A Lesson From Ancient Israel…

Listen to the audio version here!

Perseverance is a good thing.  It serves you well if it means that you keep working hard to get good grades in school even when things aren’t going well.  Or when you keep trusting in God no matter how difficult things are in your life.

Stubbornness, on the other hand, is negative.  The ancient Israelites were described as stubborn and rebellious (Ps. 78:8; Jer. 5:23; Hos. 4:16).  Just read through the Old Testament if you have any doubt.  God had done amazing things to free them from slavery
in Egypt.  He had performed huge miracles to care for them in the wilderness.  He had done so much to show His love and devotion for them, yet they constantly rebelled against Him, stubbornly refusing to keep His laws.  He warned them of the results of sin.  They even experienced some of them, but still stubbornly held on to their sins, not caring that they were hurting themselves.

For the last few months, I’ve been reading the books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel.  These two prophets lived around the same time, just before the southern half of Israel, the kingdom of Judah, went into captivity to Babylon.  Their calling was to deliver the messages God gave them for Israel.  Most of these messages pointed out the sins of Israel, warned them of the consequences, and called them to repentance.  As I read through their messages to the children of Israel, two things jump out at me:

1.  The children of Israel always seemed to have a problem with idolatry.  And it wasn’t just during the time period before Babylon took over.  All throughout the history of the children of Israel from the time God brought them out Egypt, they kept on going after other gods.  It started with the golden calf.  Later, when they settled in the land of promise, they went through cycles, where for a while they would serve God exclusively, then later they would try to serve Him as well as the gods of the surrounding nations on the side.

And you would think that after experiencing first-hand the power of the true God they would want nothing to do with impotent images made by man’s hands.  But instead they enthusiastically embraced idol worship, even going so far as to sacrifice their children by causing them to pass through the fire in the worship ceremony for the god Moloch (Jer. 32:35; Ez. 16:20, 21).

You would think they’d prefer to serve a God who didn’t claim their dear children as burnt offerings or put them through such torture.  But they stubbornly preferred to bind themselves to gods whose rituals went against everything that was right and true rather than surrendering to the God who delivered them from slavery and obeying His simple commands: don’t kill; don’t bear false witness; don’t steal; honor your parents; don’t have other gods; remember the Sabbath day, etc.  They preferred to serve self, living hedonistic lives instead of serving their Savior by loving Him with all their heart, soul, and might (Deut. 6:5), and their neighbor as themselves (Lev. 19:18).

Today, many of us are not in such great danger of turning to images to worship.  But we do make idols out of other things: possessions, people, relationships, money…even ourselves.  This one is huge in our day, with messages of “It’s all about you and making you happy.”  Everything is geared towards making myself the center of attention, putting myself first, doing whatever it takes to make me happy, even if someone else suffers in the process.

We are just as much in danger of idolatry in our day as the ancient Israelites were in theirs.  We must be watchful and take care where our affections lie.

2.  God’s mercy, love, and justice all mixed together in His warnings to His stubborn, rebellious children.  He consistently warns the Israelites that judgment is coming if they don’t turn from their sins.  One may argue that it is their choice if they want to sin or not.  That is true, and God never removes the element of choice from the equation.  But He does warn that if they continue in their sins, He will have to allow the consequences of sin to fall on them.

Sometimes when we read about God calling the Israelites to repentance, we think of them as a nation of kind people who generally obeyed God’s laws, but just slipped up once in a while.  Not so.  When you read through Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, you find that their loyalty was divided.  While they kept God’s sanctioned feasts and holy days and the Sabbath, they also sacrificed to idols and willingly participated in ceremonies and rites to manmade gods.  They oppressed the poor and needy (Ez. 18:12).  They gave no help to the widows and orphans (Ez. 22:7).  They had turned so far from God and obedience to His laws that they no longer resembled His character.

Yet God did not give up on them.  In mercy and love, He warned them of the results of their course of action.  He pleaded with them through His prophets.  He held back the judgments as long as possible to allow as many as were willing to come to repentance.

But so many chose not to listen.  So many chose to go their own way, continuing in their sins, walking in the footsteps of the Enemy.  So God allowed judgment to come upon them.

However, there is a key point that cannot be missed: just before judgment came, God also gave a promise.  He said that although He would allow judgment to fall on the children of Israel and send them into captivity, He would be with them in the place they would go (Jer. 30:11; Ez. 11:16)!  Even after all their rejection of Him, He still didn’t abandon them!

