Growing in Faith

Creating Community

canal

During my bicycle commute to downtown Indianapolis I have time to reflect on the things God teaches us. The thoughts He brought to mind were of a good life and the importance of being good neighbors who care about making the place they live the safest, most vibrant and economically healthy Community possible. It always begins with a sense of camaraderie and working together. In a word it is unity. This was a lesson the Lord was teaching during that peaceful respite from my labors.

bike

White River State Park is about a mile from our Indianapolis home; I cross over the river itself, which is a tributary to the Wabash River, and stretches for 362 miles. I pause often on the bridge to bask in the beauty of its verdant waterway. The park, too, is a delight. Riding a bicycle enables me to experience the outdoors and the people as I pass through it on my way to do business downtown. Along the canal winding through the park, puppies frolic and excited dogs tug on their leashes, as children laugh. And even the joggers smile.  Ducks eye you closely for any sign of a bread bag while the squirrels display their acrobatic prowess in the surrounding trees. When people are there, they are at their friendliest. By your fifth greeting or so, you are caught up in the vortex of souls longing for community—community unity demanding to remain intact. It’s an assuring feeling to know your neighbors hope for the same kind of world that you do.

There are some things that every descent citizen hopes for: things such as world peace, old fashioned hospitality and charity, safety, prosperity, community mindedness. The need for togetherness is evident, in order to build such a home. How do we achieve the utopian lives we envision for ourselves?

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Nearly two thousand years ago God’s Son became a man. He taught and demonstrated the singular path to the kind of life for which every sane soul longs. His name is Jesus.

What is the first step towards the abundant life Jesus came to give us? If a soul is to manifest the dynamic of God’s Spirit indwelling them, where would they begin, and how? Assuming a person has placed their faith in Christ and is saved, they must possess particular knowledge if they are to learn God’s truths and mature in that faith. Most important is belief in who God is, and what He is like. This is the foundation of theology and of biblical Christianity.

Our worship leaders at West Park church in Indianapolis have made a habit of proclaiming one of God’s glorious attributes at the beginning of each service. We hear it often and in many congregations around the world. It began as “God is good!” And the congregation responds with “All the time!” That is the primary belief we must have if we are to trust Him with our lives. Is this simply a slogan, or a platitude to make us feel spiritual? Often I feel we do not dwell upon the depth of meaning those words carry. It’s a hazard any time we over use any statement. I like the fact that our congregation changes it up to include many of God’s other attributes. “God is faithful all the time,” or “God is love all the time.” God is all-knowing, almighty and holy all the time. The list goes on and on.

meerkats

It jolted me when the Lord brought the words, “God is good” to mind during a moment of my weakness. A decision was required of me to either speak out to vindicate myself against a false accusation, or heed the Spirit’s instruction to remain silent. My reputation and honor were at stake.

Thankfully, in this instance, I did the right thing and kept my flapper shut. But in order to do so, I had to trust that God is good and faithful. For obedience to occur it is absolutely essential that we are fully convinced of God’s goodness and His faithfulness. The Lord did vindicate me! And the truth came out in a way that had everyone involved hugging each other with joyful tears of Christian love and unity. It was a beautiful moment—one that is cherished.  God’s power was released into that situation because I believed and then acted upon that belief. I’m convinced that taking the matter into my own hands would have precipitated hard feelings on both sides, along with pain and deep regret.

Then, I realized that every temptation at its root was the same temptation. It’s what the enemy suggested to Eve in the garden. Satan tried to get her to doubt God’s goodness and His faithfulness. Will He act for my best interest? He will if He is faithful. The question is, can we trust God in every area of our lives and be obedient to Him all the time, especially when we don’t understand His reasoning? Is He good and faithful all the time as we say? Do we believe that he will satisfy us when we release the things He tells us to let go of? Will I be happy if I obey? Will all of my needs be met? If God is faithful the answer is a resounding “Yes!”

The clearer God’s revelations of Himself become to us the greater our power will be to enter into that life of work that brings rest and peace. We find ourselves possessing joy and finding deep fulfillment. The hope received offers a view of holiness upon which to focus, as love permeates and motivates our works, our words, and our lives together. I pray that you too are a member of this heavenly community that is forming down here regardless of the dirtiness and ugliness in the world, and amidst hardship and pain. The kingdom of God is in you and me, and you and you and you who are in Christ.

Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.—Jesus    (John 13:35 NLT)

You and I have a great responsibility to reflect the righteousness of Christ to the world through the lives we live, and in the love we share. After all, our community is actually a kingdom. Soon, you and I shall reign with our glorious King, Christ Jesus, and we too shall shine with glory as priests and kings. This world is rough, but a Christian is tough. And it’s more than worth the short lived suffering we may face. Paul declares in Romans 8, “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not even worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”

Come and be one of those who have overcome the world through faith in Christ and through the word of your testimony— and we’ll do it in love.  

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Reach Greater Heights

Ever notice how there always seems to be someone who is dead set on making you look bad? Are many criticisms spewed in your direction?

Nobody ever said that serving the Lord was going to be easy. Following Jesus is not for wimps. In fact, we are told that we will suffer and will be tested. As children of God’s soul garden He uses opposition to our cause in bringing about spiritual growth, enabling us to mature in faith, in knowledge, and in our obedience to truth.

