Happy are the Hungry

It is not a blessing to be physically hungry. But in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus pronounced blessing or happiness on everyone who was spiritually hungry, longing for a holy life. He said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6).

To hunger or thirst physically for something and have it filled, brings joy. Did you ever get so thirsty you would give almost anything for a drink of water? In the mid-1990’s, before bottled water became prevalent, my wife, Pat, and I spent a week in the hot and humid jungles of the southern Philippines. I was preaching at different mission sites in various places on the interior of the island of Mindanao, and people treated us graciously, but we could not drink the water. We learned to love Coca Cola, which all the missionaries and villagers supplied, but it could not satisfy like water. During that dry week, I dreamed of drinking glass after glass of cold, clean, Monticello water, at our home.

In this Best Sermon Ever Preached, Jesus used metaphors to enhance the meaning of His message. He pronounced blessing on the poor in spirit, those who recognized their spiritual poverty, and consciously depended on God and not themselves; He said those who mourned, recognizing their needs and presenting them to the One who could assist, would be happy; Then He promised those who were meek, humble and gentle that they would inherit the earth.

In this fourth installment of blessings in the upside down kingdom, Jesus confirmed that everyone who hungered—longed—for true righteousness and holiness would be satisfied with what He supplied. Since Adam and Eve disobeyed God, bringing sin and its contamination to humanity—pure holiness, complete righteousness and untainted goodness had only been found in one person, the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the only One “who committed no sin” (1 Peter 2:22).

Though we lack purity because of our sin nature, something within us longs for it. In quiet, reflective moments, most yearn to be totally clean from the filth of sinful thoughts and wrongful deeds. Jesus pronounced blessing on people who have such longing. He taught that our deepest ambition should be to “hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matthew 5:6).

The desire to be holy and righteous may wrongly lead one to seek self-righteousness. Even at our best, we are still sinners, separated from a sinless God. None of us can ever live good enough to earn eternal life or a home in heaven. Isaiah wrote, “All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags, and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities like the wind, have taken us away” (64:6). The Bible is conclusive when it states, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

Our God-given desire to have true righteousness should lead us to Christ and His salvation by God’s grace. The kind of righteousness that pleases God is the sinless life Jesus lived. This righteousness is available as a gift from our God, not as a payment for our work. Paul wrote, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but by His mercy He saved us” (Titus 3:5). In fact, it is “By grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8, 9).

The beautiful balanced symmetry of God’s plan comes to fruition when His children are made righteous by grace through faith, then live righteously by His grace in their lives. After receiving Christ as Savior, believers are commanded to “present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:13-14). Because Jesus is Lord of your life, you are to “consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts” (Romans 6:11, 12).

This means believers in Christ should continue hungering and thirsting for practical righteousness and true holiness in their lives. When Jesus saves your soul, cleanses your life, and continually convicts and guides by His Holy Spirit, your life will be filled and fruitful. Our part is to seek Him—His part is to satisfy our souls. If we do our part—He will do His! We know that, “He has satisfied the thirsty soul, and the hungry soul He has filled with what is good” (Psalm 107:9)

Jesus Promises: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6). This is true because, “He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (Hebrews 9:26). As you accept His sacrifice for your sin and trust Him to save you, He will satisfy your hunger and quench your thirst with full satisfaction—forever.

Thank You, VETERAN!

Henry Gunther is a name unfamiliar to most of us. He was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1895, a grandson of German immigrants. Sergeant Gunther served in the 313th Regiment where he was part of the American Expeditionary Force during World War 1. In the midst of a battle in the Lorraine region of France, he was killed in action at 10:59 a.m. on November 11, 1918. Significantly, the armistice, bringing an end to hostilities, was signed in Campeiegne, France, one minute later. German soldiers, who were aware that the armistice would take effect at 11:00, tried to wave Henry off, but he kept running toward them, his gun ablaze. The Army posthumously awarded him a Citation for Gallantry in Action and the Distinguished Service Cross. In 1923 his remains were exhumed from a military cemetery in France and placed in the Holy Redeemer Cemetery in Baltimore. Henry Gunther was the last American killed in World War I.

 Veterans Day, observed annually on November 11, began as Armistice Day – celebrating the ceasefire, which brought an end to that war’s hostilities. That agreement was signed at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. The formal peace agreement signed later is known as the Treaty of Versailles.  

On the same day one year later, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed: “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations.” On that day, soldiers who survived the war marched in parades and were honored by ceremonies recognizing their contribution. Years later, in 1954, Congress changed the word “Armistice” to “Veterans.” So, November 11 became a day to honor all American veterans, wherever and whenever they had served.    

In 2016 the Census Bureau reported there were 18.6 million American veterans, 5.6 million of them having served since the first Gulf War. All Americans should regularly be thankful and express appreciation to our veterans. But on Veteran’s Day, we should honor them in special ways. So, what can we do to honor those who have served our country? According to the Military.com website, we can:

FIRST: Show up. Attend a Veteran’s Day event in your area.

SECOND: Raise a Flag. Remind others that this is a day to honor all who have served.

THIRD: Donate. There are many organizations dedicated to helping veterans. An average of one in five veterans since the First Gulf War suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and need extra attention.

