Jesus Crosses Social Barriers

“Now he had to go through Samaria,” John 4:4 (NIV).

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Have you ever tried to avoid driving on a certain stretch of road or try to bypass traffic in a particular city? What if going through said stretch of road or city was the shortest, most direct route to your destination? Would you still avoid it? Is there some long-standing bias or bad memory associated with the road or city?

During biblical times, the average person walked everywhere or they may have rode a donkey, camel, or perhaps a horse. When there are great distances involved, especially while traveling on foot, you would want to walk the shortest route possible. In one instance, Jesus took the shortest route and crossed a major social barrier.

Jesus and his disciples were traveling from Judea to Galilee and went through Samaria, which was the shortest route. “Now he had to go through Samaria,” seems like a pretty innocuous statement for a 21st Century reader, but in Jesus’ time, Samaria was controversial among the Jews of Israel. In fact, many Jews tried to go places by avoiding Samaria all together.

The controversy dates back to the Old Testament. Samaria was the capital of the northern Kingdom of Israel, while Jerusalem remained the capital of the southern Kingdom of Judea.  The Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom in 722 BC and deported many of the Jews. The Assyrians brought in Gentiles (non-Jews) to settle the land. These Gentiles intermarried with the remaining Jews, which created a “mixed race,” which the Jews of Judea did not recognize the Samaritan as “authentic Jews” for lack of a better term. The Samaritan Jews also believed Mount Gerizim was the holy site for sacrifice, not the Temple in Jerusalem, and recognized only the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament) as Scripture.

Understanding the conflict between the Jews and the Samaritans gives a different context to Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, which probably would have angered many in his Jewish audience that a Samaritan would be hero of the story.

I will not go through the entire story of Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well (John 4:4-42), but I want to discuss some of the highlights. We live in such a divisive time, where people only read and listen to what confirms their confirmation bias, from which they do not budge. Let us take a look at the barriers Jesus crosses in this story:

-Jesus goes directly into what many consider “hostile territory.”

-Jesus, a Jew, speaks with people who are Samaritans.

-Jesus, a man, ministers to a woman.

-Jesus does not condemn the Samaritan woman for her past.

-Jesus does not debate doctrine, cast judgment, or threaten anyone with hell.

-Jesus brings a message of hope for all people, regardless of their background.

-Jesus breaks down the barriers of  institutional racism.

After Jesus ministers to the woman, she goes back and brings people of the town to see Jesus. Jesus and the disciples end up staying in Samaria for two days and many Samaritans come to faith in Christ.

I recognize that during my more fundamentalist days, I was a very divisive Christian. I have seen the error of my ways and I am now trying to break down these man made barriers. I believe the church and all of society can benefit from this example of Christ. Just because someone isn’t the same skin color as you, believes a different political philosophy, goes to a different church, or lives a lifestyle you don’t agree with, that doesn’t make them bad people. Everybody is just like you, in search of love and acceptance, which we need to provide. There is no need to condemn anyone for their past, because we all have a past. Let’s quit treating each other like dogs and rubbing our noses in each other’s mess. If we as Christians want to be more like Jesus, we need to be tearing down these superficial barriers instead of building  higher and higher walls.

 

 

Love Yourself Through It

I love dogs. In fact, I there have been very few times either growing up or being an adult that I don’t remember having a dog in the house. Dogs are some of the most social, self-less, and loving creatures on the planet. Dogs, though long domesticated, still to see themselves as pack animals, like wolves, and long to please the perceived “pack leader.” Depending on the dog’s personality, you’ll know when they messed up-chewing on the furniture or having an “accident” on the rug as he or she will hang their head in shame. It’s obvious the dog knows what he or she did, they just need to be loved and reassured that they are still an accepted member of the pack.

I also find dogs to be very intuitive animals, as they can discern people, situations, or even coming environmental changes, such as thunderstorms. Dogs have been used in medical studies to sniff out tumors in people. Though dogs show outward affection to their family members and other people, they are often hard on themselves when they make a mistake. Sound familiar?

When it comes to matters of faith, our greatest enemy is often not the devil, people, or even a specific group of people, but we are often our greatest enemy. When we approach God from a hyper-religious mindset, we will be weighed down with guilt and shame because we failed do to points A, B, and C properly. We begin to loathe ourselves and see ourselves as unworthy to be loved- whether by God or anyone else. This lack of self-love and self-acceptance often creates a void in our lives which can lead us into addiction, anxiety, depression, or feeling worthless. In essence, we approach God as that dog who chewed up a family member’s shoes; We know what we did, we’re waiting for the hammer to drop.

