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WHAT IS YOUR STORY?

We don’t sing the old hymns like we used to. Most churches have moved to the more contemporary style of music and occasionally pull out one of the old hymns of days gone by. I can still remember the lyrics of many of those old hymns I grew up hearing and singing and sometimes they give me such solace and peace. Recently, the Holy Spirit put one of those old hymns in my heart and mind and the chorus has been something that I find myself humming or singing throughout the day. When that happens, you know that God, through the Holy Spirit, is encouraging you to hold on to the message in those words. While the hymn’s title is “Blessed Assurance” written by Fanny Crosby in 1873, it is the chorus that is a constant on my heart and mind. The lyrics of the hymn are:

“Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
O what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.

{Refrain:}
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior, all the day long;
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior, all the day long.

Perfect submission, perfect delight,
Visions of rapture now burst on my sight;
Angels descending bring from above:
Echoes of mercy, whispers of love.

{Refrain}

Perfect submission, all is at rest
I in my Savior am happy and blest,
Watching and waiting, looking above,
Filled with His goodness, lost in His love.

{Refrain}

That chorus “This is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior, all the day long; This is my story, this is my song, Praising my Savior, all the day long” is such a powerful and compelling message to those who claim to be Followers of Jesus Christ. This chorus being planted in my heart and mind, day and night, brought me to a point of self-examination and introspective searching. Can I truly say this is my story and this is my song? Or have I allowed other things to take the place of this being my story and praising my Savior is an occasional thing like Sunday morning in church or special occasions where I need to look holy to those around me? So let’s take a few moments together to give serious thought and honest evaluation to these questions.

God’s Word tells us ““The LORD lives! Praise be to my Rock! Exalted be my God, the Rock, my Savior! He is the God who avenges me, who puts the nations under me, who sets me free from my enemies. You exalted me above my foes; from a violent man you rescued me. Therefore I will praise you, LORD, among the nations; I will sing the praises of your name.”(1) Do you remember every waking moment that The Lord lives and we owe praise to our Rock! He is the Rock of our salvation and He sets us free from our enemies. So often when I hear men talking about their struggles with maintaining a close walk with the Lord my mind immediately goes to the instructions given to us in 2 Samuel. How can we have a close relationship if we don’t remember first what brought us into a close relationship with the living Lord to in the first place? If we are not praising and exalting the One that brought us out of darkness then how can we possibly maintain a close relationship? Satan distracts us with busy-ness and draws our hearts and minds to numerous other activities and things that removes the eternal mindset we owe to the One who Lives and who gives us an eternal promise. We get caught up in the here and now and when we do, we are prime candidates for the temptations of the enemy!

While there are many scriptures and passages of scripture we could use as an example of “this is my story”, I don’t want to turn this article into a book, so we will use a single passage that hits all of the key points.

David testified “The LORD is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid? When the wicked advance against me to devour me, it is my enemies and my foes who will stumble and fall. Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then I will be confident. One thing I ask from the LORD, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple. For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent and set me high upon a rock. Then my head will be exalted above the enemies who surround me; at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy; I will sing and make music to the LORD. Hear my voice when I call, LORD; be merciful to me and answer me. My heart says of you, ‘Seek his face!’ Your face, LORD, I will seek. Do not hide your face from me, do not turn your servant away in anger; you have been my helper. Do not reject me or forsake me, God my Savior. Though my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will receive me. Teach me your way, LORD; lead me in a straight path because of my oppressors. Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes, for false witnesses rise up against me, spouting malicious accusations. I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.”(2)

  • So, using this passage, let’s pull out some key elements that should be part of our story:
  •  Whom shall I fear, whom shall I be afraid;
  •  The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
  •  Though war break out against me, even then I will be confident;
  • One thing I ask from the Lord, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life;
  • For in the day of trouble He will keep me safe in His dwelling;
  • I will sing and make music to the Lord;
  • Your face, LORD, I will seek;
  • The LORD will receive me;
  • Teach me your way, LORD; lead me in a straight path because of my oppressors;
  • I remain confident in this: I will see goodness of the LORD in the land of the living;
  • Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD

While every man’s story will be different because of his life experiences, these elements should be interwoven in the story if he professes to have a personal heart relationship with Jesus Christ. While the language will be different because we do not necessarily speak as scripture is written, the essence of each item above will be in the story. All of God’s men must be prepared to share “their story” so that God may be glorified and others may learn and grow from the story we tell. So, WHAT IS YOUR STORY?


