Being Troubled for the Right Reason: Right Answer for the Right Question. The Right Place at God’s Right Time! Acts 17:16-20

Acts 17:16-20Amplified Bible

Paul at Athens

16 Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was greatly angered when he saw that the city was full of idols. 17 So he had discussions in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place day after day with any who happened to be there. 18 And some of the [a] Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to engage in conversation with him. And some said, “What could this idle babbler [with his eclectic, scrap-heap learning] have in mind to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a proclaimer of strange deities”—because he was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. 19 They took him and brought him to the [b]Areopagus (Hill of Ares, the Greek god of war), saying, “May we know what this [strange] new teaching is which you are proclaiming? 20 For you are bringing some startling and strange things to our ears; so we want to know what they mean.”

The Word of God for the Children of God. Gloria! In Excelsis Deo! Alleluia! Amen.

In our Scripture text today we hear about the Apostle Paul in the city of Athens.

This Greek city was an intellectual centre of its day.

Here the philosophers, intellectuals, and students would gather to discuss the latest intellectual fads.

Athens was also a pagan city.

As many as 30,000 statues had been erected as idols to various gods in the city.

Archaeologists and Historians suggest that there were more idols in the city of Athens than in all the rest of Greece combined.

There can be no doubt that the Greeks were religious people.

They had a different god for almost every aspect of life.

They believed their gods were able to bring fortune or evil.

They had even spent the resources and built, dedicated an altar ‘To an Unknown God’ just in case they may have missed giving honor to one of the myriad gods.

It would have been easy for Paul to shy away from even opening his mouth in this pagan city.

We would understand that.

But Dr. Luke records,

“So (Paul) reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who met him.  Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also were conversing with him” (Acts 17:17,18).

In amongst all those pagan statues, the Apostle to the Gentiles, Paul, debated with the great teachers of Athens and the Jewish leaders in their synagogues.

This was tough going.

It was even dangerous.

Paul knew that if he was going to speak with, debate, preach, teach anyone, he had to step out of his comfort zone, and put himself at risk to speak the truth.

Let’s face it – it’s easy to hang around with Christians.

We worship the same God, the Father and God the Son and Holy Spirit.

We share the same values, and we speak the same language (that is, we all know what we mean when we talk of Salvation, Redemption and Holy Communion.

It is natural for us to gravitate towards the people who are more like ourselves.

Paul had a lot to do with his fellow Jewish Leaders and Christian friends and the congregations that were scattered around in most of the large towns and cities.

When he was in Athens, we notice that (as was his tradition) Paul first of all had deep discussions with both Jewish leadership & Gentiles who worshipped God.

 It’s worth noting how Paul intentionally stepped out of his comfort zone to share the Good News with those who were caught up in pagan ways.

Notice what I said about Apostle Paul’s actions – they were intentional – they were deliberately, innately made, a decision to make the most of the moment.

To hesitate, to stall, to put it off, would mean a lost opportunity.

Think what would have happened if Paul (who made all that effort just to get to Athens) hesitated, said to himself, “I’ll wait for a while and see what happens”.

Maybe you, like me, have let what we know to be a decisive moment go by and afterwards regretted not saying or doing something when we had the chance.

Paul followed a general pattern as he traveled.

Upon entering a city, he would go first to the local Jewish synagogue.

At some point, he would explain from the Scriptures about Jesus, the Messiah.

Some Jews and Godfearing Gentiles would listen carefully, ask their questions, Paul would answer and they come to faith, but others would leave and oppose Paul and angrily stir up crowds against him as he taught in the marketplace.

Apparently they did not want to risk “offending” any of the myriad known and unknown gods and idols and the myriad of “high priests and temple leaders.”

No one was going to be allowed to upset or disrupt their accepted “status-quo.”

To quiet the mobs and stay safe, (perhaps even to stir up debates there) Paul often had to leave, and the pattern would repeat when he went to another town.

In Acts 17, however, we see a change in the pattern, though. Paul went to Athens while Silas and Timothy stayed in Berea a little longer.

In Athens, Paul went to the synagogue and then to the marketplace, and some Greek philosophers brought him to the Areopagus, where ideas were debated.

When addressing the intellectuals of his day in the city of Athens, Apostle Paul discovered that his audience of hearers and listeners had been influenced by two fundamental ideas: Stoicism and Epicureanism.

The Philosophy of Stoicism holds that the events of the world are determined by a merciless, cold, and impersonal fate, while the Philosophy Epicureanism teaches that what is good is determined by what will bring the most pleasure.

Neither one of these philosophies hold up for the children of Almighty God.

One of the most distinctive features of Christianity is the way in which we are able to articulate our view of the world.

In contrast to much of the diverse culture around us, we know that every single second of our lifetime rests in God’s hands (Psalm 31:15)—that we’re neither trapped in the grip of blind forces nor tossed about on an ocean of chance.

Whether people have been drawn in by Marxism, Hinduism, nihilism, or any one of countless other philosophies and religions, they are all faced with myriad questions and hosts of complex nuances, insecurities, regarding their beliefs.

Have they been caught in a struggle for a classless society or in an endless cycle of birth and death?

Perhaps they’re convinced that overall, life has really little to no meaning at all.

No matter someone’s simple, complex or “unanswerable, or imponderable” their questions or hardcore beliefs are, God provides every answer they need.

Instead of their feeling as if they are living life caged by a senseless, uncaring fate or endless uncertainty, as believers we now believe with unfailing hope.

“Since you cannot do good to all, you are to give special attention to all of those who, by the sheer accidents of time, or of place, or circumstances, are brought into and unto a closer connection with you and God.” – Saint Augustine of Hippo.

We need to be especially deliberate and intentional when it comes to talking and debating about our Savior Jesus to unbelievers or those who have fallen away.

Like Jesus at the Samaritan well and Paul in Athens we need to be deliberate about connecting with those who are not part of the Kingdom of God.

Of course, there are risks – being ridiculed, being called a religious freak, having your physical body attacked or imprisoned or feelings hurt, but as is often the case when someone needs rescuing, there are risks and dangers.

If we are not so deliberate, if we are not intentional, then we can easily lose a golden “GOD” opportunity to speak God’s truth when it was needed the most.

We, like the Apostle Paul, those first, first century and early Biblical writers of the subsequent centuries, are now stewards of all the answers God has given us through His word—answers we must share with all the “Athens” of the world.

He has given us a great confidence, and the greatest answer: His name is Jesus.

The question, therefore, is not whether we have a message that can answer the deepest longings, most imponderable answers to impossible questions of every human, the various objections of every other philosophy and religion: we do.

The question is whether we will get all on fire for God and share that message.

Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I care not whether they be clergymen or laymen, they alone will shake the gates of Hell and set up the kingdom of Heaven upon Earth. Rev. John Wesley

When Paul was in Athens, he saw what others did not see, he did not enjoy the impressive touristy sites or stand in awe of the city’s intellectual reputation.

Quickened by the Holy Spirit, Paul saw a city lost in idol-worship, and “his spirit was provoked, “stirred up mightily” within him,” for every time an idol is worshiped, his, our, Savior Jesus, is robbed of the glory that He alone deserves.

“So,” without any regard for his own personal reputation, Paul reasoned with and proclaimed the gospel of resurrection hope to the inhabitants of that city. (Acts 17:18)

So, the Apostle to the Gentiles, Paul, jumps into the life of the city of Athens,

And with both feet securely cemented upon the Rock, Foundation of his Savior Jesus Christ and with a full throated oratory second to no one, talks about God.

He says:

• God made the world! Since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not need even one temple to live in – let alone hundreds if not thousands of them.
• God gives maximum life in abundance and breath to all living creatures.
• God created all the people of the world and gave them countries to live in.
• God is above all things and doesn’t have any particular needs that can be satisfied by the words of human wisdom, works of human hands and feet.
• God is not, never will be far away from any of us, wants people to seek him.

Can you and I see what Paul has done for the rest of us on Mars Hill here?

He hasn’t hit them over the head with a whole lot of ‘Jesus talk’.

He has said very little that the learned teachers of Athens would disagree with.

He has built a relationship with them.

They are becoming curious and they are growing more curious by the moment and by the thoughts which are being freely expressed in that very public forum.

They are listening.

God is working ….

The Holy Spirit is weaving the words and simple truths of Jesus into their souls.

They are agreeing.

Paul knows that you can’t come in cold and expect people to listen to the important message he has to tell them. He first built a rapport with them.

The often overlooked if not completely, deliberately ignored truth: There are lots of people in our lives which we have never taken the time to get to know.

While out walking, we can stop to talk to the new neighbour who is washing his car, or we can stroll on by.

We can linger around after church and talk to people we hardly know, or the stranger who is visiting for the first time, or we can ignore them.

At the local restaurant where we sit down to lunch after church to discuss the days worship and the days Scripture and the impact of the Pastor’s Sermon,

There will be a host or a hostess – there will be a server – someone to take our order – who might just “randomly” find themselves “within easy earshot …!”

“Are you busy today?” What is the Chef’s Special for Today?”

“What do you personally recommend we try today?” “How is it with your day?”

When they casually ask, “is that all, will there be anything else for today?”

Try responding … “Yes! there is one more thing – “How is it with your Soul?”

And “SNAP!”

In that exact instant – without saying God, the Father, the Son, Holy Spirit …

God, the Father and God the Son, God the Holy Spirit “introduced themselves!

Who knows what opportunities might arise in your conversation to share your faith, or how you can help when a crisis arises and they come seeking your help.

Wherever you live, wherever I live, in one way or another we will inevitably find ourselves in a modern-day Athens – whether geographically or by the internet.

What are the myriad of idols that those around you are worshiping?

Is your spirit provoked by that?

You have an answer that satisfies human longing in a way no idol can.

You have an opportunity to bring glory to God.

With whom can you reason today?

Can I share with you of the God who brings meaning and hope to life?

Can I tell you about the answers I have found in coming to know Jesus Christ?”

Paul took this opportunity to draw people’s attention to the “unknown God” that was mentioned on an altar nearby.

Paul was “greatly distressed” at seeing so many idols in Athens, and he wanted to tell risk it all, tell everyone about the true God whom they all needed to know.

When was the last time your heart was distressed and troubled in this way?

We live in a world of idols today too.

The idols of social networks, technology, individualism, materialism, greed, money, political and military power, and so much more are all around us.

There are “tons and tons” of people, inhabiting “tons and tons more” places who are and who have “tons and more tons” of those imponderable questions which no one else can even begin to provide reasonably ponderable answers to.

There is only just one with all of the answers to every imaginable, imponderable question we may have the courage, the intentionality, be able to imagine to ask:

John 14:5-6 (Amplified)

Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going; so how can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “[a]I am the [only]  Way [to God] and the  [real] Truth and the [real] Life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.

We can follow Paul’s pattern of engagement, or we can scroll on through life …

Some may appear to “fall asleep” during the Pastor’s efforts at teaching them.

Others may just come across as “being polite” or “completely disinterested.”

There is always one inescapable truth which the Apostle Paul always knew …

No matter how “unknown” that “unknown god (unknowable GOD) is to the people who do not yet know Him or do not desire to ever get close enough …

God never slumber or sleeps …. Psalm 121

There is no place anyone can ever hide from God …. Psalm 139

God is ALWAYS coming to His Garden, ALWAYS looking for you and there is nothing or no one who can ever hide anything from Him … Genesis 3:8-13

For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth so that He may support those whose heart is completely His. 2 Chronicles 16:9a

God is going to do whatever it is God is going to do … Isaiah 55:10-13

And even if we somehow thought we were clever enough or wise enough …

There is not one thing anyone of us can do about any of what God does for us.

May God give us the courage and the wisdom through the Holy Spirit to seize the moment to speak clearly and appropriately and deliberately, intentionally, about our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who is life and gives life and salvation.

Let God guide us as we make better use of those small windows of opportunity.

In the name of God, the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit,

Let us Pray,

Lord God my Father, Creator and Author of my life, Giver of all Wisdom, I need You. Lord, I feel held back by my timidity and fear of what others think of me. In times when I should speak up, I remain silent. And because of this, I feel like I let You down. Help me to show sure confidence in You and to be bold in saying what needs to be said. I ask I be granted the courage to not let others talk over me. Please ease my fears that others will dislike me because of my words. Give me the wisdom to speak truthfully and sensitively. You are my #1 source of boldness and strength. Amen.

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Being Strong in the Faith-Wrestling with Almighty God. 2 Timothy 2:1-7

2 Timothy 2:1-7Amplified Bible

Be Strong

2 So you, my son, be strong [constantly strengthened] and empowered in the grace that is [to be found only] in Christ Jesus. The things [the doctrine, the precepts, the admonitions, the sum of my ministry] which you have heard me teach [a]in the presence of many witnesses, entrust [as a treasure] to reliable and faithful men who will also be capable and qualified to teach others. Take with me your share of hardship [passing through the difficulties which you are called to endure], like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier in active service gets entangled in the [ordinary business] affairs of civilian life; [he avoids them] so that he may please the one who enlisted him to serve. And if anyone competes as an athlete [in competitive games], he is not crowned [with the wreath of victory] unless he competes according to the rules. The hard-working farmer [who labors to produce crops] ought to be the first to receive his share of the crops. Think over the things I am saying [grasp their application], for the Lord will grant you insight  and understanding in everything.

The Word of God for the Children of God. Gloria! In Excelsis Deo! Alleluia! Amen.

The hardcore truth and reality is we wrestle everyday with ourselves and others with complex, divisive, highly charged emotional issues in the Christian faith.

Somewhere on television or social media or the internet, we are all presented with matters of the faith which challenge our adherence to the precepts of God.

We wrestle with ourselves over whether or not what we are presented with is in the “will of God” according to what we read, how we interpret the Word of God.

“What does the Word of God for the Children of God say about (fill in the blank)

There is no denomination which does not wrestle and struggle with something which is near and dear and much beloved and much cherished and protected.

Denominations raise and denominations fall.

Churches raise and thrive or Churches wither away and cease being churches, all on how/what a particular group of “faith-filled” faithful Christians believe.

Matters of doctrine ….

Matters of dogma ….

Matters of understanding and administering the Sacraments ….

Matters of Theology ….

