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With so many sermons to read I have 20 years of church I can catch up on!
May God grant that you find His Word in these devotionals, and that He would bless you and make you more like Him through them. May God grant that you see Him, not me.

For today:

Who is God?

We kind of glanced at that a couple of days ago. In Exodus 3 God told Moses to tell the Israelites “I AM” sent him.

As you read through the Old Testament, there are at least four base Hebrew words that are used for God, along with a number of other names used to describe various attributes of God.

One of those words is אֱלֹהִים (’elôhîym) which is the generic name for “god”. In fact God uses that word to describe people who are made in the image of God in Psalm 82: 6 I said, “You are gods, And all of you are sons of the Most High. 7 “Nevertheless you will die like men And fall like any one of the princes.”

Think of that. God has called us gods, beings made in His own image. That means we have standing in God’s eyes. We have dignity. We have identity. We mean something to Him.

A second word is יְהוָֹה (yehōwāh), Jehovah. That is the proper name by which God calls Himself and we usually say “Jehovah”. It is closely related to the Hebrew word “to be”.

אֲדֹנָי (’ăḏônây) is a third word. The Israelites considered it improper to use God’s name Jehovah in everyday talk. They took that commandment “Thou shalt not take the name of thy God in vain” seriously. Every time they came across the word “Jehovah” as they read through the Old Testament they substituted Adonai.

And some of that needs to rub off on us. God wants us to call Him Abba, Father or Daddy, because He wants us to know Him and trust Him. He is not untouchable. We can come to Him, know Him. We can love Him; He loves us as a father loves his children, and we should love Him as children love their father.

But He is also holy and righteous and just, and we need to have a reverent attitude when we come to Him. He should fill us with awe. We should not take Him lightly.

When God told Moses by what authority he was leading Israel in Exodus 3, He said to use the name “I AM” (הָיָה hâyâ) and “I AM THAT I AM”, which, as said before, is closely related to Jehovah. “I AM” is the Hebrew word we translate “to be”.

I’m going to “borrow” from John Piper ten things he said about what it means that God is “I AM”.

1. He never had a beginning. Every child asks, “Who made God?” And every wise parent says, “Nobody made God. God simply is. And always was. No beginning.”

2. God will never end. If he did not come into being he cannot go out of being, because he is being.

3. God is absolute reality. There is no reality before him. There is no reality outside of him unless he wills it and makes it. He is all that was eternally. No space, no universe, no emptiness. Only God.

4. God is utterly independent. He depends on nothing to bring him into being or support him or counsel him or make him what he is.

5. Everything that is not God depends totally on God. The entire universe is utterly secondary. It came into being by God and stays in being moment by moment on God's decision to keep it in being.

6. All the universe is by comparison to God as nothing. Contingent, dependent reality is to absolute, independent reality as a shadow to substance. As an echo to a thunderclap. All that we are amazed by in the world and in the galaxies, is, compared to God, as nothing.

7. God is constant. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He cannot be improved. He is not becoming anything. He is who he is.

8. God is the absolute standard of truth and goodness and beauty. There is no law-book to which he looks to know what is right. No almanac to establish facts. No guild to determine what is excellent or beautiful. He himself is the standard of what is right, what is true, what is beautiful.

9. God does whatever he pleases and it is always right and always beautiful and always in accord with truth. All reality that is outside of him he created and designed and governs as the absolute reality. So he is utterly free from any constraints that don't originate from the counsel of his own will.

10. God is the most important and most valuable reality and person in the universe. He is more worthy of interest and attention and admiration and enjoyment than all other realities, including the entire universe.

Now, the bottom line for us is that God is not subject to what we say or do. God defines Himself. We cannot define God. If we try to say “my god would not do this” or “my god would not say that” we are defining god according to our own ideas, limiting Him to our own imagination and intellect and wisdom. We are trying to create gods after our own image.

We can and should claim God for our own, the way Ruth did in Ruth 1: 16 But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God.

And as you read through the Old Testament you can see some people talking to the prophets about “my God” if they have a good relationship with God. If they are like King Saul or Ahab who rejected God, they talk to the prophets about “your God”. Watch for that. Can you say that Jehovah is “my God”, or is He “your God”?

If we are going to get to know who God is, we need to look into His Word, the Bible, and get our understanding of who He is, what He does and what He says, from what He has told us about Himself, not from our imaginations.

When people build houses, they like to get down onto bedrock because that doesn’t move. When we build our lives, we need to base them on the true God who doesn’t change with time. If we “imagine up” our own gods, those images will change with our feelings, with circumstances, with outside peer pressure, and all kinds of other things. We want and need to base our lives on a God who won’t shift.

When you read that God said I AM, think Psalm 90 : Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations. 2 Before the mountains were born Or You gave birth to the earth and the world, Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God. 3 You turn man back into dust And say, “Return, O children of men.” 4 For a thousand years in Your sight Are like yesterday when it passes by, Or as a watch in the night.
 

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Immediate gratification or delayed joy?

That is the age-old question, and has been around since the days of Jacob and Esau.

You remember that incident. Genesis 25. 29 When Jacob had cooked stew, Esau came in from the field and he was famished; 30 and Esau said to Jacob, “Please let me have a swallow of that red stuff there, for I am famished.” Therefore his name was called Edom. 31 But Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.” 32 Esau said, “Behold, I am about to die; so of what use then is the birthright to me?” 33 And Jacob said, “First swear to me”; so he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. 34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew; and he ate and drank, and rose and went on his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.

Hebrews 12 summarizes that situation and throws a surprising application to it: 15 See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled; 16 that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal. 17 For you know that even afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears.

Esau dumped his birthright—that special blessing God gives including all the rights and privileges and responsibilities of being first born. He would not have realized that birthright for quite a few years but it was there. He signed it away for a bowl of stew because he was feeling hungry at the moment. He was giving up a permanent blessing for a meal that would leave him hungry again in another four hours or so.

Now, God says in Hebrews that if we nurture a seed of bitterness in ourselves, that makes us feel good for a short time. We get mad, righteously mad, at someone for someone for doing something that hurt us or offended us. We harbour that insult, we nourish it, we keep it close to ourselves and review it from time to time and it gets to the point of “I’ll never forgive that person for what he did to me”. It satisfies our ego for a while. In cultivating that bitterness, we are throwing away the birthright God wants to give us.

What birthright? When we become Christians, we ask God to apply the atonement Jesus made for our sins to our lives. We ask God to forgive the huge debt of guilt for our sins. God is more than glad to do that. But He places a proviso on that forgiveness. Remember the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6?
12 ‘And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors…14 For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.


God forgives us as we forgive others. To underscore that, Jesus told the parable in Matthew 18 of the servant who owed his master something on the order of a billion dollars. When the master called the debt in the servant begged to be forgiven that debt. There was no way he could pay it off. So the master forgave him that debt. The servant immediately went out, found someone who owed him on the order of $25 and put the screws on to get his money back. The master found out about this and threw that servant into debtor’s prison because he would not forgive the minor debt his fellow servant owed him, despite the way his master had forgiven that servant’s major debt.

That forgiveness is just a portion of the birthright we throw away if we nurture bitterness. We also throw away the blessings God wants to give us because we are trusting ourselves, not God. We throw away the peace He wants to give us because we would prefer to keep our anger stirred up instead of trusting God to take care of it.

There is a truckload more about this birthright we inherit from God that we can receive or reject. We’ll have to look into this more tomorrow. We can never cover all of that subject, but we can at least start thinking about it.

James 1 12 Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.
 

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Immediate gratification or delayed joy part 2

We live in a day of instant messaging, microwave meals, online banking and shopping, and a whole lot of other instant stuff. We order something on line and it arrives in our letterbox a few days later. We live in a day of instant gratification. Yesterday we glanced at how Isaac got instant gratification back there in Genesis 25. At what cost? He lost the blessing he should have received. He lost his birthright.

God gives us a choice. We can either give in to our bodies’ appetites, or deny them, exercise some discipline, and enjoy a greater blessing later on.

Hebrews 12 says 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Jesus endured pain and shame for a short time so He could receive an eternal reward. So did everyone listed in Hebrews 11. 13 All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth…16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.

These people chose to wait to appease their appetites, regardless of the cost, so they could receive an eternal reward.

Satan offered Jesus immediate gratification when he tempted Jesus there in Matthew 4. Jesus was starving, having fasted 40 days; satan offered him the easy way out by turning stones to bread. Jesus wanted the people to see and hear and understand the message He brought that God would save His people, so satan offered the short cut to widespread publicity by making a spectacle of Himself by jumping off the pinnacle of the temple and not being harmed. Finally satan offered Jesus a shortcut to what God had promised Jesus—dominion over all creation—by simply bowing down to him.

Each of these things would have given Jesus immediate gratification, would have cut through a lot of immediate pain and suffering.