(1) 2 Samuel 22:47-50
(2) Psalm 27:1-14

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All Things Work for Good

One of the many verses in the Bible that is often misquoted or said at the most inopportune times is Romans 8:28.  I have heard well-meaning Believers quote or paraphrase this verse more so to remove their own feelings of inadequacy and not knowing what to say than any real words of empathy for the person that is going through a difficult life event.  Paul tells us “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”[1]  So people jump to this verse thinking it will surely soothe the pain or misery someone is experiencing at that very moment.

So how can we say cancer or a terminal illness works for good; how can we tell a young mother that has just lost her unborn child “in all things God works for the good; how do we tell someone that has just lost a loved one that was not saved and did not know the Lord as their personal Savior that will work for good; how do we tell those around the world that are persecuted and some even killed for their belief that Jesus Christ is the one true Savior works for good? The list could go on and on because there are many things that happen in our world that cannot and should not be described as good.  Yet God’s Word says plainly “And we know that in all things God works for good.”  So how do we take these disasters, persecutions, and tragedies and apply them to this verse?  I am going to do my very best, with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, to break down the key components of Romans 8:28.

In the opening of verse 28 there is a promise, “And we know that in all things God works for the good.”  It doesn’t say maybe, we guess, or sorta kinda, it says “WE KNOW”.  We can be confident in knowing that God works for the good.  This raises the first dilemma.  So many of today’s men view the world and what happens in it from a temporal point of view.  A temporal point of view is looking at situations in the here and now and is based on immediate time and circumstances not eternity.  To fully embrace the meaning of this verse and the promise it makes we must have an eternal point of view which means we may not be able to see God’s plan with our physical eyes but we know nonetheless that He is working His master plan all of the time even when it seems He is not.

John Piper[2] says it this way “When it comes to the architecture of promises, there are not any bigger buildings than Romans 8:28. This structure is absolutely staggering in its size. It is massive. The infinitely wise, infinitely powerful God pledges to make everything beneficial to his people! Not just nice things, but horrible things, like tribulation and distress and peril and slaughter. What brick would you lay on the top of this skyscraper promise to make it taller? “All things” means all things.

If you live inside this massive promise, your life is as solid as the rock of Gibraltar. Nothing can blow you over inside the walls of Romans 8:28. Outside Romans 8:28 all is confusion, anxiety, fear, uncertainty, straw houses of deadening drugs, tin roofs of retirement plans, cardboard fortifications of anti-ballistic missiles and a thousand other substitutes for Romans 8:28.

Once you walk through the door of love into the massive, unshakable structure of Romans 8:28 everything changes. There comes into your life stability and depth and freedom. You simply cannot be blown over. The confidence that a sovereign God governs for your good all the pain and all the pleasure that you will ever experience is an absolutely incomparable refuge, security, hope and power in your life. No promise in all the world surpasses the height and breadth and weight of Romans 8:28.”[3]

So to whom is this promise?  It is actually defined in two ways.  The first is “those who love Him.”  Those that do not love the Lord cannot claim this promise.  It is a promise made to those who love Him.  This aligns itself with what is described in the Gospel of Mark when Jesus was asked the greatest commandment.  He replied “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”[4]  But Jesus did not stop there, He went on to say “The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  There is no commandment greater than these.”[5]  If we do not love the Lord with everything we have … heart, mind, soul and strength … then we will not understand, or benefit for that matter, from the promise made in Romans 8:28.  And if we do not accomplish the first we will most certainly not achieve the second.  In order for us to experience the promise of “that in all things God works for the good,” we must totally and completely love the Lord with everything we have.  This holds true regardless of whether we are in the best of times or the worst of times we must love the Lord our God always.

Paul goes on to add one additional component to Romans 8:28 when he says “who have been called according to His purpose.”  Being “called” is not a frequent topic in today’s church and therefore it is often misunderstood.  Paul gives a powerful word picture when he says “And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”[6]  While many may hear the Gospel, not all will accept Jesus Christ as their personal Savior.  While many may be exposed to the Word of God not all will receive it by faith and stand firmly upon it.  We are called to salvation by the Holy Spirit, we are justified by faith and we are glorified by our relationship with our Heavenly Father.  If we were to break it down to the very root of being called to God’s purpose, it is to be more like Jesus every day. When we accept the challenge of living our lives like Jesus it is then that we begin to see how God can take all of the good, the bad, and the ugly and use it for good.  You see it’s not about us but it is all about Jesus.  It is when we put all three pieces of Romans 8:28 together that we can see what an incredibly awesome God we serve and He is more than capable of achieving the passage that says “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”


[1] Romans 8:28.  All scripture used in this article is taken from the NIV translation of the Holy Bible unless otherwise noted.
[2] John Piper is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary.
[3] This quote is taken from a message John delivered October 13, 1985 entitled “Called According to His Purpose”
[4] Mark 12:30
[5] Mark 12:31
[6] Romans 8:30

 

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HORIZONTAL THINKING VS. VERTICAL THINKING

I originally wrote this article under a different title in January of 2005.  Since that time the magnitude and importance of this subject has grown to a level that may determine the very survival of the United States as we have known it.  For that reason, I have updated the article to reflect the importance of “vertical thinking” to God’s men and my hope and prayer is that the Holy Spirit can use it to move men to live the lives God desires.