FOURTH: Contact. Get to know a veteran in your church or neighborhood. Ask about his or her military service. Write a veteran, offering words of appreciation and encouragement. Thank them for their service.

FIFTH: Pray. Ask God to bless our veterans and active duty military personnel and their families. As they say: Freedom is fragile-Handle with prayer!

Because of the sacrifice of our veterans, we enjoy tremendous freedom as citizens of the United States. But our liberty has been bought by blood and sacrifice. Patrick Henry, expressed the sentiments of many brave American heroes, when, on March 23, 1775, he said: “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” We must never forget the cost of our freedom, or fail to appreciate those who have paid it.

On Veteran’s Day in America, we celebrate the courage and sacrifice of our military veterans. We thank our living veterans and remember the fallen ones. We thank God for the brave who have fought, and continue to stand, so courageously, for our nation. We are thankful for the freedom their sacrifice has secured for us. We are free to worship; free to pray; free to speak; free to live in peace every day; because of their devotion and continual diligence.

This day also reminds us to thank our Heavenly Father for His great sacrifice by sending His one and only Son, to seek and save those who are lost in sin. The worst bondage is spiritual, not physical—likewise the greatest freedom is spiritual, not physical, as great as that is. Jesus said, “If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).

Jesus died in our place to take away our sins. “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). He said: “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). We must never take His sacrifice for granted. In the future, we will celebrate this victory Jesus achieved on our behalf, “when this perishable and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Corinthians 15:54). And that life God gives, through Christ, will last forever!

So, raise Old Glory up the flagpole, thank God for salvation and the freedoms we enjoy, and pray for the veterans who have served our nation, and for those who daily put themselves in harm’s way for our sakes.

Happy are the Humble

Years ago in seminary, a friend and I were discussing characteristics we needed in pastoral ministry. He confidently confessed: “Well, I am just not the humble type.” I knew he was partially joking, but also realized pride would be a problem in a ministry aimed at serving others. Besides that, a lack of humility would hinder anyone from receiving the promise of the third beatitude: “Blessed are the meek” (Matthew 5:5).  

In the greatest sermon of all time, the Lord Jesus promised blessings to believers who practiced particular characteristics. He meant them to be aims for His followers. Those who acknowledged their spiritual poverty would receive His Kingdom (Matt. 5:3)—Everyone who endured sadness and loss would be comforted (Matt. 5:4)—Then He says everyone who is humble, not assertive, demanding or pushy, will inherit the whole earth (Matt. 5:5). Each of these goals is just the opposite of our natural inclination. The Beatitudes confront the proud, arrogant and self-righteous—But pronounce blessing on the meek, unpretentious and humble.

It must have shocked His hearers when Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). A person who was meek showed gentleness, humility and consideration of others. Meek people were never pushy or demanding, but easy going and kind. Some, including the Romans and Greeks of Jesus’ day, considered meekness a weakness to be avoided, but Jesus said it was a virtue to be desired. Meekness is not weakness; in fact it is just the opposite. People who humble themselves before God and others—who seek ways to elevate those around them—who are gentle in response to harshness—show the greater strength. In this verse Jesus quotes from Psalm 37:11, “But the humble will inherit the land and will delight themselves in abundant prosperity.”

The meek are not inheriting the earth in our day. But when Jesus returns in the future, sets up His kingdom and reigns on this earth, the meek and gentle, humble and kind, will be the ones who inherit the earth, and lead in His monarchy. Someone rightly called this the upside-down kingdom.

In our world, mostly the ruthless are the leaders. In many occupations, the demanding tyrant usually gets his way, assertively climbing the corporate ladder. But Jesus said it would not be so in the future. The Lord rewards meekness and humility. Jesus said, “Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:4). In His kingdom, “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted” (Matthew 23:12). This is true because “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).

This concept of blessing on the meek was not new. The characteristic of humility with strength is prevalent among Bible heroes. The great leader, Moses, was “very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3). King David wrote, “He leads the humble in justice, and He teaches the humble His way” (Psalm 25:9). Paul included the characteristic of meekness, in those qualities that were to define the Christian life: “Walk worthy of the Lord with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2). He urged the Colossians to “Put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Colossians 3:12).

If you doubt the great value of humility, just listen to the Lord’s call: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). Jesus, our Master calls himself “meek and lowly in heart.”

Meekness is so important they are included in the fruit the Holy Spirit produces in your life, as you follow Him. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).

The rewards of meekness are both present and future. Jesus said, the meek shall inherit the earth. Humility and gentleness are not always rewarded here, but sometimes are mocked and ignored. Matthew Henry wrote “Meekness, however ridiculed and run down, has a real tendency to promote our health, wealth, comfort, and safety, even in this world. The meek and quiet are observed to live the easiest lives, compared with the forward and turbulent. All the blessedness of heaven above, and all the blessings of earth beneath, is the portion of the meek.” There is great promise in the command to “Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you” (James 4:10).

If these things are true, and they are, then…happy are the humble! God’s will for each of us is: “All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5). With this in mind, he continues: “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time” (verse 6).