But wait, it gets better: He also promised that He would forgive their sins and, after a time, bring them out of captivity and back to the land of promise (Jer. 29:10; Ez. 11:17-20)!

Now that’s love and mercy mixed with justice right there!  It’s just the way a faithful parent would reach out to a stubborn, erring child: allowing the consequences of wrong actions, while being there for the child through it all and promising a complete restoration to the way things were before, and better.

This is the truth of who God is.

How can we resist such an awesome God?  He is powerful!  His power comes from the fact that He is truth and He is love; He is justice and He is mercy.  He’s unlike anyone we’ve ever known.  Even the best, kindest, most loving, most amazing person we’ve ever met cannot hold a candle to who God is.  He loved us, before we ever cared about Him (1 John 4:19).  He loved us and died for us, even while we hated Him and opposed Him (Rom. 5:6-8).  Such a God is amazing and more than deserves to be revered above everything and everyone else in our lives.  He’s the only one who is never-changing, faithful, compassionate, slow to anger, and full of mercy (Mal. 3:6; 1 Cor. 1:9; Ps. 145:8; Ex. 34:6, 7).

That’s who God is.

And because of who He is, He gives us a simple choice: to serve Him or not to serve Him.  What will you choose?

Love

“Guilty!”

The dreaded sentence has been pronounced against His beloved.  Now she must face the consequences of all her bad choices.

The things she’s done are repulsive to Him.  Even so, He knows in His heart that He still loves her deeply.  He can’t bear to think of her suffering.

So He insists on taking her sentence that she may go free and have a chance at a better life.

The idea proves far easier than the action.  The sentence is excruciating!  Yet all through the agonizing punishment, the cruel, blasphemous taunting and mockery, the torturous beatings, and the inhuman crucifixion, thoughts of only one person fill His mind.

Her.

I’m so glad she doesn’t have to go through this, He says to Himself.  I’m so glad I could do this for her.

It won’t be much longer nowHe reminds Himself as the pain intensifies.  Soon we can be together again.  Forever.  I will gladly bear scars for all eternity if it means that she is spared! I love her so much!

He suffers in silence as the hours drag by like eons.

Just a little while longer, He repeats, and we can be together forever.

Father, He prays in the midst of His agony and humiliation, help Me make it through this for her sake.  Just a little while longer. Just a little… while… longer…

***

He saw her coming from afar.  Finally!  The reunion He longed for was about to be a reality!  The one thing that kept Him going through the most unbearable moments of His ordeal was the thought of her.  He had done it all for her.  So that beautiful smile He loved could always illuminate her face.  To think, they would soon be married!  And then nothing would ever separate them again.

Now, as she drew near, He had eyes only for her.  The smile was on her face as she scanned the tiny garden, their special meeting place, looking for Him.

He stepped out of the shadows of the trees into the sunlight, all the love He had for her written on His face.  The she saw Him…

And gasped, drawing back in horror.

“What is it?” He asked, His own smile replaced by a look of bewilderment.   Looking down, He checked His appearance, really noticing the huge, hideous scars on His hands and feet for the first time.  He nodded, understandingly.  “I know, the scars are ugly and quite shocking, but in time, we will hardly even notice they’re there.”

But she was shaking her head, backing away slowly.

“Darling, what is it?”  He asked again, taking a step towards her.

She stumbled five steps backwards.  “I’m sorry, I can’t…”

“Can’t what?”

“I can’t….marry you!”

“But…why not?  I love you, and you love Me.  You said yes to My proposal.”

“I know, but…  How can I explain…”  She couldn’t finish the thought or bear to look Him in His eyes.  “It’s just…Your scars disgust me,” she finally whispered.  “How will I explain them to anyone?  Everyone would stare at us, whispering, wondering.  It would be so…”  She again averted her eyes, her face heating with shame.

“But I went through all that for you. Because I love you,” He pleaded with her to understand.  “Who cares what people think, as long as we’re together?”

“It’s more than that, I mean…What You did for me was nice, but…”  For a long moment, she stared at the ground, as a tear slipped from her eye and slid down her cheek.  Finally, eyes still on the ground, she whispered, “I just…can’t do ‘forever.’  That’s my whole life!  There’s so much I want to do, so much I want to experience.”  She slowly backed away, shaking her head.  “I…I love You.  I really do, but…not enough for forever.  I’m sorry!”