Matters of Scriptural Interpretation: Orthodox, Traditional, Centrist, Liberal, Progressive, Reformed ….

Matters of Ordination ….

Matters of Acculturation …..

Matters of Immigration ….

Matters of Caring for the Widow and the Orphan ….

And the list goes on ….

If it Matters to God then it should Matter to Man All the Time … Yes? … No?

All People Matter All of the Time > just some of the Time? > not at Anytime?

God Matters All of the Time > just some of the Time > not at Anytime at all?

The “sum total” of each of our life experiences leads us to our understanding of “believing or not believing or flat denial” of God the Father, Son, Holy Spirit.

It comes down to our obedience to God and adherence faith being “black and white” either all of one set standard of beliefs or the other – no compromise.

We wrestle with ourselves and our brothers and sisters in our Savior Jesus and the end result is basically and unfortunately what the Apostle Paul described:

1 Corinthians 1:10-13 (Amplified)

10 But I urge you, believers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in full agreement in what you say, and that there be no divisions or factions among you, but that you be perfectly united in your way of thinking and in your judgment [about matters of the faith]. 11 For I have been informed about you, my brothers and sisters, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are quarrels and factions among you. 12 Now I mean this, that each one of you says, “I am [a disciple] of Paul,” or “I am [a disciple] of Apollos,” or “I am [a disciple] of Cephas (Peter),” or “I am [a disciple] of Christ.” 13 Has Christ been divided [into different parts]? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized into the name of Paul? [Certainly not!]

We wrestle with ourselves, with our brothers and sisters in Christ to the point where our own pre-occupation and over zealousness for the coming wrestling match overshadows our pre-occupation and zealousness for the Lord our God.

Try and describe that indescribable and unnecessary infliction of suffering on those who are observing us – upon those who are on the very cusp of belief?

Try and describe that indescribable and unnecessary infliction of suffering on the accepted, perceived character, reputation of “the Christian” by the athiest.

By our zealousness for fighting each other and creating division – who is not coming to koinonia, relationship and connection with God, Jesus, the Spirit?

As the Apostle Paul tries to “hammer home” in 1 Corinthians 1:17 (Amplified)

17 For Christ did not send me [as an apostle] to baptize, but [commissioned and empowered me] to preach the good news [of salvation]—not with clever and eloquent speech [as an orator], so that the cross of Christ would not be [a]made ineffective [deprived of its saving power].

“SO THAT THE CROSS OF CHRIST WOULD NOT BE MADE INEFFECTIVE – DEPRIVED OF ITS SAVING POWER! by our harsh divisive squabbling …

Philippians 4:5-7 Amplified

Let your gentle spirit [your graciousness, unselfishness, mercy, tolerance, and patience] be known to all people. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious or worried about anything, but in everything [every circumstance and situation] by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, continue to make your [specific] requests known to God. And the peace of God [that peace which reassures the heart, that peace] which transcends all understanding, [that peace which] stands guard over your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus [is yours].

Pre-occupation, Zealousness for the fight which leads to insufferable division.

Pre-occupation, Zealousness for the fight which leads us to the Peace of Christ.

Wrestling with God ….

Wrestling with the Cross of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ ….

Having koinonia, connection, a relationship with God changes everything.

Many images and terms are used to describe the change that happens when we enter an intimate, vibrant and indescribably meaningful relationship with God.

“Salvation,” “adoption,” “redemption,” being “born again” and many other terms describe what miracles happen when the fullest measure of God’s grace enters our lives and transforms us, literally re-makes us his beloved children.

Not only are we called new creatures who now relate to God differently, but we begin koinonia, connecting, relating to other people and nature differently too.

What does wrestling with God mean?

Is wrestling with God “allowed,” or is that off-limits?

Should we wrestle with God?

Depending on your understanding of who God is, you might initially think that the answer to this question is “No.”

God is a lofty, powerful being you shouldn’t trifle with.

So, the idea of wrestling with him seems flippant, arrogant, and even disrespectful. It seems too much like playing with or disobeying God.

However, one of the ways God describes himself is

“The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6).

Another passage reminds us that

“The high and lofty one who lives in eternity, the Holy One, says this: “I live in the high and holy place with those whose spirits are contrite and humble. I restore the crushed spirit of the humble and revive the courage of those with repentant hearts.”” (Isaiah 57:15).

Isaiah 1:18-20

“Let Us Reason”

18 
“Come now, and let us reason together,”
Says the Lord.
[a]Though your sins are like scarlet,
They shall be as white as snow;
Though they are red like crimson,
They shall be like wool.
19 
“If you are willing and obedient,
You shall eat the best of the land;
20 
But if you refuse and rebel,
You shall be devoured by the sword.”
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

Isaiah 2:1-4

God’s Universal Reign

2 The word [from God] which Isaiah son of Amoz saw [in a vision] concerning [the nation of] Judah and [its capital city] Jerusalem.


Now it will come to pass that
In the last days
The mountain of the house of the Lord
Will be [firmly] established as the [a]highest of the mountains,
And will be exalted above the hills;
And all the nations will stream to it.


And many peoples shall come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
To the house (temple) of the God of Jacob;
That He may teach us His ways
And that we may walk in His paths.”
For the law will go out from Zion
And the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

And He will judge between the nations,
And will mediate [disputes] for many peoples;
And they will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not lift up the sword against nation,
And never again will they learn war.

God will judge between the nations ….

God will mediate disputes for many peoples ….

Then they will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks …..

Nation will not lift up the sword against nation,

And never again will they learn war.

Those Word of God for His Children are nearly three thousand years old.

Now, here we are in the Year of Our Lord and Savior – 2022 ….

Now, substitute the word ‘nation(s) with the word ‘denomination(s) …

And what, how, might that vision of the Kingdom of God manifest itself as?

God dwells with those who are humble and repentant, and if we are his children, that means us. In many other places, we are reminded that God is willing to meet us in our weakness, that he knows us through and through.

All this is in the Hebrew [Old] Testament!

The God of the Hebrew [Old] Testament is the same as the God and Father of Jesus in the New Testament. (Hebrews 13:8)

To help us understand God better, and what wrestling with God is all about,

we can take a long and well prayed and considered look at a few examples of people wrestling with God throughout the Bible, such as Abraham, Moses, Daniel, Jacob, Hannah, Paul, the unnamed Canaanite woman, the unnamed Samaritan woman, and Jesus with his Father in the garden of Gethsemane.

This wrestling took several forms.

Sometimes wrestling with God is about going back repeatedly in prayer over something that is confusing us that he has said or that is happening in our lives.

Sometimes, the wrestling looks a bit like negotiating with God, and at other times it looks like reminding God of his promises while asking him to act.

At other times wrestling with God is about struggling to come to terms with obedience, God’s will for our lives and seeking strength to go with God’s plan.

Abraham (Genesis 18:16-33)

When God was about to destroy the city of Sodom because its people were high-handed sexual sinners, Abraham “bargained” – pleaded with the Lord and entered what can best be described as negotiations for the lives of the others.

Abraham approached the Lord and said, “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it?… Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?”

God agreed to spare the city if fifty righteous people were found in it. Abraham then went on to lower that number, each time asking God not to be angry with him. The Lord wasn’t angry with him. “What if there are only forty-five?… what if there are only thirty?… what if there are only twenty?… let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?”

The Lord relented, saying that he would spare the city if only ten righteous people were found in it.

We know, as it turned out, Sodom didn’t have even ten righteous people in it, and so it was destroyed.

The key thing to note is that Abraham was bold with God, even going as far as to remind God of his righteous character, that surely he would do the right thing!

Jacob (Genesis 32:22-32)

Jacob, who was Abraham’s grandson, also wrestled with God.

This one was a little different because Jacob wrestled with God all night and God dislocated Jacob’s hip, which gave him a limp for the rest of his life.

This is one of those strange stories from the Bible that are a tad baffling.

Jacob wrestled with what he thought was a man but turned out to be God, and he received a blessing because he “would not let go until he had his blessing.”

This blessing was a confirmation of the steadfast promises and blessings God had given his grandfather before him. Why would God wrestle with any human being? Why would it even be anything like a wrestling contest lasting all night?

Jacob was a “deceitful” man who all his life had struggled with relating to family and to people – though God’s sure promises for his life were clear, he innately lied, conned, and manipulated situations and people to get his way.

His name Jacob means “deceiver,” and when he wrestled with God that night, he was facing his biggest challenge, and the situation was out of his hands –

he had just fled from his uncle who had for years repeatedly deceived him and was about to face his estranged brother Esau, who could very well take his life.

He was at his wit’s end, and powerless to control the situation.

He wrestled with God and was blessed, his name changed from “deceiver” to “Israel” which means “he struggles with God,” and from this encounter, he was changed – not only because of his limp but in how he related with people.

The Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:21-28) A woman who wasn’t part of Israel dared it all, came to Jesus asking him to help her demon-possessed daughter.

Jesus didn’t answer.

She could have felt great shame, hidden her face, gone away at once, but she dared to be persistent, even when Jesus’ disciples urged him to send her away.

When Jesus does answer her, he tells her that he was sent for the “lost sheep of Israel,” of whom she isn’t part.

Does she give up?

On the contrary, she dares to persist.

He then tells her “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

In saying this, Jesus isn’t calling her a dog, he’s pointing out that his ministry was primarily aimed at Israel.

But the woman dares to be persistent. She doesn’t take “no” for an answer.

She tells Jesus in no uncertain terms that even dogs get the crumbs that fall from their master’s table, meaning that even though she knows Jesus was sent to minister to the people of Israel, she too can still benefit from his ministry.

Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.”

That woman didn’t take Jesus’ responses at face value.

She courageously, for the benefit of her daughter, fought hard with and against herself, yet she persisted despite the many obstacles, and this is like what Jesus said to his disciples when he told them to be persistent in prayer (Luke 18:1-8).

Paul (2 Corinthians 12:1-10)

Lastly, we look to God’s Apostle to the Gentiles, Apostle Paul, who was given a “thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to persistently torment” him.

We don’t know for sure what the real nature of this thorn was, but we do know he was given this thorn to keep him from becoming overly conceited about the amazing spiritual experiences he had received throughout his many journey’s.

He asked God three times to remove that thorn, but the Lord told him “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

This is one of those situations, just as when Jesus wrestled with the Father if there was any other way to accomplish his task without having to go to the cross (Luke 22:39-46), where the wrestling naturally just happens through our circumstances, but we gain wisdom to accept God’s will and His way as best.

Sometimes, people in the Bible wrestle with God and God grants that for which they are praying.

Other times, we can wrestle with God and be transformed by the experience so that we gain wisdom to accept the answer that God has already given.

The Word of God appears to encourage wrestling with God because God is not far off from us, and we are called to be active participants in our lives of faith.

From Genesis to Revelation, people throughout the Bible wrestled with God over childlessness, their fears, anxieties, with many other life an death issues.

We wrestle with God in an effort to gain clarity about his purposes for our lives, to make requests known to him, and sometimes even as part of the process of confessing, acknowledging, and obediently accepting what God plans for us.

Psalm 127 (Amplified)

Prosperity Comes from the Lord.

A Song of [a]Ascents. Of Solomon.

127 Unless the Lord builds the house,
They labor in vain who build it;
Unless the Lord guards the city,
The watchman keeps awake in vain.

It is vain for you to rise early,
To retire late,
To eat the bread of anxious labors—
For He gives [blessings] to His beloved even in his sleep
.


Behold, children are a heritage and gift from the Lord,
The fruit of the womb a reward.

Like arrows in the hand of a warrior,
So are the children of one’s youth.

How blessed [happy and fortunate] is the man whose quiver is filled with them;
They will not be ashamed
When they speak with their enemies [in gatherings] at the [city] gate.

When and where two or three – they dare to gather, to speak (in the name of the Lord their God) with each man their enemies [in gatherings] at the [city] gate ….

Invited to wrestle God, knowing we can wrestle with God, being able to wrestle with God is part of what it truly means for us to be the children, friends of God.

In the name of God, the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit,

Let us Pray,

My Strong Father, You are the only author and sustainer of my soul. Lord, I thank You for the measure of strength that You give. You embolden me with courage and cause me to stand upright. I am so grateful for Your presence in my life. In all of life, may I turn to You for an increase in these qualities. Keep me from looking within myself or to sources other than You. I thank You in the name of the Son. Amen.

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Scratching my Head, I’m Reading the Bible, Pondering the Hard Questions: Is Christianity “Reasonable?” 1 Corinthians 1:17-31

1 Corinthians 1:17-31Amplified Bible

17 For Christ did not send me [as an apostle] to baptize, but [commissioned and empowered me] to preach the good news [of salvation]—not with clever and eloquent speech [as an orator], so that the cross of Christ would not be [a]made ineffective [deprived of its saving power].

The Wisdom of God

18 For the message of the cross is foolishness [absurd and illogical] to those who are perishing and spiritually dead [because they reject it], but to us who are being saved [by God’s grace] it is [the manifestation of] the power of God. 19 For it is written and forever remains written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise [the philosophy of the philosophers],
And the cleverness of the clever [who do not know Me] I will nullify.”

20 Where is the wise man (philosopher)? Where is the scribe (scholar)? Where is the debater (logician, orator) of this age? Has God not exposed the foolishness of this world’s wisdom? 21 For since the world through all its [earthly] wisdom failed to recognize God, God in His wisdom was well-pleased through the [b] foolishness of the message preached [regarding salvation] to save those who believe [in Christ and welcome Him as Savior]. 22 For Jews demand signs (attesting miracles), and Greeks pursue [worldly] wisdom and philosophy, 23  but we preach Christ crucified, [a message which is] to Jews a stumbling block [that provokes their opposition], and to Gentiles foolishness [just utter nonsense], 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks (Gentiles), Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 [This is] because the foolishness of God [is not foolishness at all and] is wiser than men [far beyond human comprehension], and the weakness of God is stronger than men [far beyond the limits of human effort].