While the Bible teaches that we are sinners, our sins separate us from God, and the only way to find forgiveness is to accept Jesus’ sacrifice and repent of our sins, the Bible also teaches us the value of loving ourselves. We are commanded not only to love God, our spouses and family, our neighbors, and our enemies, but to love ourselves as well.

“You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19:18, NKJV, emphasis mine).

The Hebrew word used for love, Ahab or Aheb (Strong’s #157), refers to love in a general  sense, like our English word.  Strong’s defines Ahab as “having strong emotional attachment to and desire either to possess or be in the presence of the object.”

In the New Testament, Jesus takes this concept one step further as He sums up following God’s word in two commandments:

“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40, NKJV, emphasis mine).

The Greek language had multiple terms for love, and the word used here is Agapao (Strong’s #25), which signifies an unconditional love, as God loves us unconditionally. (See also Mark 12:29-31, Luke 10:27, Romans 13:8-10, Galatians 5:14, and James 2:8 for an introductory study).

From just this brief study of Scripture, it is a given that we are to love ourselves. Of course, we put God and others before us, but we must accept ourselves as we are. We should neither hate ourselves nor harm ourselves. We must stop spiritually, physically, and emotionally beating ourselves up over the past. You’ve made your mistakes, nothing can change that, go forward. God knows you made your mistakes and He still loves you.  Anyone in your life who truly loves you will love you through your struggles. You must love yourself through it.  If you have asked God to forgive you, your slate is wiped clean. You must make peace within yourself. As strange as it sounds, forgive yourself. If you haven’t sought God’s forgiveness, don’t wait until you “get your act together,” because God loves you as you are, for the Bible tells us that “While we were sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8). Seek all of the resources that are before you. How can you truly give your heart and soul to God or open your heart to another if you refuse to accept yourself?  Life is a struggle, but you can make it. You will make it. The God of the universe believes in you, you can believe in Him and yourself. God bless you all.

 

 

 

 

Jesus, Zacchaeus, and the road to Jericho

In our celebrity-obsessed culture, there are news reports, talk shows, magazines, websites, and social media dedicated to celebrity lives. People perceive the wealth and fame of athletes, movie stars, musicians, and people who are simply famous for being famous as glamorous and try to live vicariously through them. The celebrity’s fans put them on a pedestal as if they were an idol, but later become fickle with their support when said celebrity suffers some type of setback in their life or fails to hold their interest because it is on to the newest sensation.

What kind of crowds would Jesus attract today? I suspect He would attract crowds just as He did when He walked the earth- people in need of prayer, deliverance, guidance, healing, and salvation. I also believe Jesus would still encounter skeptics, critics, scorners, scoffers, and people who were simply curious to learn what the fuss was all about. The Gospel of Luke tells the story of one such onlooker, a man named Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus’ story is found in Luke 19:1-10.

Jesus was getting ready to pass through Jericho on His way to Jerusalem, where He soon be praised with shouts of “Hosanna,” betrayed, arrested, put on trial, crucified, die, and rise from the dead.

Luke gives us a brief glimpse into Zacchaeus’ background:

“A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy.” (Luke 19:2, NIV)

Luke also gives us details in to Zacchaeus’ motivations:

“He [Zacchaeus] wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.” (Luke 19:3-4, NIV).

However, Zacchaeus’ curiosity was about to lead to his salvation. Zacchaeus made a decision to stand out from the crowd and it lead to him being noticed by Jesus.

“When Jesus reached the spot, He looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.’ So he came down at once and welcomed Him gladly.” (Luke 19:5-6, NIV).

Luke contrasts Zacchaeus’ actions with the crowd’s reaction:

“All the people saw this and began to mutter, ‘He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.’” (Luke 19:7, NIV).

In Jesus’ time, tax collectors were judged as being corrupt and sinful. The Roman Empire would employ local men to collect taxes from citizens. Tax collectors such as Zacchaeus and Matthew were Jews by birth and were seen to be traitors, as they collected taxes from their fellow Jews in order to support a pagan government. Some tax collectors would even collect more than the tax amount and pocket the difference for themselves.

How would you respond if Jesus called you out of the crowd by name and wanted to have dinner at your house? Jesus is calling all of us out of the crowd, out of the noise that makes up modern life. Jesus wants our heart. If Jesus calls us, we must respond with our hearts and spirits, for Jesus will transform us as he transformed a short and wealthy tax collector who was despised by his town.

“But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, ‘Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.’ Jesus said to Him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.’” (Luke 19:8-10, NIV).

What is interesting is that the name Zacchaeus means “clean, pure.” At that one moment when Zacchaeus climbed one particular tree on one particular stretch of road, with one encounter with Jesus, Zacchaeus repented of his sins, and finally lived up to his name.