Now, take a note. Jesus did, one way or another, all the things satan tempted him to fall for, but in God’s time and in God’s way. He delayed gratification. As soon as satan left Jesus, the angels came to minister to His needs. Jesus did indeed make bread, enough bread to feed 5000 men, plus the women and children in Matthew 14. He didn’t jump off the pinnacle of the temple, but he did walk unharmed through a crowd of people intent on throwing Him off a cliff. Luke 4: 28 And all the people in the synagogue were filled with rage as they heard these things; 29 and they got up and drove Him out of the city, and led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city had been built, in order to throw Him down the cliff. 30 But passing through their midst, He went His way.

And God gave Jesus dominion over all the kingdoms of the earth and over a whole lot more after He died on the cross. Philippians 2: 9 For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Then again, do you remember the delayed joy Jesus brought to His disciples and friends in John 11?

They brought word to Jesus that his friend Lazarus was sick. 3 So the sisters sent word to Him, saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.” So Jesus waited where He was two days and then went to Bethany.

Just in passing…did you see how they appealed to Jesus? Not “Lazarus your friend is sick. He loves You so much You should come and heal him”. Or “He’s a really good man and he deserves your healing.” Instead it was “he whom You love is sick”. We ask God to do things for us because He loves us, not because we are good, or we deserve it in any way shape or form or even because we love Him so much.

Here’s the strange part. 14 So Jesus then said to them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15 and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe; but let us go to him.”

Lazarus is dead and I am glad for your sakes? What a terrible thing to say. Death brings grief, sorrow. Yet Jesus is glad Lazarus died. He had a delayed joy in store for His disciples and friends.

When Jesus finally got to Bethany, Lazarus had been dead four days and was in his grave. Jesus could have healed Lazarus from wherever He was. He had already done something like that with a centurion’s servant in Matthew 8.

This time Jesus went one step further than healing someone who was sick. He resurrected a dead man.

Now, which would bring greater joy? Having a sick relative restored to health or having a dead loved one brought back to life? Jesus could have granted immediate gratification, but He chose to give His disciples delayed joy beyond their wildest imagination.

James 1 says 12 Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.

Bottom line for us is this: we can give in to temptation and receive instant, temporary gratification of some desire or appetite that God has given our bodies. In doing so we will lose our eternal birthright, our inheritance.

Or we can do what athletes do and keep pushing, resisting the temptation to give in or give up so we can receive the reward Paul described in 2 Timothy 4: 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; 8 in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.

Do you want immediate temporary, low-grade reward, or delayed permanent high grade reward?

Is it worth losing eternal blessings for a moment’s pleasure?
 

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False gods

I was reading Ezekiel 14 this morning and was struck by the similarity between what was happening in his day and what is happening with us today.

Then some elders of Israel came to me and sat down before me. 2 And the word of the Lord came to me, saying, 3 “Son of man, these men have set up their idols in their hearts and have put right before their faces the stumbling block of their iniquity. Should I be consulted by them at all?

Just picture it. The religious leaders have set up their own idols in their hearts. They have replaced obeying God with their own ideas of what is right and what is wrong, of who God is, and what He is like. They have in effect established their own religion. Yet they have the effrontery to pretend to ask for God’s guidance. These leaders of the people, who help set the direction for the nation pretend to get guidance from God by going in and sitting down to listen to God’s prophet. It reminds me of some politicians today who talk about “their religion”, but their public lives do not come anywhere near obedience to God’s Law. In fact, they don’t even show any knowledge of God. They have manufactured a god in their own image, an idol in their heart to worship. Their lifestyle and practice is the stumbling block of their sin against God. And they try to impose “their religion” on the rest of us.

The same could be said of many prominent business leaders and religious leaders in main line churches.

False gods means false prophets and false prophecies. So we get people making up ideas in their own heads and proclaiming these as the new truth. “Science” has become a god they worship and serve, and they put stumbling blocks out for people by trying to impose their views and lifestyles on everyone else. World views have become another god people set up in their hearts.

In the same way false religion has become a false god, with its false prophets in many churches today making up their own definitions of who God is and his attitudes toward sin.

See what God says about that. False prophets can be bought. Do you remember that incident involving Balaam and Balak? Numbers 22-24. Balak was king of Moab and was afraid of the Israelites so he wanted to defeat them. But he knew that as long as God was blessing the Israelites he could never defeat them. So he hired Balaam to curse them. Balaam ran into problems trying to get that money for cursing Israel. On the way to Balak, Balaam’s donkey saw something Balaam could not see—an angel standing in the road—and stopped.

Just going aside for a minute…look at what happened because it is extraordinary. Balaam's donkey refused to go one step further even though his master tried to force him to move on.

After three stops and three beatings the record says in Numbers 22: 28 And the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?” 29 Then Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you have made a mockery of me! If there had been a sword in my hand, I would have killed you by now.” 30 The donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey on which you have ridden all your life to this day? Have I ever been accustomed to do so to you?” And he said, “No.” 31 Then the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way with his drawn sword in his hand; and he bowed all the way to the ground.

Now how crazy is that? Balaam was so obsessed with finding a way to sin against God that he wound up having a conversation with his donkey!! It never says anything about being surprised a donkey can speak. I know we talk to our pets from time to time, but they never use words to speak to us.

People become so obsessed with doing what they want to do that they lose sight of all common sense and totally lose sight of God.

Then it says God opened Balaam’s eyes so he could see the angel with the drawn sword standing in the middle of the road, who told Balaam that if his donkey had not stopped those three times he would have killed Balaam.

Now, think on that. We decide we want to do something we know is wrong. God puts an obstacle in our way. We try to push that obstacle out of our way. We are so stubborn, determined to do this thing we will do whatever it takes. We lose sight of common sense; we lose our spiritual sensitivity. We lose sight of the possibility that God is saying “NO!! Don’t go there.” We don’t see the angel with the drawn sword standing in our way.

We’ll have to pick up on this tomorrow.

But for today, consider. When obstacles get in the way of our plans, it takes discernment to see whether God is trying to keep us from doing satan’s will by jumping into temptation, or whether satan is trying to block us from doing God’s will.

Our prayer needs to be Psalm 139:

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
24 And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way.
 

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False Gods Part 2

There’s a little more for us to glean from the prophet Balaam and king Balak, who tried to get Balaam to curse God’s people.

As you read through Numbers 22-24 it shows how God turned those curses into blessings, much to Balak’s frustration. But he kept trying, and Balaam led him on a merry dance all around where Israel was camped, trying to find a way to get God to curse Israel.

He finally stumbled on a trick. God would continue to bless Israel so long as Israel obeyed God’s Law, stayed pure. Get them to disobey God’s Law, and God would punish them. Balaam could not curse Israel but he might be able to cause Israel to bring a curse down on themselves. So that’s what happened. You remember that old Pogo cartoon where Pogo says “We has met the enemy and the enemy is us”. Israel became its own worst enemy. Israel allowed herself to be dragged into sin and that took away God’s blessing.

Numbers 25 starts out While Israel remained at Shittim, the people began to play the harlot with the daughters of Moab. 2 For they invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. 3 So Israel joined themselves to Baal of Peor, and the Lord was angry against Israel.

God sent a plague on Israel that killed off 24,000 people because of their sin. And we think COVID is bad. Keep reading another few verses in that chapter to see what drastic action Phineas took to stop that plague dead in its tracks.

You have to jump all the way back to Revelation to discover the strategy Balaam suggested to Balak. In Revelation 2 Jesus says to the church in Thyatira 14 But I have a few things against you, because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality.

Balaam never got to enjoy the rewards of his sin. Numbers 31 says 8 They killed the kings of Midian along with the rest of their slain: Evi and Rekem and Zur and Hur and Reba, the five kings of Midian; they also killed Balaam the son of Beor with the sword.

So that’s how God dealt with that false prophet. He couldn’t prophecy anything but what God told him to say, but he worked his way around it. God told him not to do that at the outset, but he insisted on trying and finally succeeded and got killed for his pains.

Now, see what God said to Ezekiel about these false prophets who can be bought in Ezekiel 14.

9 “But if the prophet is prevailed upon to speak a word, it is I, the Lord, who have prevailed upon that prophet, and I will stretch out My hand against him and destroy him from among My people Israel. 10 They will bear the punishment of their iniquity; as the iniquity of the inquirer is, so the iniquity of the prophet will be, 11 in order that the house of Israel may no longer stray from Me and no longer defile themselves with all their transgressions. Thus they will be My people, and I shall be their God,”’ declares the Lord God.”

God is a just God. He will hold those prophets responsible because they lead the people astray. But God also holds the people responsible when they go astray. God will judge those political and religious and media and entertainment and educational leaders who are leading people astray. And He will also judge those people who chose to follow their lead and go astray.

It’s no use making excuses, trying to say “everyone else is doing it. The church promotes that. The government said we should do this. It’s the law.” When the law contradicts God’s commands we need to obey God, not man. It may mean consequences. Daniel’s three friends were ready to face those consequences in Daniel 3. So were the Christians in Smyrna in Revelation 2. During the Nuremberg trials after WWII the German soldiers accused of war crimes were not allowed the excuse “I was just following orders”. They were condemned for their actions, even though they were following orders.

God holds each of us responsible for our own actions. We need to check out what people tell us against God’s Word.