These Beatitudes present goals for every child of God. We must recognize our spiritual poverty, admit we need God’s comfort in our loss, and humble ourselves before Him as we seek to serve Him and others. None can be achieved on our own. It is only as we seek Him, receive Him, love and follow Him, that we will enjoy His wonderful blessings. But when we do, what promise He gives! “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).

Happy are the Sad

What? Happy are the sad? Blessed are the hurting? Isn’t that a contradiction?

It’s not a paradox when we realize that times of sadness are inevitable; they come to all people in time. None are exempt from sorrow, mourning and loss—Not the good or bad. Not the rich or poor. Not the pastor in the pulpit or the parishioner in the pew. Times of difficulty, pain and grief will come to us all.  

In the Greatest Sermon Ever Preached, Jesus assured His followers that sadness could be followed by joy; weakness could be overcome by strength. He said: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). In this section of the sermon called the “Beatitudes,” Jesus reveals how to deal with things like poverty, sorrow and persecution, as a Christian.

How do you respond to deep troubles? David revealed his attitude, and reflected mine, when he wrote, “O that I had wings like a dove! For then would I fly away, and be at rest. Behold, I would wander far away, I would lodge in the wilderness. I would hasten to my place of refuge, from the stormy wind and tempest” (Psalm 55:6-8). As much as we may desire to flee sorrow and disappointments, they are usually waiting for us when we return.

When someone says, as Jesus did, “Happy are the sad,” that goes contrary to everything we know in life. The whole structure of our lives is about seeking pleasure, amusement, entertainment, fulfillment, fun and happiness. And, in seeking these things we avoid pain, sorrow and mourning as much as possible. So, what did Jesus mean when he said, “Happy or blessed are they that mourn”? Why did He connect two diverse concepts?  

Whether things bring us joy or sorrow is often based on our maturity. A baby will laugh when you play “peek-a-boo” and cry when you take his toy. He may be playing with something deadly, yet scream when you take it away. Why? Because he is immature, doesn’t understand danger, and only wants what he wants. Too many times, we are exactly like that.

This beatitude—creates two questions that must be answered:

ONE: What Causes Us to Mourn?  “Blessed are those who mourn” (Matthew 5:4a).

People are caused to mourn because of a natural sorrow—the kind that comes to every person in every place. Since Adam sinned, sickness, disease, disasters, crime, murder and death have become part of the human equation. Probably the saddest funeral on record was the one attended by Adam and Eve after their son Cain slew his own brother Abel (Genesis 4:1-10). Adam and Eve knew this sorrow was the result of their own sinfulness.

Sorrow, loss, disappointment, disillusionment, sickness, and pain are natural causes of mourning, but there is also a supernatural sorrow, for the cause behind the pain: sin itself. Paul wrote the Corinthians, “I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance…for the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret” (2 Corinthians 7:9, 10). Paul corrected the church for error, which made them sorrowful, but led to their repentance and restoration. That is sweet sorrow with good results.

TWO: How Does God Bring Comfort? “For they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4b)

Jesus told His followers that the mourners would be blessed because of God’s comfort. Our English word “comfort” finds its origin in two Latin words, meaning, “with strength.” When mourners are comforted, they are strengthened. So, what is the source of this comfort?

First, the God of the Bible is “the God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3). His attitude toward us is not of hostility but of love and encouragement. God is “for us” not against us (Romans 8:31); His Holy Spirit intercedes for us (verse 26); He gave up His Son for us (verse 32); and He promises that nothing can separate us from His love (verse 39).

Second, God comforts us through His Word, the Bible: “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures, we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). Bible verses throughout the Old and New Testament infuse strength to believers.

Third, God comforts us through the indwelling Holy Spirit. He is called “the Comforter” – “He will give you another Comforter that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of Truth” (John 14:16, 17). Then Jesus said, “I will not leave you as orphans: I will come to you” (verse 18).

If your doctor comes to you and says, “I have some bad news—you have cancer.” It would be crushing. But when he says, “The good news is that I can remove the cancer,” that would be delightful. However, what if he followed up by saying, “The bad news is that I must cut you with my scalpel.” About this time you would be shell shocked, so then he says, “But the good news is that once it is removed it will probably not return.” See the correlation? You would not mind being cut, prodded and poked by a doctor, if it was for your benefit.

It is exactly the same scenario for the Christian. The pain of surgery can be tolerated if you know it will benefit you. And, for every believer in Christ, the suffering, sorrow and loss experienced here, the distress of “various trials” “may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6-7). This result is sure because “we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). We do not understand how God can work it out for our good and His glory, but we are promised that He will!

YES! “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4)

Happy are the Humble

One day in 1974 Pastor Ira Stanphill was listening to the radio as he drove home from his church office in Fort Worth, Texas. A commercial for a bar was on the air, advertising their Happy Hour. Then a cigarette commercial told of how their product would bring happiness to smokers. This caused him to think about how often the promise of happiness was used to sell products. Then he thought about how most people really longed to be happy. Finally, it struck him that true happiness did not come from acquiring things, but with knowing Jesus. He began to create a chorus and went straight to the piano when he got home. In a short while he composed this snappy song:

          Happiness is to know the Savior, Living a life within His favor,

                  Having a change in my behavior, Happiness is the Lord.