Too many men, including men in the church, become victims of “horizontal thinking.”  What in the world is horizontal thinking you ask?  It is simply getting caught up in the world’s definition of success.  In his book “THE MAN IN THE MIRROR” [1] Patrick Morley writes “Today men are consumed by desires to buy things they don’t need, with money they don’t have, to impress people they don’t like.” A man allows himself to focus on temporal gain to make him feel like a “real man.”  The next promotion, a newer more expensive car, a bigger house, big boy toys (trucks, sports cars, motorcycles, boats, country club memberships, etc.) and numerous other achievements and physical “things”.  Not that any of these things are in and of themselves evil, it is when we devote most or all of our energy to achieve them that they become dangerous.  They are often devious and subversive in how they take hold of a man’s vision of what his life is supposed to be.  Before long, he is consumed with the “horizontal issues” in life and he has lost interest in pursuing or maintaining a vertical relationship with his Heavenly Father.  At this point Satan becomes his greatest ally by showing him all kinds of reasons why his actions are justified.  “I’m doing this for my family”; “I know I’m not conducting my life the way God wants me to but once I accomplish this goal, I’ll get things in order”; “Doesn’t God want successful people in His church”; “If I gain more then I can give more” and so many other rationalizations that we are convinced will keep God at bay.  The interesting thing is “later” rarely ever gets here and the groundwork has been laid for a man to continue down the path of “horizontal thinking.”  What a man intends to do and what he actually does can often go in completely opposite directions.  That is what makes “horizontal thinking” so dangerous.

The best way for us get an understanding of “horizontal thinking” is to look at a scriptural example.  Mark tells us of a rich young man that comes to Jesus to pose a question.  “As Jesus was starting out on his way to Jerusalem, a man came running up to him, knelt down, and asked, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ ‘Why do you call me good?’ Jesus asked. ‘Only God is truly good. But to answer your question, you know the commandments: ‘You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. You must not cheat anyone. Honor your father and mother.’Teacher,” the man replied, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young.’  Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him. ’There is still one thing you haven’t done,’ he told him. ‘Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’   At this the man’s face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.” [2]

Jesus knew He was being set up when the young man called Him “Good teacher.”  You see the young man already had a preconceived answer for which he was looking.  When he told Jesus he had followed the “law” since his youth he expected Jesus to tell him he had already accomplished what was required of him to get into heaven.  When Jesus tells him to “sell everything you have”, it wasn’t because Jesus found fault with wealth but it was the fact that this young man placed more importance on his wealth than he did in his relationship with Jesus.  He was caught up in “horizontal thinking” and he had lost site of the more important “vertical thinking.”  It is also important for us to note that the scripture says that Jesus “loved him.”  In spite of the fact that Jesus knew this young man was trying to set Him up, Jesus was drawn to the young man and His desire was to open the young man’s eyes to the importance of a personal relationship with his Heavenly Father.  The young man walks away “sad” because he didn’t get the answer he expected and he was unwilling to let go of his “horizontal thinking” to gain a vertical relationship with Jesus.

I love how “THE MESSAGE” gives us a reminder on this issue.  It says “You were running superbly! Who cut in on you, deflecting you from the true course of obedience? This detour doesn’t come from the One who called you into the race in the first place. And please don’t toss this off as insignificant. It only takes a minute amount of yeast, you know, to permeate an entire loaf of bread. Deep down, the Master has given me confidence that you will not defect. But the one who is upsetting you, whoever he is, will bear the divine judgment.” [3]   This writing indicates we should not only take this issue seriously (“And please don’t toss this off as insignificant”) but also recognize that God takes it very seriously. It is also important to note that it tells us “This detour doesn’t come from the One who called you into the race in the first place.”  It is not within God’s nature to try and derail us from being obedient.  These verses also let us know there will be “divine judgment” for those who interfere and draw God’s children away from “the true course of obedience.”

