Listen to the Children

Listen to the Children

By Pat Knight

Our pastor had recently died during open-heart surgery. Everyone in our congregation was grieving. I knew I must explain his death to our five-year old, but I was unsure whether he could understand. As it turned out, I need not have worried. He comprehended more completely than I ever imagined.

Our son’s reaction was initially one of stillness and contemplation. Then, suddenly, as a warm glow spread across his face, he smiled and responded, “Oh, Mommy, wouldn’t you like to go there—to heaven with pastor, to see Jesus?” I embraced him with a bear hug, as we talked more extensively about heaven, where our pastor now lives with Jesus—a home of beauty, where happiness abounds.

Jesus loves the children. Is it any wonder? Deep within the heart of a child, He identifies pure motives and innocence. He gave us instructions to receive the kingdom of heaven like a little child. That means we cautious adults are to exercise the same tenacious faith, intense beliefs, and confident trust that children employ. “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.  And He took the children in His arms, put His hands on them and blessed them” (Mark 10:14-16).

Just what happens between early childhood years and adulthood to cultivate skepticism, agnosticism, or atheism? As we mature, we acquire more common sense and discernment. We learn to question everything, sometimes the very foundations of our faith. Did we experience mistrust from a dishonest person? Perhaps a major player in our lives deceived us. Intimidation may have convinced us that we will never measure up. Trauma possibly caused perpetual fear or terror. Life’s experiences gradually manipulate our attitudes and belief systems. 

“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6). The responsibility for parents to teach their children about God and His saving grace is just as important, or even greater, than all their other preparations for life.  Children who believe in their Savior and heavenly Father, will possess a foundation of faith that can be built upon as the child matures. Then, when faced with decisions and turmoil of adult living, reliance will be based on God and His promises. Jesus loves the children and He expects us to teach them to love Him, too.

The enemy giant “looked David over and saw that he was little more than a boy, ruddy and handsome, and he despised him” (1 Samuel 17:42). Goliath had an over-inflated view of himself as he scoffed and cursed at David for attempting to fight him, calling him a dog. Undoubtedly, the giant was looking for a bigger challenge for a sparring partner. Goliath had been shouting defiance for forty days, but no one else had come forward to accept the challenge. “Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified” (1 Samuel 17:11). When David declared he would fight the Philistine giant, King Saul warned, “‘you are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a boy and he has been a fighting man since his youth” (1 Samuel 17:33). David was deluged with criticism rather than confidence from men lacking their own personal courage.

David never doubted, nor did his faith waver, as he announced he would slay the giant (1 Samuel 17:47). During his early shepherding years, David killed a bear and a lion with his bare hands, giving credit to his Lord for the victories. God continued to empower David, tutoring the next king in His sovereign classroom, preparing him to one day succeed Saul. David grew up to be an effective, efficient, empathetic king, named “a man after God’s own heart.”

The difference between the boy David and all of the seasoned fighting men in the Israeli army, was that David took his Lord into battle with Him. God enables His children with strength and power regardless of age or ability. We are admonished to encourage those people God has assigned with kingdom work. 

Believers are assured: “the battle is not yours, but God’s” (2 Chronicles 20:15). God provides the victory, just as He promised  “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are so young, but set an example for the believers in speech and in conduct, in love, in faith, and purity” (1 Timothy 4:12).

Those who are young are admonished to “watch your life and doctrine closely.  Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (v. 4:16). Have we lost our sense of wonder, our compelling spiritual innocence? Children know whom to trust. Their tell-it-like-it-is descriptions defy adult explanations.

As we keep our ears attuned to children, there are many things we learn from them: a simplistic approach to life, unbridled enthusiasm, and unashamed love. Catch their excitement and pure faith. Look for opportunities to participate in the spiritual education of a child. You will be pleasantly surprised to learn that there is no fear or hesitation in their love of Jesus.

If Christ appeared physically in the presence of children today, they would run with eagerness into His arms, recognizing His love and splendor. Would we unabashedly follow their example? The question is ponderable, for Jesus provides a specific warning pertaining to our verbal and physical reactions to Him. “‘If any of you is embarrassed with me and the way I’m leading you, know that the Son of Man will be far more embarrassed with you when he arrives in all his splendor in company with the Father and holy angels’” (Luke 9:26, The Msg.).