          Happiness is a new creation, Jesus and me in close relation,

                  Having a part in His salvation, Happiness is the Lord.

           Real joy is mine, no matter if teardrops start,

                   I’ve found the secret – It’s Jesus in my Heart.

           Happiness is to be forgiven, Living a life that’s worth the livin’

                   Taking a trip that leads to heaven, Happiness is the Lord.

This song reveals the source of happiness and joy for believers in Christ—it is Jesus! Our Lord preached on that subject from a hillside in Galilee early in His ministry. It was probably the greatest sermon of all time. We know it as “The Sermon on the Mount.” In this sermon, presented in Matthew 5—7, Jesus began with eight ways for Christians to be happy or “blessed.” We call them the “Beatitudes.”   

Among the thousands who heard Him that day his twelve disciples had front row seats. In fact, the sermon was aimed mainly at them, as He explained in understandable terms, the way Christians ought to live. This is important: The Beatitudes are not things you do to gain God’s favor, but ways to live because you have received God’s favor, through faith in Jesus Christ. He never intended for His commands to be lived out in human strength, but with divine power, generated by the Holy Spirit, who indwells every believer in Christ. The Lord’s disciples had already received and believed in Him, so in this sermon, He tells them how to live for Him in this world.

Jesus wanted them to know: to be happy—they needed to be humble—“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3).  The word “blessed” really means “happy.” In these verses, Jesus describes the inner qualities needed in a follower of Christ that would bring him blessings in the future. Incidentally, these inward characteristics were in stark contrast with the self-righteous Pharisees, who were proud, boastful and judgmental.

It is amazing that the first recorded sermon of Jesus focuses on how to be happy as a Christian. Most non-Christians do not categorize believers as being happy. Somehow unbelievers visualize God as a cosmic killjoy and His followers as sour, skeptical and judgmental toward anyone perceived as having “fun.” Though untrue, that is the common worldview.

In this great sermon, Jesus offers happiness based on a new kind of living—self-less living in a humble lifestyle. His teaching flies in the face of society’s selfish trends. This sermon tells Christians how to live happily for Jesus in this world.

Jesus begins by challenging His followers to be “Poor in Spirit.” So, what does that mean?

  1. The Meaning of Being “Poor in Spirit”

Being poor in spirit is the fundamental characteristic of a Christian following Jesus. Humility is the opposite of pride, and nobody ever enters God’s Kingdom with a haughty, prideful spirit. In fact, Jesus said it was impossible to enter His kingdom without humility: “Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all” (Mark 10:15).

The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem is the traditional site of Jesus’ birth. They started construction on the building in AD 326, but the amazing thing is the main entrance to the church is through a door that is only four feet high and two feet wide, called the “Door of Humility.” You must bow down to enter. Similarly, the first requirement to enter God’s kingdom is humility, admission of sinfulness and confession of sins, as we realize we cannot save ourselves.

Happiness begins with humility—realizing what Christ has done for us. Even after salvation, humility continues to be a needed characteristic in life, “All of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility, for God’ resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5-6).

  1. The Result of Being “Poor in Spirit”

When Jesus said the “poor in spirit” would be happy, did he mean only those in material poverty, who have no money, income or property would be blessed? Being poor in spirit has nothing to do with the lack of material prosperity. Scripture promises God would bless his followers materially (Psalm 37:25; Malachi 3:10-12). Neither Jesus, nor His apostles, nor His church were poverty-stricken, begging for food.

Jesus said those who are “poor in spirit”—those who are depending totally on Him spiritually—would be most blessed. When we realize we are bankrupt “in spirit”—that we are helpless spiritually—that we can do nothing to save ourselves, then His salvation floods our souls. This sums it best: “The Lord is near to those who are of a broken heart, and saves such as be of a contrite spirit” (Psalm 34:18).

  1. The Way to Be “Poor in Spirit”

So, if Jesus says those who are poor in spirit are happy and blessed. How can we reach that spiritual poverty? You won’t get there by becoming a poverty stricken monastic. That may reveal the worst kind of pride, as you desire people to view your great sacrifice.

First, realize that, in yourself, you are nothing. You have a sinful nature that goes away from God, not toward Him. In fact the best we can do is still empty, “and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rages (Isaiah 64:6).

Next, confess your sins and call on God to save you. Jesus said the justified one prayed, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” Then revealed, “Everyone that exalts himself shall be abased, and he that humbles himself shall be exalted” (Luke 18:14). He is blessed! He is made happy! “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3).

The Preeminence of Christ

Okay. I admit it—I am a word-nerd. I probably should join Adverbs Anonymous. Word origins and meanings fascinate me.  For example, the word “preeminent” is an adjective which means to be more than eminent, to put something above or before others. Something preeminent is superior, surpassing all others, of paramount rank, dignity or importance. The words “prominence” and “eminence” are related to the word “preeminence.” All three words are rooted in the Latin verb stem “minere” meaning “to stand out.” The difference between them is that “prominent” means to stand out or project, while “preeminent” describes something that exceeds all others in quality or rank. That which is preeminent is the most important, even more than something that is prominent.