So how do I avoid “horizontal thinking” and strive to maintain “vertical thinking?”  First let’s acknowledge that it is not always the easiest task to accomplish, but it can be accomplished.  It starts with what Rick Warren so aptly stated in his book “The Purpose Driven Life”, “IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU.”   You see, “vertical thinking” is focused on God and not on self.  All men, by our very nature, are selfish to one degree or another.  Throughout history this has been the eventual downfall of so many men because they became more and more focused on satisfying themselves above all else.  David gives us a good “test” for our daily walk with the Lord.  David writes “Who may worship in your sanctuary, Lord?  Who may enter your presence on your holy hill?   Those who lead blameless lives and do what is right, speaking the truth from sincere hearts.  Those who refuse to gossip or harm their neighbors or speak evil of their friends.  Those who despise flagrant sinners, and honor the faithful followers of the Lord, and keep their promises even when it hurts.  Those who lend money without charging interest, and who cannot be bribed to lie about the innocent.  Such people will stand firm forever.” [4]  Let’s look at several of the items David has listed here to help us maintain our “vertical thinking.”

David tells us we are to walk “blameless” and do what is “righteous.”  Blameless does not mean without sin. It does mean we are known to maintain a lifestyle that is based upon “integrity.”  If there is one thing our society today could use more of, it is men of integrity.  The dictionary definition of integrity is “Steadfast adherence to a strict moral or ethical code.”   Integrity for God’s man is strict adherence to God’s code of conduct, not the world’s.  It’s doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do with no ulterior motive.  It is doing what you say you are going to do and if you can’t, it’s letting people know you will not be able to keep your word.  God’s man does not use integrity only when it is convenient, but at all times – he does so even when it is not easy.  “Vertical thinking” requires that we act in compliance with God’s divine law and by doing so we will be free from sin.  While our relationship with Jesus Christ makes us righteous before God, it is our daily actions and behavior that make us righteous in man’s eyes.

Psalm 15 then tells us God’s man is one “speaking the truth from sincere hearts.   Those who refuse to gossip or harm their neighbors or speak evil of their friends.  We have all experienced the hurt that comes from someone lying to us.  It is especially painful when it is someone close to us.  “Vertical thinking” requires that we build relationships based upon truth.  That’s why Paul tells us “So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body.” [5] God’s man does not get caught up in slander and gossip.  James tells us “Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it.” [6]  Peter teaches us “Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind” [7]  “Vertical thinking” requires that we harness our tongue and stay away from those that cannot control theirs.

David then tells us God’s man is one “who despises a vile man but honors those who fear the LORD.”  Who do you look up to; who is your role model?  Are they worldly men that daily represent “horizontal thinking?”  We must realize we are sending a message to others and choose our heroes carefully; it is imperative to choose wisely those lives after which we model our own. “Vertical thinking” requires that we seek out Godly men to set the example which we use as our role models for daily living.

The next issue is God’s man is one “who keeps his oath even when it hurts.”  “Vertical thinking” tells us we keep our promises, even when it is not easy or convenient.  It means we keep our promises even if something “better” come along that we would rather do.  “Vertical thinking” requires that we keep our promises the same way God keeps His promises to us.

God’s man is one “who lends his money without usury.” [8]  Usury means interest.  “Vertical thinking” requires that we utilize the resources God has provided without looking for personal gain or attaching “strings” to the item borrowed.  Simply put, don’t take advantage of someone’s need.  I believe this applies not only to money but in today’s world, it could be said of any resource we have available that could help another person resolve a need or problem.

David then gives us one last item and that is God’s man “does not accept a bribe against the innocent.” [9]  Innocence or guilt should be based upon truth and not whether the accused can “buy” their way out of the situation.  Moses was given very clear instruction from God when He said “Do not pervert justice or show partiality. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous” [10]  “Vertical thinking” means truth cannot be bought at any price.

“Vertical thinking” certainly requires us to maintain very different standards than those set by the world around us.  Who are you living to please? Is it the world or your Heavenly Father?  There is certainly short term satisfaction created by the standards of the world but how does that relate to your eternity?  God’s man uses “vertical thinking” to keep him focused on daily living that leads to long term satisfaction — which is spending eternity with our Heavenly Father with all of the benefits of a good and faithful servant.

I am reminded of that wonderful hymn [11] refrain that says:

“Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.” 

Men, may your life be full of “vertical thinking” and may the things of earth grow strangely dim in the light of Jesus magnificent glory and grace!