Jesus is an undeniable fact of life, whose paths we must follow for success and joy. Children integrate spiritual lessons quickly and thoroughly. It is no wonder most adults would prefer to return to the innocence of their youth, a lifestyle abounding with trust and joy. We need never abandon Jesus’ gifts as we age, for He has promised abundant lives, lavished with grace and mercy for all who trust and follow Him. Let us re-evaluate our faith, prioritizing childlike singlemindedness, unreservedly accepting and following our Savior.

Life in Exile

Photo credit by Tammi Rhoney

When you pass through the waters I will be with you.
─Psalm 43:2

Life in Exile 

By Tammi Rhoney

Many of us with chronic illnesses and pain feel like we live life in exile, separated from the rest of the world because of the isolation caused by our illnesses. With the Coronavirus causing havoc around the globe and forcing businesses, schools, churches and restaurants to close, others are going to feel the isolation and loneliness that we live with on a daily basis. I have suffered with Myalgic Encephalomyletis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS), a severely debilitating complex chronic illness that has kept me mostly housebound for twenty-seven years, almost half my life. One friend accurately named M.E. “the leprosy of the twentieth century.” It’s easy to become discouraged because we feel so disconnected, but God has a reason for our captivity.

In the book of Daniel, when Daniel and his three friends, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, were held in captivity by King Nebuchadnezzar, they sought to glorify God and refused to eat the king’s food and bow down to his golden image (Daniel 1:8, 3:18). They knew the Lord and wanted to obey, worship and glorify Him, even in very difficult circumstances, and they chose to trust God no matter what the outcome. God had a reason for their captivity and that was to bring glory to Himself.

The same is true for us. We worship the same God as in Daniel’s time.  While in captivity with our illnesses, we can find new ways to glorify God and worship Him. I enjoy listening to the dramatized Bible via audio on the Bible.is app because it takes less brain energy than reading and brings God’s Word alive with music, sounds and voices.  We can listen to on-line sermons, memorize and meditate on short Scripture verses, send cards to others and call someone who is lonely when we feel up to it. The more afflicted we feel, the more important it is to spend time in prayer, praise and worship to God each day and keep our focus on Him and not on our circumstances. Psalm 16:8 says, “I keep my eyes always on the LORD. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”  

There are some similarities and differences between Daniel and his friends’ life in exile and our daily exile caused by poor health. One main difference is that we know God sent Israel into exile as punishment for their sin, while today’s chronic illnesses often are not God’s punishment for specific sins, but part of living in a fallen world. Both are from God’s Hand (Job 2:10, Isaiah 45:7). Scripture says that God is completely Sovereign and free to do as He wills for His own glory (Psalm 15:3; 103:19). His Sovereignty determines the length, duration and severity of our illnesses, just as He determined the duration of captivity for Daniel and his three friends. If it is God’s will, He chooses when and where to deliver us, how and when only He knows (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Daniel and his friends didn’t know that they would be delivered from the fiery furnace and lion’s den, but even if they were killed, they still intended to remain true to God (Daniel 3:16-18).

They also didn’t know that a theophany of Christ would appear with them in the furnace that was heated seven times hotter than normal (Daniel 3:19, 25). God chose to reveal His awesome power in and through them as their clothes were not even singed and there was no smell of smoke on their garments (Daniel 3:27). Dr. Bill Barcley, our senior pastor, said, “God reveals His power and glory in and through us, especially in times of trial and through our perseverance.”

We’re never alone; God promises to be with us because we are His very precious, redeemed people (1 Peter 2:9). Remember that God says, “I have redeemed you, I have called you by name, you are Mine” (Isaiah 43:1-3, ESV). Yet God doesn’t always save His saints from death or disease. Our calling is to trust and obey Him and leave the rest in His Hands.  As Paul proclaimed, weakness is one of the ways God displays His strength and power through us (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

Life in exile is fruitful because:

Even as believers, we are a very sinful, idolatrous people, but thankfully our sins are covered by Christ’s precious blood (1 John 1:9).

Sometimes God chooses to remove all distractions from our lives so that He becomes our most important and treasured possession.