Then she turned and fled down the hillside path.

“Wait!  Please!” He called, starting after her.  “I love you and everything I’ve promised you will more than make up for anything you may miss out on here.”

She halted and turned to look back, her conflicting desires playing across her face like a movie.

“Please, please,” He pleaded, “come to Me.  Stay with Me.  Marry Me. “

She hesitated, frozen in indecision while tears streamed down her face.  She took a step towards Him.

His heart gave a tiny leap of joy.  The next instant His blood ran cold within Him as a hooded figure stepped out from behind a tree and grabbed hold of her hand.  It was His enemy!  Even in the shadows of the hood he still recognized that ominously attractive face, and the mocking smile.  It sent a fresh slice of agony through His heart.

“Come, my love,” the enemy said to her as he pulled her around to face him.  “We have so much to do!  There is so much I want to show you!”  He started back down the path, coaxing her along gently yet insistently.

He had her full attention, so captivated was she.  She only hesitated one second more to look back over her shoulder at Him.  Then she followed the hooded enemy.

The choice was hers.  There was nothing more He could do.  He would not force her; for then, she would be unhappy.  Still, it cut His tender heart in two to watch her ride off into the sunset with His enemy.

Betrayed.

By one He loved so dearly.

And with His deepest enemy!

It was late when He finally made His way down the hill, His heart breaking with a pain greater than all He had felt before.

God’s Kids

This is the preface to a book I’ve been working on for some time.  Let me know what you think. – R.

God had children.

A lot of them actually.  But they were lost.

Some knew they were lost, and were trying desperately to find their way back to Him.  These were the easiest to find.  Others didn’t know they were lost, and, frankly, they didn’t care.  But God did.  While they could see no further than satisfying their present wants and desires, He saw the senseless pain, loneliness, and despair that were certain to result from their present course.

So He went out in search of all His kids.  Some eagerly ran out to meet Him when they heard Him calling.  Others ran and hid, or tried to disguise themselves when they heard He was in town.  They didn’t care to be found, and did their best to make sure it didn’t happen, but He always turned up at their door, lovingly inviting them to come home with Him.  Then there were those who felt so ashamed and embarrassed to be found in the state they were in that He had to gently reassure them of His love and coax them to come to Him.

Every time He found one of His kids, He would bring him (or her) home, clean him up, heal his wounds, care for him, set him on the right path, and shower him with love.  Then, together, they would go out in search of the others.

You are one of His kids.  He’s been searching for you all your life.  Can you hear Him calling your name with the deepest love?  He wants you to be His child again.

Sovereignty and Faith

Sovereignty.

A noun, defined as “supreme power or authority.”

The Bible is loaded with texts describing God’s sovereignty.  The following are just a small sampling:

“You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created.” Revelation 4:11.

“All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth.  No one can restrain His hand or say to Him, “What have You done?”  Daniel 4:35.

“The heavens are Yours, the earth also is Yours; the world and all its fullness, You have founded them.” Psalm 89:11.

God’s supreme power and authority were recognized by the apostles:

“That I may come to you with joy by the will of God, and may be refreshed together with you.” Romans 15:32.

“Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.’” James 4:15.

Clearly, the Bible teaches us that God’s power is above all.  His authority is over all.  God is sovereign.

This reality should make us feel safer, more secure, more confident in the loving, merciful, holy God we’ve come to know.  Yet all too often, in spite of it, we allow Satan’s niggling seeds of doubt to slip in through one of his infamous “if…why” questions, like, “If God is sovereign, why is there so much pain, suffering, and disease in the world?”

Many others have given solid Biblical answers to that question, so I’m not going to focus on that.  What I am going to focus on is our response to God’s sovereignty.

Is it faith or feeling?

If asked whether or not God is sovereign, I believe most Christians would say yes, He is.  But then something bad happens.  You lose your job, and your bills start mounting up as you search week after week, month after month for a new job.  You’re forced to downsize to one vehicle and move into a tiny apartment before finally finding employment and getting back on your feet.  Maybe years go by without you ever getting back to where you previously were financially.

Do you still believe God is sovereign?  Was He still in complete control as you struggled to provide for yourself and maybe your family?

