Thankful

“…give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18) 

Let’s face it; it’s easier to give thanks in certain circumstances than others. But God’s Word says we are to give thanks in all of them. What Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 has a tendency to strike us the same way as when James writes, “Count it all joy…when you meet trials of various kinds” (James 1:2). The call to obey is clear, but obedience to that call is easier said than done. In fact, without the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, it’s impossible.

            As part of our thanksgiving service at church, I’ve had the opportunity to hear people share testimonies of their thankfulness for God’s work in their lives. In many instances these testimonies were given by people or families dealing with difficult and uncertain circumstances related to an illness and even death. But in spite of that, they testify that although they may not know what today holds, they are quite sure of what the future does. I always leave this service realizing the problems I have aren’t really problems at all. I also leave encouraged that it is God who authors our circumstances and whether those circumstances have us on a mountaintop or in a valley, He is there with us.

            “…give thanks in all circumstances” When we encounter passages such as 1 Thessalonians 5:18 and James 1:2, it’s tempting to apply our own meanings or put boundaries around these passages. Paul’s teaching to those in the church at Thessalonica was not that they were to give thanks for everything that happens, but to be thankful that God is working to bring good out of whatever does (Romans 8:28).

            It’s the same with us. As a child of God, this life is about preparation for the next; it’s about living with an eye on eternity, being made more like Christ, realizing that whatever happens here cannot compare to the promise of heaven, “the glory that is to be revealed” (Romans 8:18). I believe those who suffer realize this more fully. This has been the testimonies of these families. And I know that it’s all made possible because of God. God doesn’t put boundaries around these passages because they are to be understood in light of who He is. A greater understanding of who He is will help us be able to give thanks in all circumstances, even the difficult ones.

            When you give thanks during this thanksgiving season, remember how much you truly have to be thankful for: your health, your family, your friends, your church, your job and much more. But more than anything be thankful for what God has done for you in Christ, be thankful that He walks beside you each day. And be thankful for the glorious promise of what is yet to come.      

Prayer

Lord, your Word tells us to give thanks in all circumstances, not just the good ones. It also tells us to rejoice always and to pray continually. Lord this is difficult when we suffer, so we ask for your Holy Spirit to help us. God, all your purposes are good and we know that this world is not our home. Let our knowing what awaits us be an encouragement for today. But until that time, in good times and bad, help us to be thankful in all things, knowing that you are making us more like your Son and enabling us to live for your glory. Amen!

Modified from original post November 2012

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No Other Way

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6) 

Not through Buddha, Mohammad, Mormonism, the Mosaic Law, or good works. There is only one way to spend eternity in heaven, and that is through faith in Jesus Christ. There is a difference between tolerance and having a firm conviction about something. People are not intolerant because they stand firm on the exclusivity of Jesus Christ as the only way to the Father. Just because our culture and our media say so doesn’t make it true. The truth is that the claims of Christ are exclusive, and as Christians, we cannot waver on this issue. I know some people who, when I look at their character and kindness, even knowing they are of a religion other than Christianity, I think, How can those people not be saved, or why wouldn’t God save them? God can save them, but that salvation will not come based on their goodness but only by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.       

            We are not left to guess who Jesus claimed to be. One of the primary purposes for which John wrote his gospel was so people would believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ. For the Jews, the “Messiah” represented the coming “anointed one” who would save God’s people. The book of John records seven “I am” statements that Jesus made in which He explicitly claimed to be God. These “I am” statements angered the religious leaders of Jesus’ day because they understood that this was the covenant name of God first disclosed to Moses (Exodus 3:14). While all of the “I am” statements were and are controversial, perhaps none is more despised than the one we find in John 14:6 “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus’ claim of deity and exclusivity bring about an angry reaction today. I can hear it now, “Jesus can’t be the only way; I believe there are many ways.” But Jesus didn’t say that. He’s not just one of the ways but “the way.” Does that offend you? I hope not, but make no mistake, it offends many.

            Unfortunately, even many Christians are subtly being broken down as to their conviction on the exclusive claims of Jesus Christ. It just doesn’t fit our culture in this era of tolerance that such exclusivity could be claimed. But Jesus was never interested in fitting into the norm of society. His claims were always bold, to the point, and unapologetic. It may seem that not believing in and expressing the exclusive claims of Christ with confidence appear more humble and gracious, attributes that do please our Lord, but Jesus desires we take Him at His word. If we waver on this issue, and in effect deny its truth, it’s His heart we break. The truths of Jesus’ words are never dependant on how they make us feel.