Often I’ve talked about growing in grace and advancing in faith as climbing a spiritual mountain. That’s one of the reasons I named my devotional book: “Meet Him on the Mountain”. A few decades ago when I read Hannah Hurnard’s allegory “Hinds Feet on High Places,” it had a profound impact upon my own walk with Jesus. Perhaps that’s where I get the analogy from.

After you’ve been working at this arduous ascent for a goodly amount of time, it becomes easier to perceive God’s wisdom at work, and to see things from His point of view. Our spirits begin to make greater leaps. Our goals become more lucid. It’s exciting. And it is awesomely wondrous when we perceive ourselves morphing into a new kind of person as a result of God’s Spirit of power at work in us, using His written words. Without the Lord, we never would have been capable of becoming what we are at present. Neither do we cease to improve, nor arrive at perfection during this life below. The crux of this knowledge is that the Holy Spirit releases power into our lives as a direct result of our obedient faith.

The following is just one example of the many ways our responses to others undergo drastic and often surprising changes whenever we are actively growing in grace. Here is a fact that should be easy for all to agree upon.

A person of depth has no need to convince others of his or her significance.

Yes, that person who has been a thorn in your side feels as though he or she is not sufficiently significant.

But then, having a sense of significance is a legitimate need of the human phyche—everyone needs to be needed. When someone’s self-worth plummets, they tend to become hyper critical of others. They will usually target specific people who make the sufferer feel as if they are nearly worthless—an awful psychological pain. We don’t mean to make them feel that way, never-the-less, the Jesus in us outshines them, making them feel less than. So, before you dismiss that abrasive person who often may lash out at you and put you down, realize what it is they need. And then do your best to provide it. I think that’s what Jesus would do.

But you better get prayed up first. Put on the tenderness of compassion and remember to take your brain along too, because you’re going to need discernment. Don’t forget to suit up in the armor of God as you come alongside them and minister to that need.

Yes, it can seem like wasted effort. But what if it’s not? Actually, there is no such thing as wasted effort when that effort is exerted on behalf of Christ.

We have but one life and too soon it will pass—only what’s done for Christ will last.

May God’s favor rest upon you. Have a great day.

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Introducing God

It’s an astonishing, yet elating discovery: God in all His glory and holiness is intimately interested in having a relationship with every one of His children.

I was fortunate enough to know a fair bit about God before actually meeting Him. But I had a good deal of fallacious thinking about Him too. We all do.  God overlooks the invariable false understandings people have of Him, at first. Faithfully, He will bring us to a lucid enough understanding where we’ll confidently be able to proclaim, “I know God—I have a personal relationship with Him!”

Many people construe the personal aspect of a relationship with the Lord to delude themselves into thinking they have a special and unique means of connecting with Him. That’s simply not true. Often we hear people saying things like: “Me and Jesus, we’ve got our own thing going.” It’s even in a song that’s actually sung in worship services. The next clause proclaims, “Me-n-Jesus, we got it all worked out.” They will believe that lie, thinking that each of us has our own formula for coming into the presence of the Most High. God Himself, however, is the one who ordains how we are to approach and make contact with Him, as well as how to unite with Him.

It is only through faith and trust in Jesus, His Son, that we can meet the righteous requirement of entering into His glorious presence. Faith and our submissive dependence on Christ are unwaveringly requisite, that we may be with Him.

Granted, once we unite with God our relationship with Him becomes very personal and there will be very sweet things that only you and He share together. For example, I myself have a pact with God. On His part, I am irrevocably saved, and on my part, I will never surrender to defeat in attempting to be perfectly righteous and sinless in the life I live, as impossible as that may be. As individuals, we may have widely diverse assignments and various paths to walk. One may be ordained to suffer great pain and loss for the cause of Christ, while another may be held up before the world as a powerfully used vessel for propagating the gospel and leading many souls across the threshold of life. The way into that relationship, however, remains a stringently singular path.

Even when time ends and eternity is ushered in, I don’t think anyone will know ALL there is to know about God: He’s simply too big and complex. He does, however, reveal the most important aspects of His being, which are essential to know if we are to interact with Him and become like Him in character. Here’s a good place to start: “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Psalm 46:10

In the stillness of an empty mind, my soul inhaled the merciful goodness of God, as He revealed Himself in response to faith. I was silent before Him. The first towering wave rushed from His throne and washed over me—I found myself imbued with an awareness of His sovereignty over all things, most importantly over me. He is to be exalted, worshipped and praised. And suddenly I was acutely aware that the Lord’s omniscience causes Him to know my thoughts even before I think them. King David noted the same thing: “Before a word is on my tongue, you, LORD, know it completely.Psalm 139:4
The second wave came as what I call a thought-sensation, which this time communicated His pure holiness and righteousness. This, His glory, caused me to tremble in fright, because I am not perfectly holy. Yet within that same wave came the torrent of His love, expressing the merciful grace He had already lavished upon you and me. My quaking limbs were stilled. Fear was replaced with elation and praise! I had humbled myself, and so He lifted me up and gave me His joy and peace! (1 Peter 5:6)

God demands to be recognized as the awesome God He is. The bible indicates that we are to fear God in over one hundred and twenty five verses scattered throughout the Old and New Testaments. This goes far beyond the greatest respect and honor that we would show to someone here on earth. With God we move into reverent worship and awe. Don’t fret, His mighty love casts out our fear, that we may have fellowship with Him, unafraid.