While life in exile is not fun, it’s sometimes necessary in God’s plan. We should ask Him to help us give thanks to Him for this time of refining in our lives and for how He’s going to use these fiery trials for our good, the benefit of others and His glory (Romans 8:28).

Search for One

Search for One

By Pat Knight

Mink do not usually expose themselves to humans, especially during daylight hours. One splendid, warm, summer day there were seven of us engaged in activities near the lake. While our three young grandsons were captivated fishing, the adults glimpsed a sleek, black, lithe creature slithering its way around the children’s sandal-clad feet on the dock. Our son commanded his boys to stand motionless, using only their eyes to observe the bizarre oddity of nature. 

The wet, glistening mink investigated the boy’s footgear and wet socks draped on a rock to dry. The mink’s nose never stopped sniffing, as it wove its body among every human foot firmly planted on the dock. Its conical snout, incessantly wriggling, was on a mission. What was bothering the mink so much that it would voluntarily wander among the enemy? We talked quietly. Then the mink slinked away as quickly as it had appeared. Our activity resumed in slow motion. The boys continued to fish, as they cast a wary eye in the direction of the intruder, wondering if it would return.

Soon, mother mink emerged, this time on a new quest. She had previously disappeared into the rocks near the shoreline, to the left of the dock, probably the location of her den. Now, with a limp kit helplessly dangling from her mouth, mama mink hastily scampered across the dock, without stopping to socialize, and plunged into the water, bound for the cribwork on the opposite side of the dock. There she remained with her kit, in an area her instincts told her would be much safer than their last home, far out of range of human activity. We weren’t privileged to see the mother mink or her kit again. Their short performance was astonishing, albeit, entertaining.

Jesus told a parable to His disciples: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine who do not need to repent” (Luke 15:3-7).

Jesus taught truths using familiar objects his audience could understand. One hundred sheep comprised a typical modest flock for a shepherd of that day. Shepherds often worked in teams, so it would not be irresponsible for one shepherd to leave ninety-nine sheep safely in the open field for his companions to oversee. The shepherds would not take the remainder of their herd home until the lost lamb was found.

Throughout Scripture, Jesus is portrayed as the Good Shepherd; believers are His individual sheep or His collective flock. Sheep are without direction in life. They must be led to good grazing grounds and protected from danger. They are passive animals, unequipped to find their own food or to fight predators. A good shepherd supplies his sheep’s needs.

The picture we see in Jesus’ parable is one of the Good Shepherd protecting His own. He was willing to leave His glorious throne in heaven to search for the one who is lost. When that person is found, Jesus places His beloved on His shoulders—the place of strength—and rejoins the lost with the rest of His flock. Jesus always rejoices when His people turn to Him for salvation, safety, and guidance throughout life. 

The mother mink protected her one kit, going to great lengths and endangering her life by carrying her offspring past the enemy to safety. If need be, she was willing to fight fiercely for the security of her young. Though the scene of the kit dangling from its mother’s mouth looked pathetic to us, the instinctive submission and obedience of the kit saved its life. Though Jesus handles us much more gently, He requires our posture to be one of complete trust and reliance upon His care, submitting to His will for our lives. “‘I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down,’ declares the Sovereign Lord. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak … I will shepherd the flock with justice’” (Ezekiel 34:15-16).

When confronting danger, are we willing to put our lives in the hands of the Great Shepherd, who incessantly rescues His wayward children from harm, one individual life at a time? Trust Jesus explicitly, as He readily enfolds you beneath His protective arms and leads you to safety. “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deuteronomy 33:27).

Jesus went further than risking His life for our protection. He came to earth with the express goal to die a heinous death of crucifixion: His one perfect life given for mankind, to redeem us from our sins, and to carry us on His shoulders to refuge in heaven for eternity.

“Jesus said, ‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep’” (John 10:11). Jesus’ mission on earth was unselfish. He sacrificed His pure, unblemished life to save His sinful children, one-by-one. The Good Shepherd came to secure eternal victory for His wayward ones. Submit to Him, for His plans are always perfect.

Peter: Restoration from Shame

Shared from Today in the Word.