How about illness?  Do we accept God’s sovereignty in the death of a cherished family member or friend?  It’s not so hard when the loved one has lived a full life.  But how about when it’s a child, or a young person my own age, whose life is suddenly taken in some freak accident or by a painful illness?  Is God still sovereign?  Do I still trust Him even as I watch a dear friend suffering from a disease that I know He can heal?  Is my response to His sovereignty one of faith or feeling?

The knowledge that God is sovereign (omnipotent) must be accompanied by two things:

1) the knowledge that He is all-knowing (omniscient) and present everywhere (omnipresent), and

2) a surrender to and faith in Him as the all-knowing, ever-present, all-powerful authority.

And that can be really difficult for us.  As humans, we like to know why.  We have to understand why things happen this way or that way.  If we don’t know the reasons behind an action or inaction, we consider it “stupid,” or “dumb.”  Don’t believe me?  Try telling someone to do something unusual without giving them any reasons, and see how they respond.

We want to know why.  But God doesn’t always tell us why.  Just as a good parent knows how much is appropriate to share with a small child, God knows how much is in our best interests to know about why things happen the way they do.

On this ground, our relationship with God is tested.  If we have formed a relationship with Him through trust in His Word, the Bible, we know that He is love (1 John 4:8; John 3:16); that He is self-sacrificing (1 John 4:9, 10); that His heart is moved with compassion by our pain and suffering (Matthew 20:34; Mark 1:41); that His number one priority is to save all who want to be saved (2 Peter 3:9, Ezekiel 33:11); that He welcomes humble, sincere questions (Psalm 10, 74), but does not accept doubt (Luke 12:29; 1 Timothy 2:8; James 1:6); that He is merciful and gracious (Exodus 34:6); that He is forgiving (Exodus 34:7; 1 John 1:9); that He is both the source of truth and truth itself (John 1:14, 17; John 14:6; John 17:17; Ephesians 4:20-23)…and the list can go on and on.  His Word reveals who He is and what He’s like.  We read it, study it, and through faith accept it (Romans 10:17).  In other words, we choose to believe and trust that this is the way He is; just like we believe and trust that our friends are the way we’ve observed them to be. So if we’ve come to know and trust God through His Word, we will know what we can expect from Him.

For example, if I know He is love, and He is touched by our suffering, it will change the way I view the death of a loved one.  I still may not understand why He didn’t heal my friend, but I will trust that He is all-knowing, all-powerful, ever-present, and the embodiment of love.  I will know that He is sovereign, even though I don’t understand, and that His will is perfect (Psalm 18:30, Romans 12:2).

Sometimes this is really hard.  Especially in those moments when I think I know the best way for things to happen and then find all my plans thwarted.  But I must make a choice, once and for all.  Do I believe Christ’s Word when it teaches me that He is sovereign, and am I going to trust His sovereignty no matter what?  Like Job, do I trust Him enough to accept good and bad, knowing He showers me with the good, and doesn’t allow more bad than I can handle?

I’ve made my choice.  I believe.  I trust Him.

How about you?

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.

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 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!

The Date: Getting Ready

Ladies, take a moment to envision a few scenarios with me.  Suppose there’s this guy that you really care about.  In fact, you love him!  You’re getting ready to go see him, so you take a little extra special care getting ready.  You style your hair attractively and pick out an outfit you think he’ll like, probably in his favorite color.  You may even put on those cute pumps he said looked very nice on you, even if they do get a little uncomfortable after a while.

Suddenly it’s not about you anymore.  You love him and you want to look your best for him.  You want to please him.

How do you think that makes him feel?

Now imagine another picture.  You’re still going to spend some time with this guy you love and his friends.  But instead, of wearing the pretty blue dress he really liked, you wear the enticing one his friend liked.  It’s his friend’s favorite color, and your guy has told you before he really doesn’t like that dress.  But you wear it anyway, even putting your hair up in a way his friend likes, when you know your guy likes your hair down.

Now, it’s all about your true love’s friend?

How do you think your guy will feel when he sees you dressing for someone else?

Now just bear with me for one more mental image.

You’re going to meet your guy.  You love him, yes, but you’re feeling lazy, so you just run a comb through your hair and grab the nearest, comfiest clothes from the floor of your closet and pull them on.  No matter that their a little old and wrinkly or that they make you look like a lazy slob.