26 Just look at your own calling, believers; not many [of you were considered] wise according to human standards, not many powerful or influential, not many of high and noble birth. 27 But God has selected [for His purpose] the foolish things of the world to shame the wise [revealing their ignorance], and God has selected [for His purpose] the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong [revealing their frailty]. 28 God has selected [for His purpose] the insignificant (base) things of the world, and the things that are despised and treated with contempt, [even] the things that are nothing, so that He might reduce to nothing the things that are, 29 so that no one may [be able to] boast in the presence of God. 30 But it is from Him that you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God [revealing His plan of salvation], and righteousness [making us acceptable to God], and sanctification [making us holy and setting us apart for God], and redemption [providing our ransom from the penalty for sin], 31 so then, as it is written [in Scripture], “He who boasts and glories, let him boast and glory in the Lord.”

The Word of God for the Children of God. Gloria! In Excelsis Deo! Alleluia! Amen.

Is the Christian faith a reasonable religion?

Some believers throughout church history have agreed with many nonbelievers in proclaiming that Christianity is not a reasonable religion.

Nevertheless, a powerful theological-philosophical consensus within the history of the faith has argued that the historic Christian religion involves knowledge and is indeed, remarkably compatible with logic and with reason.

This historic agreement has often been expressed in the common statement: “faith seeking understanding.”

Its most articulate and persuasive spokespersons through the centuries have been such distinguished Christian thinkers as Augustine and Thomas Aquinas.

The question of whether Christianity is reasonable all depends on what answer you are looking for. What answers does the world seek for itself and what is it about the answer the Cross gives which is better than what many folks want?

I once read about a dishonest manager who was desperately wanting to hire someone for his accounting department who thought like he did. He ended up with 3 applicants for the job and he proceeded to interview them the next day.

The first applicant came in and sat nervously at the desk and he and the manager engaged in some small talk.

But eventually, the manager asked the applicant this question:

“What does two plus two equal?”

The man was just a bit puzzled, scratched his head, got out his smartphone calculator, but eventually answered, “Well, that’s simple: the answer is four.”

The manager stood up from his chair, walked around his desk, thanked the man profusely for his time and then unceremoniously ushered him out of the office.

The next applicant came in and again the manager engaged him in a pleasant conversation.

But eventually he got around to asking this man the same question.

And the 2nd man responded,

“Well, there are several possibilities: two and two make four, but so does three and one — or two point five and one point five — they also make four. There are a probably number of ways to arrive at that approximate same answer.”

The manager thought that was a pretty good reply, got up from behind his desk, shook his hand, told him he might get back to him in the next several of days.

Finally, the 3rd applicant came in and again the manager some time talking about several subjects, but eventually the man was asked the same question as the others: “What does 2 plus 2 equal. The man seemed startled by the question.

He looked at the manager, cautiously looked around the room, got up out of his chair, went over and closed the door… then he came back and reached inside his shirt pocket, turned off his phone, leaned across the desk, said in a low voice,

“Tell me, what would you like the answer to be?”

He got the job and a hefty bonus in that very instant.

Easy questions for easy times and hard questions for hard times.

The hardest of questions for the very hardest of times,

The most impossible of questions for the most “Impossible” times ….

With those statements now lodged somewhere in your thought processes ….

Waxing philosophically I ask the question today –

“Is Christianity Reasonable?”

Is it logical?

Can you “hang your hat” on what our faith says?

And the answer to that question is this:

It all depends.

What ANSWER are you looking for?

“What would you like the answer to be?”

You see, if Christianity offers the answer you’re looking for… then it IS reasonable.

But Paul tells us in our biblical text today there are people out there who don’t like Christianity because it doesn’t offer the kind of answer they want to hear.

Paul wrote: “… we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” 1 Corinthians 1:23

The cross is a stumbling block to many.

It’s foolishness to a lot of folks.

In fact, there’s something about the message of the cross that make people uneasy, annoyed, upset… sometimes even downright nasty.

• There was the Roman historian Tacitus who called Christianity a “pernicious superstition”.

• Sigmund Freud believed that religion in general, and Christianity in particular, was a psychotic illness.

• And former Attorney General under Bill Clinton – Janet Reno – declared:

“A cultist is one who has a strong belief in the Bible and the Second Coming of Christ; who frequently attends Bible studies; who have a high level of financial giving to a notable Christian cause; who home schools their children; who has accumulated survival foods and has a strong belief in the Second Amendment; who distrusts big government. Any of these may qualify a person as a cultist….”

Morning, folks.

Welcome to your cult! (Smile)

Tacitus, Freud and Janet Reno are just a few of those who are offended by the message of the cross.

It makes them angry to think anyone would embrace what we believe.

And yet for those of us who understand what the cross means we KNOW that the cross of Jesus Christ is the answer because it is the very POWER OF GOD to those who are saved.

As Paul wrote:

“the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”1 Corinthians 1:18

The cross IS the right answer… IF it is the answer you are genuinely looking for.

But most of the world that is NOT the answer they are genuinely looking for.

Many people only want an answer that will give them control of their lives.

They want to be “in charge!”

The Bible offends them because it declares that our lives are to be controlled by God.

The cross declares that God bought you with a price – you are not your own. If you accept the answer of the cross you cede authority in your life over to Christ.

That answer doesn’t sit well with a lot of folks.

Many even reject belief in God because they don’t want someone else in control.

Or, if they do believe in God, they do not want a God Who demands change in their lives, they want a God who will automatically change FOR them… they want to say how their lives should be run, how big a box they can put God in.

That was one of the concerns for the Jews of Jesus’ day.

Paul wrote that the Jews of his day rejected the cross because “Jews demand miraculous signs.” 1 Corinthians 1:22

They demanded signs?

But didn’t Jesus do miraculous things during His ministry on earth?

Well, yes He did.

He healed the sick. Raised the dead. And fed 1000s with just 5 loaves and 2 fish.

And because He did the multitudes followed Him. Wherever He went people would crowd the hills and seashores where He would speak. Sometimes for hours on end.

Thousands followed Jesus.

(PAUSE)

That is… until He was crucified.

That is… until he was condemned as the ultimate criminal.

Who puts their whole faith, whole belief system behind a condemned criminal?

As long as Jesus was doing what THEY wanted Him to do… they’d follow Him.

Not really having any concept or vision of the genuine life giving power of God.

They they believed, he was a good man doing many great and miraculous things no one before him had ever done – and they each hungered for more and more.

But once He was arrested, condemned and crucified… they walked, ran, away.

The cross was not the answer they were looking for and some became afraid of.

A lot of people who’ve rejected Christ in their lives have done it for that reason.

God did not answer their prayer in the way and in the time they wanted, or they needed, something happened in their lives hurt them badly, they felt betrayed because God didn’t protect them from that pain. And they walked, ran, away.

As long as God did what they wanted done, they were willing to follow.

As long as someone was actually being, finally, giving and revealing genuine compassion – over a long span of time – fantastic! outstanding! Miraculous!

But then, suddenly it happened – something so completely, utterly unexpected, something so completely contrary to what they understood and seen about God.

The Miracle Worker ….

The only one who had loved them, had unconditional compassion on then, who had told them the Father in Heaven was absolutely on their side – was betrayed!

In the end, at the cross – no one came to help him or to release him or have true, genuine compassion and mercy upon him – including Father God – saved Him.

God did not “show up” to save this miraculous healer, compassionate friend.

Jesus had promised God would always be there to protect them from suffering.

But this was different.

He did not protect Jesus from great suffering and enormous hardship.

Therefore, He didn’t protect them from suffering and hardship either.

That wasn’t what they signed up for.

That wasn’t the God they wanted nor needed nor required.

Scriptures promised many things, that is what they were taught their whole lives, that is what their parents and grand parents raised them to all believe.

It was perfectly reasonable to them to steadfastly believe all of God’s promises.

It was reasonable to want a God who would protect and shield them from all of the very worst difficulties of life – at least that is what was written in Psalm 121.

But the cross defies that notion.

The cross speaks of death, and suffering, and pain, and loss.

It speaks of a world that is often without compassion, without mercy, severely unfair and unreasonably unjust and dangerous and lethal unto the maximum.

It speaks of a world where even God’s people are often required to endure the utmost levels of suffering and tragedy… hardship and pain – wishy washy God.

The cross declares that life is not so sacred as the scriptures repeatedly teach and won’t always turn out the way YOU want it to… or need it or require it to.

But that life will ultimately turn out the way a “wishy washy” GOD wants it to.

So, who among us would choose to trust an apparently untrustworthy God who was not even true to His very own words 100% of the time as the scripture says?

A tough question to ask and a tougher question to try and answer in such a way as to rebuild an apparently irreparably broken promise and convince others too.

To repair, rebuild, restore steadfast and immovable faith and trust and hope in God in a severely shortened, rapidly changing, unaccommodating span of time.

The Ultimate Answer: Jesus said to his disciples in an isolated Upper Room:

“… In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33b

The cross declares that this world WILL be hard. (You WILL have trouble).

BUT there’s something better on the other side. (I have overcome the world).

If you are looking for GOD’S answer… then that’s perfectly reasonable.

The cross of Christ tells us the absolute truth about life.

There WILL always be ultimate suffering. There will also be ultimate pain.

But if you are faithfully willing to wait on Him, Jesus will carry you through.

As Psalm 23 says: “Yea, though I walk through …” what was that?

(The valley of the shadow of death.)

The cross tells you the absolute truth about living in and through this reality.

And that’s because it is the ultimate answer the world needs to understand.

So, 1st – the world looks for an ultimate answer allowing them to be in control.

2ndly – the world looks for a reasonable answer that allows them to be either ultimately foolish or ultimately wise.

Paul wrote that “… Greeks look for wisdom” 1 Corinthians 1:22

They wanted to be able to understand the world on THEIR terms/ according to their wisdom.

The Greeks were into wisdom… their wisdom.

They were a culture known for their philosophers and sages.

But their philosophers were looking for wisdom based on their perceptions and their views of life.

When it came to God, if they couldn’t explain Him or understand Him on their terms they weren’t going to be happy. God had to fit in the box they had built for Him.

A college student once told a Christian professor: “For me to believe in God, I have to have a God which I can reasonably be expected to fully understand.”

The professor smiled and replied, “God refuses to be that small!”

God refuses to be small enough for us to fully understand Him on our terms.

In fact, we couldn’t understand Him in that way if we wanted to.

In Isaiah 55:8-9 God declared:

“… my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD.

“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

God doesn’t fit in anyone’s neat little jewelry box.

He’s not easily understood.

He’s different than we are.

He THINKS differently than we do… and He ACTS differently than we do.

And that’s why it is so important to read and study the Bible.

It tells us all we need to know about WHO God is and WHAT He’s like.

It tells us of a God we wouldn’t have guessed existed.

One of the major characteristics of God is found in the Cross.

Isaiah 59:15b-17 describes it this way:

“…The LORD looked and was displeased that there was no justice. He saw that there was no one, he was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so his own arm worked salvation for him, and his own righteousness sustained him. He put on righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on his head; he put on the garments of vengeance and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak.”

There was no one else to intercede on our behalf, so God clothed Himself with righteousness and came down to intervene on our behalf.

But the Greeks couldn’t understand that.

They couldn’t understand one single God who’d sacrifice Himself for them.

Back when I was in High School I loved to read the stories of the Greek (and later Roman gods).

They were intriguing stories of the multitude of deities the Greeks worshipped.

It was called the “Pantheon”.

But none of their gods were like the God of Scripture.

There was Zeus, Poseidon, Aphrodite – and numerous other gods and demi-gods.

But there stories described them as being egotistical, selfish, bickering, petty, vindictive, adulterous and heartless, occasionally also being compassionate.

And those were their good and bad and absolutely indifferent traits.

What’s baffling to me is that the Greeks actually worshipped these gods.

They made sacrifices to these petty, mean-spirited gods.

And you just KNOW they made these gods up out of whole-cloth.

These are all made up stories.

But why would the Greeks portray their gods as being so selfish and evil beings?

Well, perhaps because these were the kinds of lifestyles Greeks identified with.

These were the kinds of behaviors they could easily simplify and understand.

Because perhaps this was how the average Greek viewed life in the big city itself.

It’s how they lived their lives.

The Greeks could not understand a God who would sacrifice Himself for them, because they wouldn’t be willing to do that for others.

The Cross declared a God they could not understand in their own wisdom.

I’ve had several people in my life describe me as an “optimist”. An “idealist” who really doesn’t understand “reality”. And I can see where they get that.

Most people know when I’ve entered a building even before they see me… I’m whistling, or humming or singing a song. They are right! I am truly an optimist.

But that doesn’t mean I’m not a realist.

And do you know why?

Because I have a God who is real.

Not a god that I’ve cooked up in my imagination.

Not a god that is the result of my own personal wisdom.

My God is real.

My God stepped down out of heaven and took my place on the cross.

My God loved me so much that He gave His only begotten son that (since) I believe in Him I will not perish, but have everlasting life.

And if I have a God who is willing to do that… what else would He do for me?

My God isn’t based on “my wisdom” and my perception of life.

My God is based on reality.

And so is my attitude.

My God is absolutely ALIVE!

And will forever and ever remain so – even beyond the ends of eternity itself.

Yes, I’m an optimist.

But since I have a God who is real, and who really cares for me, that makes me a realist too.

So, 1st – the world looks for an answer that will give them control of their lives.

2ndly – the world looks for an answer that that allows them to be wise on their own terms

And 3rd – the world is looking for an answer that will give them strength… on their terms

1 Corinthians 1:25 says

“… the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.”

Many in this world want to be strong.

If they tell you a story about themselves they come across as the heroes of that story.

That’s what my father always did.

He’d tell me a multitude of stories about himself… each and every one had him be the hero.

It wasn’t until later that I heard someone else tell me a story about how dad’s best friend had beaten him badly in a short race up and down their street.

Dad didn’t tell that side of the story.

His stories had him being the hero.

And (for the most part) so does everyone elses’.

Folks don’t like to come across as being weak.

They don’t like being shown as having failed.

They don’t like hearing that they have messed up.

They know they have messed up – they just don’t like hearing it.

And so they tend to reject the message of the cross because it describes them as having sinned.

Singer Billy Joel, for example, was very offended by the message of the cross.

“.. I viewed the whole business as a lot of very enthralling hocus pocus. There’s a guy… nailed to a cross and dripping blood, and everyone’s blaming themselves for that man’s torment, but I said to myself, ‘Forget it. I had no hand in that evil. I have no original sin. There’s no blood of any sacred martyr on my hands. I pass on all of this.”