And yet, before we simply sashay up and talk to God, we’d best be aware of who and what we’re talking to. Our lives depend upon it. Often I’ve heard Christians speak of Jesus as if he were simply a bosom buddy, and that is reflected in the lives they live, as well as in their prayers. They don’t seem to realize who it is they are speaking with. I’ll be the first to admit that I was the same way in my Christian infancy. And God winked at my immature view of theology. But I don’t think any of the Apostles looked at their relationship with Christ that way. Sure, He is a friend who will never leave or forsake us. He demonstrated the tender compassion and mercy of God throughout His ministry, until He finally manifested the unrivaled love of the Father by willingly dying a horrible death on the cross, that we might again have a close relationship with our glorious God. But He is still God, and we are but children in His sight, and quite limited in our ability to wrap our heads around His majestic being. But one day we too shall receive glorified bodies.

Jesus is a friend who will never leave or forsake us. The Lord’s tenderness and compassion were clearly demonstrated until His ultimate display of God’s awesome love was manifested on the cross

To have a good relationship with God, and gain His favor and blessings upon our lives, there are some things we must first be aware of. We have to know how we are to approach Him. Let’s list a few facts.

  1. He is Omnipotent, meaning all powerful.
  2. God is Omniscient—He Knows all things, including all possibilities.
  3. Our Heavenly Father is Omnipresent: in all places at the same time.
  4. The Lord is infinite.
  5. God is eternal.
  6. He is Spirit
  7. The Most High is immutable: unchanging.
  8. Our Creator is not bound by the laws of physics, as He is the one who ordained them and did the math that is involved. He can operate outside of the laws He put into motion. If you need examples, do a study on all of Jesus’ miracles and see how each miracle He performed defies a particular law of science. Jesus was revealing that He is indeed the Creator of the cosmos, and: “The Great I Am”.
  9. God created time, and He is outside of the time He created, yet He often works with, and within time. He made it for a purpose.

And all that is just for starters.

Everything the Bible says about God is but half of what we learn once we actually come to know Him. That’s what I’ve been working at for the past forty years, and I still have a long ways to go. No, I’m not slow—He is just that vast and complex. We won’t know Him fully until eternity, and even then I’m not certain we will know ALL about Him. He’s a very big God!

Lately it’s gotten to the point that I even rejoice when God disciplines me. It reminds me of when my son was very young. Whenever he felt he was not getting enough attention, he’d do something to get my attention, like drinking Tabasco sauce from off of the refrigerator door, or pouring a cup of dirt onto the dining room table. It’s having the attention of our Fathers that feels so good. Even negative attention gives us the assurance that someone greater than ourselves loves us, and is in control.

But I’m talking about attention from a HOLY GOD. Many volumes cannot fully convey what holiness actually is, and what it looks like. My next book is on holiness and how it pertains to our sanctification, but about the time I believe I’ve grasped deep spiritual insight to pass along to others, I discover higher, more elevated planes of knowledge. The more I learn the more I discover that I have yet to learn. When we receive a solid vision in our minds of who God is, and what He is, it is simply amazing that He would stoop so low as to be intimate with you and me.

When we come to God’s character, His nature and His complex personality we do not have anything on earth to compare Him to. Let’s continue our previous list.

  1. God is pure holiness. The visible quality of His Shekinah Glory can actually be seen. But then you’d have no retinas left. The brightest, whitest light you’ve ever seen pales in comparison to God’s visual appearance—He dwarfs the sun’s lumens. In fact, the bible teaches that a man cannot see God and live. His holiness would automatically incinerate us—He’s that great.
  2. The Lord Most High sets the perfect standard for righteousness. He is flawless.
  3. God is LOVE!

While this is far from an exhaustive list, each of the above descriptions should be pondered individually if we hope to fully understand the importance of knowing these things about God, before we can actually come to know Him personally.

With that being the case, God reveals Himself to us incrementally. And the further we go with Him the more wondrous and amazing things about Himself He reveals to us.

God is so great that humbling ourselves before Him should be automatic. If we have properly meditated on His properties and virtues then our humility when approaching God should come quite naturally. Just listen to the Beloved Apostle John’s testimony about the time He envisioned our Savior, Christ Jesus in His glorified form. “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.” (Revelation 1:17) What does that speak to your heart about the greatness and the glory of our God?

God called Job a righteous man. But look at this righteous man’s response when our Holy God spoke to Him. “I am unworthy—how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth.” Job 40:4 Then, Job found the boldness to speak just a bit more, which is a good eye opener for us. He said, “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”  By the way, the eyes Job was talking about were the eyes of faith. Hebrews talks about this kind of faith in chapter eleven. I like the part where it reports that Moses “Saw Him who is invisible”. The only way to see the invisible is through the eyes of faith. Believe me when I say, “Along with great faith comes spiritual eyes which demand that we conform to the new didactic and divergent sights. They are highly illuminating vistas. The information the Lord offers us is gained only through a close personal relationship with Christ Jesus. (Yes, He is also our friend, but let’s not forget His exalted position.)

I garnered a good rule of thumb from a High Priest in Israel’s history. Even though Eli failed to restrain his son’s from doing wickedness and desecrating a rite God had established, and was punished for it, He had some words of wisdom to pass along.

When young Samuel heard the Lord calling to Him twice, Eli gave great advice.