So how must a Christian proceed? Take Jesus’ words at face value. He said it and He meant it, so don’t crumble in the name of tolerance. Trust in the authority of Jesus’ words. Do you think He died for you not to believe Him?

 Prayer

Dear Lord, thank You that You are the way, the only way to be reconciled to the Father. Help me to lovingly but boldly stand firm on what Your Word says, that through no other way but faith in Your work can one be made right with God. As society more and more counters Your claims, God, give me strength to proclaim the truth.

Behold the Lamb

“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29) 

As part of my sales route, there is an office I visit about once a month. Each time I’m there, I’m drawn to a picture on the wall. The picture is of a lamb lying contently on top of a crown of thorns and below a reference to Isaiah 53:7, “He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, yet He opened not His mouth”. In Scripture, a lamb is used in both a literal and symbolic sense. The Israelites viewed lambs as a symbol of innocence, sacrificing them in worship as a burnt offering to make atonement for sin. Under the Mosaic System, these sacrifices had to be repeated. It was required the lambs chosen for sacrifice be without blemish because God deserved only the best. These lambs were also to be unblemished because they pointed forward to a perfect sinless sacrifice.

            “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” The gospel of John records John the Baptist’ declaration of Jesus as the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world”. What the Old Testament sacrifices had pointed to was now here. The Greek word Lamb used in this verse had to do with daily offerings made in the temple. It makes perfect sense that the image of a lamb in the Old Testament would be more fully developed in the New Testament, for the whole purpose of the Old Covenant (Mosaic System) was to point to the New Covenant mediated by Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ fulfilled all the demands of the Old Covenant. He was who Isaiah 53:7 predicted. The blood splattered on those altars pointed directly to the perfect blood that was shed by the Messiah. But whereas the sacrifices under the Old Covenant had to be repeated to atone for sin, Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God would atone for sin for all time.   

            I am always encouraged when I visit this office and see that picture on the wall because it makes me reflect on what it represents. It represents what Christ did at the cross. Because He chose to wear a crown of thorns, I will wear a crown of righteousness. I hope that is your reflection as you read this. But let us not stop there because Jesus is no longer on the cross nor is He in the tomb. He conquered them both and now sits at the right hand of God the Father. That crown of thorns placed on His head to mock Him has been replaced with a crown of glory and honor (Hebrews 2:7). Philippians 2:10-11 says that one day every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. The apostle John writes in Revelation that as we sing praises in heaven, we will sing of Jesus saying, “Worthy is the Lamb” for He is a Lamb who will demand our praise. But why wait for heaven? Jesus Christ demands our praise now. So, for all that we have to praise Him for, today praise Jesus as the Lamb of God, the perfect, sinless sacrifice who came to take away your sin and mine. He is worthy! 

Prayer

God, You are worthy of all of our praise. Help me live in the salvation You provide with a grateful heart for the atoning sacrifice of the perfect Lamb, Jesus Christ. Your Word tells us that one day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess You as Lord. Don’t let me wait for that day. Let me bow before You, confess You as Lord and praise You today and every day. You are more than worthy! 

In His Image: There Are No Exceptions!

“So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27). You won’t find in this or any other passage of Scripture an exception to the fact that all humans are created in the image of God. Yet what is seemingly the case more and more is that every pro-life politician who puts forth anti-abortion legislation aimed at protecting the unborn excludes those conceived as a result of rape or incest. The latest politician is Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

               A few days ago, Senator Graham commented on a bill he introduced that would ban abortions after 20 weeks. In a statement he said, “It is time for someone to speak up on behalf of these babies”. I agree with the Senator; it is time to speak up on behalf of them, ALL of them. You see, the bill introduced makes exceptions in the case of rape, incest and the life of the mother. I’m reminded of how during the campaign in 2012, there were several Republican Senate candidates who were painted as insensitive toward women because their anti-abortion stance made no exception in cases of rape or incest. Naturally, they took criticism from the Obama campaign, the pro-choice candidate, liberal politicians and the liberal media. But they also took criticism from Republicans, conservatives and the like. Governor Romney, who ran on a pro-life platform even called for one of these Senators to withdraw from the Senate race based on his view. The Romney campaign’s official pro-life position held out an exception in cases of rape, incest and the life of the mother. While maybe taking the higher moral ground than the Democratic platform position, neither position was biblical.