[1] MAN IN THE MIRROR Solving the 24 Problems Men Face; Written by Patrick Morley; Published by Zondervan Publishing House; Written in 1997 and updated in 2014.
[2] Mark 10:17-22.  All scripture used in this article is taken from the NIV translation of the Holy Bible unless otherwise noted.
[3] Galatians 5 from THE MESSAGE, an interpretation of the Bible
[4] Psalm 15:1-5
[5] Ephesians 4:25
[6] James 4:11
[7] 1 Peter 2:1
[8] Psalm 15:5a
[9] Psalm 15:5b
[10] Deuteronomy 16:19
[11] Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus, Helen H. Lemmel, 1922. copyright status is Public Domain

 

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GRACE ALWAYS WINS

The Lord spoke to Paul and said My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weaknessPaul replies, Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.[1]

Matthew West, a talented song writer and performing artist of contemporary Christian music, wrote an extremely powerful song entitled “Grace Wins.”  The lyrics say:

“In my weakest moment I see you
Shaking your head in disgrace
I can read the disappointment
Written all over your face

Here comes those whispers in my ear
Saying who do you think you are
Looks like you’re on your own from here
‘Cause grace could never reach that far

But, in the shadow of that shame
Beat down by all the blame
I hear you call my name sayin’ it’s not over
And my heart starts to beat
So loud now, drowning out the doubt
I’m down but I’m not out 

There’s a war between guilt and grace
And they’re fighting for a sacred space
But I’m living proof
Grace wins every time

 No more lying down in death’s defeat
Now I’m rising up in victory
Singing hallelujah
Grace wins every time 

Words can’t describe the way it feels
When mercy floods a thirsty soul
A broken side begins to heal
And grace returns what guilt has stole
And, in the shadow of that shame
Beat down by all the blame

I hear you call my name sayin’ it’s not over
And my heart starts to beat
So loud now, drowning out the doubt
I’m down but I’m not out

There’s a war between guilt and grace
And they’re fighting for a sacred space
But I’m living proof
Grace wins every time 

No more lying down in death’s defeat
Now I’m rising up in victory
Singing hallelujah
Grace wins every time 

For the prodigal son, grace wins
For the woman at the well, grace wins
For the blind man and the beggar, grace wins
For always and forever, grace wins
For the lost out on the street, grace wins
For the worst part of you and me, grace wins
For the thief on the cross, grace wins
For a world that it lost

There’s a war between guilt and grace
And they’re fighting for a sacred space
But I’m living proof
Grace wins every time

No more lying down in death’s defeat
Now I’m rising up in victory
Singing hallelujah
Grace wins every time
Every time
I’m living proof grace wins every time”[2]

I have written and spoken many times about how the enemy uses guilt to bring us down and attempts to distract us from the victory we have already been given.  That victory is the result of grace given freely and willingly by our Heavenly Father.  Often defined as “unmerited favor,” grace is the result of what Jesus Christ did for us on Calvary.  God’s perfect plan included His one and only Son, Jesus Christ, living a perfect life; he was tempted just as you and I are tempted yet he remained perfect; demonstrating the power of Jehovah God to heal and to raise the dead as well as save the outcast and unwanted in the world.  He was accused of crimes He did not commit yet He was found guilty and sentenced to death on the cross.  Jesus anguished on that cross to pay my sin debt and not just for a period of time but for all eternity!  It is extremely difficult for me to soak this in simply because I know I am not worthy of God’s grace. Yet He extends it to me just the same.  There is a wonderful hymn that says “Grace, grace, God’s grace, grace that is greater than all my sin.”  It is grace that makes me clean in God’s sight.  It is grace that makes me a new creature when I accept a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  It is grace that gives me the ability to rejoin my heart with God’s.

The fact is there is nothing that I can do on my own to save me from my sins and as long as there is unconfessed sin in my life I cannot have the kind of relationship God wants to have with me.  Grace is not something we can earn or perform good works to deserve; it is a gift of God that cannot be bought or earned.  It is His love gift to you and me so that we can have a personal relationship with Him in this life but in addition, an eternal relationship with Him forever and forever.  Paul gives us a good description of this very issue when he wrote Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation.  However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.  David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the one to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:  ‘Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.  Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord will never count against them.’”[3]  When we try to earn God’s grace we can very quickly have our focus removed from God and turn to self.  You see works is about what we can do grace is about what God can do!

As Paul trained Timothy to carry on the ministry he tells him “You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.”[4]  You see the enemy would like for us to believe that grace ends at the altar of salvation yet nothing is further from the truth.  Grace begins at the altar of salvation and gives us power in our lives as we grow in our walk with the Lord.  As we grow in our faith we learn not only to receive God’s grace but to extend it to others.  Let me close with a powerful passage of scripture that sums up what I am trying to say.  In the book of Ephesians we are told “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.  All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.  But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.  And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.  For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—  not by works, so that no one can boast.”[5]  Are you living in God’s grace?  Are you demonstrating to others the same grace that God has extended to you?  Grace is power and it is the power of God living through us despite our weaknesses.  Oh thank you LORD that when I am weak, You are strong!