 

“So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.” 1 Samuel 3:9

When we come before the throne of God we need to allow Him to be in charge. God will hear our petitions or whatever is on our hearts. He wants to help us with that, but first things first. “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.” That is complete submission to God, recognizing who He is. Allow the Lord to set the conversation, and when it comes time to speak what you have to say to Him, or questions you hope to ask, you will know.

Okay, my coffee is worn off—time for a fresh pot. Blessings!

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Profitable Troubles

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One year at an outdoor revival held by our congregation a young couple came to the prayer tent where I was stationed. They found themselves in difficult circumstances and indicated they would like me to pray with them. Struggling financially, they were living in a rundown RV with no electricity. Their marital relationship was under a great strain, being battered about by hardships. In the book of Hosea God refers to life struggles like theirs as being in the valley of Achor, which means “trouble”.

“Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her. There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. There she will respond as in the days of her youth, as in the day she came up out of Egypt.” Hosea 2:14-15

Revealing the tender compassion which drives God’s heart, the book of Hosea is a story of God’s boundless love for His children. It exemplifies the closeness He desires in our relationship with Him. After God allows us to suffer in the valley of troubles, we must respond in faith, repenting where needed and learning how to trust Him more completely. That’s when His work inside us begins to profoundly take shape, and His purposes are moved forward.

God is preparing each one of us for the final culmination of His plan, which is found in the 19 & 20th verses of the same chapter.

“I will betroth you to Me forever; Yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and in justice, in loving-kindness and in compassion, And I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness. Then you will know the Lord. (Hosea 2:19-20 NAS)

 God loves us so much He wants to marry us! After experiencing His provision of peace and strength and comfort through the valleys of life’s difficulties, we are more prepared for the completion of our union with Him. On the other side of hardship and suffering, when we’ve grown to trust God’s love for us and yearn with every fiber of our being to please Him, He begins fitting us for our white bridal gown.

A year later in downtown Indianapolis I saw that same couple I had prayed with. Both have grown tremendously in their faith. They said, “We are more in love with each other now than ever before.” Then they added, “God is good.”

If you find yourself in the valley today, know that God is working in your life to draw you nearer to Him. “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” Psalm 30:5b

Prayer

Lord, I know you have a reason for everything you allow. Please give me strength and patience to endure what I must. Thank you for teaching me about your faithfulness and what is involved with trusting you. In your Son’s holy name, amen. 

Please note that the above image is not the same couple that is referred to in this post. They are simply good friends, “Bill & Bonnie” holding one of my devotional books. Blessings.

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Ascending Holiness Mountain

 

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A little wooden cross glued to a magnet kept wise old adages posted on my refrigerator door where I’d be sure to see them often. Both the words that were written there and the cross which secured them were mementos of things I needed to remember. The symbol was of who I am in Christ, since He’s paid the penalty for me by His death. But since He rose to life on the third day, I am guaranteed to one day rise as well. I must rise to walk in a new life today, since my old one has passed away.

The pinned words were admonitions I should heed. Wise people never forget these words once they ponder their truth.

Sow a thought and reap and act

Sow an act and reap a habit

Sow a habit and reap a character

Sow a character and reap your destiny.

Though Jesus has paid the entire penalty for my sin debt once and for all time, it is still my responsibility to cooperate with the sanctification process. I am being conformed to the holy image of Christ. I must submit to God, and obey His word and His Spirit who was given to me upon my rebirth into eternal life.

My character will be shaped by the thoughts that are allowed to occupy space in my mind. There are many things in the world that will stimulate thoughts, good and bad. This dictates that I must place a guard over what I see and hear. Whether we admit it or not, everything in life has an effect upon us. Another posted adage read as follows.

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”

The places I go have much to do with what I will see and hear. I must choose carefully where I go. The entertainment and recreation I select has a tremendous impact upon the sights and sounds I will experience, so those must also be carefully scrutinized.

Thoughts come from out of my heart, but there’s also thoughts that are suggested to me, both good and bad. Some are from God, and some from the world, and also some from the enemy of my soul. I must discern and distinguish the source of each thought, and choose to dwell upon those from God, and from the goodness He is growing in my heart. I must immediately reject all other suggestions.

My eternity is at stake

So there’s grave choices I must make

Selfishly, I could just live for today

Ignoring the coming judgment day

But life in Jesus grows sweeter with time

So joyfully I work, holiness mountain to climb.

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How To Be Sure Of Heaven

heaven

The question weighs heavy on the hearts of many people: “Am I really saved? If I died today or Jesus returns today, will I go to heaven?”

 

Romans 10: 9-10 promises that if we confess with our mouth Jesus is Lord and believe in our heart that God raised Him from the dead that we will be saved.

 

Someone may ask, “But preacher, what about Matthew 7: 21?”  There Jesus said:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”

One verse says I just believe and confess, and the other states that I must also do the will of the Father. Is this a contradiction? What is the will of the Father?

 

During Jesus’ earthly ministry the people asked him an important question which weighed upon their hearts, and I believe the same question weighs upon the hearts of people today. They asked, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”  What does God want from us? How can we please Him, and how can we have His favor on our lives? Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” John 6:28-29

God would have us believe on His Son Jesus as our Christ (Savior). That is His desire for you. But we must understand what kind of belief this is that God requires. The two verses, Romans 19:13 and Matthew 7:21 are saying the same thing. They actually expound and clarify each other.