The question now becomes what are you “short” on today? Love? Patience? Forgiveness? Character?  Has your life been one long tale of pain, loss, or tragedy? Do you think that you have fallen so far that you will never get up? Are you tormented by sin, fear, or failure? Jesus wants you to seek Him out. It doesn’t matter if you are in a sycamore tree, a cave, a mountain, or a pit, seek Jesus where you are at and salvation will come to your house today. God bless you all.

 

 

The Prodigal’s Brother

In Luke chapter 15, Jesus tells the parables of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Lost Son (or Prodigal Son if you prefer), which illustrate God’s grace and the lengths He will go to save lost souls. Jesus’ audience represented a spiritual dichotomy of sinners and tax collectors with Pharisees and scribes. Jesus spoke these three parables as a response to the criticism leveled by the Pharisees and scribes of how Jesus sat in the company of sinners. We will look more specifically at the story of the Prodigal Son.

The story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) is a familiar one to Christians and the phrase “prodigal son” is used as a euphemism to describe someone who has wandered away and returned. There are two brothers and the youngest brother goes to his father and demands his share of his inheritance, while his father was alive. Typically, an inheritance can only be received once someone has died. The father, knowing the social meaning of his son’s request, and divided his estate among both brothers.

In a tale similar to today’s news reports of celebrities, actors, and athletes squandering king’s fortunes and going bankrupt, the Prodigal Son partied like a “rock star” and blew all of his money. It was all gone. The Prodigal was busted, broke, and bankrupt. A famine soon after came upon the land and the Prodigal was hungry and desperate. The Prodigal went from living “high on the hog” so to speak, to literally the hog pen as he had to get a job feeding swine. The Prodigal comes to his senses and decides to go back home to his father, not as a son, but as a servant.

“And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.” (Luke 15:20-21, NKJV).

The story then pivots on the contrasting reactions of the father and oldest brother.

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found. And they began to be merry.” (Luke 15:22-24, NKJV).

The older brother was working in the field and heard the party taking place. The father explained that they are having a party for his brother who has returned home. The older brother refused to go to the party and justified his actions to his father:

“So he answered and said to his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I could make merry with my friends. But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.’” (Luke 15:29-30, NKJV, emphasis mine).

The older brother’s statements consist of “I have done this, I have done that.” “Where’s my party?” I stayed here and did what was expected of me.” The older brother refuses to acknowledge his brother, simply calling him “this son of yours.” It is certainly easy to read self-righteousness into the older brother’s statements, but does he on some level have a point?

Everybody has worth and wants to be appreciated. Nursing homes are full of sick and elderly people who simply want someone to spend a few minutes with them. Parents want to know that their children appreciate their sacrifices for them to have a better life. Dedicated and faithful employees want to know that their work is appreciated and serves a greater purpose than getting a paycheck. This is not about vanity or seeking the approval of others, but we want to know we are on the right track and we are making an impact in life.  If we do not perceive that we are appreciated, then we get discouraged, which leads to self-righteous comparison when we see “someone less qualified or deserving” get the blessing we seek.

The older brother could have gone off on his own adventures, but he chose to stay home. The older brother was wise and responsible with his money and continued to work. However, when we grow discontent with our situations in life, we often overlook the tremendous blessings we do have. At the end of the story, the father gives the oldest son a different perspective on the situation:

“And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.” (Luke 15:31-32, NKJV).

The older brother has always been in the presence of the father and he also received his share of the inheritance, while the younger brother wandered from the father. Though the older brother did not see a physical reward for his service to his father, his father did notice his faithfulness. The older brother did not perceive that he had his father’s approval. The same principle applies for those of us who have been saved for many years in that we often lose the meaning of having our Father’s presence in our lives at the expense of what God’s presence means for others.

We should serve God and others with a servant’s heart, but we must not make the mistake of the older brother and serve with a “religious works” mindset. If we see serving God as a means to an end, we will lose the perspective that we are sons and daughters of God and not simply servants. Let us not try to value ourselves by any fleeting external measures such as money, recognition, titles, or family status. Instead, let us see ourselves first as children of God and draw our worth from there. God bless you all.

 

Finding Comfort in our Repentance

It is a natural human desire to seek comfort in the midst of tragic or difficult circumstances. When we know of someone who has suffered a devastating event such as the loss of a loved one or is dealing with the aftermath of a natural disaster, we pray that God would comfort their hearts, souls, and minds. Comfort can bring us a peace that transcends understanding. We can also pursue comfort by seeking a certain financial and/or material standard of living.