So, when Paul wrote the Colossians that Jesus, “is the image of the invisible God;” that He is, “the firstborn of all creation;” that, “by Him all things were created;” that, “all things have been created through Him and for him;” that, “He is before all things;” and that, “in Him all things hold together;” which will result in, “He Himself will come to have first place in everything;” he was presenting the awesome unprecedented preeminence of Christ!

Anyone who reads Colossians 1:15-20, whether he or she agrees with it or not, must admit that Christ is presented as being preeminent above all else, in heaven and on earth. Within these heavy laden, powerfully descriptive verses, are four reasons Christ Jesus should be preeminent.

1. Christ is Preeminent in His Identity—“He is the image of the invisible God”

Paul meant that Jesus was God become visible. The Greek word for “image” is the root of our English word, “icon.” An icon is an image that represents something larger. When people say that Michael Jordan is a basketball icon, they mean he represents the whole sport; that he is the image of the highest skills in basketball.

When Jesus was born, it fulfilled the prophecy: “A virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel, which translated means, God with us” (Matthew 1:23). His birth literally meant God had come to dwell among people. This truth explains what Jesus meant when He told Philip: “When you have seen Me, you have seen the Father” (John 14:9).

Jesus is not only identified as the manifestation of God, but He is the only legal heir of God—“He is…the firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15). Jesus certainly was not the first one born in time, but He was the “firstborn” of God, the “only begotten son of God” (John 3:16). This means Jesus has the birthright and is the only legal heir to the throne of God.

2. Christ is Preeminent in His Work—“By Him all things were created”

When Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” happened, it was Jesus, God’s eternal Son, who, with the Father and Holy Spirit, created all things. He fashioned all things, “both in the heavens and on earth…all things have been created through Him and for him” (Colossians 1:16).

Jesus is also preeminent in His work of sustaining His creation—“He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17). In unscientific terms, the whole universe would fly apart without His supervision. The writer of Hebrews states that: “He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power” (Hebrews 1:3).

3. Christ is Preeminent in His Position—“He is also head of the body, the church”

One position Jesus holds is Head of His church. The church is the called out assembly of baptized believers in Christ, who are covenanted together to carry out His commands. Jesus is the head of every church that belongs to Him. He is the ultimate one in charge, with supreme authority over each body, its life and service.

Another position Jesus holds is the overcomer of death, “He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead” (verse 18). Jesus was not the first person raised from death to life, but He is the first to overcome death and never die again. Through His death He destroyed death for every believer in Him (Heb. 2:14-15).

Jesus is also in the position of preeminence, “so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything” (verse 18). There will come a time when every person who has ever lived will recognize Christ in His preeminence: “at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11).  This does not mean every person will be saved—it does mean every person will recognize that Christ is Lord of all—some willingly and others forcibly.

4. Christ is Preeminent in His Salvation—“And through Him to reconcile all things to Himself”

Salvation and eternal life only come through the sacrifice of Christ. Through Christ alone God will reconcile all things to Himself. Mankind and all of creation have been out of fellowship with God since the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. But there will come a time when God will bring everything back into fellowship with Himself and make everything right that has been wrong.                       

Christ is preeminent in His salvation because He has “made peace through the blood of His cross” (Colossians 1:20). We only have peace with God through the bloody sacrifice of Christ on the cross. But, peace with God is available: “Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).

Our Lord Jesus Christ is preeminent over all. The question we must ask is: Is Jesus preeminent in your life? Is He your Savior? Are you following, honoring and serving Him as your Lord? The good news is, you can choose to receive, love and follow Him today!

What Makes You Joyful?

Remember when you got your tickle box turned upside down? People laugh at different things, but they all laugh at something. Joy and laughter are parts of the universal human personality. There are thousands of languages with hundreds of thousands of dialects, but everyone has the capacity to laugh.

When barren Sarah heard the news that she would bear a child in her old age, she laughed in disbelief. God Himself confronted her, yet she denied laughing. Her denial ended when God said, “No, but you did laugh” (Genesis 18:15). When that son was born, Abraham called his name, Isaac, which means laughter in Hebrew. The follow-up to this hilarious event goes like this: “Now Abraham was one hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. Sarah said, God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me” (Genesis 21:5-6). Her early nervous, fearful chuckle later became relaxed, joyful laughter as she reared that son in her old age.

Every psychologist and human behavior expert agrees that joy and laughter are good for you. But, God said it first—“A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones” (Proverbs 17:22).

The answer to what makes you joyful is an interesting study. If you Google the question, “What causes joy?” you will get this response: “We feel joy because of the release of dopamine and serotonin, neurotransmitters in the brain.” I am sure that is true but what we would like to know is what triggers those endorphins with their resultant emotions of joy, pleasure and satisfaction.

When Pastor Rick Warren answered the question of what causes joy, he said: “Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life. It is the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be alright, and is the determined choice to praise and thank God in every situation.”

The Apostle Paul, in Colossians chapter one, named four things that should make us joyful. Though written almost 2,000 years ago, these four things can still bring joy to your life.

1. We can be Joyful because Christ Has Qualified Us…”Joyously giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light” (verse 12).