Listen to this little illustration of a woman who told her husband every single morning before he and she both left for work, “I love you.” Yet, the wife was having an affair with another man from her job. Hmm, not very loving if you ask me.

Considering that love is an action, rather than just a feeling, she was not at all acting in love toward her husband. She did not really love him. The same is true of belief. If we truly believe, we will show it by our actions.

 

If we really love God, we will want to do His will. We will follow Jesus and obey God’s word to the best of our ability—this is what it means to believe. The kind of faith that saves us is the faith that follows Jesus, acting upon what our intellect believes to be true. This is true saving belief, better known as faith.

 

Very graciously, God has made provision for the times we slip-up and make mistakes, or fall to a temptation that we regret. 1st John 1:9 is a wonderful and a comforting promise. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. God is so very merciful, and He knows how difficult it is for us to be perfect. But here’s the big difference between a non-saved person sinning and a saved person sinning. When a saved person sins they hate what they have done. We hate sin just as God does. We desire to be pure, even though we cannot achieve it on our own. God sees our hearts, and He knows the ones who truly hunger and thirst for righteousness. Jesus said: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” 

 

We believe we are forgiven, because He said we are forgiven. This is a part of believing on Jesus. God is always faithful to His word. We confess that we are sinners and need a Savior. After salvation, we confess our sins to maintain a good relationship with the Lord, and to cleanse our consciences. We turn away from those sins instead of running towards them. In other words, we repent. Our sins are covered by the blood of Christ. We also believe that God is working in our hearts to make those errors fewer and fewer as we mature in faith. It is God’s Spirit working inside you, reproducing holiness and creating the beauty of Jesus inside you! It is a growing process. The bible says that one day the glory that is being created in us will one day be revealed. (That’s in Romans chapter 8)

God bestows salvation based upon our faith. Ephesians 2:8: For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–

 

AND THIS SAVING FAITH IS BELIEF IN ACTION!

 

We have such a gloriously wonderful salvation! It is a free gift of God’s truly amazing grace in Christ Jesus. Ours is a relationship of love, of trusting God, and of an intense desire to obey Him, because of our love for Him. Our first act of obedience to God is to be Baptized into Christ and into His church. We will want to be with other people who are saved. God has designed our spiritual growth around the structure of our spiritual family on earth, in the church. We need each other to help us grow, just as with any family. Eternal life and all the riches of Christ are ours through faith in Jesus Christ. Praise God!

“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10: 13

 

Pray this prayer with me:

Father God, please reveal your word to my understanding. Thank you for calling me to faith in Christ. I believe in your Son Jesus and the work He did by dying on the cross to take the penalty for my sin. Then he rose from the dead, guaranteeing that I too will be raised up to everlasting life. Please help me to live in a way that reflects my belief in you, my trust in you, and my love for you. Thank you for saving me and giving me this wonderful hope and peace. In Jesus’ precious name, amen.

 

Allow God to speak to your heart today as you read Matthew 7: 13-29. God Bless You!

 

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God’s Matrimonial Marvels

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He was less than attractive to look at, but one might say he was cute, if, that is, they were fond of pugs. When hearing Earnest Farnsworth preach, it was impossible to miss the passion in his voice. Accentuating this auditory indicator was his body language, with movements akin to the conductor of some grand orchestra. Right down to the drool on his chin, Earnest’s messages poignantly manifested his love for people, and for God. Oh he was a beautiful soul. That turned up little nose of his, though repulsive to the casual observer, became a beloved feature to those more astute, who knew him well. Many came to adore this man, whom strangers called ugly.

Some Christians have attempted to conceptualize the physical appearance of the Apostle Paul. Tradition has it that he was a slight man, and unseemly to gaze upon. Austerity marked him as a stern person. Yet, on the inside, he was one of the most magnificent souls to have ever lived.  He was so loved by the churches, that upon hearing they may never see his face again they were deeply saddened. “What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again.” Acts 20:38

What is it that resides on the insides, which can so negate these men’s deficiencies in physical aesthetics? What made them so appealing? Both were Christian men—men of God. But there are thousands of Christians who are ugly both inside and out. What makes the difference? Allow me to propose an answer: Perhaps the ugly souls are not really saved at all? My audacity in suggesting this is influenced by Jesus’ own words.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles? Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” Matthew 21-23


“Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” Matthew 7:14 KJV

Allow me to make another bold and audacious statement, but before labeling me a heretic, please hear me out. Those who are extremely beautiful souls, who shine forth with the love of Christ, are God. What? That’s right, I said they are God.

Yes, Father, Son and Holy Spirit “alone” are God, the three in one, and that is no contradiction to what I said just previous. Allow me to present to you the doctrine of sanctification, and of God’s Holy Spirit. Please follow through to hear the conclusion, that you may understand my daring statements.

Back in Genesis, God ordained the institution of marriage. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.” Genesis 2:24 NIV

Though a man and a woman are two separate individuals, when joined in marriage, spiritually speaking they are now one flesh. Two become one. This is a spiritual union. We will come back to this in a moment.

Often I hear preachers and teachers of the word speak as if they were not in Christ, while at the same time preaching Christ. I’ve done it myself, many times, but this morning the Lord set something new into my mind. We ask, “What would Jesus do?” Or maybe, “What would Jesus say in this situation?” Really? We don’t already know?    If we are in Christ we should know what Jesus would do, or what He would say, because he lives within us. “…But we have the mind of Christ.” 1st Corinthians 2:16 Either we believe the bible or we do not. That tired old excuse about different ways of interpreting was worn out before it even began. It is nothing more than a rationalization to disobey God.