Peter: Restoration from Shame

Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you. —John 21:17

Sometimes we wish for a remote control with a giant rewind button. If only we could start the day, the conversation, or the relationship all over again, we would do it differently!

Peter longed for a second chance with Jesus. The unresolved shame of his denial gnawed at him. Jesus understood Peter’s shame and reconstructed the circumstances under which they had first met. The sea, the boat, the long night without fish—all were in place. Jesus called out from the shore and the nets came up overflowing. Peter got the message. Jesus was inviting him for a redo!

This second chance meant confronting the shame of his failure. Peter watched Jesus’ hands breaking bread just as they had that fateful night. The Master he had denied served him breakfast. Reliving those events must have brought all his shame to the surface.

Read the rest here.

The Seven Last Words of Jesus Christ

One of my favorite blogs is Got Questions? Their site has a wealth of good Biblical information, and under the “Ask a Question” tab, you can write out your question for them to answer.

Recently I came across this post that answered the question: “What were the seven last words of Jesus Christ on the cross and what do they mean?

Answer: The seven statements that Jesus Christ made on the cross were (not in any particular order):

(1) Matthew 27:46 tells us that about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Here, Jesus was expressing His feelings of abandonment as God placed the sins of the world on Him – and because of that, God had to “turn away” from Jesus. As Jesus was feeling that weight of sin, He was experiencing a separation from God for the only time in all of eternity. This was also a fulfillment of the prophetic statement in Psalm 22:1.

(2) “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Those who crucified Jesus were not aware of the full scope of what they were doing because they did not recognize Him as the Messiah. While their ignorance of divine truth did not mean they deserved forgiveness, Christ’s prayer in the midst of their mocking Him is an expression of the limitless compassion of divine grace.

(3) “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). In this passage, Jesus is assuring one of the criminals on the cross that when he died, he would be with Jesus in heaven. This was granted because even at the hour of his death, the criminal had expressed his faith in Jesus, recognizing Him for who He was (Luke 23:42).

Read the rest here

Tax Time

Tax Time

By Pat Knight

Soon we will be preoccupied calculating our annual Federal income tax returns, begrudgingly sending our sums to the IRS. Since most of us attempt to spend our personal funds wisely, it is baffling to accept that the big machinery of government may be using our funds inefficiently and with impunity.

Taxes have been demanded of workers for centuries. King “Solomon had twelve governors over all Israel, who supplied provisions for the king and his royal household. Each one had to provide supplies for one month in the year”(1 Kings 4:7) Lest you think that a small task, the following list provides the daily requirements for feeding King Solomon’s court, totaling  thousands of people:

185 bushels of flour
375 bushels of meal
10 head of stall-fed cattle
20 pasture-fed cattle
100 sheep
100 goats
Deer, gazelle, roebucks and choice fowl (1 Kings 4:22). 

In Nehemiah’s day there was a loud outcry from the people due to their astronomically high tax rates. The Jewish people were paying as much as one half of their harvest produce and a portion of their income in tithes to support the temple. Taxes placed such an extreme financial burden on some families, they were forced to mortgage their fertile fields to pay their assessment. Others in desperate situations sold their own sons and daughters into slavery. Bondservants were common during hard times when the poor, unable to pay their debts, sold themselves into slavery (Nehemiah 5:1-5). A slave could buy his freedom or another could do it for him. Such is the redemption of Christ, when He bought our sins by granting our freedom from slavery to sin.  

It is estimated that during Jesus’ time the Jews were paying thirty to forty percent of their income for taxes and temple dues. No wonder the position of tax collector was so despised and the official himself deplored for padding his pockets by collecting more taxes than were actually due.

One day the Pharisees, the religious, political leaders among the Israelite people, deliberately attempted to trap Jesus by asking Him an ambiguous question. It was a verbal snare designed to destroy Jesus’ credibility, no matter how He answered. The Pharisees asked Jesus, “‘is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?’”(Matthew 22:17).

 Jesus responded, “‘You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax’” (Matthew 22:18). Jesus then asked the men to describe whose image and inscription was engraved on the coin. When the Pharisees replied to Jesus that both sides of the coin focused on Caesar, Jesus emphatically responded, “‘Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s’” (Matthew 22:21).  