We should have joy because, through faith in Christ, God has qualified us to receive a share of His inheritance! Imagine the inheritance from the King of kings!

 There are only two ways to qualify for an inheritance: by being part of a family, or by being in someone’s will. You may write a millionaire and ask to be in his or her inheritance, but you would probably never get a reply. However, if you were in the family; if you were an heir of the millionaire; or if you were in the last will and testament of a millionaire; you would be qualified for an inheritance.

None of us deserve an inheritance from God, but we can receive one by becoming part of His forever family. “You are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26). As a child of God through faith in Christ, He qualifies you for an inheritance.

2.  We can be Joyful because Christ has Rescued Us…”For He rescued us from the domain of darkness” (verse 13a).

Before salvation by grace through faith in Christ, we were dead in our sins. We were lost, we were hopeless, in darkness, miserable, drowning in our sins and bound for hell, until He rescued us! We could not save ourselves. Nobody could pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. We needed to be rescued from Satan’s power and authority.

The saved are now safe because, “He rescued us from the domain of darkness.” The word “domain” means the power or authority of darkness. Darkness symbolizes Satan’s domain, his world, his power. Satan is “the prince and the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2). After trusting Christ for salvation, Satan has no more authority over you. It doesn’t mean you won’t sin or be tempted; it does mean you don’t have to submit because Satan is not your boss!

3.  We can be Joyful because Christ has Transferred Us”And transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (verse 13b).

Want something that will bring joy? As soon as you receive Christ as your Savior, you are rescued from the domain of darkness and are immediately transferred to the kingdom of Christ! The wording of this verse means you have been permanently transferred, once for all time.

This is what Jesus meant when He said, “Truly, Truly I say to you, he who hears My word and believes on Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into condemnation, but is passed out of death into life” (John 5:24). When you trust Christ as your Savior you immediately become part of His spiritual kingdom, which enables you one day to be in His actual physical kingdom in heaven and on earth. The new birth ushers you into His kingdom (John 3:3).

4. We can be Joyful because Christ has Forgiven Us…”In Whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (verse 14).

In Christ, at the point of salvation, all our sins are forgiven! This great redemption takes place “in WHOM” (in Jesus!). We have forgiveness of all our sins, in Jesus!  “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our sins, according to the reiches of His grace which He lavished on us in all wisdom and insight” (Ephesians 1:7-8).

This forgiveness of sins is what the gospel is all about. Jesus told Paul his ministry was: “to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me” (Acts 26:16-18).

We should be joyful because Christ has Qualified Us…Rescued Us…Transferred Us…and Forgiven us through the sacrifice of His life for us. All you need to do is come to Him repenting of your sins, and trusting Him alone to save you. What joy can be ours in Jesus!

What Makes You Prayerful?

Do you ever wonder what the Lord is thinking when you are praying to Him? Sometimes when I pray, I think He must think: “Oh, No! Here he comes again!” I know my prayers often sound like this: “Dear Lord: I, me, my, mine; me, me, me. And Lord, I need, I lack, I desire, I want…me, my, mine; me, me, me. And, Lord, one more thing; I, me, my, mine; me, me, me. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.”

Prayer is the easiest thing to do—but the hardest thing to do consistently well. Sometimes prayer is simply a rapid response to a crisis. Thankfully, our prayers don’t have to be long to be heard. When Peter walked on the water, he took his eyes off Jesus and began to sink. As he was going down, Peter uttered a three-word prayer: “Lord save me!” (Matthew 14:30). One word of that prayer could not be left out without affecting it. His prayer was short and to the point. And the Lord answered it, saving him from drowning.

One of the best ways to improve your prayer life is to read the prayers of men and women recorded in the Bible. The deep spirituality of our Lord’s prayer in the Upper Room the night of His betrayal, recorded in John 17, is like a graduate level course in how to pray. Hannah’s prayer after dedicating her only son Samuel, to the Lord, is powerful and moving (1 Samuel 1:27—2:10). The prayer of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 1:4-11), confessing, repenting and praising His Lord is inspiring and beneficial, even today. Mary’s prayer after learning she would bear the Messiah (Luke 1:46-55), is so rich and full, it is called her Magnificat, “My soul” from the first words of the verse in Latin. Her prayer of praise includes 15 discernible quotations from the Old Testament.

The apostle Paul’s recorded prayers are great examples of things for which we should pray. His prayers are also striking in what they did not contain. Though Paul’s prison epistles (Philippians, Ephesians, Colossians and Philemon) were written from a damp prison cell, he never once asked people to pray for his release or comfort. When he did ask for prayer of the Colossians, he wrote: “Praying also for us…that God will open up to us a door for the Word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ…that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak” (Col. 4:3-4).

 So, what can we learn about praying from Paul’s prayer? Using his prayer in Colossians 1 as an example, here are some things for which we should pray:

  1. Pray to Know God’s Will, v. 9 “We have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.”

Jesus taught His followers to pray in specifics, not in generalities. He said, “Ask [verbalize it] and it shall be given to you, Seek [act on it] and you will find, Knock [persist in it] and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks, it will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8, emphasis mine).

More than anything else, every believer needs to be “filled with the knowledge of His will.” God has a will for each person. And, every Christian needs to be prayerful about finding and doing His will.

