Happy Valentine’s Day!

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My wife Pat’s seventh generation grandfather, Valentine Hollingsworth, came to America from Hollingworth, England, by way of Belfast, Ireland, in 1682. He was a Quaker, and was accompanied by another famous Quaker named William Penn, the founder of the Province of Pennsylvania, which later became the state of Pennsylvania. Valentine and his family were early settlers to the Wilmington, Delaware, area.

Since it is almost February 14th, the interesting thing to me is his name—Valentine.

The celebration of Valentine’s Day as we know it, began during the 14th century. The day is very much about cards—about 144 million are exchanged in the United States annually, and an estimated 1 billion are given worldwide. In fact, Valentine’s Day only ranks behind Christmas as the largest card-giving holiday.

So, what is the deal with all the candy and card-writing on Valentine’s Day?

As with many holidays, Valentine’s Day has a dark beginning. The man who became known as Saint Valentine was a godly minister in Rome during the third century. According to “Foxe’s Book of Martyrs,” written by John Foxe in 1583, Valentinus lived during the reign of Roman Emperor Claudius II, a ruler known for his brutal persecution of Christians.

The godly Valentinus refused to deny Jesus, though he was threatened, imprisoned, and eventually killed by the emperor. Not only did Valentinus courageously stand for Christ, he fed, sheltered and comforted persecuted Christians during those dark days leading up to his imprisonment. He boldly refused to worship the pagan Roman gods. While imprisoned, Valentinus witnessed about Christ and led many others to believe in Him as Savior. He even shared the gospel of Christ with Emperor Claudius, who was so enraged that he had Valentinus beaten and beheaded.

Our Valentine’s Day practice was patterned after the action of Valentinus on the day of his execution, February 14, AD 270. That day, he sent a letter to a young lady, his jailor’s daughter, who had visited him during his imprisonment. In the note he declared his love for her, wished her well, and signed the letter: “from your Valentine,” as his farewell.

His great expression of love began to be repeated by other Christian martyrs who were about to die, setting the pattern of communicating undying devotion in the face of certain death. The ritual of sending a love letter or note on Valentine’s Day became a tradition, though few today understand the historical setting. Valentine’s Day began, not only as an expression of love for another, but of deep, sacrificial devotion to Christ.

Until recently most believers only learned of Christian martyrs from history books. However, the renewed hatred of Christ and Christians in other parts of the world has brought martyrdom back into the spotlight in the 21st century. According to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, Christians are the most persecuted religious group in the world today. CSGC states that 900,000 Christians have been martyred in the last decade. That means 25 Christians a day pay the ultimate price for their faith in Christ.

So, though Valentine’s Day is famous for romantic tokens of love among people, it was originally remembered for the way a martyr could love Christ so deeply, he would willingly die, rather than deny Him. This day also became a day to consider persecuted Christians who were imprisoned, tortured or who willingly gave their own life-blood. God’s People are to remember, love and care for those persecuted for their faith: “Let love of the brethren continue….Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body” (Hebrews 13:1-3).

God demonstrated the greatest expression of love for mankind when He “so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Jesus reminds us, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). He offered His life on the cross to pay the penalty for all our sins.

The unlimited love God has for lost and helpless humanity is summed up in Ephesians 2:4-5, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).”

We need to understand that this great redeeming love originates with God, not with us. It is not our love that brings His salvation to us, but His love for us! John wrote, “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). “Propitiation” means the sacrifice or payment for our sins. God loves us unconditionally and Jesus paid the price.

When God’s love is received by faith, it has a reciprocal effect on us—“Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11). Love by God to us and by us to Him results in our love for others. John wrote, “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16).

I hope Valentine’s Day will take on a new meaning for you this year, and that you will experience the redeeming love of Christ, in addition to the love of others. Let the words “Happy Valentine’s Day” communicate affection and the desire for closer relationship—in light of the greatest, most compassionate love this world has seen—God’s love for us through Jesus Christ!

Heaven On Earth

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What comes to mind when you hear the term “Heaven on Earth?” Do you think about some ideal vacation spot? Does a beautiful tropical beach scene, with palm trees swaying and surf pounding the shore fill your mind?

It may surprise you to know that this term, “Heaven on Earth,” is used in the Bible to describe the results of a beautiful and fulfilling family life. Yes, God wants your family to be like a foretaste of heaven.

I know that many people carry emotional scars, and even physical marks, from painful childhoods. Some lug the emotional baggage of an abused upbringing far into their adult years. And, a few live their whole lives hampered and hurting because of mistreatment during their formative younger lives. Nothing is sadder than this kind of hurt.

The good news is—it doesn’t have to be that way. God’s plans for the family are wholesome, fulfilling, nurturing and altogether lovely. He wants family units to thrive, multiply, grow, and bless the whole world with love and joy. And it is true—the whole community is blessed when parents are godly, children are loved, and people obey God’s laws.