[1] 2 Corinthians 12:9.  All scripture used in this article is taken from the NIV translation of the Holy Bible unless otherwise noted.
[2] Artist Matthew West on his album “Live Forever” released in 2015
[3] Romans 4:4-8
[4] 2 Timothy 2:1
[5] Ephesians 2:1-9

 

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LET YOUR LIGHT SHINE

As a boy, I remember going to vacation Bible school and singing “This Little Light of Mine.”  The song says:

“This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine, This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine, This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine, Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine

Hide it under a bushel, no! I’m gonna let it shine, Hide it under a bushel, no! I’m gonna let it shine, Hide it under a bushel, no! I’m gonna let it shine, let it shine, Let it shine, let it shine

Don’t let Satan blow it out, I’m gonna let it shine; Don’t let Satan blow it out, I’m gonna let it shine; Don’t let Satan blow it out, I’m gonna let it shine, Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine,

 Let it shine til Jesus comes, I’m gonna let it shine, Let it shine til Jesus comes, I’m gonna let it shine, Let it shine til Jesus comes, I’m gonna let it shine, Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine, This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine, This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine, Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.”[1]

 

While I remember the song very well, I never stopped to consider the meaning of the song and really let it sink in.  The Gospel of Matthew tells us “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”[2]  “The Message”, which is an interpretation of the Bible, says it this way: “Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.”  A simple children’s song has such a powerful message when we look at the scripture behind it!  Jesus said YOU ARE THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD!  WOW, I wish I could testify that I see many Followers of Jesus Christ letting their light shine every day but from my vantage point there are fewer and fewer that have the boldness and courage to let their light shine.  We have become too concerned with fitting in and worried about what people might think if we let the light of Christ shine in our lives.  As the passage warns, we have put our light under the bowl of being politically correct and socially acceptable.  There is still time to change your situation to truly become a light-bearer for Christ.  It is not too late to let your light shine.  So let’s look at the critical elements needed to be an effective light-bearer.

First and foremost, before we can effectively shine light we must be connected to the source of light, Jesus Christ.  Without Jesus there can only be darkness and in that darkness we are drawn to the ways of the world.  A lamp can have all the proper components (bulb, switch, electrical cord, etc.) but if it is not plugged into the source it cannot shine light.  Jesus said “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.”[3]  Clearly Jesus is the light and without Him we live in darkness.  It is awesome to know that our energy source of light never runs out and He provides us the power through Him to shine light to the world.  We are not sources of light but we are reflections of the source of light within us.

This brings us to the second element; the entire purpose of light is to dispel darkness.  If you have ever been in the forest at night where there is no light or in a room that is completely void of light we find ourselves trying to maneuver around attempting to avoid the pitfalls that lie before us.  Sometimes we guess right and sometimes we guess wrong.  We desperately strain our eyes looking for even the smallest ray of light to help us avoid the dangers around us.

When your life is in total darkness you want to find light yet you fear the light because it will expose the sin in your life. The Gospel of John tells us “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”[4]  Despite our best attempt to extinguish the light it can never be eliminated.  While it is sometimes difficult to open ourselves to the light and expose the sin in our life, it is the light that can bring us to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and the result in repentance and God’s forgiveness.

The third and final element is the fact that letting my light shine is a choicePaul tells us  “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling  for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.   Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, ‘children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.’ Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain.”[5]  By no means an easy assignment, yet we have the ability to accomplish what Paul is saying by relying upon the light within us.  No matter the place or circumstances we are to be like shining stars in this world of darkness.  To accomplish this we must focus on the statement Paul makes saying “for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill His good purpose.”  The Prophet Isaiah said it this way “Yet you, Lord, are our Father.  We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.”[6]  To choose to let your light shine means you are willing to be the clay and let our Heavenly Father shape and mold you to accomplish His desired purpose in your life.

So here’s the question, are you going to let your light shine?  There is no question that our dark world needs more shining stars to see the light of truth.  Let your light shine in every aspect of your life and others will be drawn to the light!


[1] Found on METROLYRICS; Written by Jim Curnow; Published by Hal Leonard Corporation

[2] Matthew 5:14-16.  All scripture used in this article is taken from the NIV translation of the Holy Bible unless otherwise noted.