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language 4th edition defines Comfort as “1. (V) To soothe in time of affliction or distress. 2. (V) To ease physically, relieve. 3. (N). A condition of feeling or pleasurable ease, well-being, or contentment.” The Bible, of course, has much to say concerning comfort in the sense of consolation and providing solace and support, but we will examine comfort in the sense of strength and repentance. For this post, I will be conducting this word study using the King James Version.

The Hebrew word most often used for comfort is the word, Nacham (Strong’s #5162), which means “to repent, comfort.” More specifically, Nacham means “to make a strong turning to a new course of action.” Repentance simply means going in a different direction. For instance, if you repent of a sin, you go in a different direction by not committing that sin. Comfort is derived from the words Com (with) and Fort (strength). Strong’s Concordance goes on to explain: “When one repents, he exerts strength to change, re-grasp the situation, and exert effort for the situation to take a different course of action.” Thus, repentance and comfort in this particular instance does not place the emphasis on God’s grace, but on our responses and the actions we take concerning our circumstances.

Before we go further, let me state that there are times when God allows difficult circumstances in our lives and what we go through is not always a direct result of our sin. Hence, I am not condemning anyone. We will examine biblical people who brought comfort by turning the situation around, examples of personal strength, and how God brought comfort to wayward ancient Israel.

Noah

From Adam to Noah, humanity grew excessively wicked and God sought to cleanse the world with the Flood. God chose Noah to bring repentance to humanity.

“And Lamech lived a hundred eighty and two years, and begat a son: And he called his name Noah, saying ‘This same shall comfort us concerning our work and toil of our hands, because of the ground which the Lord hath cursed.” (Genesis 5:28-29, KJV, emphasis mine). Here is the first instance of the link between repentance and comfort.

Joseph

If anyone had a right to carry a chip on their shoulder, it would be Joseph. Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, falsely accused of attacking Potiphar’s wife and subsequently falsely imprisoned.  Joseph was forgotten about in prison and stayed there longer than he should have been. However, God brought Joseph to prominence and placed him in a position of authority to save countless people during a famine. This famine was used to unite Joseph with his brothers and his father, Jacob. After Jacob died, Joseph’s brothers feared for their lives, that Joseph was biding his time and would take his revenge after their father died. Joseph’s brothers repented before him, pleading for mercy. Joseph, showed strength and comforted his brothers and explained to them the greater good of what happened:

“And Joseph said unto them, ‘Fear not: for am I in the place of God? But as for you, ye thought evil against me: but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive. Now therefore fear ye not: I will nourish you, and your little ones.’ And he comforted them, and spake kindly to them.” (Genesis 50:19-21, KJV, emphasis mine).

Comfort and Repentance in the Psalms

The Psalms, for me, have always been a source of hope and inspiration. Though some of the Psalms deal with Israel as a nation, the vast majority of the Psalms are personal reflections of people as they dealt with the harshness and trials of life. The writers of the Psalms gave an honest acknowledgement of their sins and the comfort brought on by repentance.

“He restoreth my soul: He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His Name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:3-4, KJV, emphasis mine).

“Thou, which hast showed me great and sore troubles, shalt quicken me again, and shalt bring me up again from the depths of the earth. Thou shalt increase my greatness, and comfort me on every side.” (Psalm 71:20-21, KJV, emphasis mine).

“Remember the word unto thy servant, upon which thou hast caused me to hope. This is my comfort in my affliction: for thy word hath quickened me.” (Psalm 119:49-50, KJV, emphasis mine).

“I know, O Lord, that thy judgments are right, and that thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me. Let, I pray thee, thy merciful kindness be for my comfort, according to thy word unto thy servant.” (Psalm 119:75-76, KJV, emphasis mine).

Comfort and God’s Judgment of Israel

From the Book of Judges on, a pattern is established in the Old Testament where Israel would fall into sin and idolatry, then God would raise up a prophet, judge, or king to urge Israel to repent of their sins and avoid God’s judgments. There were times when Israel refused to repent and God’s judgments came in the forms of invading armies such as the Assyrians or Babylonians. In the words of the Prophets, you can hear the heart of God, pleading to bring comfort to his suffering children. God would bring comfort when his people repented of their sins, thus, placing the onus on Israel and Judah to change their ways.

“And in that day thou shalt say, O Lord, I will praise thee: though thou wast angry with me, thine anger is turned away, and thou comfortedst me. Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the Lord Jehovah is my strength and my song; He also is become my salvation.” (Isaiah 12:1-2, KJV, emphasis mine).

“Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” (Isaiah 40:1, KJV, emphasis mine).

“What thing shall I take to witness for thee? What thing shall I liken to thee, O daughter of Jerusalem? What shall I equal to thee, that I may comfort thee, O virgin daughter of Zion? For thy breach is great like the sea: who can heal thee?” (Lamentations 2:13, KJV, emphasis mine).