This is no pipe dream, or pie-in-the-sky fantasy. However, a “Heaven on Earth” family requires an investment, and carries cost parents must be willing to pay.

As Israel was poised on the border of the Promise Land, called by Moses, “a land flowing with milk and honey” (Deuteronomy 11:9), he gave commands God expected them to obey. Many of these commands were about parents teaching their children about God, as they led them into the new land. As they obeyed they would enjoy “the days of heaven upon the earth” (verse 21).

So, how could a family experience these idyllic days?

First, Moses wrote: “You shall therefore impress these words of mine on your heart and on your soul” (Deuteronomy 11:18). As is true in every sphere—change and success had to begin at the top. Parents were to spend time in God’s Word, and let His words penetrate their hearts and invade every area of their lives. They were to listen, accept, absorb and obey God’s commands first. The truth of Scripture has transforming power. “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword…and is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).

Second, as parents learned more about God and what He expected, they were then to: “Teach them to your sons, talking of them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road and when you lie down and when you rise up” (Deuteronomy 11:19). As mentioned in Deuteronomy chapter 6, teaching opportunities always abound for the alert parent. Every aspect of life, even the most mundane – when sitting, walking, lying down or rising up – could become a classroom for communicating God’s truth.

This world would be a better place if more parents spent time reading and studying God’s Word, then taught their children God’s truth and how it applies to everyday life. It is the solemn duty of parents to instruct their children about God and their duty to Him.

Third, “You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (verse 20). God desired the children of Israel to let the Word of God be visible and constantly in view. Moses did not mean Bible verses were to be scribbled on the walls of their homes, but he did intend for God’s commands to be always before them, and for His Word to constantly direct them.

Even today, as you enter the home of a Jewish family, you can often see a little brass or metal box attached high up on the right side of the door jam. The little box is called a mezuzah, which is Hebrew for “doorpost.” Within the box is a tiny scroll with the Shema, Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:18-22, hand-written in small Hebrew letters. It is their way of literally obeying God’s command to write His Word on the doorposts of their homes.

When our children were young, we had a plaque in one of their rooms that read: “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good” (Proverbs 15:3). We wanted to instill in our children’s minds, the truth that God always saw what they did, even if their parents did not. Pat and I wanted our children to understand that God’s mighty presence—His all-seeing eyes—were continually beholding and weighing their actions. We did not want to saddle them with guilt but to remind them of accountability. We know this is a good practice because the psalmist wrote, “I have placed your ordinances before me” (Psalm 119:30). God’s values are to be constantly regarded, as they guide our way and rule our work.

Fourth, when parents spend time learning God’s Word, teach it to their children, and keep His commands continually in view, the result will be: “So that your days and the days of your sons may be multiplied on the land which the LORD swore to your fathers to give them, as the days of heaven upon the earth” (Deuteronomy 11:21).

It is amazing that God’s promise of victory, peace and joy in the new land Israel entered, would depend first and last, not on military power, but on religious commitment! As Israel obeyed God’s commands, and walked in fellowship with Him, they would inherit the land of promise. The same principle applies to believers today. Commitment to know and obey the Scriptures, and to teach them to our children, keeps our families safe and results in a taste of heaven on earth in our homes.

 

 

 

 

Family Matters

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The ABC-TV sitcom “Family Matters” aired from 1989 until 1998. It was an entertaining comedy about the Winslow family in Chicago, Illinois, who had a nerdy neighbor, Steve Urkel, played by Jaleel White. “Family Matters” was a good television series, but this devotional is not about that program.

The term “family matters” can be interpreted two ways. It may mean a situation or state of affairs, something, like: “Our finances are a family matter.” Or it may mean something of real value or consequence, like: “Among things that really count, family matters most.” This is the sense of meaning I want to address.

Family matters. It is obvious that the family unit is the foundation upon which communities, cities, states and nations, is built. The family, as designed by God, is to execute His plan for monogamous relationships and for increasing the human population with good people. God said, “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).

Based on the solid foundation of marital commitments to each other, God designed the family structure to be led by a man and a woman—functioning as husband and wife—father and mother. These two similar but uniquely different individuals, together, became a complementary team responsible to bring up children who would be born to them. A mother and father, who train, educate and discipline their offspring, best accomplish the nurturing of children, who then grow into conscientious adults.

God planned for children to be brought up by parents. Young ones need the input, example, training, teaching, nurture and discipline that only parents can best provide. Proverbs 29:15 reads, “The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother.” The KJV renders it, “a child left to himself,” whereas the NIV translates it, “an undisciplined child.” All renderings mean the same thing—if a child is left to himself, or if he always gets his own way without discipline—he probably will not turn out well. That is why babies are dependent on their parents—to be loved, cared for, taught, disciplined and corrected by them—for their own good.