[3] John 12:46

[4] John 1:1-5

[5] Philippians 2:12-16

[6] Isaiah 64:8

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HALLOWED BE THY NAME *

We are living in a time when people have turned away from God and are looking for solutions to small and great problems. And many of them are looking in all the wrong places. Jesus’ followers asked Him to teach them to pray and He did so by teaching them what we now know as the Lord’s Prayer.  While Jesus never intended this to be the end all of prayers, He used it as a model prayer to demonstrate the content our prayers should contain.  While there is much that can be said in regards to this model prayer, this article will only focus on the first directive Jesus gave.  He said “This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.”[1]  In particular I want us to spend some time gaining an understanding of what is meant by the term “hallowed” and why we should treat God’s name as hallowed.  This word means “sanctified, holy, and set apart” and we are to treat God’s name in this way … Sanctified, Holy, and Separate.

The prophet Isaiah was given a message to share with the people that said “Do not call conspiracy everything this people calls a conspiracy; do not fear what they fear, and do not dread it.  The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread.”[2]  This passage could easily be a description of our communities these days.  We have become a nation that fears hurting someone’s feelings by speaking the truth and therefore we say nothing.  We hold man’s feelings in higher regard than standing on the truth of Yahweh.  Isaiah is telling us not to react to everything people react to and do not dread disappointing people because you do not fear what they fear or believe what they believe.  On the other hand, recognize God as holy and sanctified and as the creator of all things it is Him that we should dread disappointing because he ultimately controls all things.  We must stand on His truth regardless of what those around us may say or do as a result.

Moses is a great example of what can happen when we fail to hallow (treat as sanctified/holy) God’s name and fail to follow His commands.  The people were feuding and fighting with Moses and Aaron because there was no water.  They whined and moaned and blamed Moses and Aaron for the predicament they found themselves in.  The Lord appears to Moses and Aaron and instructs Moses to gather the assembly and call for water to come from a rock and the Lord promised that He would bring all the water needed from the rock.  Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly but instead of doing as God instructed, Moses said “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.” [3] Did you catch that? Moses said “must WE bring water”!  I don’t read in there where he gave God the credit for any of this! Moses was angry and he allowed his anger to dictate his actions which were not the actions commanded by God.  There was a penalty to be paid for failing to hallow God’s name.  “But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.”[4]  Moses lost the privilege of leading the Israelites into the promise land because he failed to show trust and honor in God. So a valuable lesson of how we must hallow God’s name is to trust Him and follow His commands.  We cannot sanctify and make holy God’s name when we take actions out of anger or to serve self.  God cannot bless those that do not trust and follow His guidance and direction.  If we truly hallow His name then we must fully and completely trust and obey His commands.

John gives a strong description of what it means to dishonor God’s name when he said “We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son.  Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about his Son.”  Pretty straightforward wouldn’t you say?  If we make God out to be a liar we are most certainly not treating Him as holy and sanctified (set apart).

Everything stated in this article is an attempt to make the reader keenly aware that we live in a world that does not hallow the name of God and by their actions, many are attempting to make God out to be a liar.  God’s people must refocus and pray for boldness and courage to stand on the Word of God and keep His name holy and sanctified.  There is only one God and one way to heaven yet we often sit silently by as people talk about many gods and many ways to heaven.  By our silence we are not treating the name of God as holy and separate from all other idols and false gods!  Isn’t it odd that we will quickly stand up and defend our favorite sports team, school, or activity but when it comes to treating God’s name with the same energy and passion it is the exception rather than the rule?  What is most important to you?  To be accepted and honored by people or to be honored and accepted by God?   No one said being a Follower of Jesus Christ was going to be easy but God did promise that He would be with us every step of the way.  It is time for God’s people to once again follow the model set by our precious Savior, Jesus Christ, and live out the model prayer which begins with “Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be they name”.  Jesus gave his all to pay our sin debt so the least we can do is give our all to share with everyone that God is holy and sanctified and He will not be mocked and He will not accept anything less than the trust and faith that comes from living a life that hallows, sanctifies, and holds holy His name.  I pray that you will spend some quality time with God talking through your relationship with Him and if there are things you need to make right with Him then there is no better time than right now.  We cannot effectively impact this world until we live a life that demonstrates our Heavenly Father is holy and sanctified and as a result we trust and obey His commands despite what the world may think or say.

Holy Spirit I pray that you will burden the hearts of those that read this article that are not living a life honoring your hallowed name.  May they see through their spiritual eyes what You see and if it is not pleasing to you then they will make the needed changes to be the person you planned for them to be.  Father, let us honor You for who You are and recognize that the world thrives on actions and deeds that are driven by sin.  Thank you so much for being a God that loves us enough to give us multiple chances to work out our short comings and grow stronger in You through studying your Word, prayer, and fellowshipping with like-minded Brothers and Sisters.  May all the glory, honor, and praise be given to you Heavenly Father.  Amen and Amen!

 


*This article was inspired by a series of sermons delivered by John  Piper.  John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and Chancellor of Bethelem College & Seminary.  For 33 years he served as pastor of Bethelehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota.  He is author of more than 50 books.