Do you remember what Jesus said to the disciples? Matthew 16: 6 And Jesus said to them, “Watch out and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” That took them sideways. They tried to figure out what religious leaders had to do with the fact that they had forgotten to pack bread for the journey. Jesus said something else and the light began to dawn on them. 11 How is it that you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread? But beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 12 Then they understood that He did not say to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

We need to beware of those leaders who would lead us astray. Remember what the Christians in Berea did when Paul and the others came to town. Acts 17: 11 Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.

These Christians didn’t just take it at face value that anyone who stands in a pulpit and preaches is speaking the truth. They checked what Paul said for themselves against God’s Word. And Paul’s message checked out.

Remember what happened with Apollos in Acts 18? He was preaching the Gospel as best as he knew how, but was missing something. Aquila and Priscilla checked him against what they had learned from Paul and pulled him aside and quietly filled him in on what he was missing. Apollos picked that up and became a powerful preacher.

On the other hand, there are some who simply will not give up the false gods of their own ideas. Jesus warned us about those types in His letters to the Seven Churches in Revelation 2-3. In Revelation 2 Thyatira tolerated a “Jezebel” who was leading people away from God, teaching them immorality and impurity. Jesus gave her warning and a chance to repent; she would not, so 22 Behold, I will throw her on a bed of sickness, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her deeds.

Bottom line for us is that we need to check teachers of the Bible and other leaders against scripture. You need to check what I say against God’s Word. That will help you to know God’s Word better. You will do what Paul told Timothy to do in 2 Timothy 2 15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.

There is something else to glean from that Ezekiel passage. We’ll look at it tomorrow, God willing.
 

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False gods 3

There is more to this idea of false gods in our hearts. People set up pseudo science as a false god; they put up their own natural depravity as a false god; they put up philosophies, things, popularity…you name it, it can become a false god if it takes the place of the true God, and if people use it as an excuse to disobey God.

But the worst offenders are the “progressive” religious leaders who teach people that sin is OK with God. There is a series of books out now by Neale Walsch called Conversations with God that says immorality is great, and advocates a number of other things God condemns. It is written in the form of human question and god answering, so people get the impression God is saying things. This is the very thing God warns about in Ezekiel. False prophets or teachers or leaders make up their own “truth” to tickle people’s ears and make them feel good.

God said in Ezekiel 14 that He would bring down those false prophets for a reason:
11 in order that the house of Israel may no longer stray from Me and no longer defile themselves with all their transgressions. Thus they will be My people, and I shall be their God,”’ declares the Lord God.”

With them and their false guidance gone, the way is open to see God’s Truth so we can obey Him.

One bottom line for us is this. It says elsewhere in the Bible that God has written His law into our lives. There is an innate sense of right and wrong in us. Damaged as we are by sin, we still know things that are good and bad, right and wrong. God holds us responsible to obey those promptings to do what’s right. That doesn’t get us into heaven, but it does show that we are willing to obey God.

Remember Cornelius in Acts 10? Now there was a man at Caesarea named Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian cohort, 2 a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, and gave many alms to the Jewish people and prayed to God continually.

He was a genuinely good man and did lots of good things. But he wasn’t a Christian, yet. God sent Peter to present the Gospel to him and his family, and they became Christians. There are many good people like Cornelius in the world who need to become Christians.

When we become Christians, God tells us in more detail what He wants us to do. We listen to Him as He talks to us through His Word. And God gives us an added resource that Jesus described when He said in John 16: 13 But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.

How do we become Christians? God said in John 1: 12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name,

And 1 John 5 says 1 And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life. 13 These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.

When we receive Jesus into our lives He brings His eternal life as part of the package deal. Also included is forgiveness for our sins—release from our guilt before God for the things we have done that broke His law. He gives us a new relationship with Him. We become His children, with all the rights, privileges, and responsibilities that being a child of God brings with it.

You could say that before Peter's visit, Cornelius was a family friend of God. There was good interchange between Cornelius and God's people, and Cornelius was doing things that God approved of. After he became a Christian, Cornelius became part of God's family, one of God's sons. You need to think: Are you one of God's family friends, or are you a member of God's family?

We become Christians by talking to God in prayer. We say something like “God, I’m sorry for my sins. Will You please forgive me? Will you please come into my life and take charge? Thank You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

God says in John 3 16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

And as we develop our relationship with God by reading His Word and meditating on it, and obeying it, He teaches us more about His world view. We begin to see the world as God sees it. And we can see the difference between how the world sees things and how God sees things and we can see the false gods that people set up in their own minds and would like to impose on everyone else. We can start to destroy those false gods in our hearts, and recognize the false gods in others' lives and world views.

2 Corinthians 10: 5 We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ,
 

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Hear or do?

Nothing beats experience. I had an interview before a panel of people who were examining my credentials to see if I was fit to be a medical technologist (biomedical scientist over here). I had earned my US credentials, but the UK wanted me to comply with their set of qualifications. I didn’t have a particular college degree they were looking for, but I was trying to show that I knew all that was necessary to do the job. I had 14 years’ experience in a small hospital lab.

The entire interview boiled down to one statement the lead interviewer made. He said some people collect pieces of paper which don’t count; others have the degree, the correct qualification. If I had been focused correctly, I should have said that some people collect degrees that show knowledge about something but I have experience that shows I can do the job. I should have gone ahead to describe some of my background experiences in the lab and the variety of testing and interpreting of those tests that I had done. Some people can collect papers that show credentials; others have the credentials and the experience and wisdom gleaned from that experience to be real experts at their work. I have no doubt that I was better qualified to do the work than a fresh college graduate with all the right pieces of paper. I have the knowledge and I have used it effectively.

That’s the way some people approach their relationship with God. They go to church, they go to conferences, they listen to Christian radio and watch televangelists, they go to workshops. They collect all kinds of information; they carefully write it down in their notebooks and there it stays. Safely preserved on paper for eternity, or at least until the paper gets destroyed. They read and study their Bibles religiously.

Hmmmm. Religiously. There’s the problem. They go from one year to the next, returning to the same conferences, listening to the same speakers, and nothing has changed. They are doing things religiously—doing things because it’s the right set of rules to obey. They do these things because others are doing them. They are following a set of rules, living by a formula. They can do something almost automatically. Someone described the progression as “rote, rut, rot”.

They are missing something. Someone coming out of university with a shiny new degree needs several years’ experience under his belt before he is useful to the company that hires him. People who read and study the Bible and who listen to all these speakers collect a lot of head knowledge and notes on paper. They can talk long and energetically and convincingly about a subject, but there is still something missing.

They are spiritually at the same stage today that they were at a year ago, or even 10 years ago. They are handling the Word of God with insulated gloves. You know what happens with electricity. So long as there is a good layer of insulation between the wire and you, the electricity has no effect on you. But if you come into contact with the live bare wire, you have a reaction.

We need to come into direct contact with the bare wire of God’s Word so He can change us, so He can live in us. As we read and study and memorize His Word we need to put that knowledge He gives us to use in our everyday lives.

So, for example, God says in Ephesians 5 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, 26 so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.

How does that show up in how we treat our wives?

Those four heroes in Daniel—Daniel, Sahdrach, Mishach, and Abednego, all knew God’s word and obeyed it, to the point of civil disobedience. They knew the kinds of food God said were right to eat and the kind of food God said was wrong to eat. They knew God’s command that they should worship no other god than Him. That wasn’t just notes written down on a piece of paper hidden away in a notebook. That was God’s Word living itself out through their lives.

And as you read through the Bible you find things like what Ezra did that make a difference in how people live. Ezra 7: 10 For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the Lord and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel.

Ezra got the education. He had the head knowledge. Then He put it to use in his own life. He lived what he learned. Only then was he ready to lecture others about God’s Word and to teach others how to live their lives according to God’s Word. He could teach them not only from the Bible, but from his own life.

God describes that same kind of life-changing effect He wants His Word to have on us in 1 Thessalonians 1: 6 You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit, 7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 8 For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you,

These Christians learned from the God’s Word, and from the lives of Paul and the others with him and it showed up in their lives and in what they said.

Someone once said a message prepared in a mind will reach a mind. A message prepared in a heart will reach a heart. A message prepared in a life will reach a life.

It’s easy to collect head knowledge. God said it. I understand what the words mean. That’s nice to know. End of story.

We can become emotionally involved with that knowledge as it reaches our hearts. We may laugh, we may be sympathetic, we may even cry or get angry. Then we move on to the next thing to occupy our attention.

Ezekiel 33 says 31 They come to you as people come, and sit before you as My people and hear your words, but they do not do them,

But things get difficult when God starts changing our lives. It means changing behavior, living patterns, activities we are involved in, and a pile of other things.

That’s what makes the difference between a wet-behind-the-ears graduate with a shiny new diploma, and someone with experience and the wisdom that goes with it. This is the change that will deepen our relationship with God and mature us as Christians. There will be change in us from one year to the next.

God said we need to have that last mentality. See James 1:. 22 But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.
 

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Did you hear that?