Even God practices corrective discipline with His spiritual children because it results in improved behavior. Hebrews 12:10 reminds us that God “disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness.” The discipline of God on His spiritual children, like the correction of parents on theirs’, is not enjoyable to receive, but is beneficial in results. Verse 11 goes on to say: “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”

The foundation of human society is marriage and the family. It is the support underpinning every aspect of our humanity. Family matters more than most people realize. Family matters because it is the cornerstone—the linchpin—the pivot-point of our very civilization.

One of the most famous passages of Scripture in the Old Testament is called the “Shema,” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9). These verses compose the groundwork of Jewish family life, and are as important to families today, as when Moses wrote them 3500 years ago. Here God lays out principles to live by and commands to obey, so that life can be long and enjoyable.

The Shema begins by commanding fathers to know God’s Word, if they would share its truth. “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart” (Deut. 6:5-6). Parents must Love the Lord with all their heart, soul and might, then keep His Word in their hearts.

Next, parents were to communicate spiritual truth to their children in the context of daily life. “You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up” (verse 7).

Obedience to God and communicating His Word should never be confined to Sundays. Instead, parents who love their children and want God’s best for them should insert principles of biblical instruction into the activities of everyday, normal life. Did you notice when and where teaching was to happen? It should occur: “when you sit in your house….when you walk by the way…when you lie down…and when you rise up.”

Teach your children about the Lord when you sit at your table to eat. Offer thanks to God, showing dependence upon Him. Talk about the Lord when you walk by the way, or when you are driving your car. Share truth about God when your children go to bed, and when they get up in the morning. All these are prime teaching opportunities for the observant, loving parent!

Professor Howard Hendricks used to quote this formula for child-rearing success: CP=MI (Close Proximity=Maximum Impact). If parents want to have the greatest effect for Christ on their children, they must be close to them—spiritually, emotionally and physically. The greater distance between—the more barriers allowed—the less impact parents will have on their children.

Since family matters more than almost anything on the planet: Spend some time getting to know your Lord—make time to spend with your children—be alert for opportunities to teach—be ready to share spiritual truth—then watch God work in their lives. Yes—Family Matters!

 

No Greater Love

“Earn it! Earn it!” were the dying words of Captain John H. Miller, to Private Ryan, in the 1998 film, “Saving Private Ryan.”

That war movie was based on the true story of a heroic rescue by a platoon of Army Rangers, sent behind German lines, during World War II. Four sons of Michael and Augusta Niland, of Tonawanda, New York, had all enlisted to fight for their country. One had just been shot down over Burma, and two others had died, with 4,000 other allies, in the invasion of D Day. Frederick “Fritz,” the lone surviving brother, was deep in enemy territory, somewhere behind the lines in Germany.

When the U. S. War Department learned of the death of three of the Niland’s four sons, they decided that losing all four sons was far too high a price for one family to payso they decided to extract him, no matter what the cost. A platoon of Rangers was dispatched with this singular mission.

As the platoon of hardened soldiers traversed battlefields in search of Fritz, one by one, they were taken out by enemy fire. In the movie, when they finally found him, he was involved in holding a bridge from German control. Before they could leave with him, several casualties were taken; one being Captain Miller.

As the Captain lay dying, he challenged the Private to, “Earn it! Earn it!” He meant—Considering the price people paid to save you—Make your life count!  

Think about this: For one person to give his life for another is the greatest sacrifice that could ever be made, and is the ultimate act of courage and selflessness. Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

By the same token, the one who is saved by such a great sacrifice should “earn it,” or make his life count. Both facts are involved in God’s sacrifice, Christ’s love, the believer’s salvation, and his subsequent life. Believers should receive it—and make it count.

This theme of unlimited love and selfless sacrifice—the theme of so many love stories, novels and movies—becomes reality and visible on the pages of God’s Word. One passage of such passion and beauty is Romans 5:6-11.

FIRST—We see our Hopeless Condition: “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (v. 6). Sin in our nature and by our practice, renders people helpless to live rightly before God. What makes it worse is that we cannot help but sin. It is in our very nature. This fact does not make us blameless—it renders us helpless.

SECOND—We see God’s Loving Demonstration: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (verse 8). God did not see all of humanity in its lost, sinful, condition, and ignore it. Because “God is love” (1 John 4:8), He moved to provide a Savior who could at one time satisfy His perfect demands—and also make a way for God to forgive mankind’s sin. God’s love became visible, demonstrable, when He provided His Son to be the Sacrifice. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).  