I guess perhaps Mr. Joel didn’t like the idea his personal sin put Jesus on the cross.

That would mean he was guilty of sin.

That he was weak. That he had failed

Perhaps, He didn’t, like a great number of people, simply want to hear that.

But the message the cross isn’t so much that Billy Joel killed Jesus by his sins.

The message of the cross is that Billy Joel deserved to die on the cross for HIS OWN sins… and Jesus simply offered to take his place.

Jesus came to die for those who had failed. For the weak and broken and the losers of life. And that’s why the message of the cross is so powerful for people like that.

Jesus didn’t come for the “healthy”, He came for the sick.

One person I personally know has observed to me that:

“Anybody with an active imagination could come up with a religion whereby those who allegedly “deserved” to get into heaven might just manage do so.”

“And anybody who takes a good hit from crack cocaine or LSD could do it also.”

However, the Word of God for the Children of God reveals that at the cross God promised those who DID NOT deserve heaven could receive it. (Romans 5:8-11)

All the other religions in the world are designed to assure the “righteous”, the “deserving,” by their own strength, goodness can ‘buy’ their way into a heaven.

But the Cross declares that not only does NO ONE deserve heaven… the only way you CAN get into paradise is by accepting the sacrifice of Christ.

You have to confess with your whole heart that you are weak and undeserving and absolutely need God’s help. (Romans 10:9-13)

The world views that as an insult to their reliance on strength.

The want power not weakness.

But the cross is all about power.

Not one ounce of ours, but every last possible, maximum measure of God’s.

1 Corinthians 1:18 says “the message of the cross… to us who are being saved.. is the power of God.”

The cross supplies all the power the world does not want to accept.

It supplies an answer the world can’t provide nor willingly, readily accept.

And we have got to understand that.

The Cross IS our answer to this world, because it is only through the Cross that lives can be changed.

That’s the power of God unto salvation.

And that is the answer the world needs to hear.

1 Kings 18:20-40Amplified Bible

God or Baal on Mount Carmel

20 So Ahab sent word to all the Israelites and assembled the [pagan] prophets together at Mount Carmel. 21 Elijah approached all the people and said, “How long will you [a]hesitate between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.” But the people [of Israel] did not answer him [so much as] a word. 22 Then Elijah said to the people, “I alone remain a prophet of the Lord, while Baal’s prophets are 450 men. 23 Now let them give us two oxen, and let them choose one ox for themselves and cut it in pieces, and lay it on the wood, but put no fire  under it. I will prepare the other ox and lay it on the wood, and I will not put a fire under it. 24 Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord; and the god who answers by fire, He is God.” And all the people answered, “It is well spoken.”

25 Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose one bull for yourselves and prepare it first, since there are many of you; and call on the name of your god, but put no fire under it.” 26 So they took the bull that was given to them and prepared it, and called on the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, “O Baal, hear and answer us.” But there was no voice and no one answered. And they leaped about the altar which they had made. 27 At noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry out with a loud voice, for he is a god; either he is occupied, or he is out [at the moment], or he is on a journey. Perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened!” 28 So they cried out with a loud voice [to get Baal’s attention] and cut themselves with swords and lances in accordance with their custom, until the blood flowed out on them. 29 As midday passed, they played the part of prophets and raved dramatically until the time for offering the evening sacrifice; but there was no voice, no one answered, and no one paid attention.

30 Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come near to me.” So all the people approached him. And he repaired and rebuilt the [old] altar of the Lord that had been torn down [by Jezebel]. 31 Then Elijah took twelve stones in accordance with the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord had come, saying, “Israel shall be your name.” 32 So with the stones Elijah built an altar in the name of the Lord. He made a trench around the altar large enough to hold b]two measures of seed. 33 Then he laid out the wood and cut the ox in pieces and laid it on the wood. 34 And he said, “Fill four pitchers with water and pour it on the burnt offering and the wood.” And he said, “Do it the second time.” And they did it the second time. And he said, “Do it the third time.” And they did it a third time. 35 The water flowed around the altar, and he also filled the trench with water.

Elijah’s Prayer

36 At the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, Elijah the prophet approached [the altar] and said, “O Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel (Jacob), let it be known today that You are God in Israel and that I am Your servant and that I have done all these things at Your word. 37 Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so that this people may know that You, O Lord, are God, and that You have turned their hearts back [to You].” 38 Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood, and even the stones and the dust; it also licked up the water in the trench. 39 When all the people saw it, they fell face downward; and they said, “The Lord, He is God! The Lord, He is God!” 40 Then Elijah said to them, “Seize the prophets of Baal; do not let one of them escape.” They seized them; and Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon, and [as God’s law required] killed them there.

Choosing between faith in the ‘gods’ of this world or the God of all Creation –

Was it reasonable for the priests of baal to keep ranting and raving, maiming themselves repeatedly over a long period of time waiting for their fire to come?

While completely contrary to all worldly expectations Elijah did everything reasonably possible to sabotage his own efforts – but God defied his reason?

Reasonable versus Unreasonable is only defined by God’s true righteousness.

What are the expected results of man’s efforts to control and contain ‘holy’ fire except to say they are severely flawed and only reasonably be expected to fail.

No lives are changed – but mutilated by ‘song and dance,’ pleading and praying to ‘gods and idols’ which do not and cannot ever exist and our adherence to sin.

The reasonableness of Christ and Christianity is in the forgiveness of all sins and the obviously changed lives it inevitably produces for all to witness too.

That’s the ANSWER of the Cross and the POWER of the cross .

Man’s attempts to seek to control their lives, man’s attempts to live by their own wisdom, man’s attempts to live on their own strength – they all utterly fail… because those are really never going to produce life changing answers.

Many of us reading these words are Christians.

Many more who might get around to reading these words are not and are in the categories of being hardcore pessimists, skeptics and agnostics and atheists.

We who have already accepted the answer of the cross in our lives know the changes which God has alone wrought in our lives through all circumstances.

But perhaps you know someone who doesn’t accept that.

Someone who is existing – living by answers that have convinced them to reject the cross outright and hardcore.

Maybe now is the most reasonable time to ask ourselves –

How good is it with God right now?

For those who are in that place of seeking, asking for something much more,

Maybe now is the most reasonable time – reasonably learned to ask these folks:

“How’s that “rejection” thing working out for you right now?”

“Do you sleep well at night? Or do you struggle with sleeplessness because of things you’ve done or said? Do you feel good about yourself? Do you believe that if you died tonight, you’d be able to stand up confidently, directly before God?”

As Christians we need to realize that the Cross IS the answer the world needs.

But do all these words of mine mean that if you are reading this and do not at this moment choose to believe in God, are expected to automatically believe?

The answer to that is an unequivocal NO!

It is not reasonable for me me to expect my words will instantly change how you feel about life and whether or not your life will get better with God in it.

My mere words, my alleged wisdom here, possess no such grandiose power.

What happens to your life after reading these words plus reading and digesting the Word of God for the Children of God – is solely, absolutely in God’s power!

I can only change myself through God’s Word and God’s Grace and Power ….

However, when God’s time comes, we get ‘warmed,’ we need to say with Paul:

“For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” 1 Corinthians 2:2

The wisdom if His Words, the wisdom waiting for us in the shadow of the cross gives everyone who dares to come, all the answers to all those struggles of life.

But first you and I have to willingly lay our lives down at the foot of the cross.

Perhaps now is the most reasonable time to ask this most reasonable question:

“How reasonable or unreasonable is it with our souls exactly right now?”

In the name of God, the Father and God God the Son and God the Holy Spirit,

Let us Pray,

Lord of wisdom, I sometimes finding understanding the Bible to be difficult. I know you want me to apply your word to my life. I thank you for giving me your word so I can grow in my relationship with you. Help me grasp what you want me to know as I read your revealed word. Open my eyes to see the wisdom and power of the cross, the wonderful truths waiting in the shadow of the cross, in your instructions there. Be my One teacher, so I can live and obey your word. Thank you for your wise advice. Amen.

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Five Ways to Improve Ourselves at Encouraging One Another, Building Each Other Up. 1 Thessalonians 5:11

1 Thessalonians 5:9-11Amplified Bible

For God has not destined us to [incur His] wrath [that is, He did not select us to condemn us], but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died [willingly] for us, so that whether we are awake (alive) or asleep (dead) [at Christ’s appearing], we will live together with Him [sharing eternal life]. 11 Therefore encourage and comfort one another and build up one another, just as you are doing.

The Word of God for the Children of God. Gloria! In Excelsis Deo! Alleluia! Amen.

I can remember the moments like they were yesterday ….

“Mom, I can’t do this!” I cried.

“Yes, you can my son.

I know it’s going to be hard for you but stick with it.

The payout will be worth the effort.”

It wasn’t the news I wanted to hear, but I followed her advice and didn’t quit.

At 12 years old, I was hired for my first job.

I was the newspaper boy for more than an entire street.

Every day after school, I had to come home, put my school stuff down, grab my over-sized newspaper bag from where it was hung up and go to the bottom of my yard and wait for the newspaper delivery guy to bring me my daily supply.

I then had to cut the wire which held them together, count them out to be sure I had them all, then load any addons into the middle of the days paper and finally load them into my delivery bag – then start walking, riding my bike to my route.

Every single day – rain storms or sunshine or snow or sleet or raging heat – the paper had to be delivered – politely, with a smile, on time, to the right house.

There were more days than I could count where my protest was the rage of the house – it literally woke people up early in the morning from their sound sleep.

How many of those bad weather days, especially on Sundays when the paper was the heaviest with all of its additional sections and all its advertisements.

Many was the day when I feigned sickness to try and get out of it for one day.

Despite my array and diversity of protests, my mom refused to let me quit.

She encouraged me to press on and to push through and keep working hard.

At the end of it all six years later, I learned a whole lot about getting the job done – no matter what the day or evening or weather brought – perseverance!

Those days when I had to balance my job and my schoolwork helped form me into who I am today and taught me a very valuable lesson about perseverance and payout as my own savings account grew to quite the tidy sum afterwards.

The catalyst?

My mother’s daily encouragement.

Sometimes, my mother’s several times a day, daily encouragement.

God rest my Mother’s soul ….

Throughout Scripture, God’s word heavily encourages us to not be discouraged, inspires us continuously to not grow weary, and to not stop meeting together.

From Genesis through Revelation, we are instructed to encourage one another. 

Jesus told his followers, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Scripture clearly tells us that believers will endure hardship, but Jesus and the Biblical writers also gives an encouragement that we can overcome the world.

Without encouragement, we lose hope in the midst of troubles and afflictions.

Life can be difficult, full of persecution and hatred.  

At times, recognizing that there is meaning in the seemingly inconsequential things we do seems next to impossible.

We may want to give up.

Yet, He who is faithful calls us to be faithful and gives us the power to do so.

1 Thessalonians 5:11Amplified Bible

11 Therefore encourage and comfort one another and build up one another, just as you are doing.

Christian encouragement is a command, but one we find awkward to employ in everyday life.

It does not have to be uncomfortable, though.

Like any other skill, we get better at it with practice.

But – we do have to practice it – at every available opportunity.

With that in mind,

here are five suggestions to help you grow in your ability to encourage others.

1. Turn to the Word of Go for the Children of God

Not everyone is naturally comfortable crafting the perfect words for a given situation.

In practicing encouragement, I have found that the fewer words I use of my own, the better.

This realization has relieved me to encourage all the more, and with greater truthfulness.

I don’t need to fumble around my words to encourage; I need God’s Word.

Let the Scriptures be your starting point for encouraging others.

Share with fellow believers where you see the Spirit working in and through them.

Point out the fruit of the Spirit you see growing in them (Galatians 5:22-23).

Regularly affirm them in their spiritual gifting and the faithful use of those gifts (1 Corinthians 12; Romans 12).

Our celebrating of someone’s effort at bearing spiritual fruit and gifting is an excellent place to start on the path towards true Christian encouragement.

2. Be Specific

Our encouragement is most meaningful when we take enough interest in others and are specific with our encouragement.

Be observant of those in your believing community.

Who is quick to volunteer and serve others?

Who models self-control in their words and actions?

Who exhibits patience with those who talk perhaps more than they should?

Who exhibits perseverance in those situations and tasks which require long term commitment and planning and rigorously careful attention to detail.

Based on what you observe, offer concrete examples of how you have seen this person live out their faith.

It’s deeply encouraging for someone to hear someone speak these words to you,

“I needed to tell you I saw God’s grace at work when you did this or said that.”

Specific examples in specific situations bless the hearer and show that you have taken genuine interest in them.

The person’s age is not a deciding factor here – everyone needs to hear those words which inspire them on to better and greater things – like self-esteem!

3. Be Intentional

Give thought to who could use encouragement.

When I was Pastoring my small church, I and my ministry team deliberately set aside some time during some of our team meetings to encourage one another.

We choose an individual in advance to focus on for each meeting, then took intentional time to tell them specifically how we saw them being used by God.

Their smiles were deeply gratifying to see, their expressions of gratitude -were invariably warming to my Pastor’s heart and to the small group of attendees.

It deepened us as individuals and fostered a necessary bond as a community.

Whether we work for a church or not, we are all doing the work of ministry, and because it is difficult work, we all need encouragement.

The best way to be intentional is to think ahead and praise someone based on where you see faithfulness and fruit of the Spirit in a brother or sister.

That is intentionality in encouragement, and it draws us away from the depths.

4. Be Selfless

Have you ever held back from encouraging someone because you were afraid you might feed their pride?

Have you ever withheld encouragement because you viewed someone as a rival in your work environment or your circle of friends?

We all have, but Christian encouragement and flattery sit at opposite ends of the spectrum.

Don’t let fear of being seen as a flatterer cause you to curtail your genuine words of encouragement.

Don’t let your own hiccups and hang-ups inhibit your praise of others.

The one who encourages practices selflessness, taking the words of Proverbs 12:18 to heart: “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”

We have a choice to be selfish or selfless in our encouragement.

We can either harm by the selfishness of our silence or diminished praise, or we can heal by the selflessness of our fruitful words driven by the Holy Scriptures.

5. Be Bold and Courageous

Please do not just encourage for godly things already done but encourage also the pursuit of godly things not being done, as well.