That's what your wife asks as she nudges you awake in the middle of a good sleep. You listen sleepily and then suddenly come wide awake...someone is moving around in the house. Do you roll over and go back to sleep? Not likely. You get up and take what action you need to in order to deal with the problem.

You are sitting in class and the instructor says "for tomorrow I want you to read chapter 3 in your textbooks and answer the questions at the end of the chapter. You go home and read the chapter and answer the questions. You ace the pop quiz the next day.

Your boss wants you to take on a project. He tells you the specifications, you listen, and start work on the project. You present him the finished project on time.

We listen. Noise, words, go in our ears, our mind interprets those noises and words, and we take appropriate action on those words or noises.

That’s exactly what the Hebrew word for “hear” means. We say “To hear is to obey”.

When we speak to God He listens. And takes action. Of course He doesn't need us to tell Him what to do, but He tells us, through His Word, that He wants us to ask for things. Remember John 16:24? "Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full." We ask, He hears, He takes action. That has always been the case. He heard Ishmael's cries way back in Genesis, and took action. David is confident throughout the book of Psalms that God not only hears what we say to Him, He takes action and answers prayers. Psalm 4 is just one example. It starts out
"Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness!
You have relieved me in my distress;
Be gracious to me and hear my prayer."


He heard Hezekiah’s prayer for deliverance from an overwhelming enemy force in 2 Kings 19.

That communication channel goes two ways. God also speaks to us, and we must listen carefully and take action on what He says. James 1 tells us all about it. "22 But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; 24 for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. 25 But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does."

King Saul had "convenient" hearing. He "sort of" did everything God told him to do, with tragic consequences for himself. Read about it in 1 Samuel 15.

When God speaks to us we need to hear His words, understand them, and do what He tells us to do. That's what God was telling Joshua to do in Joshua 1:8: "This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success."

Yesterday we were thinking about how people hear God’s Word. Some hear meaningless noises; others hear nice stories; still others hear the voice of God telling them something that they need to respond to.

May God bless us as we learn to listen to God as He speaks to us through His Word, understand what He wants us to do, and do it.

Hebrews 3 7 Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says, “Today if you hear His voice, 8 Do not harden your hearts as when they provoked Me, As in the day of trial in the wilderness,
 

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What do you love?

I could really go for one of those pies one of our members tantalizes us with. Or a good day out at the range. Or a vacation trip to sightsee and visit friends and family. Or fishing, hunting, camping, hiking, or any of a number of other things. Of course, my wife and family come at the top of the list.

Why? Because those things bring satisfaction; they bring pleasure. We get an idea. This or that would be nice to do. We start making plans for that trip, gathering materials for that project. Then we start putting it together, envisioning what it will be like, anticipating what we will see on that trip, tasting that first bite of pie, or feeling the recoil of the gun, hearing the bang, smelling the burnt gunpowder, seeing the hole in the target.

But sometimes those things we really want don’t bring the satisfaction we hoped they would. They disappoint, rather than satisfy and fulfil our desires.

We really need to find the right things to long for, because those are the things that will bring joy, satisfaction, fulfilment, happiness. Those are the things that will fill the hole of our hunger.

Jesus said in Matthew 5: 6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

And how we long to see righteousness in the world around us. We see corruption in governments, in businesses, in schools, in the judicial system, in the media, in political and social movements that are all trying to destroy our families and our countries and our freedoms. We would dearly like to see them get their comeuppance. We long for them to either straighten themselves out or be straightened out. We want to see the swamp drained, and corruption removed.

We want to see that corruption replaced with righteousness in government, businesses, education, courts, media, and in political and social movements. We want to see righteousness building up, strengthening families and our nations.

We also need to hunger and thirst for that righteousness in our own lives…in how we live, in what we do, say, think; in our attitudes. Establishing the righteousness of a nation starts with the individuals who make up that nation, and that’s you and me. Then we go on to help our neighbors and friends find the satisfaction of God’s righteousness.

Yes, it’s true that kings or leaders have a huge impact on the righteousness of a nation. Some kings of Israel led the nation into righteousness; others led the nation into sin against God, into unrighteousness. We’ve seen the same principle at work with leaders of our own countries. That national righteousness needs to come from the leadership down to the people, and it needs to come from the individual citizens out into the entire nation.

God promises that we will be satisfied. God’s righteousness is the only thing that will bring true, complete, real satisfaction in life.

We will see it and be satisfied. Sooner or later, in God’s time and in God’s way, God will remove the unrighteous from their places of power and influence and replace them with His righteousness.

God promises that in Psalm 96: 12 Let the field exult, and all that is in it. Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy 13 Before the Lord, for He is coming, For He is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness And the peoples in His faithfulness.

But Jesus was talking to each of us in that verse back in Matthew 5. We will be satisfied. God will satiate my desire and your desire for righteousness if we really want that and go after that.

Psalm 84: How lovely are Your dwelling places, O Lord of hosts!
2 My soul longed and even yearned for the courts of the Lord;
My heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God.


It doesn’t always come naturally to us to want God’s righteousness. We have to decide to do it. God says in Colossians 3 2 Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.

It’s a little like exercise. I used to ride my bicycle along a trail after work two or three times a week. During the winter I could not do that and I missed it. I would go out early spring waiting and watching for the trails to become bike worthy again. Perhaps we don’t want to exercise at first. It causes pain, disrupts our comfortable lifestyle. But after we have done it and developed a habit of exercising we develop a kind of hunger for it. We miss it if we miss a day.

It’s the same way with God’s righteousness. We have to make a decision to go for it. We know that the benefits of exercise and of God’s righteousness outweigh the inconvenience and pain and difficulty of getting up out of our easy chairs, and of staying content in the cesspool of our unrighteousness.

Seeking God’s righteousness may be an acquired taste, but once we acquire it, nothing else will bring satisfaction.

See what this satisfied customer has to say:

“As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Psalm 42:1–2).

“My soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (Psalm 63:1).

“Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!” (Psalm 34:8).

“How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Psalm 119:103).

“In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).

Do you love the things that bring temporary, incomplete satisfaction, or do you love God’s righteousness that brings permanent, total satisfaction?
 

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Influencing or being influenced?

Which way does the influence go when you are with people? Does the influence go from them to you, or from you to them?

Take a look at Daniel, who was a leader God commends to us. He was a man who was not afraid to stand by his convictions, respectfully. He had a good track record with the king, and had earned the king’s respect.

He was a loyal servant of the king. His loyalty to the king stemmed from his loyalty to God. He was willing to take the consequences for following the rules God laid out for him, rather than man's directives. He stood for what was right and would not bend to pressure to compromise. Those and other qualities in his relationship with God boiled over to his relationship with the king. He was not a "religious rebel" who used his religion as an excuse to disobey the king.

He was probably a teenager when he was taken, along with many of his fellow Israelites, as captives down to Babylon. There, in the screening process he was deemed to have some intelligence and other capabilities that would make him a good candidate to serve in the King's court. While everyone else was being given slave work, he and three others were sequestered, given special tutoring in Chaldean literature and language, and given a special diet designed to enhance their intelligence. It says Daniel "made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the king’s choice food or with the wine which he drank".

Instead he respectfully asked the steward to do a controlled experiment. For ten days he and his three companions would eat kosher food, while their other classmates would eat the special food mandated by the king, after which they should be examined physically and mentally. The examination showed them to be brighter and more able, physically, scholastically, and mentally than their classmates. Daniel stood by his convictions and God blessed him and his friends.

Years later, in Daniel 3 the king thought it would be a great idea to show national unity by making a golden statue and at a given signal have everyone bow down and pray to that statue. While everyone prostrated themselves before this statue, Daniel’s friends became conspicuous because they remained standing. The penalty for noncompliance was to be thrown into a fiery furnace. The king interrogated these men, and they said "17 If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. 18 But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

The king was so angry he had the furnace heated to seven times its normal temperature, had the three men tied from head to toe and thrown into the furnace. Another controlled experiment here. The furnace was so hot it killed the soldiers who threw them in, but when the king looked into the furnace he could see them walking around with a fourth man, whose "appearance...is like a son of the gods!”

The upshot is that when the king called them to come out of the furnace they didn't even smell like fire. The only thing the fire did was to burn the ropes off.

Now think about that a second. We can be intimidated by threats to try to force us to disobey God’s commands. We have a choice. We can either comply with the threats, or we can stand by the convictions God gives us, and be prepared to take the consequences. These three men stood by their convictions and took the consequences. The only thing that did was to burn off the ropes that bound them. It freed them up. God delivered them. What do you think they felt after that whenever someone tried to force them to disobey God? God brings us go through trials so we can say, along with Daniel’s three friends, “Is that the worst you can do to me? Now I know for sure that God is greater than anything the world can throw at me.”

They learned in a very real way the truth of Isaiah 54:
17 “No weapon that is formed against you will prosper; And every tongue that accuses you in judgment you will condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, And their vindication is from Me,” declares the Lord.


God makes a point about how He will reward people who have the steel, who have the backbone to stand up to peer pressure in Proverbs 29: 25 The fear of man brings a snare, But he who trusts in the Lord will be exalted.