“Then shall the virgin rejoice in the dance, both young men and old together: for I will turn their mourning into joy, and will comfort them, and make them rejoice from their sorrow.” (Jeremiah 31:13, KJV, emphasis mine).

In these words, we have covered only one aspect of comfort, with the emphasis on repentance. There are numerous examples of Nacham being used in the traditional sense of comfort, which I will cover later, Lord willing. If you are going through a painful season, please keep in mind that God has given you all of the tools and opportunities to start anew. Although it cannot change what happened, we do not have to stay where we are at and we can go forward with grace and strength. God bless you all.

Ephesians 2: Our Identity before Christ

In the previous post, we looked at Ephesians chapter one and how the sovereignty and purposes of God played the defining role in our salvation and identity as Christians. To read the previous post, click here:  https://triumphantinchrist.wordpress.com/2016/08/27/ephesians-1-gods-role-in-our-identity/

Of all of history’s recorded events and notable people, I believe the most influential person in the history of the world is the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ’s birth, life, death, and resurrection represent the ultimate expression of God’s love for humanity as Christ died for our sins. The entire Christian religion hinges on the historic event of the resurrection of Christ.

In fact, for centuries, historians marked the passage of time with the era “Before Christ” (BC) and “In the year of our Lord,” commonly referred to as AD. Of course, secular historians now use the terms “Before Common Era” and “Common Era” to refer to time.

No matter how historians mark the time, all Christians can point to the before Christ time in their lives. We can look back with shame, pain, and regret at our past lives, or we can bask in this current day of our Lord, who has forgiven us for all sins and transgressions, past, present, and future.

In Ephesians chapter one, Paul beautifully explains God’s purposes, plan, and grace toward us in our salvation. In Ephesians chapter two, Paul pivots and contrasts the Ephesians’ identities were before and after Christ.

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.” (Ephesians 2:1-3, NIV).

Paul metaphorically takes the Ephesians, and by extension, you and I back in time to remember who we were:

*We were dead in our sins.

*We followed the world and Satan.

*People in the world still live sinfully.

*We used to be like them and lived and did as we pleased.

*Everyone, including us, deserves God’s wrath for our sins.

Here comes the “AD” part:

“But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions- it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that the coming ages He might show the incomparable riches of His grace, expressed in this kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:4-7, NIV, italics mine).

Compare our previous position with who we are now:

*God’s mercy and grace has made us alive, when we were dead in our sins.

*We no longer take our seats with Satan and the world, for we are seated with Christ.

*We are living examples of God’s grace to our generation and those who follow.

If we try to live our faith by ritual, we develop a religious mindset and rely on our abilities and traditions to carry us. While there are steps we can take to become better people in our thoughts, words, and deeds, our salvation is solely the work of God.

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-not by work, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:8-10, NIV, italics mine).

*We cannot earn our salvation- it is a gift that must be received.

*Our boasting does not impress God.

*God has created us and saved us to fulfill His purposes in our lives,

All of us at one point have faced the sting of exclusion and rejection, though by varying degrees and circumstances. Paul drives home to the point that the Ephesians were at one time:

*Gentiles by birth, therefore excluded from citizenship in Israel and the promises of God. Therefore, the Ephesians had no hope and did not have God. (Ephesians 2:11-12).

*Now, all, regardless of birth, Jew, Gentile, nation or status, have been reconciled by the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:13).

*Christ has broken down all walls that separate us, and reconciled them by the cross, and now we all have access to God by the same Holy Spirit that lives in each of us. (Ephesians 2:14-18).

*We were once strangers and foreigners, but now we are members of God’s family and household. Christ is our cornerstone and the foundation is also built upon the apostles and prophets. (Ephesians 2:19-20).

*The temple of God is no longer about a physical building or a group of people, but we, our bodies, our spirits are God’s temple. God through the Holy Spirit dwells in us. (Ephesians 2:21-22).

Though we are no longer part of this world, we remain in this world until either Christ comes back or He calls us home. As we interact with our brothers and sisters in Christ and those who do not know Christ, let us treat them with compassion, for we were once sinners who needed grace. Do not grieve who you were in the past, but rejoice in the future God’s grace has given you.

Ephesians 1: God’s Role in our Identity

Who am I? This is one of the fundamental questions of human existence. The question, “Who am I?” has inspired countless theologians, philosophers, poets, thinkers, and everyday people since time immortal. “Who am I?” has launched countless discussions, religious pilgrimages, great works of literature, deep soul searching, and the occasional mid-life crisis.