  1. Pray to Walk in God’s Ways, v. 10 “So that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects.”

God’s desire for believers is that they walk, or live their lives in a manner worthy of Him. For the Christian, life is not about pleasing yourself but Him who saved you. Life for believers is about conducting their lives in harmony with God’s Word and his will. Paul even wrote, “Be careful how you walk, not as unwise, but as wise, making the most of your time because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16).  We should seek to “please Him in all respects”…in every way.

  1. Pray to Bear God’s Fruit, v. 10 “Bearing fruit in every good work.”

 The whole purpose of the Christian life is to serve God and bear fruit for Him. Jesus said, “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit” (John 15:8). In fact, “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works” (Ephesians 2:10). Fruit is evidenced in three ways: Converts (bringing others to Christ); Conduct (living clean for Him); and Character (manifesting fruit of the Spirit—Gal. 5:22-26). Let us abide in Him to bear fruit to His glory (John 15:4).

  1. Pray to Increase in God’s Knowledge, v. 10 “Increasing in the knowledge of God”

The average Christian has a feeble knowledge of God. Some people only know what they learned as children in Sunday School, and have not grown in knowledge, faith or obedience. We should pray to increase in what we know about God (from His Word) and what we have learned about Him (in our walk).  Let your knowledge of God be a growing database of information and experience.

  1. Pray to Grow in God’s Strength, v. 11 “Strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might”

God wants you to grow stronger in your Christian life, and will help you. He is the resource for strength in life. As you live in His will, grow in His Word, are indwelt by His Spirit—you can walk in His strength. God’s prophet Zechariah strengthened Zerubbabel by reminding him: “Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit says the Lord of Hosts” (Zechariah 4:6). AND: This promise still stands!

 

What Makes You Thankful?

Do you remember a time when you were overcome with emotional feelings of thankfulness? Maybe it was stimulated by a near miss, when you could have been injured or killed. Or perhaps you were so flooded by blessings that you just had to stop and look up. It is probably true that the saddest person in the world is an atheist on Thanksgiving Day, because he has no one to whom he can express gratitude.   

Theoretically, the older you are—the more thankful you should be. Hindsight tends to clarify your view of life, so the farther you can see in your past, the more you may realize God’s hand of guidance and care, resulting in expressions of gratitude.

Little children are taught to say “Thank You” because it is not a natural reaction. The normal self-centeredness of children tends to make them believe they deserve anything they want and get. It was a banner day in our house when each of our five children finally said, “Thank You,” without being prompted by Pat or me saying, “What do you say?” Genuine appreciation was a characteristic we strongly encouraged in our children.

The things that make you thankful reveal a lot about your heart.

When the apostle Paul wrote a letter to the church at Colossae in Asia Minor, he began, “We give thanks to God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you” (Colossians 1:3). He began by telling them why he was thankful to God for them. The things for which Paul thanked God are examples that can improve our thanksgiving today. Using Paul’s thankfulness as our example, what things should make us thankful?

1. Be thankful for Faith in Christ”Since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus” (v. 4).   

There is no evidence Paul had ever been to Colossae, but he had spent three years ministering in the city of Ephesus, about 100 miles to the northwest. From Ephesus the gospel went out to the whole province (Acts 19:10). A native of Colossae, Epaphras, had probably heard the gospel and been saved during those days, had returned to Colossae, led others to Christ, baptized them, and started that church. So, Paul said, they had “understood the grace of God in truth” as they “learned it from Epaphras, our beloved fellow bond-servant” (Colossians 1:6, 7).  

Though Paul did not know them personally, he was thankful for their faith in Christ. He knew that it was faith in the Lord Jesus that saved them, changed them, and gave them assurance of a home in heaven. Scripture promises: “By grace are you saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8, 9). The Colossian church members had heard the gospel and had placed their faith in Christ to save them.

 2. Be thankful for Love for Others”and the love which you have for all the saints” (v. 4).

The church members of Colossae sincerely loved all the saints. The word “saint” in Scripture was not meant to describe some highly respected, deceased, godly person with a halo. In the Bible, the word was used of people who had been set apart to God because they had trusted Christ as their Savior. A saint is a believer who is made holy and identified by his or her faith in Christ. Those members in the Colossian church loved saints, believers in Christ in other places.

The Christian life was not just about them, but was about loving Christians in other places who loved and served the same Lord and Savior. Loving other brethren in Christ was evidence of saving faith, “We know that we have passed out of death into life because we love the brethren” (1 John 3:14). Christians are commanded to “Let love of the brethren continue” (Hebrews 13:1).

3. Be thankful for Hope in Heaven… “because of the hope laid up for you in heaven” (v. 5).

Because the saints in Colossae had placed their faith in Christ Jesus, they were saved, and had real hope beyond this life. For Christians, this life is not the end, but the first phase of a life that lasts forever. Jesus said, “he who hears My word, and believes in Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (John 5:24).