We often need godly courage in order to give someone else godly courage.

Remember the Prophet Nathan as he dared enter into David’s throne room to confront him about his adulterous actions with Bathsheba, his criminal actions with Uriah, the Hittite – Bathsheba’s husband – conspiring to get him killed?

If a friend is in grievous sin – gambling, pornography, adultery, cheating, drugs and alcohol to abuse and even participation in criminal activities, find words to encourage them toward desiring Christlikeness, instead of high-risk behaviors.

If a friend is engaging in gossip, find words to encourage them toward Christ-honoring speech.

Be a gracious friend rather than a legalist focusing on ‘necessary’ outcomes.

The more you can try to identify with your friend’s battle, the more loving your encouragement will be – the even more likely you friend finds God (Psalm 51).

Use Christian boldness and courage to confront sin with kindness, gentleness.

I believe encouragement should take its place alongside any list of spiritual disciplines.

I have personally found few exercises to be more challenging and affirming to my walk with Christ and to my ability to befriend my own brothers and sisters.

When we encourage someone, we have the opportunity to speak healing truth into their life.

We do this by grace through a heart changed by Christ and words drawn from Scripture.

In this Christlike way, may we strive to excel in edifying, building up the church in God’s Neighborhood – bringing people together in God (1 Corinthians 14:12).

In the early church, a man named Joseph was given the nickname, Barnabas.

This name literally means, son of encouragement.

Through this man’s steadfast encouragement, the zealous Saul who became the apostle Paul was gradually accepted by the church in Jerusalem and through the encouragement of Barnabas, Mark was given his second chance after a failure.

Who doesn’t need a second chance?

Encouragement gives hope when we want to give up and burnout.

Encouragement allows us to not be overwhelmed by the pains of life.

Encouragement is necessary in our walk of faith.

Encouragement makes it easier for believers to love as Jesus loves.

Encouragement makes it easier to put others before ourselves.

Encouragement breeds patience and kindness and perseverance.

So, encourage one another, spur one another on toward love and good deeds, remind one other of the truth of God’s love.

Encouragement allows us to more fully experience God’s life more abundantly.

In the name of God, the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit,

Let us Affirm …

We believe and know

that Jesus is the Holy One of God.

We believe that he is the Christ,

the Son of  God,

who was to come into the world.

We believe that he is in the Father

and the Father is in him.

We believe that Jesus is the Christ,

the Son of God,

and that by believing

we have life in his name.  Amen.

In the name of God, the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit,

Let us Pray,

We give you all thanks and praise, O God,
for you have destined us for salvation
through our Lord Jesus Christ.

You created the earth
and entrusted it into our hands.
You called a people to be your own,
and when they were cruelly oppressed
you raised up your prophet, Deborah,
and spoke through her of the day of deliverance.

You have spoken to us through your Son, Jesus,
teaching us to look to you and trust in your kindness,
and to be faithful stewards of your gifts.
He was scorned and mocked
and died for us but was raised by you.
You have promised a day of judgment and deliverance,
when Christ will come
as unexpectedly as a thief in the night,
to reveal the children of light
and gather all who have been trustworthy
with what you have given
into his kingdom of joy.

Therefore, with our hearts lifted high,
we offer you thanks and praise at all times
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Gloria! In Excelsis Deo! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Amen.

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Embracing Forgiveness. Choosing only to Embrace the Grace, the Embrace of ABBA, our Father God. Matthew 6:14-15

Matthew 6:14-15Amplified Bible

14 For if you forgive [a]others their trespasses [their reckless and willful sins], your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others [nurturing your hurt and anger with the result that it interferes with your relationship with God], then your Father will not forgive your trespasses.

The Word of God for the Children of God. Gloria! In Excelsis Deo! Alleluia! Amen.

I believe most people have arrived at the conclusion that it is utterly impossible as human beings to avoid somehow and, in some way, offending others by our words, or lack of words and being offended by others, when we are still alive.

And, while we do not have the ability to control how others feel or act when they somehow feel offended by us, we do very much have free will over our own lives to decide how we will react or will not react when allegedly offended by others.

Our making the choice – Forgiving others wholeheartedly is the definite secret of a happy and prolonged relationship in all facets of life: in our family, in our work, at school, in Church, community, neighborhoods, mission and ministry.

It is definitely not easy to forgive others, but it’s what Jesus commands us to do.

Even if the other person is not really sorry, even if we are not very sorry about our actions, we still have to forgive sincerely in order to fulfil the will of God.

Matthew 6:14-15Easy-to-Read Version

14 Yes, if you forgive others for the wrongs they do to you, then your Father in heaven will also forgive your wrongs. 15 But if you don’t forgive others, then your Father in heaven will not forgive the wrongs you do.

Jesus’ teaching here at the end of the Lord’s Prayer might be confusing.

It almost sounds as if we have to earn God’s forgiveness by forgiving others.

So, we definitely need heavy dose of a different kind of thought process here.

Ephesians 4:30-32Amplified Bible

30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God [but seek to please Him], by whom you were sealed and marked [branded as God’s own] for the day of redemption [the final deliverance from the consequences of sin]. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor [perpetual animosity, resentment, strife, fault-finding] and slander be put away from you, along with every kind of malice [all spitefulness, verbal abuse, malevolence]. 32 Be kind and helpful to one another, tender-hearted [compassionate, understanding], forgiving one another [readily and freely], just as God in Christ also forgave [a]you.

I envision about any kitchen sponge that has not been used for a long time.

When you put it under the tap, at first the water runs right over the sponge.

But if you set that old sponge in a bucket of ­water for a few minutes, it will gradually and inevitably transform, will soften and becomes usable again.

Our own hearts and our souls and our spirits can be, can become like that too.

When we hold onto new resentments and old bitterness’s, nursing our anger, hugging old grudges close to our chests, hearts can become as hard as a rock, and God’s grace for us will be like water running over a rock – it won’t soak in.

At this point – someone needs to get on our case – come into our throne rooms and disrupt our lives, disrupt our dysfunctional patterns of behaving, thinking.

We are not hiding anything from God – but we are trying to – and this will most definitely get big time God’s attention – God will send someone – guaranteed!

That moment of confrontation will inevitably occur – someone will arrive and will get up inside our personal space – then we will have to make some serious choices – push that other person back out the door they entered or “get God!”

Reckon ourselves with our actions – then reckon, reason things out with God:

Psalm 51:1-12English Standard Version

Create in Me a Clean Heart, O God

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.

51 Have mercy on me,[a] O God,
    according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
    blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
    and cleanse me from my sin!

For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
    and blameless in your judgment.
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
    and in sin did my mother conceive me.
Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
    and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
    wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
    let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins,
    and blot out all my iniquities.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
    and renew a right[b] spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from your presence,
    and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and uphold me with a willing spirit.

But when we are “pried” open by our remembrance of God’s forgiveness of us, we are “exposed” to forgiving others, we become soft like a moistened sponge.

God, our Father’s boundless and bottomless grace soaks in and saturates the entirety of our hearts, and we become abundantly available to share his grace.

Just as a wet sponge moistens other things when it touches them, we can share grace, the blood of Christ helping to wipe others’ dirt away as we forgive others.

Dying to our accumulated resentment, anger, and bitterness softens our hearts to receive God’s all-encompassing amazing grace, to share it freely with others.

Psalm 103:11-13English Standard Version

11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
    so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
13 As a father shows compassion to his children,
    so, the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.

Why should any of this matter – of what relevance – of what significance to me?

The question of genuine forgiveness is one of eternal importance and relevance.

And why is it, you may ask, so crucial that Christians forgive?

For starters, Jesus’ statement in today’s text is quite a compelling reason, for “if you do not forgive others…neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

Suffice it to say then, we had better make sure we are forgiving “our debtors” (Matthew 6:12).

Here’s the bottom line: forgiveness is such a central element to Christianity that it is an indicator of salvation!

Not that we are saved by any works of our own, such as forgiving others, but that when we are reconciled to God through the lifeblood of our Savior Jesus Christ, our new life will be eternally marked by grace giving and forgiveness.

Remember, our unrighteousness was exchanged for Jesus’ righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21), our wrong for His 100% right, our injustice for His justice.

God meets our enfeebled efforts at rebellion and pride with His matchless grace in and through the person and work of our only Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Those to whom grace is extended should also extend grace, and those to whom forgiveness is extended should also extend forgiveness.

Forgive as you have been forgiven.

Not because it’s easy, but because it’s at the very exact core of who you are in Christ.

In the name of God, the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit,

Let us Pray,

Dear Lord, search my heart. Reveal to me any remaining burs of hurt where I have attempted to forgive apart from You. I pray You would cover these hurts in Your healing grace, and through Your strength, empower me to forgive others as wholly and completely and utterly as You first forgave me. In Savior Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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How Jesus Viewed Ministry Success: Focus on God’s Purposes. Luke 4.43

Luke 4:40-44Common English Bible

40 When the sun was setting, everyone brought to Jesus, relatives and acquaintances with all kinds of diseases. Placing his hands on each of them, he healed them. 41 Demons also came out of many people. They screamed, “You are God’s Son.” But he spoke harshly to them and wouldn’t allow them to speak because they recognized that he was the Christ. 42 When daybreak arrived, Jesus went to a deserted place. The crowds were looking for him. When they found him, they tried to keep him from leaving them. 43 But he said to them, “I must preach the good news of God’s kingdom in other cities too, for this is why I was sent.” 44 So he continued preaching in the Judean synagogues.

The Word of God for the Children of God. Gloria! In Excelsis Deo! Alleluia! Amen.

Ministry success is easily attributable to Jesus.

He captivated thousands because he taught “as one with authority” (Mark 1:22). He was utterly unique, like no one they had ever seen nor heard before.

Each Child of God is utterly unique, like no one else anyone has seen before. We all uniquely offer a unique diversity of God given gifts to God’s unique kingdom.

He made himself available to people when they needed a presence – (verse 40)

He did something incredible positive with His availability – healing – (verse 40)

He did something incredibly powerful with His availability – rebuking demons with an unheard-of authority (verse 41).

He was incredibly available and incredibly flexible, would preach to thousands, heal the sick, and spend time with the untouchables. At one point, his renown, authority was so great that people tried to make him king by force (John 6:15).

He took time for himself – to make himself available to His Father in Heaven. (Verse 42) How frequently do we honor our Father by honoring His Sabbath?

How often do we prioritize making ourselves available to God and his healing? Do we value “setting ourselves apart” and permitting God to Minister unto us?

Rabbi Jesus recognized that his ministry was ever changing according to the purposes set aside by His Father in Heaven and he needed to be flexible in his ministry – keeping his focus on the purposes of his Father God knowing when to move onto the diversity of needs, addressing the needs of people elsewhere (verses 43 and 44).

Rabbi Jesus could have stayed where he was and regularly had large crowds gather in his presence. But what did Jesus do with this “ministry success?”

Did he set up headquarters, hang up signs, pass out flyers, and increase seating capacity? Did he get hung up on denominational differences, and divisiveness?

Did he stay with the people begging him to remain and bask in their adoration?

Praise God! Absolutely not. That’s not how Jesus defined ministry success.

Real Ministry Success

Rabbi Jesus focused only on his God ordained purpose: to teach the truth. Jesus repeatedly says this in passages like John 18:37 and Mark 1:35–39, as well.

Jesus did not look to boasting of the crowds as proof of his success in ministry. He did not withhold his identity from people flocking to hear, see, touch him.

His sole focus? He did and said only what the Father led him to do (John 5:19).

For what purpose of His Father God was His Son, Rabbi Jesus led to do?

Preach the Gospel — Announce the Good News to all people.

Luke 4:14-19Common English Bible

Jesus announces good news to the poor

14 Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and news about him spread throughout the whole countryside. 15 He taught in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

16 Jesus went to Nazareth, where he had been raised. On the Sabbath he went to the synagogue as he normally did and stood up to read. 17 The synagogue assistant gave him the scroll from the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me to preach good news to the poor,
    to proclaim release to the prisoners
    and recovery of sight to the blind,
    to liberate the oppressed,
19     and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.[a]

For what other purposes did God send His Son?

Offer the people an everlasting connection to God.

Offer the people an everlasting relationship to God.

Offer the people an everlasting Koinonia – fellowship with God.

John 3:16-17English Standard Version

For God So Loved the World

16 “For God so loved the world, [a] that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

Luke 19:10English Standard Version

10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

John 10:14-18English Standard Version

14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So, there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”

A thought. It can be tempting to look at success in ministry as a numbers game.

Our logic?

The more people that come to our church or ministry, the more successful we are in the kingdom.

Except numbers never define success – God defines success by relationships.

Steadfast and Immovable, Faithful under all circumstances, Connections, Koinonia, Fellowship, Relationships with Him, His Son and the Holy Spirit.

God defines success in relationships by His Son’s understanding of Success:

Mark 10:42-45English Standard Version

42 And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great one’s exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, [a] 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave[b] of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

God’s Servant Leader Rabbi Jesus is a great example for what success looks like.

Jesus teaches us that success is not merely defined by popularity or crowds, but by our steadfast and faithful obedience to God and to his purposes for our lives.

Faithfulness is the key to ministry success.

But don’t misunderstand me. I don’t define faithfulness as merely plodding along, barely making a ripple for the Kingdom of God…

…not even close!

What’s the root word in faithfulness? Faith!

Jesus didn’t simply bumble along.

He had absolute faith in what the Father had called him to do.

So much faith that he bet his entire life on it.

To faithfully pursue God’s purpose means two things:

  1. To desire his will infinitely more than our own finite and temporary glory.
  2. To believe he will accomplish his mission in us and through us for His sake.

Are we faithfully Pursuing God’s Mission?

So, are we pursuing God’s mission for us?

So, are we aware of God’s purpose for us?

Our ministry and mission fields might be:

  • Our family, both biological and church families
  • Our workplace,
  • Our schools,
  • Our communities and neighborhoods,
  • Our vocational ministry – inside the church, missional outside the church,
  • Our volunteer work,
  • Or anywhere else God ordains us to be (Isaiah 6:8-11).

Define your mission field.

Refine your measurement of ministry success.

And above all, have a steadfast and immovable faith – God always accomplishes his will— God will always fulfill His purpose for me, and he will do so through you, too.