An interesting thing happened as a result of their faithfulness to God. We’ll have a look at that tomorrow. It showed how the influence went from these men to the entire nation because they were faithful to God.
 

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Hammer or nail?

Yesterday we looked at how God brought Daniel’s three friends through that fiery furnace because they would not bow down to the king’s idol. They would not disobey God. They were loyal to the king and their country, but their relationship with God came first.

Back to Daniel 3. When the king saw the men walking around in that superheated furnace, free and easy, he was flabbergasted. He completely reversed his order about worship. "“Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, who has sent His angel and delivered His servants who put their trust in Him, violating the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies so as not to serve or worship any god except their own God.

29 Therefore I make a decree that any people, nation or tongue that speaks anything offensive against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego shall be torn limb from limb and their houses reduced to a rubbish heap, inasmuch as there is no other god who is able to deliver in this way.” 30 Then the king caused Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego to prosper in the province of Babylon."

Another time, years later, people jealous of Daniel's well-earned good standing in the royal courts set him up. You can read the record in Daniel 6. They persuaded the king to order everyone to pray only to him for a month or be thrown into the lions' den. Daniel was getting on in years by now, and he calmly ignored this order and went on praying to God.

When traitors told the king about this he had no choice but to carry out the sentence. He was all torn up about this, tried to get him off the charges, but finally said “Your God whom you constantly serve will Himself deliver you.”

You know the story. Daniel was thrown into the den and left there overnight. The king could not sleep that night. At dawn the he went to the den, and to his immense relief found Daniel still alive. God had shut the mouths of the lions and they left Daniel completely unharmed.

Another controlled experiment here. The king had Daniel's accusers and their families thrown into the den. They never reached the ground before the lions started tearing them apart. [Side question here: Why did the king throw their families in the den as well?]

Daniel, and his friends, would not bow down or bend or "go with the flow" when ordered to compromise their convictions, and God not only blessed them, but when those kings persecuting them saw God at work, they themselves gave glory to God.

We watch in horror the persecution of the Christians at the hands of ISIS and other anti-Christian groups. These people are given similar chances to bend, to compromise their convictions in order to stay alive. They, like Daniel and his friends, are not giving in to the pressure. Many are being tortured and killed. That is terrible. But they are being freed from this earth. The fires of their trials merely burn the ropes that bind them to this earth. Revelation 6 describes them "I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained;"

We see with dismay how many politicians, journalists, teachers, and even church leaders bend to political expediency and political correctness and compromise themselves for financial and political gain and popularity. We see banks and businesses bend the rules and get into trouble in the name of chasing a good profit.

We see corporations and individuals and schools and governments caving in to pressure from ant-Christian groups.

Paul learned what Daniel discovered as He obeyed God. Paul wrote about that in 2 Timothy 4: 17 But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that through me the proclamation might be fully accomplished, and that all the Gentiles might hear; and I was rescued out of the lion’s mouth.

God rescued Daniel and Paul out of the lions’ mouths so that they could go on to proclaim the Gospel to those around them. In Daniel’s case, King Darius made this proclamation: 26 I make a decree that in all the dominion of my kingdom men are to fear and tremble before the God of Daniel; For He is the living God and enduring forever, And His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed, And His dominion will be forever. 27 “He delivers and rescues and performs signs and wonders In heaven and on earth, Who has also delivered Daniel from the power of the lions.” 28 So this Daniel enjoyed success in the reign of Darius and in the reign of Cyrus the Persian.

Friends, we are under pressure to compromise our convictions from day to day, to bend, to "go with the flow". How do we measure up? Are we up to maintaining our testimony as Christians? Which way does the influence go? From the world to us to make us bend, to compromise our relationship with God, or from us to the world as we stand firm by the convictions God gives us?

Jesus said in Matthew 5:13-14 that we are salt and light. Salt makes things salty, preserves food, and does many other things. It dissolves and its influence, its flavor, goes out into whatever comes into contact with it. We put salt on foods to enhance their flavor. We don’t put food on salt to make salt taste better.

Light shines into the darkness. We have flashlights to shine light onto things, to make dark areas light. We don’t have flash darks to obscure things or make a light room dark.

In just the same way, we need to make sure the light, the salt, of Jesus in our lives goes out into the rest of the world through us. Now, here’s the warning Jesus gave us in Matthew 5: 13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.

If we bend, compromise, we might join the ranks of the useful idiots for a while but in the end we lose our saltiness and are of no use to anyone or anything.

May God bless us with the same backbone Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, and the martyrs sitting under the throne displayed, so we can stand as they did against the pressure of the crowd. May God bring to the front political leaders both in the US and in the UK who will not compromise to get ahead politically. May God bless us with people who would question the current values of society and call our countries back to God.

Maybe God is calling one or more of us to do that.

Are we hammers in this world, or nails?
 

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Last chance

One thing about mass transit—busses, trains, airplanes, ships. They have schedules to keep. At some point the waiting vehicle closes its doors and leaves so it can get to the next destination on time. We have all seen the classic clip of someone running desperately to catch the train or the bus. The doors close and it just leaves. No waiting, no last minute appeals for missing passengers. It just goes.

On the other hand, I’ve been waiting for a flight at the airport and heard the tannoy announcement, something like: “Will passenger X please go to your gate. The plane is waiting. If you do not get there your luggage will be offloaded.” They repeat this a couple of times and then the plane leaves. Without them or their luggage. That airline was trying to give its passenger every last chance to get on board, and not miss his flight.

God has a timetable. At some point in time He will close the doors and it will be too late to get aboard the vehicle to Heaven. Jesus said we cannot know that timetable. Matthew 24 says 36 “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.

We get hints in Matthew, and in Revelation. God tells us it will happen but He said in Matthew 25: 13 Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour.

We don’t know the day or the hour, or even the year when God will close the doors. I’ve seen too many predictions about the end of the world come and go to know that people are incapable of predicting just when God will draw the line.

I do know a couple of things though.

God has drawn a line. Revelation 6: 10 and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” 11 And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also.

Just picture an hour glass with the grains of sand trickling through one at a time until the last grain of sand has dropped. Those grains of sand are martyrs moving from earth to heaven as their bodies are killed. God has a set number of grains of sand in His hour glass and when that last grain drops Jesus will return to earth in judgment to carry out vengeance on those who have oppressed His people. Once that ball of God’s judgment starts rolling, there will be no stopping it.

There will be an end. God will close the doors at some time. We need to respond to His invitation to receive eternal life. He says in Hebrews 4 7 He again fixes a certain day, “Today,” saying through David after so long a time just as has been said before, “Today if you hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts.”

God is kind of like that airline. The Bible says He is holding off that final judgment day so that as many people as possible will turn to Him. He is not a vindictive, angry God. He keeps the doors open as long as possible. He wants to welcome as many people as possible into His heaven.

Here’s what He says way back in the Old Testament: Ezekiel 18: 23 Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked,” declares the Lord God, “rather than that he should turn from his ways and live?... 31 Cast away from you all your transgressions which you have committed and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! For why will you die, O house of Israel? 32 For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies,” declares the Lord God. “Therefore, repent and live.”

As long as we are alive it is not too late. Remember that thief on the cross beside Jesus? Both would be dead in a matter of hours. But God says in Luke 23 43 And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”

And it doesn’t matter how bad we’ve been. Jesus came into the world to save sinners, to take the penalty for their sins on Himself. If we will repent, turn around, reject that sin that separates us from God, ask God to forgive our sins, and ask Jesus to come into our lives and replace our old ways of living with His thoughts and words and actions and desires, God will give us that eternal life. Just see what God says in Ezekiel 33:

10 “Now as for you, son of man, say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus you have spoken, saying, “Surely our transgressions and our sins are upon us, and we are rotting away in them; how then can we survive?”’ 11 Say to them, ‘As I live!’ declares the Lord God, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die, O house of Israel?’

God wants people to repent, to come to Him. It makes Him happy to see people become Christians. He would rather reward the people who come to Him with eternal life, than have to punish people with eternity in hell for rejecting Him.

Luke 15 3 So He told them this parable, saying, 4 “What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? 5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ 7 I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

So the bottom line for us is this. If we have received Jesus into our lives, if we have eternal life, God’s command to us is to make disciples wherever we are.

If we have not received Jesus into our lives, if we do not have this eternal life, we need to act now to become Christians.

God doesn’t tell us exactly when He will close the door. We do not know exactly when we will die—we are only a heartbeat away from the grave. A stroke could make us unresponsive, unable to make a decision. We don’t plan fatal accidents. So if you haven’t decided to receive Jesus into your life, or are just putting it off, don’t put it off any longer. Do it now.

2 Peter 3: 9 The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.
 

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Peace through perspective

It seems like 47,000 things are happening all at once, and distractions are constantly interrupting what I'm trying to do. When that happens it wears us down, we feel frustrated, frazzled, irritable.

It's at these very times that we need to be able find a way to pull back and get God's perspective on things. These are the very times we need to grab God's promises and hold on for dear life.