Jesus instructed that all people have obligations to the government as long as those demands do not conflict with their allegiance to God. The Pharisees were amazed by Jesus’ answer and left in utter defeat. They failed to acknowledge that they were daily reaping the benefits of their taxes paid to Rome by gaining access to Caesar’s currency for monetary exchange, traveling on Rome’s government subsidized highways, and enjoying of a degree of military protection and peace.

In our current culture, there are many requirements of our government that do not conflict with our obligations to God. The apostle Paul taught that the people’s main priority is dedication to God: “‘everyone should submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted’” (Romans 13:1-3). 

Christians are instructed to obey laws and to respect elected officials, as a matter of civil obedience, but also for conscience’s sake (Romans 13:5). We are instructed to pay taxes and to show respect for authority, even if we are aware of corruption. Injustice and fraud likely exist in all governments, yet God rules over them all. “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors (1 Peter 2:13).

Let us readily participate in any democratic process to lessen the bureaucratic burden of tax laws. Consistent prayer, in which we ask God to advocate for change, will unleash power and potential for revision beyond any strategy man can employ.

An old adage says that two absolutes in life are death and taxes. It may seem like taxes have existed forever, but a Christian defines forever as eternal life in heaven.

The imperfection of justice in this life is the strongest proof that in the next world justice and vengeance will be fulfilled to the utmost. —David Augsburger

Let us adopt Jesus’ attitude when He was apprehended at the temple at age twelve, instructing the teachers of religious law. When questioned about His educational endeavor, Jesus responded, “‘I must be about my Father’s business’” (Luke 2:49). Who among us has the time or energy to complain about tax rates if we prioritize our life’s activities to conform to our Savior’s objectives?

Understanding the Holy Spirit and His Role in the Trinity

Today I’m sharing from The NIV Bible blog.

Understanding the Holy Spirit
and His Role in the Trinity

This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us. — 1 John 3:19-24

What Is the Holy Spirit?

It is interesting that throughout Scripture the Holy Spirit is not given a personal name such as Yahweh or Emmanuel, but is described only in terms of His work. Perhaps that omission has led some to think of the Holy Spirit as a force, a power, or an influence—some entity less than a person.

The Holy Spirit does not have a physical body, but rather describes qualities, characteristics, and actions. Here’s what the Bible says about the Holy Spirit —

• He thinks and feels (1 Corinthians 2:10-11)
• He decides (1 Corinthians 12:11)
• He speaks (John 15:26)
• He teaches (John 14:26)
• He intercedes for us (Romans 8:26)
• He helps to make our weaknesses become empowered strengths (2 Corinthians 12:9)
• He guides (1 Corinthians 2:13)
• He can be lied to (Acts 5:3), insulted (Hebrews 10:29), grieved (Ephesians 4:30), and resisted (Acts 7:51).

In the New Testament, the Holy Spirit comes to us in person to glorify Christ in every believer as He works to create God’s family on the earth—that is, the Church as God’s household. He is called the Spirit of truth (John 16:13) and our Advocate (John 14:26). When He indwells the life of the believer, He takes the truth of the words of Christ, and reveals their depth of meaning to that individual.

Jesus taught that attributing the work of the Holy Spirit to the devil was the worst sin a person could commit (Matthew 12:32). Indeed, what hope was there for one who rejected “the Spirit [who] gives life”? (John 6:63). Jesus Himself was “full of joy through the Holy Spirit” when He reflected upon God the Father’s purposes and activities (Luke 10:21). Furthermore, He gave His disciples reason to rejoice by telling them the Holy Spirit would be their divine helper in the years to come (see John 14:26). His words revealed the Holy Spirit’s role within the Trinity: In this instance, Jesus said that the Spirit would proceed from the Father, be sent by the Son, and bear witness about the Son (John 15:26–27).

What Does the Holy Spirit Do?

The work of the Holy Spirit is to glorify Christ and make Him real in the daily life of every believer. The Holy Spirit serves as God’s divine Administrator on earth and He desires and works to recreate the life of Christ in His people.

Read the rest here.