THIRD—We see Four Effects of Christ’s Sacrifice:

            1) Sinners can be Justified by His Blood—“Much more then, having now been justified by His blood” (verse 9). Because of Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross, sinful people can be forgiven of their sins and can be made just in God’s sight. The only way God can forgive sin, pardon sinners and justify them—is if someone—some perfectly sinless one—pays the penalty. When Jesus lived a perfect life and willingly died on the cross, it was so we could be “justified by His blood.” His blood paid the cost of our sin.

            2) Sinners can be Saved from God’s Wrath—“We shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him” (verse 9). Because of Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross, sinful people can be forever delivered from facing God’s wrath for their sin. God’s wrath on sin will be poured out. It has not disappeared. It has not dissolved. But it has been taken and born for every believer, in the person of Jesus. The grave truth about God’s wrath is: “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life; and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him” (John 3:36). By trusting Christ’s sacrifice—God’s wrath was poured on Jesus—instead of on believers.

            3) Sinners can be Reconciled to God—“For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (verse 10). Because of Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross, sinful people can be brought into fellowship with their heavenly Father. Imagine what it will be like in Heaven, reconciled to God! Peter wrote, “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). Sinner—through Jesus—you will be brought to God!

            4) Sinners can Rejoice through Christ—“And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation” (verse 11). All of this work of Christ’s sacrifice bringing justification, salvation, and reconciliation results in rejoicing in God’s salvation! We “exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ!”

SO…Make your life count! Don’t waste it. As Captain Miller told Private Ryan with his dying breath, “Earn it” – make your life count because of the price Jesus paid to save it.

Free at Last!

America celebrates a national birthday on Monday. The honored man would have just turned 91, if not for an assassin’s bullet. The holiday is in his honor, and though millions across America will enjoy a free day, many will not realize the amazingly powerful affect this man made on our nation. 

Martin Luther King, Jr., Baptist minister and social rights activist during the turbulent 1950’s and 60’s, was born January 15, 1929, and was assassinated April 4, 1968. He was a prominent leader of the American civil rights movement. As head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, he led peaceful protests around the United States, including the famous March on Washington DC, in 1963, where 250,000 people attended. Dr. King was a strong leader of nonviolent protests to bring pressure for needed changes to long-standing racial abuses. He was a leader in the civil rights movement, an organized effort by African-Americans to end racial discrimination and gain equal rights under the law. It began in the late 1940’s and culminated in the 1960’s. 

 On August 28, 1963, in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., made a 16-minute speech, that changed the course of history. His speech became the motivation for the subsequent adoption of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed segregation in public places and banned employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. Also, later in 1964 Dr. King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his dynamic leadership of the Civil Rights movement and steadfast commitment to achieving racial justice through nonviolent actions.

 It is difficult today for young people to realize the degrading and demeaning effect of racism that was widespread in those days. But you can hear the pain coming through Dr. King’s words: “When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Dr. King continued—“Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.” 

Recently, Dr. Charlie Dates, pastor of the Progressive Baptist Church in Chicago, Illinois, and teacher at the Moody Bible Institute, preached: “We would have never had slavery in America if the Church of the Lord Jesus had stood up.” If God’s people would have stood on the truth of Scripture, and would have lived out true brotherly love, slavery could not have thrived in America. 

 Why is this so? Racial discrimination is morally and ethically wrong, and adamantly unchristian. What does God think of prejudice, having “respect of persons” and showing “partiality?”

First, in the context of the fact of sin and everyone’s need of salvation, Romans 2:11 reads, “there is no partiality with God.” Paul writes, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Without exception—all are sinners; and all need the Savior.

Second, regarding human social order, Ephesians 6:9 reminds us that “there is no partiality with him” (God). During the first century up to 40% of the population were considered slaves. So, though slavery existed, God was impartial, unprejudiced toward all people. Paul urged both slaves and masters to seek first and foremost to please God from the heart.

 Third, God is impartial and unprejudiced in His dealings with people. In 1 Peter 1:17-19, we are reminded that answered prayer, judgment, and redemption are all in the hands of God. He is the One who “impartially judges according to each one’s work,” so you should “conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth” (verse 17). Regardless of race, nationality or culture, all believers are redeemed, “with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (verse 19). Jesus only is the one way of salvation for all people (John 14:6).

Fourth, not only is God not prejudice, He expects His children and His churches to be impartial in their treatment of all people. James commanded, “My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism” (2:1). He commands Christians to fulfill the “royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (verse 8)—whomever that neighbor may be.

Fifth, God considers prejudice to be sin. James wrote: “But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors” (2:9). To treat people with prejudice because of their social standing, wealth, position, nationality, culture or race is to sin against them and against God.

We pray Dr. King’s dream comes true:

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal….’ This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning, ‘My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrims’ pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.’”