Psalm 138:8English Standard Version

The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me;
    your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever.
    Do not forsake the work of your hands.

Individually, how well do we, in our contemporary 2022 context, understand our God (not ourselves) fulfilling His singularly unique purpose for our lives?

Individually, how well do we, in our contemporary 2022 context, understand faithfulness to God’s fulfilling of our singularly unique purpose for our lives?

Individually, how well do we, in our contemporary 2022 context, understand faithful obedience to God’s fulfilling of our singularly unique purpose for us?

In the name of God, the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit,

Let us Pray,

Sovereign God, You have authored my life, have ordered each of my steps and opened this door to success in my life. With this new path comes a new uncertainty that tempts me to fear. Make me strong, Mighty God! Make me courageous, God of Heaven! In the face of new challenges, I will trust You. For from You comes Your Spirit which empowers me to be Your witness in all circumstances. In Jesus’ name. Gloria! In Excelsis Deo! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Amen.

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Blessed Assurance! God HAS got My Back! Will I trust God to “Be There?” Will I fall Backwards into His Hands? Isaiah 6:8-10.

Isaiah 6:8-10ESV

Isaiah’s Commission from the Lord

And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” And he said, “Go, and say to this people:

“‘Keep on hearing,[a] but do not understand;
keep on seeing,[b] but do not perceive.’
10 Make the heart of this people dull,[c]
    and their ears heavy,
    and blind their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
    and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
    and turn and be healed.”

The Word of God for the Children of God. Gloria! In Excelsis Deo! Alleluia! Amen.

It is that old familiar scene on any playground populated by young kids and their parents – the young child closes their eyes, turns their backs to their moms or dads and suddenly out of the blue they yell out: “Catch Me” as they lean out their arms as far and wide as they can and then free fall backwards.

Hopefully that young child hears their Mom’s or Dad’s voice: “Here I Am!”

And prayerfully, Mom or Dad is quick enough to catch their free-falling child.

We trust our parents to be there when we need them.

We need to not just hear of that trust but to actually feel that trust for ourselves.

We need to experience that trust then we can give that trust back to them.

Whether we fall forward or backwards, we need to know someone will catch us.

Not just catch us – some of the time (pranking us) but absolutely all the time.

So, here in our text from Isaiah chapter 6, God has just empowered Isaiah for a mission of who knows what kind of magnitude and God’s knows what purpose.

Without question, Isaiah utters these “famous first and last words” ….

“Here I am! Send me.”

These words are among the most famous of Old Testament texts.

Often, they are taught in a motivational light in an attempt to inspire people to completely leave behind whatever they were doing and to step up, to serve God.

Sadly, what is frequently left out is the mission that Isaiah was volunteering for.

But God did not try to hide His mission and message from Isaiah before he sent Isaiah back; he was straightforward.

However, behind and underneath all of that were these unwritten, but certainly implied questions and statements by God,

– “In this exact moment, I need to know how much you trust me, Isaiah?”

– “In this singular moment of your life, how far does your trust of me extend?”

– “Exactly right now, Isaiah, do you completely trust me with your whole life?”

– “Will you free-fall backwards into my arms when not having a good day?”

– “Will you always move forwards – even in those most very uncertain of days?”

– “Even when distrust of Me becomes your first desire, will you still go for Me?”

– “Even if it means Me getting behind you, subtly or not so subtly, pushing you forward against your will, into places we both know you would rather not go?”

“Think about these things, Isaiah. take what time you need. I will still be here!”

Now, ask yourself this question- How much time elapsed before Isaiah said:

“Here I am! Send me.” 

An hour? A day? “A week?”

An immediate response – no time lapse at all?

What can be implied by Isaiah’s apparent and immediate response?

Isaiah’s Immediate and Unconditional and Unquestioning Trust in the Lord?

The unsaid, immediately understood – “Yes! Lord! I know you have my Back?”

“Yes! Lord! I absolutely trust that You WILL have my Back 100% of the time?”

Do you somewhere believe maybe Isaiah had crossed fingers behind his back?

Or that his expression of ““Here I am! Send me.” was utterly unconditional?

If you had been the one called away by God in such a moment as Isaiah’s, would there be “every available finger crossed” behind your back – toes crossed too?

Immediate, Unquestioned and Unconditional Trust – given to God on the spot?

“Just like that?”

Is that exact, exacting magnitude of trust really somewhere in human nature?

Consider what we are not considering nor even aware of in that exact moment:

Sadly, what is frequently left out is the mission that Isaiah was volunteering for.

Blindly, Deafly, and Boldly, moving forward in some direction through the ages with a very specific mission known only but to God message to who knows who?

Are we really so prepared to be that trusting with what Isaiah was trusted with?

Isaiah was called to be an unpopular preacher with an unpopular message.

Despite the enormous risks – that Scripture never really specifically identifies?

For a God no one’s ever personally seen – Jesus will be born in about 800 years.

Isaiah 6:8English Standard Version

Isaiah’s Commission from the Lord

And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”

Just what indescribable magnitude of trust did Isaiah possess in those days?

Just what undeniable magnitude of trust did Isaiah just communicate to God?

Essentially, God instructed Isaiah:

“{consistently, continuously, constantly} Tell your countrymen,
Listen, but the words will go in one ear and out the other.
Look, but you’ll never realize what you’re looking at, never get it.
Your hearts are going to be hard, your ears shut, and your eyes blind.”

Isaiah 6:9-10 ESV

The commentator Matthew Henry wrote of this passage, “there are many who hear the sound of God’s word, but do not feel the power of it.”

There are a few hard lessons for us to be learned here.

For starters, God’s word does not only soften us, it also hardens us.

Those to whom Isaiah was called to speak God’s words to were going to be willfully obstinate and oppositional and therefore hard toward the truth.

Considering such a magnitude of obstinance and opposition, how easy or how hard was it for Isaiah to maintain his covenant promise of unconditional trust?

If this passage of Isaiah were transplanted into 2022, how easy or hard would it be for Isaiah (for us) to maintain his covenant promise of unconditional trust?

What do you think his conversion rate was then?

What do you think or believe his conversion rate would be in 2022?

By our standards today would we hold Isaiah up as a picture of ministerial success or nothing but his wasted time, effort and money and resources?

Or would we declare him irrelevant for the times we are living in and with a brush of our 2022 theology cast him aside as unloving and non-anointed?

What this encounter with God should teach us, is that first and foremost our success should be gauged by our actual unconditional trust and obedience.

Such a magnitude of unquestioning trust and obedience to God will most certainly produce fruit, but we may not always be able to see it right away.

Still, we must ever be unconditionally prepared to fall back into the trusting arms of our Savior Jesus Christ – knowing He WILL always be there to catch us.

Isaiah’s work and message may have seemed to him incessantly grim, and a burden which grew heavier and heavier, more and more impossible to bear.

Our work and message in 2022 are not that much different from Isaiah’s and undoubtedly bear the same magnitude of burden – still we bear it up for God.

Will we be there for each other as God is always there for us in Christ Jesus?

In the name of God, the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit,

Let us Pray,

Loving Heavenly Father, Author and Solemn Protector of my life. You have loved me with unconditional, immeasurable love. You are love. My life is wide open. I pray that I will be strengthened in my inner being – in my soul – with the love and trust that is wider than I can understand, deeper than I am able to imagine, and greater than I could ever know. As You encourage and embolden me, may I more fully know and trust the mystery of the Gospel as revealed in my life. In the love of Christ, I pray. Gloria! In Excelsis Deo! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Amen.

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Sometimes it Takes a Crisis to Know we Belong and are Connected to God.

John 15:4-5Amplified Bible

Remain in Me, and I [will remain] in you. Just as no branch can bear fruit by itself without remaining in the vine, neither can you [bear fruit, producing evidence of your faith] unless you remain in Me. 5 [a]I am the Vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in Me and I in him bears much fruit, for [otherwise] apart from Me [that is, cut off from vital union with Me] you can do nothing.

The Word of God for the Children of God. Gloria! In Excelsis Deo! Alleluia! Amen.

Do we BELONG anywhere or to anyone at any time in any one singular place?

Are we CONNECTED to anything or to any one which transcends ourselves?

Are we IN CONNECTION to anything or to anyone which transcends ourselves?

One of the most striking paradoxes of our current Internet, Broadband, WIFI, social media crazed culture today… is the crisis, believe it or not, of connection.

Never has our world experienced the level of connection that has become possible in just the last 10 years.

It’s become the world of social media globalization … an unlimited potential connection… What has emerged is the quite literal ability to be connected to anyone on the planet at any time …. and Time Zones do not seem to matter.

Yet never have people felt so disconnected….so alienated…so alone.

Sociologists and psychologists are describing the growing and deepening and darkening crisis of social alienation that is plaguing modern life.

Not just an issue of lacking popularity or social success…

Actress Winona Ryder Finds Fame Lonely

“When I was 18, I was driving around at two in the morning, completely crying and alone and scared. I drove by this magazine stand that had this Rolling Stone that I was on the cover of, and it said, ’Winona Ryder: The Luckiest Girl in the World.’ And there I was feeling more alone than I ever had.”

Citation: Winona Ryder, cited from Plugged In, Vol. 6, no. 4 (April 2001); submitted by Van Morris, Mount Washington, Kentucky.

There is a very simple premise to this journey…

The search for connection… is a search for the common.

• The very root of the word “community” is “common.”

Here lies the challenge –

The loss of some transcendent connection gives rise to a tendency to find identity through distinctions that prove destructive.

From niche marketing and clothing styles… to social cliques and gangs… to ethnic rivalries and nationalism…

we are so hungry to find ourselves…to belong … that our identify is often simply reduced to that of identifying with some sub-group over and against others.

And those connections prove not only destructive… but dissatisfying…. far too fragile to really provide the deep and long-lasting connection we all long for.

The desperate alternative is to try and simply diminish our differences… forge ahead with “out of thin air,” elusive ideas of common identity… communism, “new” and “untried” tendencies of ‘social tolerance’ and spiritual relativism.

Our Need – to discover the common in the midst of the unique… not a bland conformity… but unity amidst diversity without socio-cultural divisiveness.

The question of equality and inequality, checks and balances. Differences don’t divide when they are centered and secured in the commonalities that connect.

Everything everywhere comes across or is aggressively marketed to us as being “deliberately, catastrophically, maliciously” (politically) unbalanced, unequal.

What part of our daily existence is not being presented as the “ultimate crisis of inequality” requiring some manner of socio-economic, socio-political answer?

Is genuine “equality” even achievable?

Biblically – Absolutely Not! …. when the assessment, evaluation, planning and application and definition of “genuine equality” is left in the hands of mankind.

Everyone has their own personal vision of what “genuine equality” means and how it should be addressed in the grand scheme of things – whatever that word and phrase “grand scheme of things” implies, means to whoever is in charge.

And thus, our greatest crisis is …… which drives everyone it seems into a frenzy,

So, who is in charge?

From our Gospel Narrative, the man, Master Rabbi Jesus simplifies it for us ….

John 15:1-5 Amplified Bible

Jesus Is the Vine—Followers Are Branches

15 “[a]I am the true Vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that continues to bear fruit, He [repeatedly] prunes, so that it will bear more fruit [even richer and finer fruit]. You are already clean because of the word which I have given you [the teachings which I have discussed with you]. Remain in Me, and I [will remain] in you. Just as no branch can bear fruit by itself without remaining in the vine, neither can you [bear fruit, producing evidence of your faith] unless you remain in Me. 5 [b]I am the Vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in Me and I in him bears much fruit, for [otherwise] apart from Me [that is, cut off from vital union with Me] you can do nothing.

God Himself set the Eternal Record straight before mankind was even around.

Genesis 1:1-5Amplified Bible

The Creation

1 In the beginning God ([a]Elohim[b]created [by forming from nothing] the heavens and the earth. The earth was [c]formless and void or a waste and emptiness, and darkness was upon the face of the deep [primeval ocean that covered the unformed earth]. The Spirit of God was moving (hovering, brooding) over the face of the waters. And God said, [d] “Let there be light”; and there was light. God saw that the light was good (pleasing, useful) and [e]He affirmed and sustained it; and God separated the light [distinguishing it] from the darkness. And God called the light day, and the darkness He called night. And there was [f]evening and there was [g]morning, one day.

Crisis of any kind is tough.

Crisis of Leadership in a Crisis is …… never for the faint nor the weak at heart.

“Leadership Vacuum” crises are definitely considered tougher than most.

Who does one turn to for answers when there is no one “standing tall?”

In that Upper Room, the man, Master Rabbi Jesus, is preparing his disciples for the crisis which is about to befall them – His coming crucifixion and his Death.

The disciples must learn who will be in charge in the coming chaos – and it will not be them – after Jesus they must become secure in their connection in God.

He tells them clearly; the coming crisis is unavoidable -it must come for them to move on, it must come so the Holy Spirit should be sent to help them out.

The disciples have to be in a whirlwind of all different manners of thought.

Everything was going very well; life was good and abundant – but in a short span of hours, all that would suddenly come crashing down around them.

All things being equal in one moment, suddenly thrust into inequality.

Going back to the ways things were before Jesus and before his resurrection?

The reality of his resurrection they and nobody else had any concept of?

Why would God allow this?

What would become of all the promises of God, given to them by Jesus?

In the fog of a crisis, it can be hard to see anything good that God might be doing.

Whether your finances are at risk through a job loss, or you have a relationship that’s threatening to implode, or you’re experiencing some other devastating event, it’s heart-breaking to see your world turned upside down.

Eventually you wonder whether God might be punishing you for something.

But the fact is, we often seek to connect with God in our crises in ways that we wouldn’t ordinarily consider.

We are only one short moment from our worst crisis: One rumor of lay-offs or one unexplained result on a medical test or car accident can change everything.

Suddenly being thrust into crisis, suddenly life cannot about us anymore, it must become about something or someone infinitely greater than yourself.

A major crisis can persuade us to do anything, negotiate anything with God.

Except in the end, we must realistically ask ourselves: is that really so bad?

Obviously, reality is crisis and suffering are indescribably, undeniably painful.

But Master Rabbi Jesus’ point in John 15 is that the only way we can thrive in life is by surrendering, being naturally connected to him, like branches to a vine.