               And so here we are again with Republican Senator Lindsey Graham’s proposed bill. Let me say a few things, first; I can appreciate any legislation or for that matter anything that lessens abortions. Ultimately, we should wish there be no abortions, but the fewer the better. Secondly, though a Christian position, the pro-life position is not necessarily reserved for Christians. There are those who don’t follow Christ who consider themselves pro-life. Lastly, we cannot pretend there aren’t any challenges ahead for all involved when a child is conceived in cases rape or incest. And the ethical dilemma faced when the life of the mother is at stake is heart wrenching. But this doesn’t change the biblical truth; all humans are created in the image of God. God’s care for the unborn makes no exception for time or the manner of conception. Scripture is abundantly clear on this point. We only have to consider it in our policies and personal convictions.

               As a nation, we can’t expect God’s blessings when we ignore His will. And we can’t expect those opposed to God to have any concern for the authority of Scripture. But as Christians, we also cannot afford to remain silent. Though the truth must always be stated with grace, it must be stated. As Christians, we must consider all that God has said. Many may claim that to be opposed to abortion in the case of rape or incest is a radical position. I would contend the most radical position is one that is opposed to God thinking we know better than He. A pro-life position with exceptions for rape and incest may be the view many Christians hold, but it’s not a Christian view. As believers in Jesus Christ, we must accept His authority. And we must urge and pray that our political leaders do the same. Our God is a gracious and patient God who has spoken on this issue. Let us open our hearts to His Word and here from Him.

Eyes That See

“We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are” (Numbers 13:31) 

Loss of vision is an unfortunate disability. Though there is no cure and disadvantages exist, many advances allow people with blindness to get along well in today’s society. Spiritual blindness is different. People who are spiritually blind may have perfect eyesight, but are blind to the ways of God. Such was the case for the majority of the spies that Moses sent into Canaan to spy out the land and report back on what they saw. In all, twelve spies went in. When the LORD told Moses to send the spies, He said, it is, “a land which I am giving to the people of Israel.” This gift of land was a fulfillment of a promise the LORD originally made to Abraham (Genesis 17:8). It was a promise that would be kept because God keeps all His promises. Even having been witness to God’s faithfulness since bringing them out of Egypt, doubt still dominated the disposition of the majority of the spies. They were “blind” to the ways of God, and their report upon return from Canaan proved it.   

            “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are” This was the report from ten of the twelve spies upon their return from Canaan. There were two others who went into the Promised Land as well, Caleb and Joshua. As all twelve traveled the land for forty days, physically, they saw the same thing. Canaan was a fertile and prosperous land, “a land flowing with milk and honey”. The spies gained other insights as well. The people in the land were very formidable; they were very large and powerful people. It was on this observation where the spies separated into two groups, where ten of the spies lost their sight, spiritually speaking that is. When these ten spies looked, they saw only the obstacles they faced, believing their enemies were too much to overcome. Caleb and Joshua saw the obstacles as well, but believed they could be overcome. These calm and confident voices however were not welcome as the majority of the spies stirred Israel to rebel against Moses and Aaron, but most importantly, against God. They grumbled and complained, showing their contempt against the LORD who had brought them to this point and had promised this land to them. Their unbelief would not go without consequence. God made Israel wander for forty more years in the wilderness until the whole generation of the people twenty years and older died. The ten spies died as a result of a plague. Because of their belief, only Caleb and Joshua received the blessing of entering the Promised Land. 

            So what was it that distinguished Caleb and Joshua from the other ten spies? What distinguished them was how they viewed their situation. The majority of the spies saw the obstacles, but didn’t see God, while Caleb and Joshua not only understood God’s promises, but also the value of having Him present with them. The difference was simply an issue of belief versus unbelief. Unbelief is always at the root of spiritual blindness and often brings about undesired consequences. Belief on the other hand always pleases God. Caleb and Joshua believed God. In contrast to the majority of the spies, they were unique. Joshua eventually led Israel into the Promised Land. Caleb was said to have a “different spirit”, the Hebrew word for “spirit” having to do with the heart (Numbers 14:24). The reason Joshua and Caleb could see with eyes of faith was because they saw with their hearts.

            When our hearts are open to God, He is pleased to help us see. Do you have eyes that see every circumstance filtered through the Word of God? Do you see all of the happenings of this world under His providential hand? Our hearts help our eyes to see with faith. Maybe one day there will be a cure for blindness, but today, because of God’s grace, there is a cure for those who are spiritually blind. That cure is Jesus Christ. He alone changes hearts, taking us from unbelief to belief, from darkness to light and from blindness to sight. Do you see Him?

 Prayer

Lord God, help me to see You in everything, no matter how uphill the victory may seem. Let me learn from the testimony of Caleb and Joshua that victory is certain in Your presence. I want to stay in Your presence each day Lord as I battle this world and all of its obstacles. You are gracious and faithful. Help me glorify You in all I do. Amen!