We need to get His perspective: what seems so important and life threatening to us right now may not be a big deal for God. Remember the disciples in the boat in Matthew 8? Jesus was exhausted, fast asleep in the stern sheets of the boat after a heavy day's ministry. Meanwhile a storm raged and the winds and waves threatened to capsize the boat. The terrified disciples shook Him awake saying "“Save us, Lord; we are perishing!” 26 He said to them, “Why are you afraid, you men of little faith?” Then He got up and rebuked the winds and the sea, and it became perfectly calm." No big deal. He dealt with the problem with just a couple of words.

And think about it. Jesus was in that boat. Do you think God would have let that boat founder with His Only Begotten Son in it, and Him with a major task ahead of Him? He was going to die, yes. But He was going to take down satan’s kingdom of fear by taking on Himself the penalty for every sin of every person who would put their trust in Him. He would do that on the cross. He was in God’s hands, and so were those with Him.

We need to understand God's strength inside us so we can say with Paul in Philippians 4:13 " I can do all things through Him who strengthens me." That strength comes from abiding in Him, as Jesus described the vine-branch relationshp in John 15. His strength goes out into our lives like the sap goes out from the vine into the branches. Or like Psalm 1 describes the tree planted by the water...it never dries up and it produces fruit in its season. Both passages talk about absorbing God's Word into our lives.

When things are falling apart at the seams and all the wheels are falling off, we need to tell ourselves the same thing David said in Psalm 46: 10 Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth. 11 The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah.

Just remember...God has the big perspective. He sees and knows all that's going on in our lives and in the world around us, and He gives us the ability to deal with it all as we ask Him. He does care for us. Remember what Jesus said about the sparrows in Luke 12? "6 Are not five sparrows sold for two cents? Yet not one of them is forgotten before God. 7 Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows."

I really like Elijah's experience in 1 Kings 19. He had bugged out to a cave in the mountains. The government was after him because he had told the king and queen in no uncertain terms what God's judgement on them would be because of their lifestyles. Then Elijah experienced a tornado, an earthquake, and a fire all within a short time. But God was not in those calamitous events. After they had all passed, God spoke to him in that still, small voice. We need to be able to hear God's still small voice in the midst of all the storms and earthquakes and fires going on in the world around us, and that the world throws at us.

May God bless us with His peace when we want to fly off in a panic over all the things that seem to be happening all at once.

Remember...Psalm 46: 10 Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth. 11 The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah.
 

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Name Reputation

Certain name brands carry an aura of quality. You can name off high-profile names for cars, sportswear, guns, ammunition, reloading equipment and supplies, clothing, electronics, and all kinds of other stuff. And counterfeiters cash in on that. They make knock-off items that resemble the real thing, using substandard material and workmanship. That only makes the counterfeiters some quick cash and tarnishes the reputation of the real manufacturer.

God is concerned about the reputation of His name. He said in Exodus 20 7 “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.

We usually connect that with profanity, swearing. But think about it. Those counterfeiters took the name of some reputable company in vain. They appropriated it for themselves without the company’s permission and abused it by putting it on inferior goods. There are plenty of people around who do the same with God’s name by calling themselves Christians, applying His name to the inferior goods of however they decide to define Christianity.

God defines who is a Christian. God defines what makes a person a Christian. He is concerned about who bears His name, and how they bear it, what they do, what they say, how they live, their attitudes.

Go back and look at Ezekiel 20. That chapter describes how Israel was like a project you start and nothing goes right and you are tempted to dump the whole thing and start over. God pulled Israel out of slavery in Egypt, and gave them rules to live by. In effect, He said “Do this and live. Don’t do this and die.”

God put His name on Israel. They were His reputation wandering around in the wilderness, following His leading. However, Israel insisted on disobeying God’s commands and at one point God almost gave up on them. Exodus 32: 9 The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, they are an obstinate people. 10 Now then let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation.”

But look at how Moses goes to bat for Israel. He doesn’t even try to defend them. 11 Then Moses entreated the Lord his God, and said, “O Lord, why does Your anger burn against Your people whom You have brought out from the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians speak, saying, ‘With evil intent He brought them out to kill them in the mountains and to destroy them from the face of the earth’?

Moses’ appeal is for God to protect and promote His reputation, His name. Moses goes on to claim promises God made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And God doesn’t dump Israel.

Here’s what God says about that in Ezekiel 20: 22 But I withdrew My hand and acted for the sake of My name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations in whose sight I had brought them out.

Israel was taking God’s name in vain and God was ready to destroy them. Then He says He pulled back His judgment because He wanted the people who bore His name to show His power and care and love and everything else it took to keep them alive out there in the wilderness. He wanted the world to see how He takes care of His own, and to cause the people of the world to want to come to Him, to come under His care also.

There are a couple of things that come out of that incident for us.

First, Moses prayed and it made a difference. God withdrew His judgment against Israel.

So in the same way we can and should make it a point to appeal to God for our countries.

Second, the basis of Moses’ appeal. It was solely on the basis of God’s reputation and His promises. As we pray for out countries we need to ask God to make our countries shining examples to the rest of the world of what a God-fearing nation is like. God said “this do and live”.

We need to find and claim promises God has made for our countries and claim them, pray them back to God.

Third, God is concerned for His reputation, His name. God wants His name and reputation glorified, not because He’s an egotist, but because He wants people to come to Him and find life in Him. He said “do what I tell you to do and you will live.” He wants the world to see His quality of life, His quality of people in the world, so that the world will come to Him and find His life for themselves.

Fourth, we need to be true representatives of Him. We do not want to bear God’s name in vain. We do not want to be false “Christians” because these will become special objects of God’s judgment.

Instead we want to be beacon lights to the world to draw people to God. Jesus said in Matthew 5: 16 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.

We want to be like those Daniel describes: Daniel 12: 2 Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt. 3 Those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.

Are we knock-off counterfeit Christians destined for disgrace and everlasting contempt, or are we destined to everlasting life, and are we going to shine like the stars forever and ever?

We need to be sure we are real, not counterfeit Christians. We need to be sure that we ourselves are taking the name of God correctly. John 3 says 15 so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. 16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

A real Christian is someone who has received Jesus into his life. If you haven’t done that, do so. Pray. It’s just talking to God, like you would talk to someone next to you, or on the phone. Tell God something along the lines of, “I’m sorry for my sins. Will You please forgive me? Will you please come into my life and take over my life? Thank You. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

Please note: just reciting a prayer, saying words, doesn’t mean anything much. This is a serious piece of business, the single most important thing you can do in your life. You need to deeply want, from the inside out, this salvation. You need to absolutely believe that Jesus is the only way to eternal life, and you need to want that more than anything else in the world.

Romans 10 says 9 that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; 10 for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.
 

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Knock Off Christians

Yesterday we mentioned counterfeit goods, and counterfeit Christians.

Some people pretend to be Christians. Instead of actually being Christians, they invent their own religion, label it “Christian” and foist it off on people. You can sometimes tell who these people are when they say things like “my god would never say that”. They have made up their own god who does things according to their way of thinking.

I’ve said it before, and will continue saying that we see that happening a lot in churches today. I am grieved at some of the statements coming from many churches, some very large denominations. Some welcome practices that destroy families. Some welcome immorality. Some are taking up social causes instead of training the people to do the work of the ministry. One church over here has invited satanists to set up a shrine; another church over here has asked an imam to show his church a muslim worship service.

Then I see and hear about people who claim to be Christians but who proclaim that the truth of Scripture is suspect, and that the lies of satan are the new normal, the new morality. They say it may have been wrong back then, but times have changed and it’s OK to do these things now, or that God didn't really mean it when He said something. That sounds a lot like how satan called God's word into question back in the Garden of Eden in Genesis 3. From there it was just a slight jump to flat out contradicting God's Word.

They live out and promote the world’s values under the name of “Christian”. They are counterfeits. They can be convincing; very sincere. But they are fakes.

I understand that when the US Department of Treasury trains agents to detect counterfeit money, they cut straight to the chase. They do not try to show all of the different kinds of funny money. They focus in on detecting the real thing. Anything else is phoney.

It’s the same for us with the Gospel, and with teachers. We need to be able to know what is God’s Word. Anything else is phony.

Paul put it this way in 2 Corinthians 11: 3 But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.

It’s easy to be taken in. We hear about con artists all the time, using telephones, emails, phony web sites; satan is behind it all, and he is especially behind counterfeit gospels. He loves to take people in through false teachers and false leaders.

4 For if one comes and preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you bear this beautifully.

God is more blunt in Galatians 1 8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! 9 As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!

When I was working, we would check our instruments against standards that were directly traceable back to international standards. The weights we used for our balances were directly checked against standard weights. Pure water has a specific density at a certain temperature. It freezes and boils at particular temperatures. Pure lead melts at a particular temperature. We used these to check our instruments. If the balance doesn't give the correct weight, we take that balance out of use until we can get it fixed. If the instrument doesn’t give the correct density for water, we take that instrument out of service until we can get it fixed. If it won’t fix, it gets replaced.