That means our lives will still be in a crisis, but they will be made far richer, by being connected to his grace in a crisis, than if we are drifting off on our own.

The point is not that crises aren’t bad; it’s that being connected to Jesus Christ is greater. Sometimes God uses the blinding fog of a crisis to help us find him.

Has he ever done that with you?

When the storms of a life in crisis are raging around you right now ……

Is He, perhaps right in this exact and exacting moment, revealing His Presence?

In the name of God, the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit,

Let us Pray,

Lord God, Author of my Salvation, I look to You right now. Your Word says that You are the door of the sheep. So, Father, we place our trust in You because You will open doors for us that are closed. I pray for Your divine guidance through these doors and thank You for opening them. With You, there is always a way, but alone we will remain stagnant. Thank You for being the eternal door, Gloria! Alleluia! Amen.

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Is Jesus Influencing, Making, Any Measure of Difference in our Life? Colossians 1:1 – 8

Colossians 1:1-8Amplified Bible

Thankfulness for Spiritual Attainments

Paul, an apostle (special messenger, personally chosen representative) of Christ Jesus (the Messiah, the Anointed) by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,

To the [a]saints and faithful [b]believers in Christ [who are] at Colossae: Grace to you and peace [inner calm and spiritual well-being] from God our Father.

We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, as we pray always for you, for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus [how you lean on Him with absolute confidence in His power, wisdom, and goodness], and of the [unselfish] [c]love which you have for all the saints (God’s people); because of the [confident] hope [of experiencing that] which is reserved and waiting for you in heaven. You previously heard of this hope in the message of truth, the gospel [regarding salvation] which has come to you. Indeed, just as in the whole world the gospel is constantly bearing fruit and spreading [by God’s power], just as it has been doing among you ever since the day you first heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth [becoming thoroughly and deeply acquainted with it]. You learned it from [our representative] Epaphras, our beloved fellow bond-servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf and he also has told us of your love [well-grounded and nurtured] in the [Holy] Spirit.

The Word of God for the Children of God. Gloria! In Excelsis Deo! Alleluia! Amen.

Today we are going to examine some important questions.

Is Jesus making a difference in your life?

Does Jesus have any degree or meaningful measure of influence over your life

The answer to this question is important because the answer to this question will tell us where we are at with Jesus and just how important He really is to us.

This devotional message is not intended to beat anyone down; it is meant to “stop our world from spinning off into the depths of “who knows where and why and when,” to challenge us to soar to greater heights with our great God.

How many times have we seen a person in athletics not reach their potential?

The NFL is getting ready to kick off its 2022 season.

Each of the teams started training camp with 90 players on their roster.

Now, before the season starts next Sunday, teams must get down to a roster of 53 players who “made the team by their efforts to meet “what it takes to win.”

That means that a whole lot of players of all experience levels will not be on the playing field – they “did not reach their potential, did not make the teams cut.”

How many times have we seen students of all ages go through their schooling and never reaching their potential?

It is a sad experience to read of the scandals of students just being “passed.”

Parents, Educators and Teachers and Coaches losing influence over that child’s life and witnessing then the growing and maturing influence of the “streets.”

Belonging to “families” becomes belonging to “drugs, guns and street gangs.”

It is a sad sight to see isn’t it.

People around them whisper about the waste of talent and potential they see.

• I believe the 21st century church is at a critical crossroads; this church is at a crossroads.

Individually, we must all decide how much we are going to let Jesus be our Lord, we all have to determine if we are going to totally give ourselves over to Him or are we just going to barely influence, scratch the surface, to be happy with that.

Corporately, we must all decide how much and IF and HOW and WHEN and WHY we are going to let Jesus be our only INFLUENCER our ONLY SAVIOR.

• Where we are at with Jesus is where the church will be at with Jesus.

Are we going to be “Christian?

Are we going to be a church that is absolutely sold-out on Jesus or are we going to be a church that is happy with scratching the surface of what GOD can do?

• I hope that as we delve into, through the book of Colossians, we will all learn something, some things that will help to challenge us to go deeper with Jesus.

Apostle Paul is writing this letter to a church that is struggling with some false teachings that were prevalent at the time.

This letter is written with three major purposes in mind;

these purposes are still absolutely valid today.

o To encourage the readers not to go back to their former way of life.

o To direct the people’s attention to Jesus and to get them to fully trust and worship Him and to fully recognize who He is.

o To emphasize the influence and virtue of Christ’s forgiveness and kindness.

Today we are going to look at four indicators that prayerfully will tell us if we are letting Jesus be our primary influencer, the primary difference in our lives.

Colossians 1:1-8New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition

Salutation

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,

To the saints and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ in Colossae:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father.[a]

Paul Thanks God for the Colossians

In our prayers for you we always thank God, the[b] Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. You have heard of this hope before in the word of the truth, the gospel that has come to you. Just as it is bearing fruit and growing in the whole world, so it has been bearing fruit among yourselves from the day you heard it and truly comprehended the grace of God. This you learned from Epaphras, our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on our[c] behalf, and he has made known to us your love in the Spirit.

I. IS JESUS THE CENTER OF YOUR FAITH?

I love the way this letter starts out.

It starts with the Apostle Paul in verse 2 saying that he is writing to the FAITHFUL brethren at Colossae.

Then he moves to telling the readers he is thankful for them and that he is praying for them always.

• Then he moves to what he is thankful for.

• He is thankful that he has heard of their faith in Jesus.

• When you think about it, this is an impressive statement.

The faith of the Church at Colossae is so great that it is known all around.

• Notice too that their faith is in Jesus; it is centered and based on Him.

• Their faith in Jesus made such an impact on the lives of those in the church that they gained a reputation for their faith.

• I wonder what people would say about the church as they walked around Colossae.

• I wonder what people say about the 21st century Christian Church when the subject comes up?

What are we known for?

If culture is the primary influencer, making the difference in our lives ….

• If Jesus is the primary influencer, making the difference in our lives,

will we then be known for our faith in our Master Rabbi, and Savior Jesus?

• The only way that our Master Rabbi Jesus, our Lord and Savior Jesus will be our influencer, the difference in our lives is if we have an undying faith in Him.

• I have seen too many people over the years play the church game.

We can get so caught up in things to the point that Jesus is not really the center of our faith.

For many the center of their faith is the status quo, it is their jobs, family or entertainment.

• Paul was not thankful for the church at Colossae because they had a really nice and diverse, inclusive, influential, politically correct and welcoming building.

He was not faithful because they sang a certain type of music or had a certain order of service, he was thankful for them in part because of their faith in Jesus!

• Faith means in part to trust.

Who do you trust?

Into whose hands do we really put your salvation?

Who do you turn to in times of trouble?

Who do you give the glory to when things go well?

• If Jesus is the center of your faith, your life will be different.

I hope that our church is known for our faith.

That will not ever happen unless two things happen.

First, our faith has to be evident in our lives and secondly, we need to be involved in the lives of other people so they can see our faith in action.

II. IS YOUR LOVE FOR THE BRETHREN EVIDENT?

The second thing Paul is thankful for is the love the church had for the brethren and for all the Saints (Christians)!

• Is Jesus making a difference in your life?

If He is, He will be the center of your faith.

The fact will manifest itself in how much love you have for your brothers and sisters in Christ.

• We have talked a lot about love in the past and we will continue to do it in the future.

This is an important issue.

IF you cannot love the most unlovely of us, then Jesus in not exerting any meaningful influence or making any measurable difference in your life.

• Jesus loved Judas?

He had plenty of reasons not to, but He did.

What is your excuse for NOT loving Judas?

• We cannot ask lost people to come in and love those we will not love.

If Jesus is influencing you, making a difference in your life, it will show by how you are able to love ALL of the brethren – WITHOUT EVEN ONE EXCEPTION!

1 John 2:9-11New American Standard Bible

The one who says that he is in the Light and yet hates his brother or sister is in the darkness until now. 10 The one who loves his brother and sister remains in the Light, and there is nothing in him to cause stumbling. 11 But the one who hates his brother or sister is in the darkness and walks in the darkness and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes.

We can say how much we love Jesus all we want, tell Him how sold out we are to Him all we want, but if we do not love one another, they are empty statements.

• If Jesus is making a difference on our life, we will love the brethren!

III DOES YOUR FAITH REST IN YOUR HOPE IN HEAVEN?

• In verse 5 we find out why and how the Christians at Colossae had such a great faith.

because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. You have heard of this hope before in the word of the truth, the gospel

• Their hope was focused on what was laid out for them in heaven.

• If Jesus is making a difference in your life, you will be able to realize there is a big picture.

You will not want to get even or take vengeance on every injustice done to you.

• Paul is thankful for their hope; faith and hope are always tied together.

Faith is based in hope.

• There has to be a pot of gold if you will at the end of the rainbow.

1 Peter 1:4-5GOD’S WORD Translation

We have been born into a new life which has an inheritance that cannot be destroyed or corrupted and can’t fade away. That inheritance is kept in heaven for you, since you are guarded by God’s power through faith for a salvation that is ready to be revealed at the end of time.

If we have no hope of heaven, then we will not be able to persevere when we need to.

The things of the world will look too attractive to pass up if our faith does not rest in hope.

One of the blessings of hope is it allows us to sacrifice the present on the altar of the future (Reverend Dr. John MacArthur Jr.)

• That runs contrary to human nature.

Young children, for example, have a difficult time waiting for something they want.

The world wants it and wants it now.

• The Christian has a different perspective.

He is willing to forsake the present glory, comfort, and satisfaction of this present world for the future glory that is his in Christ.

In contrast to the “buy now—pay later” attitude prevalent in the world, the Christian is willing to pay now and receive it later.

What makes Christians willing to make such sacrifices?

Hope, based on faith the future holds something far better than the present.

Romans 8:18-21GOD’S WORD Translation

God’s Spirit Helps Us

18 I consider our present sufferings insignificant compared to the glory that will soon be revealed to us. 19 All creation is eagerly waiting for God to reveal who his children are. 20 Creation was subjected to frustration but not by its own choice. The one who subjected it to frustration did so in the hope 21 that it would also be set free from slavery to decay in order to share the glorious freedom that the children of God will have.

If Jesus is influencing, is making a difference in our life, our hope in the future will truly allow us to sacrifice the present things for the future gain of heaven!

IV. IS GOD’S WORD PENETRATING YOUR LIFE?

because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. You have heard of this hope before in the word of the truth, the gospel

• Where did they get this hope, faith, and love?

Look at verse 5, they heard the word of truth, the gospel.

• They did not get their faith, hope, and love from the bottom of a cereal or Cracker Jack box; they believed it because they heard the word of God!

Romans 10:15-17New American Standard Bible

15 But how are they to preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who [a]bring good news of good things!”

16 However, they did not all heed the [b]good news; for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our report?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word [c]of Christ.

CONSTANTLY BEARING FRUIT

• Wherever the gospel seed is sown, fruit grows. If the gospel has penetrated your life, your life will be fruitful for God. The fruit production will never stop.

• I absolutely love strawberries!

Every summer, a farmer plants acres and acres of strawberry plants and every year I can remember from my youth I can remember the farmer said they would get so many strawberries off them throughout the season we would get sick.

• With the strawberry plant, there would come a season when it would quit producing fruit.

For the one who has had the gospel penetrate their life, they will produce fruit in every season of life!

• Paul says for those at Colossae, that the Word has been bearing fruit from the day they heard and understood the word!

• Maybe some are not producing fruit because they are do not understand the Gospel Word.

The more you read it, eat it, the more understandable it becomes!  

Psalm 34:8-10New American Standard Bible

Taste and see that the Lord is good;
How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!
Fear the Lord, you His saints;
For to those who fear Him there is no lack of anything.
10 The young lions do without and suffer hunger;
But they who seek the Lord will not lack any good thing.

CONSTANTLY INCREASING

• Not only will our lives produce fruit, but it will be in the increase all the time! As you grow and mature, you WILL produce more and more fruit for God!

• The spiritual growth of individuals will lead to new converts being won to Christ.

That was the easily observable pattern of the early church. (Acts 2:43-47)

Acts 9:31New American Standard Bible

31 So the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria [a]enjoyed peace, as it was being built up; and as it [b]continued in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it kept increasing.

You do not need some fancy program in order to grow; you need Jesus to make a difference in the lives of each one of us in the church!

• Part of the reason a church stops’ growing is because individuals within that church stop growing!

• If Jesus is making a difference in your life, the word of God will be penetrating your life and you will produce fruit for Him.

• Are you withering in the vine or are you feeding yourself with the Word daily?

V. ARE YOU AN EPAPHRAS?

because of the [confident] hope [of experiencing that] which is reserved and waiting for you in heaven. You previously heard of this hope in the message of truth, the gospel [regarding salvation] which has come to you. Indeed, just as in the whole world the gospel is constantly bearing fruit and spreading [by God’s power], just as it has been doing among you ever since the day you first heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth [becoming thoroughly and deeply acquainted with it]. You learned it from [our representative] Epaphras, our beloved fellow bond-servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf

We do not know a lot about Epaphras except for the couple of times Paul mentions him in the letter and once in Philemon.

• He is called a fellow bondservant who is a faithful bondservant.

He was most likely an evangelist.

• Notice in verse 7 we are told they learned the gospel from Epaphras! He was producing fruit. He was not going to leave it to someone else to teach people.

• You cannot teach what you do not know, and you cannot know what you do not study!

We are told in Colossians 4:12 that he was one who labored hard for Jesus.

• If you were mentioned in the Bible, what would Paul say about you?

• I hope we could all strive to be like Epaphras.

He was most likely nothing special; he was just willing to let God use Him!

• If Jesus is making a difference in your life, you will be a changed person!

Colossians 1:4-6Amplified Bible

for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus [how you lean on Him with absolute confidence in His power, wisdom, and goodness], and of the [unselfish] [a]love which you have for all the saints (God’s people); because of the [confident] hope [of experiencing that] which is reserved and waiting for you in heaven. You previously heard of this hope in the message of truth, the gospel [regarding salvation] which has come to you. Indeed, just as in the whole world the gospel is constantly bearing fruit and spreading [by God’s power], just as it has been doing among you ever since the day you first heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth [becoming thoroughly and deeply acquainted with it].