Challenging the Status Quo

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“Status Quo” is Latin for “existing state.” It means “things as they are now, the existing state of affairs, especially regarding social or political issues.” Generally the term applies to the maintenance of existing social structures and values, or keeping things the way they presently are—what we may call—normal.

One good thing about entering a new year is that it may cause you to stop momentarily, and appraise the life you are living. This is the reason people (myself included) begin diets, make resolutions, start new routines, and turn over new leaves, for the umpteenth time, again, during this season. Basically, we are saying we are unhappy with some of the status quo, the existing state, and decide to make positive changes.

Self-examination is a good thing—and sometimes the status quo needs a makeover.

However, even better than self-examination, is divine-examination. Occasionally, we need to stop and look at ourselves before the Lord. It is wise to expose your whole being to God, whom you cannot avoid anyway, and ask Him to, “Examine me, O LORD, and try me; Test my mind and my heart” (Psalm 26:2).

God’s Word encourages Christians toward introspection, examination, and self-evaluation. Paul commanded the church at Corinth, that, “a man must examine himself” (1 Corinthians 11:28), before participating in communion. A failure in self-examination could result in a church member eating of the bread and drinking from the cup, “in an unworthy manner,” which would make him, “guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord” (verse 27). The final result of observing communion without self-examination and confession of sin would be eating and drinking, “judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly” (verse 28). Some had continued to do this, and, “For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep” (verse 29). For believers, the solution was simple: “But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged” (verse 30).

It was clear then, and should be now—that when Christians examine themselves, confess their sins and draw near to God—by judging themselves rightly in God’s sight—God does not have to condemn them judgmentally. Simply put: the status quo must go, if the existing state is in rebellion against God and His Word.

Another time Christians must examine themselves is regarding their faith in Christ. You can be wrong about many things and still be good to go when it comes to entering heaven—if you have trusted Jesus alone as your Savior. But this is such an important and eternal decision, that we all need to be sure about our faith, that we are truly trusting Him.

God’s salvation is always, only, ever, received one way: “For 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). God’s truth is: “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). The “washing of regeneration” signifies the cleansing of the new birth you receive when you are born again. The “renewing of the Holy Spirit” refers to you being made a new person by the work of God’s Spirit within you, when you trust in Christ.

Since salvation always comes by grace through faith, and never as a result of works performed—having assurance about it is the most important knowledge we can possess. Why is this so important? It is invaluable because it affects our eternity. This fact is so vital that Paul commanded the Corinthians, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless you fail the test?” (2 Corinthians 13:5). Paul wanted each of them to examine themselves, to see that they had really trusted Christ to save them. He wanted them to know that “Jesus Christ is in you”—that He indwelt them. The indwelling Christ, in the person of His Holy Spirit, comes to each believer when he or she personally receives Christ. The apostle John put it this way, “as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13).

The indwelling of Christ, by His Spirit, is the most precious possession believers may have. This truth is difficult to understand, from the human view. In fact, Paul stated that it was a “mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints” (Colossians 1:26). However difficult to comprehend, it is the very riches of God’s glory, “which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (verse 27). The hope of glory for you and me is the indwelling person of Christ through the Holy Spirit.

As we begin this New Year, I hope you will join me in challenging the status quo in our own lives. May we pray the prayer of David: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way” (Psalm 139:23-24).

Is Jesus Happy?

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A few years ago, Pat and I kept our three-year-old grandson, Nathan. One day we were having a war of wills, and I was losing. Nathan was getting the best of me. It came to a frustrating point with a seemingly easy task: get his slip-on tennis shoes to stay on his little feet. I would put them on, and he would kick them off and laugh about it. After the third round, I tried a new tactic—bribery: “If you will keep these shoes on, I’ll take you to eat pancakes for breakfast.” Before he answered, he looked up at me and in all seriousness, asked: “Will it make Jesus happy?”

“Will it make Jesus happy?” What a question! I had not thought about that, but after a few seconds of reflection, I told him it would make Jesus happy if he kept his shoes on his feet. I was hoping Dr. Martin Canavan, my Systematic Theology teacher, never heard about my answer. I don’t remember covering “what makes Jesus happy” in the chapter on Christology. However, as I thought about it, maybe we should have covered that subject in theology. “Making Jesus happy” would certainly be a major subject in a three-year-olds’ theology book. I was glad Nathan’s parents and Sunday School teachers taught him it was important to make Jesus happy by his actions.

So, this got me to thinking: Am I making Jesus happy? Are you making Jesus happy in what you do? Is Jesus pleased with our thoughts, choices and activities? After all, that is really what living for Christ and eternity is all about—doing what pleases the Lord! And, from a child’s view, it is about making Jesus happy.