It is inherent in our human nature to believe in something greater than ourselves, to believe in a world beyond our own where someday every wrong, slight, or injury, we perceive has been perpetrated on us will be corrected or explained. We often think, What’s the point of all this suffering? or Is this all there is to this life?

While living out our day-to-day lives, we are simultaneously attempting to forge our own identity, trying to answer the question of “Who am I?” We attach sociological labels to ourselves in an effort to forge an identity. We can identify ourselves by age, race, education, marital status, social standing, occupation, sexual orientation, nationality, or religion to name a handful. For those of us who believe in God and identify ourselves as being Christians, what role does God play in our identity?

I have over the years heard it preached that we need to know “Who we are in Christ,” meaning our identity in Christ. Paul in the Book of Ephesians, lays out a good foundation for God’s role in our identity. As you read through Ephesians, it is easy to focus on the blessings God has given us and not look as to how we have obtained our identity in Christ.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” (Ephesians 1:3, NIV).

Paul goes on to make it very clear that our new standing with God and our identity in Christ is based on the acts of God’s sovereign will.

“For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love, He predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will- to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the One He loves.” (Ephesians 1:4-6, NIV, italics mine).

Paul makes several points concerning our identity in Christ and our responsibilities concerning our standing in Christ:

*We have been chosen by God.

*God chose us to live holy and blameless lives.

*We are only God’s adopted children through Christ, which aligns with God’s pleasure and will.

*We are to praise God for the gift of His grace through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

The format of the following verses play out much the same as the introductory verses. For example:

“In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that He lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, He made known to us the mystery of His will according to His good pleasure, which He purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment- to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.” (Ephesians 1:7-10, NIV, italics mine).

Thus, we are forgiven of our sins solely because:

*The riches of God’s grace.

*God gave us the wisdom and understanding to know His will- to be saved and believe on Christ, thus God’s will is no longer mysterious.

*God is working in these last days to reconcile (bring together) the world and universe under the Lordship and rule of Jesus Christ.

Paul goes on further to elaborate on the purpose of God’s will and one of the benefits of living the Christian life:

In Him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of Him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will, in order that we who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of His glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in Him, with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession- to the praise of His glory.” (Ephesians 1:11-14, NIV, italics mine).

Once again, we learn of the plan of God:

*God is working out everything to conform to His will.

*God brings us to Christ that we may bring Him glory.

*God included us in His plan when we said, “yes,” to the gospel.

*God has empowered us with the Holy Spirit to live until we are called home to heaven.

Ephesians chapter one concludes with Paul’s prayer for the church, which also serves as a reminder that God does not simply save us and leave us to figure things out, but rather God seeks to keep us rooted deeper in Christ by:

*Giving us the Spirit of wisdom and revelation that we may know God better. (Ephesians 1:17).

*That we would understand fully the depths of our hope and inheritance as God’s people. (Ephesians 1:18-19a).

*To realize that the same power God use to raise Christ from the dead resides in us. (Ephesians 1:19b-20).

*God’s purposes have placed Christ head over all on heaven and earth. (Ephesians 1:20b-23).

May you seek to grow and understand your identity in Christ.

 

More than a Conqueror

Alexander the Great. Julius Caesar. Genghis Khan. Napoleon Bonaparte. The names of these men and others echo throughout the halls of history because they conquered nations and forged empires. However, despite the aptitude of their generals, their victorious strategies, the efficiency of their armies, and the most advanced weaponry known at the time, there were two enemies these men and their armies could never defeat: sin and death. The One who dealt the decisive blow to the curses of sin and death and is coming back to conclude his march against the army of darkness: The Lord Jesus Christ.

Please keep in mind that I am not glorifying war. I believe the horrors left by war have damaged the psyches of our brave men and women who have fought and have left a Grand Canyon size wake of tragedy and destruction in the lives of all of the innocents affected since time began. I believe it will be the return of Christ and only the return of Christ that will wash out these horrific stains from the fabric of humanity.

Though most of us may never serve our country in the respective branches of the military, we do on a daily basis face spiritual battles. In these battles against our sin natures and Satan’s forces, we are either winning, losing, or trying to maintain against the siege. Our demons can come from within or from the pits of hell, it is all the same. The struggle takes its toll and we can become fatigued from the constant fighting. When the despair grows stronger, we can find ourselves giving into the darkness, the bottle, or the needle, but it does not have to be that way.

If you are reading this and you have made it this far into life, let me congratulate you. You are an overcomer. You have been blessed with another day to seek God and to vanquish your foe. You have strength beyond measure. Life may have knocked you down to your knees, but you are in the perfect position to pray and receive your new strategy.