We need to go back to compare what we hear people speaking against the gold standard of God’s Word. If it gives a different answer than what God’s Word says, that person needs to be sequestered until either he gives correct answers, or it becomes clear that person is a phony.

That’s what God commended the Bereans for doing in Acts 17: 11 Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.

Paul and those with him would preach in the synagogue; the people would go home and check up on them by going back into the Bible to validate their message. They didn’t just take the message at face value. They didn’t assume that just because someone spoke authoritatively about something that they were right.

So we need to “test” people who claim to be teachers. I am utterly gobsmacked when I see and hear the acceptance people give some renegade religious leaders when they spout garbage and call it Gospel. If their congregations would go home and compare what the Bible says against what that leader said, they would see the lie and call him out.

What really gets my dander up is that these people who set themselves up as authorities are giving people instructions that will lead to their eternal and possibly physical death. When dad, mom, and my brother were driving across the desert in Saudi Arabia back in 1975, they came to a ”Y” in what passed for a road. A Bedouin was there; dad with sign language asked which way to go. The man pointed off in one direction. Dad looked at mom, and she was “reading” that man and didn’t like what she saw. So she said they should go the other way. Dad had heard of people being given false directions and when they ran out of fuel, would disappear in the desert and their goods would be plundered.

These false teachers are just as bad as that Bedouin who gave dad those false instructions.

God gives us a couple of tests we can use to see if people are genuine Christians, or if they are counterfeits. We’ll look at those tomorrow, God willing.
 

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Detecting Counterfeit Christians

Picking up from yesterday. The US Treasury can detect phony money because they know the real thing, and anything different from the real thing is counterfeit. We need to have the same ability to discern whether people who claim to be Christians are real Christians.

God tells us we need to do that, and gives us a quick screening test in 1 John 4: Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

The first thing is to know that there are many counterfeit prophets, many counterfeit Christians. They are all around so we need to check people. We need to test them. Not judge them, but evaluate. Final judgment is God’s job. Here’s a simple litmus test for people, a go-no go test.

2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.

What is their message? Are they proclaiming the Gospel? Is God’s Word at the heart of what they are saying? That Gospel Message must be there. Anything else is counterfeit.

4 You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.

They may sound convincing, may speak with what sounds like authority, may make logical sense, but we are from God. We have God’s authority backing us; we have God’s wisdom behind us to give us insight, to slice through all the smoke and mirrors they try to put up to deceive.

5 They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them.

They have a popular message. It’s from the world, to the world. So that might be a kind of confirmation test. Who listens to them? Who gets enthusiastic about their message? Christians, or the world?

6 We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

Then again, how do they respond to other Christians? Do they listen, respond, or do they throw up arguments and reject what we try to show them from God’s Word?

Finally, there is another test, the long-term test. Matthew 7: 15 “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? 17 So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 So then, you will know them by their fruits.

That might mean watching what happens with them over a period of time; it might mean looking into their past to see what kind of fruit they have produced where they have been.

I would suggest looking for two kinds of fruit. The most obvious would be that list in Galatians 5: 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

It would be worthwhile thinking into each one of those kinds of fruit, and many of you have probably studied them.

The bad fruit is listed in the immediately preceding verses: 19 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God

The second kind of fruit shows up in the people he works with. What kind of spiritual children does he have? 2 Timothy 2 is the spiritual parent-child-grandchild-great grandchild kind of fruit we might look for. 2 The things which you [child] have heard from me [parent] in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men [grandchildren] who will be able to teach others also [great-grandchildren].

There is a caveat to all of this. Remember what happened with Apollos in Acts 18. He was fervent in his preaching, (it says he was “mighty in the Scriptures”) but he didn’t have the complete message. Aquila and Priscilla pulled him aside and quietly filled in the missing pieces of the message and turned him loose; he became a powerhouse of an evangelist.

If a person is “off” in his message, see if he will respond to Scripture instruction. If he is under God’s control, he will take God’s Word on board. If he is from the world, he will reject what you say and continue to spew a counterfeit gospel.

Bottom line for us: first, evaluate ourselves. Do we pass the litmus test for being a Christian? every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God;

Jesus told us that we can bear good or bad fruit in Matthew 7. They can be the bad fruit God warns us about in Galatians 5:19-21, or the good fruit of the Spirit He commends in Galatians 5:22-23.

Second: evaluate other people who claim to be Christians using the same standards: What is at the heart of their message, and what kind of fruit do they bear.

We need to compare people who say they are Christians against the Gold Standard of God’s Word to see if they are real.
 

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Evidence

Someone asked “If you were on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”

If a person is truly a Christian, there will be some changes that happen in his life.

We should expect that. Remember 2 Corinthians 5: 17 Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.

And as Jesus selected His disciples, one message that came through loud and clear was “You are…You will be…” Jesus is in the people changing business. People cannot come into direct contact with Jesus without having their lives changed.

And it will be more than an external set of rules people set for themselves. God said in Ezekiel 11: 19 And I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them. And I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, 20 that they may walk in My statutes and keep My ordinances and do them. Then they will be My people, and I shall be their God.

That change of heart makes a big difference in our lives, and it will show up in our attitudes, in our words, and in our actions, and in our focus for living and in the things we like and dislike. Some of that change, God will make happen. Some of that change, we will struggle with and have to make a daily, or hourly, or even minute by minute decision to obey God, not our old ways.

It would be so much easier for us if God would just program us to do the right thing all the time. But He doesn’t do that. He gave us a free will and He wants us to use that will to decide to obey Him, to honor Him. He said in Deuteronomy 6 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

God did something like that with the Israelites when they got into the Promised Land. He said in Judges 2 21 I also will no longer drive out before them any of the nations which Joshua left when he died, 22 in order to test Israel by them, whether they will keep the way of the Lord to walk in it as their fathers did, or not.” God leaves those things in our lives to test us, to check our will power, to give us an opportunity to actively choose to obey Him and love him with all our might.

God will change our mindset, our world view, our approach to life as we focus on His Word. Philippians 2 says 3 Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; 4 do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. 5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus,

We will adopt that selfless attitude Jesus had when He gave up everything He had in heaven and came to be with us here on earth. And it is more than merely imitating an example. It will become an integral part of who we are, not just a veneer of outward behavior.

Instead of being focused in on “I, ME, MINE”, we will be focused on “I wonder if he’s a Christian. What can I do to help him?”

God’s love in us will radiate out to others the same way God loved us. God talks about that in 1 John 4: 10 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. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

In fact, let me encourage you to read down through 1 John. It’s not a long book. John spells out the reason for writing that book in simple words in 1 John 5: 13 These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.

He says these are the things to look for in our lives so that we can know for sure that we are a Christians. These are the things to look for in others’ lives to see if they are Christians or not.

Try reading through 1 John and writing down a checklist of evidences that show that we are Christians. These are the things God wants us to become; these are things we will need to work on; these are things God will do in us.

There are some other changes in our lives we should watch for. This is a very fragmentary list. God does describe these changes in His Word, along with many others that He brings about in our lives.

What we want in life. We should no longer value the things, the experiences that the world wants. Instead we will change to want to do what God wants; want the things God wants.

Our tastes in friends will change. We will want to be around other Christians.

Our haunts and activities will change. Whereas we used to hang out with the gang and go with the flow, we now want to hang out with God’s people and encourage them.

Our likes and dislikes will change. Instead of loving the things of the world, we love God.

There’s a lot more. We’ll look at how the Character of Jesus rubs off on us tomorrow, God willing. Spoiler: Have a look at the description of Jesus in Revelation 1.

Meantime, can you point to changes God has made in your life since you became a Christian? When Jesus was praying for us in John 17 He was praying that we would be in the world, but not of the world.
 

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Being like our older brother

Romans 8 describes Jesus as our older brother. 29 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren.

I know some of us have older siblings we would like to have nothing to do with; others have older siblings we want to emulate. Jesus is that kind of older brother to us. We have been looking at some of the changes God makes in us when we become Christians. He will make us more like Jesus. There will be a family resemblance between us and our older brother.

Do you remember the description of our Lord in Revelation 1?

13 and in the middle of the lampstands I saw one like a son of man, clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His chest with a golden sash. 14 His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire. 15 His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been made to glow in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of many waters. 16 In His right hand He held seven stars, and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and His face was like the sun shining in its strength.

The robe and sash—Jesus’ dignity. God gives us a new dignity as His Children. 1 Peter 2 describes just how high we have been promoted:

9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

We used to be nobodies; now we are the people of God, a chosen race, we are royal, we are part of a holy nation, God’s own possession. We are important somebodies. That could go to our heads, but God has a purpose for making us so honored and honorable. We have a mission: to proclaim the excellences of God to the world.

His head and hair were white—His purity. God will build into us a new sensitivity to right and wrong. Our thoughts will take a new direction. Philippians 4 8 Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things

His eyes were like a flame of fire—His discernment. God will give us an ability to know, to discern, what is going on in the world, to understand people’s motives, to know the right thing to do and say. He sees through all the smoke and mirrors satan tries to confuse us with, and He will make us able to do the same. John 14 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.