[1] Matthew 6:9.  All scripture used in this article is taken from the NIV translation of the Holy Bible unless otherwise noted.
[2] Isaiah 8:12-13
[3] Numbers 20:9b-11
[4] Numbers 20:12

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SATAN IS A LIAR; TEMPTATION IS REAL; HELL IS FOREVER

My intent in writing this article is not to scare or frighten the reader but to give them an understanding of a spiritual reality that is far too often ignored. For the most part it is not being taught in today’s church either.  May the Holy Spirit guide you as you read this article and my heart’s desire is that it will make you thirst for studying God’s Word to gain addition insight about not only hell but the eternal home for all Followers of Jesus Christ, heaven.

Sadly, in today’s organized church far too many have moved away from preaching the truth of the gospel and the reality of spending eternity in one of two places; heaven or hell. There are some fundamental issues that every Follower of Jesus Christ should be well acquainted with so they are prepared to talk to the questions that come up about eternity.  Many, including people in the church, believe that everyone will go to heaven because why would a loving god send anyone to eternal torment.  While a nice thought, that is far from what God’s Word says very straightforward and clearly.  Some believe if we just try to be a good person and do good things for those around us then that’s the best we can do.  Again this is not what we know from God’s Word which teaches us that even with our very best efforts to live a righteous life they are like filthy rags in comparison to God’s righteousness.  So let’s look at three critical elements of understanding Satan, temptation, and the reality of hell being for eternity.

Jesus was talking with the crown and questioned why they could not understand what He was saying.  He quickly identifies the problem and tells them You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” [1] Since the fall of man, we have all entered this world as sinners.  From birth we have a sin nature.  If we surrender to this sin nature then our lives will be patterned after Satan who is described as having no truth in him and further described as a liar and the father of lies.  Deception, distraction and destruction are his tools to keep people in his web of sin.  We are told “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.”[2]  Satan and his band of demons use any and all methods to create an inviting environment to follow the false teachings of false prophets created by sin only to lead a person or group to be devoured by their blind devotion to the enemy, Satan.  The church is not immune from these efforts as Satan boldly uses religion as a means of creating false prophets and false teachings.  That is why it is so incredibly important that we stay connected to our Heavenly Father through our personal relationship with Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit and God’s Word so that we can see through these ploys of destruction. Satan is a liar and from his very first interaction with Eve in the garden he has been telling lies ever since.

Our second critical element is the fact that temptation is for real.  When God condemned Lucifer to the earthly realm, He gave him power and dominion on earth.  Because of this power, anyone that loves the world cannot have the love of our Heavenly Father in them.  Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them.  For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.  The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.”[3]  It is because of this power that God intentionally gave to Satan that he can use temptation as a source of drawing people away from God and into his lair of destruction and eternal separation from God.  We can boil it down to a pretty simple concept; when we surrender to temptation our desire is to please ourselves instead of obeying God’s teachings to flee from destructive sin.  Paul made it very clear when he said “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.  All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.”[4]   Seeking self-gratification and the pleasures of the flesh characterize the unsaved, however, those who are saved can find themselves slipping back into the characteristics described in this passage if we do not follow the guidance given in God’s Word that says “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  Come near to God and he will come near to you.”[5]

Our third and final element is hell is forever.  Barna Associates, a public survey/research firm, found in one of their surveys that only 32% of adults see hell as, “an actual place of torment and suffering where people’s souls go after death.”  No wonder so many people have bought into the ways of the world.  They don’t believe there are any consequences for doing so.  One of the false teachings that exist today is that hell is temporary.  Not true.  Hell, just as heaven, is for eternity.  In the Gospel of Mark it tells us “If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out.”[6]  The Gospel of Matthew describes how it will be at the end of time saying “This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”[7]  Seems pretty straightforward doesn’t it?  Yet people choose to put on blinders and go their own direction choosing to worship self over a personal relationship with their Creator.  The book of Jude states “In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.”[8]  The Gospel of Matthew gives us a word picture regarding the return of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne.  All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.”  This passage goes on to say “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.” Then he describes the fate of those on the left “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”[9]  Hell is indeed for eternity and there is no way to cross over from hell to heaven.

[1] John 8:44; all scripture used in this article is taken from the NIV translation of the Holy Bible unless otherwise noted.
[2] Matthew 7:15
[3] 1 John 2:15-17
[4] Ephesians 2:1-3
[5] James 4:7-8
[6] Mark 9:43
[7] Matthew 13:49-50
[8] Jude 1:7
[9] Matthew 25:31-33, 34, 41