Jesus Himself lived with the goal of pleasing the Father, making His Father happy. He said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work” (John 4:34). For our Lord Jesus, His whole purpose in life was to do God’s will and finish God’s work. Jesus meant that doing God’s will and pleasing His heavenly Father was as important to His spiritual life as literal food was to His physical life. If we love, follow and serve Jesus, pleasing the Father should be just as important to us.

Pleasing the Father by doing His will was so imperative that Jesus said it was the very reason He came: “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me” (John 6:38). Doing God’s will was always Christ’s aim in life. It was why He came from glory, was born of a virgin, lived a perfect life, died a sacrificial death, and was raised to new life again. Jesus summed up His purpose in life, in the Garden of Gethsemane, the night before His great sacrifice, as He prayed: “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not my will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42).

So, what makes Jesus happy?

Receiving Him—as your Savior, pleases Him, for it is the reason He came. “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit” (1 Peter 3:18). It pleases the Lord when people repent of their sins and trust Him to save them. “As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12).

Following Him—as your Lord, pleases Him. After receiving Christ as your Savior, you should follow Him in water baptism and join a church that preaches Him and follows His Word. This pleases the Father, just as the Lord’s baptism by John caused God to proclaim: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). Water baptism did not make Jesus God’s Son, but proclaimed Him to be God’s Son. Water baptism does not make you His child, but publicly proclaims you to be His child. As Paul wrote, “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Galatians 3:26-27). Faith in Him makes you His child—Baptism like Him announces it to others.

Serving Him—as Master of your life, pleases Him. After announcing that we are saved by grace through faith, by the “gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8), Paul writes, that then, “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works” (verse 10). After salvation comes service. It pleases God when you, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

So, are you making Jesus happy? You only have a short time—Are you seeking to please Him? Doing God’s will may call for sacrifice and could result in pain, trials and discomfort. But that is a small cost for the privilege of serving your great Savior who paid the ultimate price for you.

Think about Nathan’s question: “Will it make Jesus happy?” We could do nothing better than seek to make Him happy! Paul wrote, “Therefore also we have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him” (2 Corinthians 5:9). Pleasing the Lord with our lives is what it is all about!

P.S. I am taking a short hiatus from writing this weekly blog. Along with two other pastors, I am co-writing a theology book that will require my focused writing attention for a while. Hopefully, I will write more Devo-blogs after the end of this year. THANK you for reading!

Investing in Things that Last

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“Everlast” is the leading manufacturer of boxing and fitness related sporting goods, equipment, apparel, footwear and accessories. In almost every boxing match you see, the contestants will be wearing “Everlast” gloves. Even in training, they will be punching an “Everlast” bag. Although I understand the intent of the label—their equipment, no matter how good, will really not last forever.

However, I guess I would rather have a product labeled “Everlast” than something called “Neverlast.” But even with a great label, you know that somewhere down the line, the best product will tear, rip open or wear out. It is inevitable. It is life. A thing will only last so long. No matter what its name, it will come to an end. And that is true of everything, right? Well, not everything. Some things that seem everlasting are not—while some things that seem short-lived are eternal.

When you look up at the sky on a clear night, you may think, that moon and those billion stars will last forever. If you consider “terra firma”—the solid earth beneath your feet—you think, nothing will remove that. You yourself may feel young, strong, great, fit, and indestructible. It may seem the world is at your command, but in all three cases, you would be wrong.

The Bible states: “Lift up your eyes to the sky, then look to the earth beneath; For the sky will vanish like smoke, and the earth will wear out like a garment and its inhabitants will die in like manner; But My Salvation will be forever, and My righteousness will not wane” (Isaiah 51:6).

In the grand scheme of things, the sky that seems unending will come to an end. The earth that seems immovable will wear out. And the inhabitants that seem so strong will eventually die. But God says His salvation will be “forever” and His righteousness will not fade.

From the human standpoint, it is hard to imagine anything that is everlasting. Everything we see is passing, but the Bible says there are things, unseen by human eyes that are eternal, everlasting, that will never end. And, though we live in a temporal world, Christians are to focus on things eternal.

So, how can Christians focus their lives on eternal things? Paul tells us what is required in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18:

It takes Persistence—to daily renew the eternal, inward, spiritual man. Paul wrote, “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day” (verse 16). The physical body is in process of decay, but the spirit within is renewed every day. This is why Christian men and women can be aged, ill, and weak physically, but strong warriors for Christ spiritually. Through Scripture, prayer, fellowship and service, they are being renewed daily.

It takes Perspective—to rightly evaluate affliction and hardship. Paul wrote, “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (verse 17). When God’s people endure suffering, pain, persecution or affliction, they need to focus, not on the pain or loss, but on the reward or gain that will result. If our perspective—the way we see things—is from God’s view, we will realize that affliction here equals glory there. We will see that afflictions here are temporary, while the results there are eternal. And with God’s perspective, we will see that the afflictions here that are light, will produce glory there that is heavy—“an eternal weight of glory.”