On this last verse phrase, I was amazed that all translations of scripture were identical, with the exception of a few using “Messiah” in place of “Christ”. We are a part of Him!

In the past I’ve talked a lot about our relationship with Christ, and this relationship is a sweet essence in our doctrine. But there’s a difference between having a relationship to Him, and a relationship with Him. I have a relationship to my desk. I sit before it, and it serves me well. I care for it, wiping off the muffin crumbs and cleaning off the coffee spills. Every so often, I actually tidy up the entire thing, though you may doubt that if you were to see it. It would be rather odd to say, “I have a relationship with my desk.” It is not personal. It has no personage.

We serve a personal God, who is intensely interested in every nanosecond of our lives. Paul speaks in relation to my audacious statements as being a former “mystery” that is now revealed. “To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. “ Colossians 1:27 NIV

Christ uniting Himself to us is the mystery that was not revealed until after Jesus’ ascension to the Father’s side. He is our righteousness, and He is creating holiness within us. This was and is the only way we could overcome our sinful nature. He empowers and enables us to obey God in all things. God did however give a few clues in the Old Testament era, as to how He would change us back into people who are fit to be in His presence. One of those clues is found in Jeremiah 31:31-33.

Here is a key verse when it comes to sanctification. “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” Galatians 5:16 NIV

If we are really saved and are true Christians, then Christ is in us. We are Christ’s church. We are the bride of Christ, but we are still in the engagement stage of this marriage to Him. When Jesus was on earth, a pledge to be married was a serious thing, not like today. It was a prenuptial contract. Our wedding shall take place in heaven, and we now are being made ready by becoming holy, as He is holy. Holiness is a qualification for entering the kingdom of God. We are washing our robes in the blood of Christ.

But we have been sanctified, set apart as a holy people, a royal priesthood unto God. “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” 1st Peter 2:9 NIV

But we are also, currently being sanctified, as in the process of becoming holy. “For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.” 1st Peter 1:16. We are becoming holy (being sanctified). We are being conformed to the image of the Son of God. “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son…” Romans 8:29a

We’ve been set apart and joined to God through Christ. More specifically, we are joined to Him through the indwelling of His Holy Spirit, or Spirit of Christ. If in marriage two become one, as God declares, then are we not one with Christ? “But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit.” 1st Corinthians 6:17 There it is again, our spiritual union (marriage) with Christ. We become one with God.

Is Jesus God, or not?  I pray that you said, “Yes!” If so, and we have become one with Him, then we too, are, in a sense, God. But our union with Him has stipulations. We can only be godlike when we are in full surrender, submission, and obedience to Him. Our union with Christ is contingent upon our submission to His Spirit, who is constantly hoping to unite with our spirits, and have control over us. But he will not take control, we must give it, and surrender ourselves to the will of God. This is FAITH! Do we believe in God’s love or not? Do we believe that He is right in all that he says, and in every way that He leads us? This is what repentance means. We cannot be born of the Spirit until we have repented, agreeing with EVERYTHING God has said, says, or will say. It is a change of mind.

I agree that I am a sinner and in need of God’s grace. I need a Savior, and God has provided that Savior for me in His Son, Jesus Christ. I agree that Jesus is both God and man, that He was born of the Virgin Mary, that he lived and died a physical death on the cross. God placed all the sins of the world in Jesus, and then Christ died and carried our sins to the grave and buried them there. He arose on the 3rd day, was seen by many witnesses, and finally ascended to sit at the right hand of God’s throne in glory. Jesus, our Christ is alive forevermore! We must confess Him before witnesses, and be baptized into Him (Romans 6, 10:9-10) and in obedience to his commands. Yes, salvation is a free gift of God’s amazing grace. This is called justification. But if I am to dwell in His holy presence, I also need to be fully sanctified and made holy. The more I mature in my relationship, which is synonymous with, the more that I trust Him by submitting (obeying), then the more like Him I become. That’s where the beauty comes in.

Our hearts, our minds, and our souls are being fashioned into the most gorgeous creatures you could ever imagine. This is the beauty that made Earnest and Paul so attractive and lovable. It was their union with God, through their submission to God that made them so attractive on the inside. They shone with the glory of Christ, who dwelt within them.

A splendid truth concerning those who are saved and sanctified and being made holy, is that you are the elite, the elect, the chosen of God. You belong to an upper echelon and will one day even judge angels. There is no imagining how exalted your position is. Spiritually you are seated with Christ at the side of the Father. All enemies are being placed under His feet and you are a part of Him. But it is not by your own merits. Jesus has won all of this victory for us. We can accept no credit for simply doing our duty. But kudos anyway, for striving with every fiber of your being to become just like Jesus.

We too can blossom into stunningly winsome people, regardless of our external appearance. So what is your soul and spirit looking like today? Buff it up and make it shine by trusting Christ completely. When we say that we are trusting Him, it means we are obeying Him. We will make mistakes. But they better be mistakes and not deliberate sin! We do not consciously set out to disobey God. If so, then we are not united with Christ, we are still in our sins, and Jesus will say those horrible words we never want to hear. “Depart from me, I never knew you.”  If you still love that sin, then you do not love God with the type of proving love He commands. We love holiness, righteousness and all that is good, beautiful and glorious.