Romans chapter eight is among one of my favorite passages of Scripture. I cannot but be encouraged every time I read it. In particular, we will take a look at Romans 8:28-39.

 God is working it out

“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28, KJV, italics mine).

Whether you are experiencing a nightmare while awake or just living day by day, keep in mind that God is working it out for your good. This does not mean that everything in life will be good, but God can turn the situation around to show His glory and make Himself known in our lives.

Your life has purpose

“For whom he did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren. Moreover, whom He did predestinate, them He also called: and whom He called, them He also justified: and whom He justified, them He also glorified.” (Romans 8:29-30, KJV).

Though our lives can seem to be an unending series of obstacles, God is using these obstacles as opportunities to make us more like Christ.

 God is on your side

“What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31, KJV).

How can we even consider fainting and fretting when the fickle opinions and perceptions others have of us when the God who created the universe is in our corner?

God gave His all

“He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32, KJV).

God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to die for our sins, so who are we to doubt that God will carry us through this current trial?

We are justified in Christ

“Who is He that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.” (Romans 8:34, KJV).

If the people around you reject you or do not hold you in high regard, do not worry about it. You have a God who believes you are to die for and He is praying for you at this moment.

We are more than conquerors

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, ‘For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.’ Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us.” (Romans 8”35-37, KJV, italics mine).

The word used for conquerors is Hupernikao (Strong’s #5245), which means “to vanquish beyond; a decisive victory.” Hupernikao is derived from the words Huper (Strong’s #5228), which means “over, above, beyond, etc.,” and Nikao (Strong’s #3528), which means “to subdue.” Keep in mind that Nikao is the same word used in 1 John when it talks about us being overcomers in Christ. So to summarize this point, our relationship with Christ and our victory in Christ has earned us a clear and easy victory. In essence, Christ has run up the score so badly on the devil that he will never catch up. There are no substitutions or adjustments the enemy can make, the game is over, we are waiting for that last trumpet to blow. Because of His love for us, Christ will continue to intercede and defeat the enemy on our behalf. We are “hyper-conquerors” in Christ because we have more than enough firepower to subdue our enemy and to occupy what Christ has given to us.

We cannot be separated from Christ

“For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature , shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39, KJV).

Go forth and conquer in Christ, for He has given you the victory. God bless you all.

 

 

The Restoration of Joy

My dad’s hobby is restoring old cars, mainly cars from the 1920s and 1930s. Anyone who has restored something old, whether it be a car, a house, or an antique piece of furniture knows that it is a process. In regards to restoring old cars, the process may involve repairing a steel body that has suffered years of corrosion and rust, replacing or rebuilding an engine, replacing the interior and repainting the car, all of which involve the resources of time and money. When the car is restored, it brings a sense of joy to the owner.

Our God is in the restoration business- restoring the lives of people. Of course, God’s greatest restorative act was sending His Son, Jesus Christ, to die for humanity’s sins. However, God not only seeks our eternal redemption, He wants a personal relationship with us. God wants us to seek and worship Him in our everyday lives. Going back to the car in need of restoration, what has brought “corrosion and rust” into your life? What needs to be rebuilt? What needs to be replaced? Do the rough edges need to be sanded down and made smooth? If we allow God to take us through His restorative process, it will bring great joy in our lives. God will replace our rusted out “jalopy” of a life with a life of joyous “show room quality.”

The restoration of Israel is a thread woven deep within the pages of the Old Testament. As Israel would fall away from God and worship the pagan idols, God would bring judgment upon Israel, often in the form of an invading foreign nation. God would relent when Israel would repent of its sins. Even in the midst of their rebellion and coming judgment, God never gave up on Israel. God sent prophets not only to warn Israel, but to encourage them with future days of joy and restoration, which would culminate with the coming of the Messiah and the establishment of His kingdom.

“Therefore the redeemed of the Lord shall return, and come with singing unto Zion; and everlasting joy shall be upon their head: they shall obtain gladness and joy; and sorrow and mourning shall flee away.” (Isaiah 51:11, KJV).

“Break forth into joy, singing together, ye waste places of Jerusalem: for the Lord hath comforted His people, He hath redeemed Jerusalem. The Lord hath made bare His holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.” (Isaiah 52:9-10, KJV).

“For the Lord hath redeemed Jacob, and ransomed him from the hand of him that was stronger than he. Therefore, they shall come and sing in the height of Zion, and shall flow together to the goodness of the Lord, for wheat, and for wine, and for oil, and for the young of the flock and of the herd: and their soul shall be as a watered garden; and they shall not sorrow any more at all. Then shall the virgin rejoice in the dance, both young men and old together; for I will turn their mourning into joy, and will comfort them, and make them rejoice from their sorrow.” (Jeremiah 31:11-13, KJV).

The prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah prophesied before the Babylonian Exile, where the Israelites spent seventy years in Babylon as punishment for their continued disobedience to God. As Christians, we have a better covenant with better promises (Hebrews 8:6) and we are forgiven of our sins past, present, and future. However, there may be times when we will have to deal with the consequences of our sins. We may go through a sorrowful season, but there is joy and restoration on the other side.

The seventy years of exile in Babylon came to an end and the Israelites were allowed to go home. The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah deal with the issue of the Israelites returning home to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and the temple. For some, the rebuilding of the Temple was a time of sorrow, as they remembered the glory of the first Temple (Ezra 3:12-13). However, for many coming back to Jerusalem was a time of great rejoicing, for God had once again showed His faithfulness to Israel.

“And the children of Israel, the priest, and the Levites, and the rest of the children of the captivity, kept the dedication of this house of God with joy…And kept the feast of unleavened bread seven days with joy; for the Lord had made them joyful, and turned the heart of the king of Assyria unto them, to strengthen their hands in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel.” (Ezra 6:16, 22, KJV).

Concerning the dedication of Jerusalem’s walls, Nehemiah 12:43 states: “Also that day they offered great sacrifices, and rejoiced: for God had made them rejoice with great joy: the wives also and the children rejoiced: so that the joy of Jerusalem was heard even afar off.” (KJV).

All of us will go through difficult times. There will be times of pain and suffering, but we must rejoice in those times because we know that our God is faithful. God will restore us, bringing us eternal glory and joy after we have gone through our “momentary” trials.

“For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18, KJV).

“For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” (2 Corinthians 4:17, KJV).

“But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when His glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.” (1 Peter 4:13, KJV).

Whatever you are facing, this shall pass. Your personal Babylon will not last forever. God will restore what you have lost. To paraphrase the Psalm, you have spent the night in sorrow, but joy is coming in the morning. God bless you all.

A Revelation of the Blood of Christ

I was hospitalized earlier this month (August 2015) for a low hemoglobin count in my blood. Hemoglobin carries the oxygen in our red blood cells. After three days in the hospital, two blood transfusions, and two bags of iron, my hemoglobin levels came up enough for me to go home. I believe the Lord used these transfusions to save my life. A few days after I came home, the Lord gave me a revelation about the blood I received. This is the revelation: if the two pints of blood helped save my life, how much more does the blood of Jesus Christ save us from our sins and give us new life in God? The donors volunteered a pint of their blood but the Lord Jesus Christ sacrificed and shed all of His blood for all of the sins of humanity.

There have been countless hymns, songs, and sermons written about the blood of Christ, yet the importance of the blood may not be emphasized in a lot of churches. In our modern world, especially in the Western world, the idea of blood sacrifice can make us uncomfortable. Is it because the shed blood of Christ makes us face the magnitude of our sins? Does it bring us to the realization that we cannot live for God for two hours on Sunday and live like the world the rest of the week? We have been bought with a price and our lives must reflect the sacrifice of Jesus. In order to do this, we must have a revelation of what Jesus’ shed blood means for us.

The Sacrifice of Christ is Greater than the Old Testament Sacrifices

 “Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. For if the blood of bulls and goats, and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Hebrews 9:12-14, KJV).

Apart from the Blood of Christ, there is no Forgiveness

 “In whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace.” (Ephesians 1:7, KJV).

“Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son: In whom we have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:13-14, KJV).

“But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7, KJV).

The Blood of Christ allows us to draw near to God

“That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.” (Ephesians 2:12-13, KJV).

“And, having made peace through the blood of His cross, by Him to reconcile all things unto Himself; by Him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath He reconciled.” (Colossians 1:20-21, KJV).

The Blood of Christ gives spiritual authority to us and the Church

“And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood. And He hath made us kings and priests unto God and His Father; to Him be glory and dominion for ever and ever.” (Revelation 1:5-6, KJV).

“And they sung a new song, saying, ‘Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by the blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation.” (Revelation 5:9, KJV).

The Blood of Christ gives us victory over sin, death, and Satan

“Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same; that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” (Hebrews 2:14-15, KJV).

“And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.” (Revelation 12:10-11, KJV).

Brothers and sisters, whether it be trials and tribulations or just the ordinary battles of everyday life, we must always carry with us the sacrifice of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. God’s grace is free to all, but we must never cheapen God’s grace to indulge in the pleasures of sin for a season. The blood of Christ justifies us, saves us, redeems us, and gives us our new life in Christ. Just as donated blood is stored until needed, the blood of Christ is available to all, for all sins, past, present, and future. Do not neglect such a great salvation.