Distracted Allegiance

Distracted Allegiance

By Pat Knight

Some winters in the northeast are longer and harsher than others. At the beginning of April, we watch for signs of thinning ice. When there is a winter-long depth of more than three feet of solid ice, melting takes considerable time. One morning the sunrise illuminated the sky just enough to expose ripples on the lake water. Water? The previous night there was still ice jammed into the cove. Now, there were only a few slivers leisurely floating.  

Later that morning, I noticed the cove nearly filled with large, flat, chunks of floating ice. Earlier the lake was exposed and moving, like pieces of a shattered mirror. Now the impression was one of mini-icebergs. We were familiar with the phenomenon: ice in the larger part of the lake breaks up, and the wind blows it into the cove, where it is trapped. When I first noticed the cove devoid of ice, the timing was perfect. I had peered out the window a mere moment after the ice collapsed beneath the surface. Then later, more ice floated into the cove from the large, open lake.

Our relationship with our heavenly Father is comparable to the shattered ice floes that blow into the cove. Some days we walk closely by His side, and other days we withdraw, preferring self-reliance, slowly replacing dependence on our Lord. God never moves. It is His desire to be an integral part of our lives, guiding and directing. If anyone moves, God is not the one to depart. It is our spiritual wanderlust that pulls us away from a consistent walk with our Lord.

God created us for communion with Him. “And our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3). Just imagine! The supreme God of the whole universe desires to walk and talk with us. We serve a loving, patient God, who “is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9b).

If you have ever been in the presence of someone who has lost a contact lens, you know instinctively that all activity stops abruptly. Feet remain glued to the floor, as eyes scour the surrounding area for the tiny disc. With far more intensity, God searches for the soul distracted from His care. “For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him” (2 Chronicles 16:9). God pours His love and strength into the person completely yielded to Him, who forsakes self-reliance to fully rely on God.

Historically and repeatedly, the children of God ignored Him. He punished His rebellious people who disobeyed covenantal laws by worshiping false gods in the form of idols. God is merciful. “The Lord Himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:8). God loves us and extends mercy just as lavishly as He did the wandering, rebellious Israelites of centuries ago. 

We tend to blindly follow other people, whereas, we are commanded to imitate God, not man. He sets the standard. “I the Lord do not change” (Malachi 3:6). We are assured God’s promises will apply forever, perpetually affirming our importance to Him. “Jesus replied, ‘Anyone who loves me, will obey my teaching.  My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him’” (John 14:23). God not only abides within our hearts, He knows us more completely than we are familiar with ourselves.

We are nothing apart from our status in God. He elevates us as His children, showering us with an eternal gift as joint heirs with Christ. “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now, if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:16-17). All things belong to Jesus, but He graciously shares His inheritance with believers.

If you were notified by an estate attorney that you have been designated to inherit a glorious kingdom, what reaction would you display? I am assuming you would be excited and incredulous. And yet, as joint heirs with Christ, we are assured of an inheritance in heaven forever and ever. Now, those are the kind of riches about which we kick up our heels and celebrate. But, do we? What will it take to convince us, that in God’s eyes, we are so loved and our company so desired, that He plans to spend an eternity with us?

In view of our value to God, He sent His pure, sinless Son to earth to ultimately die for us. “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:7). There have been isolated recorded instances in history where one person substituted his life for another, but “Jesus Christ, the Righteous One—is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). God’s forgiveness through Christ’s atoning sacrifice is impartial, with worldwide application for those who receive Him by faith. No sin or crime is too egregious for Him to forgive, substituting eternal death for life everlasting in heaven with Him.

Jesus was not only physically tortured during crucifixion, but He suffered an unprecedented emotional burden, carrying the sins of the entire world on His shoulders—past, present, and future. Jesus Christ substituted His perfect life for our sinful ones. You were redeemed with “the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Peter 1:19). If crucifixion were required for each of us to atone for our personal sins, there would be few crosses dotting the horizon. Let us not minimize the gift of life bought with the blood of Jesus.

Can we exclaim with the psalmist, “‘the Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy’” (Psalm 126:3)? Because God loves us with immeasurable love and sacrifice, why do we, like the ice in the cove that moves on a whim, act so inconsistently in our relationship to our Lord? The cove ice is blown by the wind, producing an unsettled surface. “The one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind” (James 1:6). Let us be reminded of the source of our power and saving grace. God craves our nearness, so why do we resist?  “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8, NKJV).