It’s about you, what makes you most comfortable, and you just don’t feel like going to the extra trouble of dressing up.

How do you think your guy will feel when he realizes that you didn’t care enough to make at least a little effort to look nice for him?

Consider this: Jesus is your Love.  He is the one you care about and love so much that you want to please Him and look nice for Him.  Which of the three images do you think would be most pleasing to Him?  What response does your appearance present to His awesome character and tender compassion when you go to meet with Him?

The Accident

Today I was in my first real car accident.  Thank the Lord, the only injury was an orange-shaped, swollen bruise on the elbow of the lady in the passenger’s seat of the car.  We were in our motor home, and they were in a car.  They didn’t realize they were running a red light.  We had the right of way.

The moment it happened, we were all ready to get out, Mom, Reuel and I with our cameras, ready to document what had happened.  First questions between the man and his wife in the car and us were, “Are you all ok?”  Then we began checking the damage on each other’s vehicles.

This is probably the thing that impressed me the most.  The attitudes all around were so Christ-like, so caring for the other person and so humble and honest.  That can only be Jesus working in hearts!  A lot of times when you see an accident like that, someone starts casting blame on someone else, people may show little care for each other’s wellbeing, and a spirit of anger and coldness.

But here, the man was honest about what happened and humbly took responsibility.  We were all trying to make sure the woman, who had bruised her arm, had ice to bring down the swelling and was feeling fine.  She was asking us if we were sure we were ok.

My friends, my brothers and sisters in Christ, this is what our Heavenly Father asks of us in difficult, stressful, horrible situations.  Actually, in every situation.  No matter what bad things happen, whether it’s our fault or not, our defenses should not fly up.  Anger, a blaming attitude, and pride in your own “rightness” should not instantly flare up.  The first thing should be care for the other’s wellbeing.  As the Bible tells us, each of us should not spend our time looking after our own concerns, but looking after those of others (Philippians 2:4).  This isn’t a license to nosiness.  It’s genuine, Christ-like love for our neighbors.  As Jesus said, the commandments are summed up in loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and our neighbor as we love ourselves (Luke 10:27). In another text, we’re admonished to prefer each other in honor above ourselves (Romans 12:10).

This is God’s will for His children.  This is His character, and this is how it must be lived out in the lives of all who take His name.

After the accident, while we waited for the police, my brother and I talked about the parables or spiritual lessons we could draw from this experience.  Several came to mind.

One is to always be alert in the present, instead of living in the past on automatic.  You see, the driver of the car explained that a little ways back up the road, they had come to an intersection just like the one where the accident took place, where construction work was being done on the other side.  The light was red and he stopped.  But one of the construction workers on the other side of the intersection was holding one of those “Slow/Stop” signs, and he had just turned it to slow.  So he waved at him to come through the red light.  So he went.  A little while later, they came to this intersection, where another construction crew was working.  The driver came to a stop, but then he saw the guy with the sign turn his sign to slow.  The guy didn’t wave him through, but remembering the previous situation, he started across the intersection.  But we were already crossing.

We cannot live our lives by what happened in the past.  True, we must know the past so we will not repeat its mistakes and will learn from its victories, but we have to live within the present, making new victories and continued progress.  And we must remain alert!  We should never go into automatic mode!  That’s when we become too relaxed and comfortable that we’re certain to fall right into the enemy’s carefully camouflaged traps.  Driving on cruise control may be alright in a car on a long road trip, but it’s absolutely deadly in your spiritual life!   “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)

Another valuable parable from this experience is about focus.  My brother loves to come up with witty one-liners, so he came up with one that goes something like this:

Keep your eyes on the Light, and not on the man.

Fitting advice.  Too much of our time is spent focused on humans and what they’re doing or not doing.  We say to ourselves, “She wears those things and she’s a Christian, so I should be able to do the same.”  Or, “He goes there, and he’s always speaking in church, so I can go there, too.”

Never a thought for what Jesus would have us do, or say, or wear, or be. We compare ourselves to faulty, frail humans, who sometimes aren’t even walking with God, instead of to the only spotless Example, Jesus, the Son of God Himself, who lived out the life that He wants to live out in us.

So let’s look at Jesus, contemplate Him and His character and His way of living.  Let’s look to Perfection and walk in His footsteps.