It takes Perception—to constantly focus your life on the eternal instead of the temporary. Paul wrote, “While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (verse 18). To live a fruitful life for Christ, you need to see the unseen—you need to aim at the eternal. Paul’s word for “look” in this verse is not the normal Greek word, “bleppo,” but the word “skopeo,” the origin of our word for “scope.” When a deer hunter puts a scope on his rifle, it is so that he can see the target better, and improve his aim. Paul said we need to aim at the eternal, not the temporal. We need to look at life with perception of the eternal.

If we persistently renew our spiritual side, and put our afflictions into perspective, and improve our perception of the eternal, how will that change us? What can we do that is eternal?

One—We can seek to give glory to God in all we do. His glory is eternal—it will not fade. Paul told Timothy: “Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (1Ti 1:17)

Two—We can spend time reading and studying God’s Word. “Forever, O LORD, thy word is settled in heaven” (Psalm 119:89). The Word of God is eternal.

Three—We can share the gospel with people. People are eternal beings who will each spend eternity in Heaven or Hell. John calls the message of Christ’s salvation, “the everlasting gospel” (Revelation 14:6). We need to see that people all around us need Jesus.

Four—We can serve the Lord with our gifts, to establish His kingdom. When we do that, the promise made by the apostle Peter will belong to you: “For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:11). His Kingdom will never end!

Our time is short—eternity is long—and our contribution is limited—so do your best to invest in things that last!

Ambassadors for Christ

 

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Most people know that Benjamin Franklin played a major role in the founding of our nation. He was a statesman, author, publisher, inventor and diplomat. He was one of the five men who drafted the Declaration of Independence. In 1776 Franklin became the first U. S. ambassador to France, where he was instrumental in negotiating the Treaty of Paris, which officially ended the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783). It also resulted in universal recognition of the U. S. A. as an independent nation.

His energetic work made him a hero among his peers, and an example for others. When the American icon and author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, succeeded Franklin as Ambassador to France in 1785, he was asked, “Is it you who replace Dr. Franklin?” Jefferson replied, “No one can replace him, Sir; I am only his successor.”

Since then many people have successfully served as Ambassadors of the United States. It is noteworthy that the apostle Paul used this word: “Ambassador”—as a metaphor to challenge Christians—in their duty to serve Christ.

In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul stated that everyone who trusts in Christ as Savior “is a new creature” (verse 17). This new creature in Christ also has a new work—the “ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (verses 18-19).

Every Christian’s work is to seek to bring people to saving faith in Jesus Christ, thereby reconciling them to God. This ministry is to proclaim “the word of reconciliation” to the world. This “word” is the message of the gospel—that God saves people by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

Because believers are new creatures, with a new ministry of proclaiming the message of the gospel that God will save if people will believe—Paul wrote that God considers His messengers, “ambassadors for Christ” (verse 20).

WHAT is an ambassador? He or she is an accredited diplomat sent by his or her home country as its official representative to a foreign country. Ambassadors have five primary responsibilities:

ONE—Ambassadors are sent by their sovereign or nation to represent their country in a foreign land. Though living abroad, they characterize their homeland, its leaders, its values and native people.

So, the Christian ambassador lives on this earth, wherever God has placed him or her, treating this world as a foreign land while representing Jesus and Heaven’s values. Peter urged believers, “as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles” (1 Peter 2:11-12).

TWO—Ambassadors, though living abroad, maintain citizenship in their homeland. They may vote and possess the rights of every other citizen. Though residing for a time in a different country they are responsible to its obey its laws.

Every Christian is first and foremost, a citizen of Heaven—“For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20). Heaven is our home country, and though we live, breathe and will die here—Heaven is our home.

THREE—Ambassadors are protected by the laws and power of their homeland sovereign. Though they live under the laws of their host country, they are also to act in accord with the laws of their homeland.

This is why the Bible commands Christ-followers to “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent my him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right” (1 Peter 2:13-14). Their leader offers protection, direction and guidance while they serve on their mission.

However, though they are under the laws of their host country, ambassadors are responsible to obey their home Sovereign, above all. So, when the earthly authority commanded the apostles to stop teaching in the name of Jesus, Peter said, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

FOUR—Ambassadors are directly accountable to their sovereign for their attitude, behavior and message. They have the right to speak on behalf of their sovereign, but only his words, at his direction, are authoritative.

Followers of Christ, living in this world, while citizens of heaven, are accountable to their Sovereign and Homeland, for their behavior—“Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that…they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:12). The Christian’s attitude and actions should reflect his spiritual homeland, not his physical residence. Our actions should mirror Heaven’s standards, not the world’s values. The Christian is to communicate the gospel—the message of heaven’s King. We are to speak His words.

