.

I know I don’t want to miss it!  We’re going to be so happy there!  I can hardly wait for that day!

But until then, remember that Jesus loves you so very, very much.  Remind yourself of this every day, especially when you look at His creation.  And keep in touch with Him.  He’s eager to hear from you!