Rejoice Always

Today I’m sharing from the Ligonier blog.

Rejoice Always

From

Do you know what the shortest verse in the New Testament is? The obvious answer is John 11:35: “Jesus wept.” It is the shortest verse in our English translations of the Bible. But the shortest verse in the Greek New Testament is 1 Thessalonians 5:16: “Rejoice always.” It is a little verse with big implications.

The word “rejoice” is a call to joy. The term was a watchword among early Christians. More than a term of worship, it was a word of salutation. Jesus used it as a greeting (Matt. 28:9). Paul used it as a farewell (2 Cor. 13:11). We typically greet one another with “Hello” or “Goodbye.” But what an encouragement it would be if we entered and departed one another’s presence with a call to rejoice.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:16, Paul exhorts the saints to rejoice. It is a command, which makes it clear that joy is more than happiness. Happiness is an emotional response to favorable, pleasant, or rewarding circumstances. You cannot compel a person to be happy. It’s based on what happens to a person. But Christians are commanded by God to rejoice. This command to rejoice is in the present tense. It means “keep on rejoicing.” This makes 1 Thessalonians 5:16 a hard command. This divine mandate would be easier to swallow if it simply directed us to rejoice. Indeed, there are many times, reasons, and occasions that call for rejoicing. But the command is to rejoice always, not only sometimes. How does the Christian rejoice always?

First Thessalonians 5:16–18 features what have been called “the standing orders of the gospel.” These exhortations apply to all Christians in every place and every situation. “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances.” These commands may be familiar. But the justification for the commands is often overlooked: “for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Do we want to know God’s will for us in any situation? It is God’s will that we rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances. We are in spiritual rebellion if we are not joyful, prayerful, and thankful. God’s will for our lives is about more than the circumstances we face. It is about how we respond to those circumstances.

It is the will of God for us to rejoice always. But obedience to this command is not accomplished by an act of the will. It is only accomplished by faith in Christ. The believer’s unceasing rejoicing is the will of God for us “in Christ Jesus.” This is the key to the life of rejoicing. Unsaved people do not rejoice in God, pray to God, or give thanks to God. Religious people rejoice sometimes, pray when they feel like it, and give thanks when things are going well. But Christians rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances. This is not the believer’s response because we are impervious to life’s dangers, toils, and snares. It is our response to life because we are in Christ Jesus.

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Reflections on the Mystery of “Unanswered” Prayer

Today I’m sharing from The NIV Bible blog.

Reflections on the Mystery of “Unanswered” Prayer

By Dr. Bill Mounce

If you’re like most people, you are somewhat mystified with the whole topic of answered and unanswered prayer. That describes me too. When my infant daughter died (her name is Rachel), the next time I taught Sunday school I started by listing all the verses that unequivocally promise that God answers prayer. Of course, all my friends in the class jumped to God’s defense and basically tried to explain that these verses didn’t really mean what they said. At least that was my take on their response, and I understood why.

I certainly understand the need to interpret Scripture in light of Scripture, but what so often happens is that we downplay the tremendous privilege the Lord has given his children to ask of him whatever we want. As a result our prayers tend to be anemic, which means we generally don’t have to face the issue of unanswered prayer. (I also understand that theologically there is no such thing as an unanswered prayer, but that’s a topic for another article.)

I am thinking of verses such as John 15:7: “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” And I am thinking of qualifications like Matthew 26:39, which is Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane: “if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

I have no answer for this dilemma, but I do have a few observations that have helped me.

How to Pray

1. Pray with boldness.

Jesus told us to ask. He wants us to ask. And he promises to hear us. That’s pretty amazing in and of itself. I know that when we experience what appears to be unanswered prayer time after time, we can give up. But re-read Matthew 7:7–11: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” These words have to mean something, and despite the Lucan parallel that says he gives the Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13), Matthew’s version is much more broad.

2. Pray expectantly.

What actually raised this topic for me was a sermon I just listened to by Alistair Begg through his ministry, Truth for Life. He said that we believe that God will answer because we know he can answer. That is a wonderful balance.

Read the rest here.