“For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins,” Hebrews 10:26 KJV

In Matthew 18:3 Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Becoming like children means that He is our Parent and we must be as a humble child and do as our loving Father directs us to do. When a saved soul sins, and they will sin, they will hate that sin just as God does. We won’t be able to stand ourselves until we confess that sin to God. This restores our fellowship with him. We must repent. In addition to the previous definition of repentance there is also this: “I hate my sin, and I never want to do it again!” This is true repentance and confession.

Sadly, we often hear only a partial gospel. “Get your free ticket to heaven.” Yes salvation is free. It is a gift from God. “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Romans 6:23

Yet, this in no way eliminates our responsibility. The New Testament is replete with staunch warnings about our new lives in Christ and what the Lord expects of us. He saved us for a reason, for a divine purpose. One of those reasons is mentioned in Ephesians 2:10 “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which he has before ordained that we should walk in them.” Make no mistake, the redeemed are God’s passionate project. He is working in the world through us, the church. He’s also busy recreating inside us, working to shape you and I into glorious creatures. Let’s rejoice over this next verse: I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. Romans 8:18 NIV Did you catch that? Glory, in us! Praise God!

We are to be obedient, and sin not. But when we do sin, even though we do not want to sin, we have forgiveness. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1st John 1:9. The Lord is keeping us spotless, if we are truly in Him, united and joined to Him in the closest bond known to the human mind: marriage. We weep and mourn over our sin, forsake and confess it.

Let’s not fool ourselves into thinking we can just take the free ticket to heaven and go on about our business without doing any changing. He will give us the power to make the changes that are requisite for our transformations. Come beautiful butterflies—let’s sing praises to God, who is still at work in you me, and who promises to bring that work to completion.

Don’t get me wrong, I do not believe in salvation by works. But I do not consider obedience a work. We must forsake our sin. How can one rationalize willful sin and explain away the following verses? “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” Galatians 6:7-8. NIV

This was written to Christians, saved souls, besides, it says “Whoever”.

I can’t wait to see your beauty unveiled in its entire splendor. We see only a small portion of that resplendent loveliness in this life; but it is enough to distinguish those who are truly being conformed to be like the one who is the most gorgeous of all: Jesus. He is the one who has made all of this possible. May Christ Jesus and God the Father be forever praised!

 

 

 

 

Categories: Church, Growing in Faith, Sanctification, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Time To Rejoice

rejoice

 

There are nearly a dozen hot button topics that have come up over the past week that I had hoped to expound. It would have drawn a lot more readers. But life kept on happening, effectively robbing me of the time I needed to plant my butt in the seat and type. But then again…

Today I want to block out all those other things bouncing around in my thinker, to relate what the Lord spoke to my heart this morning, through His word. Hold onto something now, we are entering my brain.  ☺

We hear the verse often, and most every Christian is familiar with it. I think there’s a danger in over using popular verses. When we hear them, our minds believe we’ve already received the full impact of that particular passage of scripture in the past, and so we don’t really think much about it. Opening my bible this morning, I turned to one such verse.

“This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Psalm 118:24

I can say with confidence, I’ve read that verse lots of times over the years, and have heard it quoted even more. But let’s dig in, and see if we can draw some deeper meaning than what appears on the surface.

First, let’s list the topics that this verse includes. Certainly it speaks of God’s sovereignty: God is in control. He can do as He pleases. I’m thankful He is a good and loving God, aren’t you?

This verse also proclaims that the Lord is the Creator of time.

Trusting God through whatever the day might bring is another grand principle we need to apply to our minds, which this verse implies.

God is working out His grand plan for mankind corporately. He also has individual, personalized plans for each one of our futures. (Jer. 29:11) He is aligning circumstances and events so that His plan for you will be brought to pass. This verse shouts the topic of Divine Providence.

We should rejoice.

When we can rejoice in the Lord, regardless of what is transpiring around us, or happening to us, God is very pleased. It reveals that we are trusting the Lord, and acknowledging His sovereignty. We are showing our understanding of His providence. We are acknowledging His provision of all we need, and we are joyful over His love. So here’s the thrust of the message I received today. God led me to the book of Job to make the connection.

“He replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.” Job 2:10

You should already know the story of Job, so I won’t get into that, but suffice it to say that God allowed Job to suffer horrendous tragedies in his life

Yes, it is easy to trust God in the good times of plenty and health. But what about the days when my sciatica is raging, causing terrible pain in my back? What about the days a migraine headache forces me back into bed? Can I rejoice then?

Often, I think I know what needs to be done in order for me to continue growing in holiness. I have mapped out how to best serve the Lord, and what I need to accomplish in order to minister to others. I have my days all planned out. But sometimes God interrupts my plans, with His plan. He might say, “No, Sheldon, today you need a headache.” Will I trust Him still? Will I rejoice in the fact that God knows what he’s doing, and that it’s all for my own good? Can God show love to me by allowing me to have a splitting headache? Yes! I may not enjoy the pain, but I can rest assured that God’s love for me remains intact. I can rejoice because I trust in His wisdom, which eclipses my own.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think people should shout, “Praise the Lord, I have cancer!” I’m not going to actually thank God for my pain. But I am going to thank Him that He is using my pain to shape me into the image of His holy Son, just as He has promised. I will praise Him for aligning events to coincide with, and bring about His perfect will, because His will is better than good.