It’s wonderful when someone comes into the kingdom of God.

That person receives God’s gift of grace through faith in Jesus, and they begin a new life of walking with the Holy Spirit.

The new believer realizes that their old life of selfish pursuits offers nothing that will ever satisfy.

They have turned their back on the darkness and are enjoying the light of the world, Jesus.

Praise God for his love!

Paul is filled with thanks to hear that the people of Colossae have come to faith in Christ Jesus and are showing their love for all God’s people.

He even says, “We always thank God . . . when we pray for you . . .”

They have become wonderful examples of living by faith in Jesus.

They believe and trust, they love, and they hope in what God has already stored up in heaven for them.

Drawing all this together, we can say with Paul that the faith of the Colossian believers is rooted in Jesus Christ.

Friends, my prayer is you will have faith in Christ Jesus; my hope for you is that in Jesus’ name you are loving others, giving yourself up for them, and growing in hope in all that God has promised and is storing up for you in heaven.

Stay rooted in Christ,

Anticipating the immeasurable reality of God’s kingdom on earth as it most definitely and decisively is in heaven.

In the name of God, the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit,

Let us Pray,

Faithful Father, thank you that you have plans for your church that are for our good and your glory. The Bible says the church is your house, you dwell in the midst of your people. Let us be built on the firm foundation of Jesus Christ. Let us be built together in a way that honors you. May Christ dwell in our hearts through faith so that we, being rooted and grounded in love, may have the strength to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord, Savior. Amen.

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Covenant Obligation: To be Sharing our Faith Story Where Jesus Christ Is Not Known nor even Necessarily Desired. Romans 15:17-22

When I listen to the radio in my car, I often skip past music that I don’t like.

Some of it I simply don’t understand.

Some of it – based upon my age and upbringing, I would never call it “music.”

It spends far too much time glorifying a lifestyle which is fosters violence and counter cultural behaviors such as street gangs and illicit use of illegal drugs.

Yet even at my age, trying to understand the background of rap music or the anger of a Metallica song can give me helpful clues into the culture around me.

Paul learned how to take the cultural events and ideas of his day and connect them with the message of Jesus so that people of other faiths could understand.

If you have been a Christian for a long time and you are worshiping with others today, you can expect that the message you hear will be one you understand.

But is it a message that will also relate to guests who come for the first time?

In our churches are we speaking the language of the communities around us?

Many churches have become skilled at speaking the language of their culture.

They know that each Wednesday night or Sunday morning some people might show up who won’t understand all of their words, rituals, and ways of worship.

These churches try very hard to reach out, to be welcoming and also inclusive.

If you remember your first experience at being a first-time guest in a church or your own church, or you are a longtime believer, or whether you are a cradle to the grave member, remember that we do not need to understand everything.

We do not really need to know everything there is to know about everyone who is inside. We do not really need to know the denomination on the church sign.

We do not need to “google” the area churches for their consumer ratings.

We need to know if our experience in that Church will reveal God in Christ Jesus.

To know if our experience in that church only reveals the Gospel of our Culture.

There is no mystery in knowing and experiencing what influence culture has had on our church, on the message of Christ which “tickles our funny bones.”

There is always mystery in knowing what God has done, is doing, in the life of His church on a street corner, which is about tickling funny bones everywhere.

What we do understand, is the message of the Gospel of God truth though, is the language of welcome, acceptance, love, and grace but also of repentance.

We are covenanted by God with a holy and sacred obligation to preach the Gospel of God, the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, a sacred duty to share our faith, influence the culture around us, not the other way.

It opens us up to the message from the Word that God wants us to hear today.

Romans 15:17-22Amplified Bible

17 In Christ Jesus, then, I have found [legitimate] reason for boasting in things related [to my service] to God. 18 For I will not [even] presume to speak of anything except what Christ has done through me [as an instrument in His hands], resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles [to the gospel], by word and deed, 19 with the power of signs and wonders, [and all of it] in the power of the Spirit. So [starting] from Jerusalem and as far away as [a]Illyricum, I have fully preached the gospel [faithfully preaching the good news] of Christ [where it had not before been preached]. 20 Accordingly I set a goal to preach the gospel, not where Christ’s name was already known, so that I would not build on another man’s foundation; 21 but [instead I would act on this goal] as it is written [in Scripture],

“They who had no news of Him shall see,
And they who have not heard [of Him] shall understand.”

22 This [goal—my commitment to this principle] is the reason why I have often been prevented from coming to you [in Rome].

The Word of God for the Children of God. Gloria! In Excelsis Deo! Alleluia! Amen.

The problem with many worldly Christians, and perhaps some of you in this blog room, is that to you, your Christianity, your “Christiana-lity” is just such an incredibly intimate and personal thing; you do not ever desire to share it.

You have your ticket to heaven, you have your eternal fire insurance, and frankly, you don’t really care whether anybody else goes to heaven or not.

Sometimes Christians remind me of the lady who was taking a CPR and first aid course with me and several other healthcare professionals several years ago.

In the process of the class, the students were asked to give examples of how they had already been able to use their CPR or first aid training.

One day this young lady said, “I got to use my first aid training the other day. I heard a terrible crash in front of my house. A car had run into my yard, hit a tree, and the car doors had flown open, and there were some injured people on my front lawn. Because I had taken this first aid class, I immediately knew what to do. I sat down and took breaths, put my head between my knees, so I wouldn’t pass out.”

That’s the problem.

With our Christianity, we are like a bunch of people using first aid on ourselves.

When there are hurting people all around us, we are seen or acting like we need to take several deep breaths, then finding any quiet, non-descript place to be alone, tucking our heads between our knees to keep ourselves from fainting.

If your intent is not to faint in public at the slightest possibility of sharing the Gospel, if you’re content to hang on to the gospel and not share it with anybody else, you probably don’t share the zealous missionary heart of the Apostle Paul.

19 with the power of signs and wonders, [and all of it] in the power of the Spirit. So [starting] from Jerusalem and as far away as [a]Illyricum, I have fully preached the gospel [faithfully preaching the good news] of Christ [where it had not before been preached]. 20 Accordingly I set a goal to preach the gospel, not where Christ’s name was already known, so that I would not build on another man’s foundation; 21 but [instead I would act on this goal] as it is written [in Scripture],

“They who had no news of Him shall see,
And they who have not heard [of Him] shall understand.”
(Isaiah 52:15)

22 This [goal—my commitment to this principle] is the reason why I have often been prevented from coming to you [in Rome].

Did you notice the three locations there?

Jerusalem was the beginning point of the Christian church.

Then he said, “I preached the gospel all the way from Jerusalem to Illyricum.”

Now we would call that modern day Yugoslavia, all the way over to that part of Eastern Europe.

Then Paul says, “I’m probably going to come see you guys in Rome, but it’s only on my way to Spain.”

Had you looked at a map of the civilized world when Paul, in Corinth, wrote these words in about 56 or 57 A.D., you wouldn’t have found Spain on the map, because it was such an utter end-of-the-earth at that time.

In those days, they thought the earth was flat.

If you sailed much past Spain, you were going to drop off the end of the earth.

Paul says, “My heart’s desire is to go where Christ has never been preached, even if I have to go to the very ends of the earth.”

Fully Proclaiming the Gospel of Christ—Romans 15:17-19

“Therefore, I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God. I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done- by the power of signs and miracles, through the power of the Spirit. So, from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ.”

What a marvelous thing to be able to exclaim that everywhere you went you fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ without even one ounce of reservation.

What a great feeling to know that your life was given for the good news of Jesus, which has the power to save (Romans 1:16).

This was the theme and mission of Paul’s life.

He boldly taught Christ, faced all opposition to the message and ran the race set before him unto a glorious finish.

What is most amazing about this declaration is that Paul would not boast in anything except what the Lord Jesus accomplished through him.

His mission was to “go to the furthest reaches” to lead the Gentiles to Christ, he was the apostle set apart from his birth for this specific purpose (Romans 1:1).

Nowadays, that might be to go into an inner-city church for the first time to see and experience for yourself whether our prejudices and biases are reality based.

Everywhere, every culture where Paul went people came to the Lord because of the Living Word he taught, the demonstration of power that accompanied him.

The Holy Spirit verified by signs and wonders that he spoke on behalf of God.

Paul was the willing participant and the instrument God used to herald His amazing news to the world.

This is a critically important truth to understand; God confirms his Word by demonstration of power through the Holy Spirit.

Jesus established this truth throughout the gospels. When people cornered him asking if he was the Messiah,

he would answer them like this, I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me” (John 10:25).

He never answered them by his own testimony, because the works he did, did all of the testifying to exactly who he was (see John 5:36; John 10:38; Matthew 11:4; John 2:23; Matthew 13:17).

To answer them plainly would not have satisfied Jesus, because the works that Jesus did were the evidence and necessary credentials that he was indeed the Messiah promised and sent by God.

Every miracle, sign and wonder that Jesus preformed was a fulfillment of what the prophets had foretold about the promised Messiah.

They testify that he came on behalf of God.

Even in the Old Testament, the prophet of God demonstrated that he was God’s spokesperson by performing miracles. 

Consider Moses as an example; he told Pharaoh to let the children of Israel go and demonstrated his command with the plagues because of Pharaoh’s hardness of heart.

When Pharaoh finally let the Israelites go,

Moses parted the Red Sea,

he produced water from a rock, and

he led the Israelites through the desert following the pillar of fire and stood by while God fed them quail and manna for those many years.

This was the proof that Moses spoke on behalf of God alone, because the Lord alone verified His word by these signs and wonders.

Elijah the Prophet had similar experiences.

To prove that He was the prophet of the One and only true God, he challenged the prophets of Baal to a battle.

He drenched the alter in water and asked God to send fire down from heaven to consume the offering.

Immediately fire came down and burned up everything.

He also prayed that it would not rain, and it didn’t for over 3 years.

Then when he prayed again, the heavens opened up and poured down rain upon the earth.

This is the proof of the prophet, the words spoken were confirmed by miracles.

There are countless others who experienced the same verification; Joshua, Abraham, Elisha, Isaiah, Daniel, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Jonah, just to name a few.

This is a great reminder for today.

Paul experienced many people coming to the Lord by the gospel he preached and the work of the Holy Spirit present to confirm that the Word was true.

We too are ministers of the good news of Christ Jesus.

We should also expect confirmation by the Holy Spirit of the words we speak in preaching the good news of Christ. 

It is my hope at the end I will proudly boast of what has been accomplished by Jesus ALONE living through me.

I will always be ready to share the gospel with anyone who has an ear to hear, and I know that Holy Spirit will confirm the word spoken, because the gospel is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes (Romans 1:16).

Apostle Paul’s Ambition to Preach the Gospel Where Christ Was Not Known.

“It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation. Rather, as it is written: “Those who were not told about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand.” This is why I have often been hindered from coming to you” (Romans 15:20-22)

Paul’s desire to share the gospel with people who previously had no knowledge of it, fueled three missionary journeys across the known world at that time.

Everywhere Paul, companions went they faced fiery, fierce, violent persecution because of the good news message of Christ as well as overwhelming response to it.

Paul acted upon the principal of what was written in Isaiah, 

“For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand” (Isaiah 52:15).

His desire was to share Christ where this message was previously unknown so this foundation would not be built upon anything thing else but grace.

Paul’s revelation of grace was unmatched by anyone.

He received it by direct revelation from Jesus (Galatians 1:11-12).

He understood the finer points of the Law because of his background as a Pharisee and Jesus showed him how each one was fulfilled and accomplished by His life, death and resurrection on the cross.

Paul understood the complete gospel and the grace of God toward mankind in the person of Jesus Christ, so naturally his desire was to reveal this knowledge to the rest of the world.

It is interesting to think how Paul alone was the apostle to the Gentile nation.

The Jews had the twelve’s apostles specifically set apart to share the good news of Christ with them and show them how he was their promised Messiah.

But Paul was the only one sent for the Gentiles.

He not only wrote most of the New Testament, but the details and accounts of his life and missionary journeys where incredible.

This is because Paul was able to share the good news of Christ Jesus to those who had no preconceived notions about who the Messiah would be.

Most of the time, they didn’t even recognize that one had been promised, let alone identify their need for a Savior.

When he shared the gospel in these areas, Paul didn’t have to combat doctrines or fight against the teachings and traditions of men.

He didn’t have to overcome inflexible ideology and tear down philosophy in order to build on a new foundation of Christ.

What is awesome is that he went to areas that had never heard of Jesus and was able to share the good news on his revelation of grace.

In this sense, the good news was too good to pass up and multitudes believed in Jesus and learned about this amazing grace under the apostle to the Gentiles.

This is an amazing truth, when we open our hearts to the Living Word of God without bringing in traditions, doctrines and preconceived ideas of what it means to follow Christ then we will also get such an indescribably powerful revelation of grace by the Holy Spirit, that our entire lives will be affected.

Not only ours, but those around us will be impacted as well.

So many times, in too many ways, our ‘religion’ gets in the way of relationship.

Search the Gospels, Jesus never spoke well of religion.

He told the disciples: “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matthew 16:6)

He was speaking against the established system that was corrupt and enslaving the people by rules, regulations and traditions that were meaningless.

These teachings kept them from God and finding true reconciliation with him by faith.

This is why, like Paul, our faith should be built on a revelation of grace through Christ Jesus.

Grace is what combats our meaningless traditions so that our lives stem out of relationship with Christ instead of “our connectional obligation” to religion.

The grace and mercy of Jesus is the cornerstone that holds it all together.

It is a firm foundation that cannot be shaken or removed by persecution or opposition to this message.

I am so thankful for Paul’s revelation of grace and his desire to share this great news to everyone who had an ear to hear it.

I am so thankful he wrote this amazing book of Romans inspired by the Holy Spirit so that we can understand the grace that we were called into through Christ Jesus. And to share our faith and live this grace all the days of our lives.

In the name of God, the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit,

Let us Pray,

Mighty God, your Word is living and active. Help me to listen carefully to your voice as you give me wisdom and guide me through life. Your word is a lamp for my feet. When I don’t know where I am going, help me to look to you for understanding and follow the path that you show me. You are a light shining in the darkness. When I don’t know which way to turn, shine the light of your love into every corner of my life. Bring clarity to my thoughts. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

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