His feet were like burnished bronze—in contact with the world, but not affected by the world. Those feet leave footprints in the world, but the world does not make a mark on the feet. The influence goes from them to the world, not from the world to them. They are in the world, not of the world. John 17: 15 I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.

His voice like the sound of many waters—speaking God’s judgment, like the sound of storm waved against the shore, or speaking God’s comfort and counsel and refreshment, as a quiet cool stream on a hot summer day. And everything in between. Think Hebrews 10 24 and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds,

In His right hand seven stars—a new sense of authority, as we bear God’s name and have His commission backing us. He is the one who sends us. John 20: 21 So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”

Then remember what God said to Gideon: Judges 6 :14 The Lord looked at him and said, “Go in this your strength and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian. Have I not sent you?”

Out of His mouth a sharp two edged sword—we wield the sword of God’s Word. That should be at the heart of anything and everything we say. Look at what Paul said to Timothy about how he should minister to the people: 2 Timothy 2: 14 Remind them of these things, and solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers. 15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. 16 But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness,

His face was like the sun, shining—we show the joy, the victory, the glory of God in our faces. That’s part of the light Jesus was talking about in Matthew 5 14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; 15 nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16 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.

And do you remember what happened to Moses when he was talking with God? Exodus 34 35 the sons of Israel would see the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face shone. So Moses would replace the veil over his face until he went in to speak with Him.

If we are communing with God—talking to Him and listening to Him, it should affect how we look at the world and at people around us. They should see a difference in us. No need for chronic doom and gloom because God has everything under His control.

Those are just examples of what that description could mean in our lives.

As I said, this is a very fragmentary list. God makes all kinds of changes in our lives to make us the people He wants us to be.
 

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More Evidence

I recently received a Breakpoint Daily email with this as the opening statement: According to recent survey, nearly a third of self-described evangelicals do not believe that Jesus Christ is truly God.

It’s just as important today as it was when John wrote his account of the Gospel, and his letters and Revelation, that we be able to distinguish genuine Christians from those who are taking Christ’s name in vain.

That statement in 1 John 5 bears more thought. 13 These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life

God has given us some things to look for in our lives, so that we can be absolutely sure that we are Christians. We have looked at some evidences over the last few days. Now let’s take some time to look through 1 John to see what those things are—what evidence is there in our lives that we are Christians; what evidence should we look for in the lives of others to see if they are walking their talk.

Go back to 1 John 1 to see two pieces of evidence. (1 John is one of three letters the Apostle John wrote to Christians. It is not the Gospel According to John, one of the first four books of the New Testament. It is at the back, near Revelation.)

6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; 7 but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.

Do we walk in the light, or in the darkness? John 1 describes Jesus as the light of the world: 4 In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. 5 The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.

Jesus’ light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not comprehend it. The Greek word for “comprehend” means to understand, or to take hold of. That light, the message of the Gospel, is something that people can simply not understand without God’s help. It’s nonsense to them. So Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

And the darkness cannot quench the light. We have flashlights that bring light into a dark place, but we don’t have flashdarks that quench light in a well-lit place. So God says here that darkness, satan, is incapable of destroying the light of the message of the Gospel shining out into the world.

People either react or respond to the light of the Gospel. They will either come to the light, or run away from it. John 3 says 19 This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21 But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.”

Now, John goes on to describe in the rest of this letter what it means to “walk in the light”.

One of the first things that will show up in our lives if we walk in the light is our sin, our guilt, our unholiness, the stark contrast between us and God. That’s why, in John 3 some people run away from the light. They don’t like to see themselves as they really are. Pride keeps them from admitting they are not perfect.

The alternative is to look at ourselves in the light of God’s Word, admit that we are messed up, and ask God to clean us up. That’s what David does in Psalm 139: 23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; 24 And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way.

When we begin to see God’s holiness, His Glory, His Righteousness, we should have the same reaction that Isaiah had when he was suddenly confronted with a vision of God in Isaiah 6. It was a punch in the stomach that knocked him flat. 5 Then I said, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”

So what happened next? Did God say “You are no good. I’m going to get rid of you. You are useless.”?

Absolutely not. 6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. 7 He touched my mouth with it and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.”

As soon as Isaiah ‘fessed up, God cleaned him up and made him worthy and capable of doing His work.

I like 2 Timothy 3: 16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

Teaching is telling us about God’s standards for our lives, and about God’s holiness and righteousness and justice, and about man’s sinfulness.

Reproof comes when I compare my life against what God wants me to be and I see just how short I come.

Correction is God’s grace in action. He doesn’t just throw me away. He shows, and helps, me to make up the deficit, how to come up to God’s standards for my life.

Training is a giant concept. The Greek word for training means a complete workover. We think of athletes training in whatever is their specialty—boxing, running, pole vaulting, swimming and so on. But this word for training means developing the entire person, from the inside out, to excel. One dictionary explains that word: the whole training and education of children (which relates to the cultivation of mind and morals, and employs for this purpose now commands and admonitions, now reproof and punishment)

And as John 3 says, we can either man up and ‘fess up, and go into the light of God’s truth, or we can try to hide our guilt or deny it. That didn’t work for Adam and Eve, or Cain, or David, or any of a host of others down through history. God found them, confronted them with their sin, and they had to confess, agree with God that they are guilty as charged.

We’ll look at another evidence of “walking in the light” from 1 John 1 tomorrow, God willing.
 

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In The Light

A lot of people make assumptions. They assume they are Christians because they don’t adhere to some other religion, they haven’t declared themselves to be agnostics or atheists, or they think they are good people. Some assume they are Christians because they go to church. That’s like saying I’m a car because I’m in a garage. People can self-identify as Christians, or they can be Christians. Two completely different things. The first is fake, a knock-off Christian. The second is the real thing. How to become the real thing?

Jesus said in John 14: 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.

John 1:12 says 12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name,

Becoming a Christian is a matter of receiving Jesus into your life. Ask Him to come into your life.

Pray something like this: Dear Jesus, I’m sorry for my sin. Will You please forgive me? I trust the work You did on the cross to take the penalty for my sin on Yourself. Will You please come into my life and take charge of my life from now on? Thank You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Going back to 1 John 1 from yesterday. If we are walking in the light of God’s Word, God will show us places in our lives where we don’t measure up to God’s standards of holiness.

God confronts us with our sin. We can man up, and deal with it, or we can play mind games with guilt and with God and with ourselves. As God said in John 3, 20 For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21 But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.”

We can either let the light show up our sin, our failings, our imperfections and confess them, or we can try to cover them up, or refuse to admit them, or try to excuse them some way.

David says that a cover-up won’t work. We can run, but we can’t hide. Psalm 139: 7 Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? 8 If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. 9 If I take the wings of the dawn, If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, 10 Even there Your hand will lead me, And Your right hand will lay hold of me. 11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, And the light around me will be night,” 12 Even the darkness is not dark to You, And the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to You.

In another place in that Psalm David says God knows what we think, what we are going to say, and what we are going to do even before we do it.

So now, back to 1 John 1. 8 If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.

That awareness of sin in our lives will be one huge indicator of our new relationship with Christ. Satan will try to use that to say things like “see, you can’t even get through an hour without doing something to make God angry. Why not just give up this “Christianity” business?” Satan will try to use our guilt to destroy us.

Or maybe pride, arrogance gets in the way. Some will try to pass it off, make excuses, or gloss sin over in some other way. “I’m not so bad compared with …”, or “Times have changed. It may have been wrong back then, but it’s OK now. See, everyone is doing it and there is no harm to them or anybody else,” or “It’s just a small thing and won’t matter. Nobody is getting hurt.”

They are deceiving themselves, playing mind games, living in a fantasy land. They are also making God out to be a liar, because they are flat-out contradicting God, the same way satan did back in the Garden of Eden: (Genesis 3) 4 The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die!”

The thing to do with that sin, when we see it, is drag it out into broad daylight before God, confess it, and ask His forgiveness. He will forgive us because He is faithful and just.

He is faithful because He made a promise that anyone who takes up His free offer of forgiveness will receive it. Romans 6 says 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

And God is just. He requires a penalty for sin, but He doesn’t require a double payment for our sin. Either we will pay that penalty by spending eternity in hell, or we will receive God’s free offer of eternal life in Christ Jesus because Jesus paid the penalty for our sins.

The penalty for that sin was paid when Jesus died on the cross. We just need to accept that free pardon. And He goes a step further. That sin is just like an ivy vine. We pull up a single sprig, think we have it all and suddenly we find a root system that leads all over the place, connected to other ivy plants we didn’t know were there. So we pull them up, keep confessing our sins and God keeps forgiving them.

And then there are the other sins we are completely unaware of. God forgives us for those sins also. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness

God has given us two indicators that we are real Christians, not counterfeits who take God’s name in vain there in 1 John 1.

First, we walk in the light of God’s Truth, His Word. We embrace, grab hold of His light and make a decision that we will live our lives by the light He shines on us.

Then second, as His light shows up sin in our lives, we drag that sin out and confess it and get rid of it.

There are a couple of other things in 1 John 1 that we’ll come back to tomorrow, God willing.
 
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