Another popular verse states, “Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice.” Philippians 4:4

If I am going to rejoice in the Lord at all times, even during a sciatica flare up or a blasting migraine, I will need to trust God. I must accept the bad along with the good, as did Job. I must believe that in His providence He is working all things together in a way that will bring about all that is good for me. “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” Romans 8:28

Perhaps I needed to be reminded today that God is in control, and that He loves me very much. Maybe I required a refresher course in remaining joyful over my relationship with Jesus. But then, maybe God simply wanted me to write all of this out so that you would be reminded of these things. Whatever the case, the Lord is working.

Not perceiving or acknowledging God’s loving control does not hinder His plans from progressing, not in the least. But it will harm us, and steal off with our joy. Let’s lift up the mighty name of our glorious God today and rejoice in Him! Because, as we all know, God is good, all the time!

Pray with me:

Heavenly Father, we praise you that you are a holy God, and we praise you for your goodness and your sweet love. May your mighty name be forever exalted. We especially thank you for sending your Son, Jesus to pay for our sins and reconcile us unto Yourself. What an awesome plan of salvation! It is so wonderful that we have this precious relationship with you, and with Your Son, through Your Spirit within. We pray for your will to be done in each one of us, and across the earth. Teach us, oh God, to recognize your Lordship over all things, and to rejoice in the fact that you love us so much. Thank you for providing everything we need to grow in goodness and in godliness. We praise you for nurturing us along, as we become more and more like Jesus. We love you, Lord! We praise your mighty name, Hallelujah! In Jesus’ glorious name, Amen.

Categories: Growing in Faith, Ministry, Providence, Testimony, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 6 Comments

A Father’s Wisdom

Dad

In the above image, my father Jim Bass was putting the final touches on a sign he’d built for the Chidomoyo Christian Mission compound in Zimbabwe Africa. He is now with the Lord.

It was fascinating to watch my father work. He was a true craftsman in every sense of the word. Whether working with steel, wood, rock or concrete, he could build most anything. But I was not content to simply observe.  When dad added a beautiful extension onto our Florida home, I stood watching wondrous things take shape under his deft hands. Oh how I wanted to be like him, and I wanted be a part of his improvement projects around the house. He would put me to work on tasks that would effectively keep me out of his way.

Work Crew

Above is preacher & missionary Jim Bass and his construction crew getting ready to put a roof on a building for one of the village churches of the Shona people.

Patiently, my father showed me how to add the right proportions of sand, cement and water to mix the mortar he used in laying masonry blocks. I made batches of it in a wheel barrow using a hoe to blend the mixture together. It was hard work for the little wisp of a boy that made up my twelve year old frame. At times, I’d simply be on hand to pass tools to him, and afterwards there were always cleanup jobs. But in my heart I knew the little bit of help I gave was insignificant. I wanted to do what my father was doing.

Laying those masonry blocks looked so easy. Constant badgering would finally lead to my father giving in. I watched closely how it was done, and then, finally, it happened. Dad stood up, handed me the trowel and said, “Have at it.” It was dumb luck that my first two blocks were set just right. But as I laid the third, and began to go on to the fourth, dad stopped me. Together we walked around to the other side of the wall where it was easier to see how the last block I’d layed was not level with the others in that row. And it was setting crooked. I was all ready to take that one block back out. But dad simply said, “I will take over now.”

My father did not do as you might think. He leveled that askew block, but left it as crooked as a dog’s hind leg. For many years afterwards, whenever I questioned my father’s decisions, he would take me outside the house and together we would look down at that one masonry block that stood out of place from the rest of them. Still today, I wonder at my father’s acceptance of that flaw in our wall, leaving it there, just to have a permanent life lesson for his son. Was I really that important to Him? Today, that out of place block can still be seen. And every time I think of it, there is a warm assurance of my father’s love for me. It is the most beautiful flaw I’ve ever seen.

During this, the sixth decade of my life, more changes have been wrought in who I am than in all the previous decades put together. It’s like running downhill, the further you go the more speed you pick up. At forty years old I was so certain of what I wanted my legacy to be. If only I could be remembered as a man of faith, a servant of God, all would be well. At fifty-seven I now realize that it’s not at all about what I do, but what I allow God to do, in me, and through me.

If I were to die today, I have no certainty as to what words might be used to describe anything close to a good legacy. We hope to leave behind something of ourselves that indicates we’ve left the world a better place for us having been in it. But I continuously see how inept I am to do anything of eternal significance. It is all accomplished by Christ in me, rather than by me. If there is anything to boast on, it’s merely to be a good helper. I do my best in submitting to God that He may work through me. But I need to stay out of God’s way, and not run out ahead of Him, and make certain I don’t hinder what he is doing. This involves a lot of listening, submitting and remaining available—doing as He directs. It’s the same as when I was helping my earthly father. I still feel rather insignificant in the overall scheme of things, but God thinks differently about you and me.

The bible indicates that each one of us is an important part of God’s plan. He sent His own Son to die in our behalf, that we may be a part of Him, and a part of the work He is doing here on earth.

Thoughts for reflection

  1. What flaws or scars do I have that remind me of my Heavenly Father’s love?
  2. The book of Revelation indicates that Jesus still has scars from His crucifixion. Why did He keep His scars?
  3. Am I taking credit for the things God is doing through me?
Categories: Growing in Faith, Testimony, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

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