FIVE—Ambassadors must instantly return to their homeland at the request of their sovereign. They should not become so infatuated with their host country that their allegiance to their homeland wanes. They must be ready to depart on a moment’s notice.

So it is with the Christian ambassador. At any time your Sovereign may call you home, or come for you. You must live ready to go. We must say with Paul, “I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand” (2 Timothy 4:6). Jesus said, “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me” (Revelation 22:12).

If you are a Christian—You ARE an ambassador for Christ!

What kind of ambassador are you?

Warning Signs

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The mindboggling images from the news media on Christmas Day, 2004, can never be forgotten. At 7:59 P.M., December 25, in Arkansas, as our family celebrated the birth of our Savior, a 9.1 magnitude earthquake struck the northern tip of Sumatra in Indonesia. This quake resulted in the deadliest tsunami in history. More than 230,000 people died as gigantic waves swept onto the coastlands of 14 countries around the Indian Ocean from Africa on the northwest, across India to the north, on to Thailand on the northeast.

Seismologists estimate the earthquake, that lasted 10 minutes, produced the energy of 23,000 Hiroshima-type atomic bombs. As a result of the quake, trillions of tons of rock moved, causing an upheaval on the ocean floor, displacing hundreds of miles of seawater. When the earthquake shifted the seabed vertically, the tsunami was formed, producing some waves over 90 feet high, which moved away from the quake epicenter at nearly 500 miles per hour.

In Indonesia, 168,000 people were killed when walls of water smashed inland on Sumatra and smaller islands in the Aceh province. It took two hours for the massive waves to reach Sri Lanka, India and Thailand. One would think that would be time enough to heed the warning, but 61,000 people were killed by the tsunami in those three countries. Though eight hours elapsed between the earthquake and the tsunami striking South Africa, two people were killed there.

Through all of this devastation, an amazing story of survival came to light a few months after the disaster. One small piece of inhabited land, 93 miles off the west coast of Sumatra, was hit by the tsunami within 30 minutes of the earthquake. However, Simeulue Island, inhabited by 75,000 people, only lost 6 residents. By the time the gigantic waves struck the island shoreline, nearly all the inhabitants had already fled to higher ground.

History revealed that thousands of Simeulue inhabitants had been killed there by a tsunami in 1907. For decades, the stories of that disaster had been passed from one generation to the next. The native people of Simeulue had heard stories by their grandparents, of giant waves that drowned thousands. So, on that day in 2004, when the ground shook and the sea retreated from the shore, the islanders remembered their grandparents’ warnings and sought safe places.

Warnings work only if heeded. On the highway, “Stop” and “Yield” signs may save your life. “When Flooded Turn Around Don’t Drown” is great advice. “Don’t Text and Drive” is a valid warning to our generation.

However, warnings do not work if ignored. If you snub the burn ban warnings, or the signs of a stroke, or the “Wrong Way” sign by the freeway onramp—you are headed for disaster.

The same is true with God’s warnings. Paul encouraged the Corinthians to heed cautions about evil behavior. Referring to some of the failures of their forefathers, he wrote: “Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved” (1 Corinthians 10:6).

We have warning signs about:

ONE—Idolatry. “Do not be idolaters, as some of them were” (verse 7). Israel fell into idolatry just a few days after agreeing with God—“You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath” (Exodus 20:3-4). Though we may not practice falling before a golden calf, we may idolize other things in the place of God.

TWO—Immorality. “Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did” (verse 8). Because of their sexual immorality, 3,000 were killed (Exodus 32:28), and 20,000 died in the plague (Exodus 32:35).  Immoral lifestyles always lead to sadness, sorrow, and judgment.

THREE—Testing God. “Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did” (verse 9). Many of the people of Israel were constantly questioning the goodness and plan of God, who led, provided and carried them through 40 years of wilderness wandering. Instead of simple obedience, they would put God to the test by demanding their own way.

FOUR—Grumbling. “Nor grumble, as some of them did” (verse 10). Many Israelites continually murmured and complained against God, never satisfied with what God provided, while always wanting things that were outside His will for them. They accused God of not caring for them, “The people spoke against God and Moses, ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?’” (Numbers 21:5).

Paul wrote that “these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction” (1 Corinthians 10:11). We also need to heed the warnings of God against this type of behavior, for our good and His glory.

Though many in Israel followed self-indulgence and its results, Paul shared this great promise—“No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it” (verse 13). God will help you overcome temptation if you ask Him.

The story of Israel’s failure has been preserved so we can avoid the same disaster of disobedience. We can heed God’s warnings—and avoid catastrophe—if we choose to obey and walk with Him.