It is amazing that Christians can live here on earth, motivated by the fact that after they die here, they have a life and hope awaiting them in heaven that will never end. Paul wrote, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

Notice that this hope is “laid up for you in heaven” (Colossians 1:5). When your hope is “laid up” that means, no matter what happens in the present, your future life is secure, out of danger, awaiting you in heaven, God’s home. That is why Paul said, “if in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” (1 Corinthians 15:19). We are to live here with our hope there.  

These Christians had hope secure in heaven because they believed what they “previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel” (v. 5). Epaphras had shared the gospel, which was the good news that Jesus died on the cross for their sins, that he had been buried, but rose again the third day, and that anyone, anywhere, who placed his or her faith in Him would be saved (John 3:16).  

So, what makes you thankful? If you have trusted Christ, you can be thankful for your faith in Him, your love for others, and for the hope you have in heaven. If you have not trusted Christ for salvation, you can do so today by repenting of your sins, and trusting Him alone to save you. Then, you will have eternity to thank Him!

WARNING!

A few years ago, Pat and I sponsored eight newly graduated high school seniors on a mission trip to Costa Rica, Central America. The teens had earned the trip by memorizing Scripture and reading books in Discovery, a national youth ministry program. After arriving in San Jose, we spent four days painting, cleaning, repairing and renovating several mission buildings around the capitol city.

Days five through eight were spent sightseeing, zip lining on a rain forest canopy tour, visiting the Arenal Volcano, and taking a hike to a jungle waterfall. The teens worked hard and had earned some time to see the country. So we prepared for an adventure.

Our guides in Costa Rica were John and Kathy Ward. Both were thrill-seeking, fun-loving, hard-working missionary helpers. John was a mountain climbing, whitewater rafting sort-of-a-guy, who was afraid of nothing.

Knowing John’s brash, risk-taking ways, I was caught off-guard by his somber lecture to our group prior to the mile-long jungle hike to La Fortuna Waterfall. With all the sincerity he could muster, John warned of possible dangers we could encounter on the hike, but uppermost he wanted us to watch out for the dangerous Fer De Lance, poisonous pit viper that was common in that area.  

The pit viper, Bothros Asper, better known as the Fer De Lance (Lance Head), is the most dangerous snake in Central and South America. This poisonous snake causes more human deaths than any other American reptile. The average bite from a Fer-de-Lance injects from 105 to 310 milligrams of venom. One single bite from the Fer De Lance contains enough poison to kill 32 people.

So, John had my attention, but I thought he might have been exaggerating just to scare the teens into good behavior. But we had barely started our trek down the jungle trail when one of the guys yelled, “SNAKE!” at the top of his voice. Everybody froze and looked down and around. When we reached the spot, there was a 15 foot circle of teens staring at a 7-foot snake, that was sure enough, a Fer De Lance! As we tried to get everyone away from the snake, who didn’t seem to be bothered by the noisy crowd, I was trying to imagine what I would say to the parents of any of those teens, if that snake bit them. After that close encounter of the poisonous kind, it took twice as long as normal to get to the waterfall and back. Every foot placement on that trail was analyzed before the step was taken.

I am thankful for the warning John gave us that day on the jungle trail in Costa Rica. It may have prevented a loss of life. Warnings are given to save lives and spare damage and pain. They are given for our good, and the wise person will listen to good advice and heed warnings.   

Warnings are warranted when threats abound. So, God’s Word warns us about things that can harm, distract or hinder us.  We need to heed God’s warnings about:

Competing Philosophies

These days Christians are bombarded by conflicting worldviews. A worldview is a particular philosophy of life, or conception of the world. Christians should have a biblical worldview—That is: God created the world and the people in it. It was not a random cosmic accident. The God who created has also spoken, and the Bible is His Word. All people in this created world are accountable to a perfect Creator, and will one day stand before Him. In Jesus, the Creator has provided a perfect Savior for all of mankind, who must be received by faith.

There are human philosophies that compete with this worldview. God’s Word warns us: “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority” (Colossians 2:8-10).

Peter warned, You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness, but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:17-18).

 Instead of being led astray and confused by false philosophy, intensify your love and devotion to Bible truth, and increase your knowledge of God.

Empty Covetousness

Jesus warned: “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). In the United States, we live in a land of plenty, like former generations could only dream of. So, the Lord’s warning about greed applies to us, just as much as to His hearers. Greed causes people to be dissatisfied with what they have—while they strive to possess more and more, exerting their “rights.” Jesus said abundance of possessions does not equal a good life.  

Christ-less Consequences

Much like the prophet Ezekiel, we who know Christ are to be watchmen who warn others of eternal danger. God appointed Ezekiel to be a watchman, “Whenever you hear a word from My mouth, warn them from Me” (Ezekiel 3:17).

People need the Lord! Like Paul, “We proclaim Him, warning every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ” (Colossians 1:28). We who know Christ should say as Paul when he preached to the people of Antioch: “Let it be known to you, brethren, that through Him [Jesus] forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and through Him everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses” (Acts 13:38-39).

When poisonous “fiery serpents” came among the children of Israel, God commanded Moses to make a bronze serpent and place it on a pole so that, “everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he shall live” (Numbers 21:8). This unusual event pictured Jesus, lifted up on a cross, so that, “whoever believes will in Him have eternal life” (John 3:15). We need to heed the warnings!