THE REASON FOR THANKSGIVING

(Ephesians 1:7-10 MSG) Because of the sacrifice of the Messiah, his blood poured out on the altar of the Cross, we’re a free people – free of penalties and punishments chalked up by all our misdeeds.  And not just barely free, either. Abundantly free!  He thought of everything, providing for everything we could possibly need, letting us in on the plans he took such delight in making.  He set it all out before us in Christ, a long-range plan in which everything would be brought together and summed up in him, everything in deepest heaven, everything on planet earth.

So here in America, we have a day set aside for thankfulness.  What a great idea!  Americans have much to be thankful for – such as our freedom.  This freedom has been bought and maintain at a great price. We are thankful for all those who have sacrificed for our country.  Yet there is an eternal freedom that has been afforded us by the sacrifice of just one.  This freedom is offered to all who live on the earth.

Our scripture from Ephesians begins with this statement, “Because of the sacrifice of the Messiah, his blood poured out on the altar of the Cross, we’re a free people…”  I don’t mean to trivialize the freedom we have in America, but I do want to emphasize the magnitude of what God has done.  All of mankind has been given the opportunity of being forgiven for their sins and to have eternal life. We in America and every other person on the earth can experience this freedom no matter what their circumstances.

Though I have many things that give me reason to be thankful, the foundation of my gratitude rest in Jesus Christ and him crucified.  All that I have and hold dear are because he redeemed me and gave me freedom from my sins. Jesus is my reason for being thankful.  I have a family and friends that I am privileged to enjoy here in this life, and I have the comfort in knowing they will be with me in eternity.  I am eternally thankful to my Heavenly Father and my Savior Jesus Christ.

THE SECOND DEATH

(Revelation 21:8) But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars – they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur.  This is the second death.

Last week I wrote about the future of the children of God.  God has planned wonderful things for his children.  Those who refuse God’s invitation to forgiveness and eternal life will not be so fortunate.  The scripture for this week points to the second death.

Thoughts of the second death lead to a jumble of concerns and visions.  It’s hard to imagine the horror that this will be.  I know people who are running down that wide road to destruction.  It makes me want to carry a sign that reads, “THE END IS NEAR – BEWARE OF THE SECOND DEATH”.  I don’t think a sign would be very affective.  I can hear people saying, “Did you see the nut on the street corner with the big sign?”  However, this scripture does add urgency to my prayer life.

  Sometimes I get lax in my prayer time, but reading this scripture has stirred me to a greater resolve.  I think that prayer is the most effective way to reach those who have not accepted the salvation God has provided through his son Jesus.  I want to always be ready to share my faith, but I know that my words would not reach the heart of the listener, unless the Father is drawing them.  Salvation is a miraculous act of God, so lifting up a person through prayer is the foundational beginning for reaching the unsaved. 

The children of God have such a wonderful future.  There is always room for new brothers and sisters to join us.  Let’s be diligent praying for our friends, family members, neighbors, and those God has put on our heart, so we can be servants in his plan of redemption. Remember, our God desires that none should perish (2 Peter 3:9).

HOPE

(Ephesians 1:18) I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people.

Where I live the summers are very hot.  Often we have weeks where the temperature is more than a hundred degrees every day, and it barely cools off over night.  Last week we had a break.  The day time highs were in the mid-nineties, and the overnight temperatures descended into the low sixties.  However, the heat is back.  The hundred plus days have returned.

Hope supports us through the summer months.  We know that cooler weather is coming.  It cooled down last year, so in hope we trust that the pattern will continue.  Meanwhile, we do our best to patiently deal with the heat.    

Isn’t life in Christ just like that?  We live in a world full of sin, and we personally deal with the sin within us.  Sometimes we have days full of love and peace.  Other times the battle is on, and we struggle through the hard times.  Yet we have great hope that the struggle will someday end, and we’ll be in the presence of the Lord forever.

Hope is the best way to navigate life.  Hope fills us with joy and gives us the strength to be patient in times of affliction.   Prayer keeps us in touch with our eternal Father so we can live our days anticipating our eternal future.  Our hope is in him who has promised us an eternal life basking in his love.  When we arrive at our final destination hope will no longer be necessary. It will have fulfilled its purpose.  Till then, hope will be there to encourage us along life’s path.

THE ENEMY WITHIN

(James 1:13-15) When tempted no one should say, “God is tempting me.”  For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full grown, gives birth to death.

Did you ever wonder why Jesus was so hard on the Pharisees?  They were the leaders of the Jewish faith.  They were the moral and righteous ones, yet Jesus called them hypocrites because they failed to recognize their hypocrisy.  So I ask myself, “Am I also a hypocrite?”  The answer is painfully, “yes!”  Every time I judge a fellow human, or place myself morally above them, I’m in danger of hypocrisy.  Since I’m a sinner like everyone else, I never have the moral high ground.  I’m as capable as the next guy of sin.  My greatest enemy therefore is my own sinful nature, the enemy within.

I’m amazed at how little impact Jesus’ words, “Love your neighbor, pray for them who spitefully use you, judge not less you be judged, take the plank out your own eye so you can then remove the speck from you neighbors eye, etc.”, have upon my daily actions.  Do I think that Jesus was only kidding when he said these things? Actually, I believe he was placing a mirror before my eyes, so I could see my failures and maintain a humble place in my walk with him.

Truth brings reality, and reality should bring humility, which in turn will put me in a right place with God.  Then the words of Jesus can guide me into righteousness; however, there will always be the enemy within working to cloud out the words of Jesus.  Every day I need the light of his words to disperse the clouds and keep me in that humble place.

THE MINISTRY OF RECONCILIATION

(2Corinthians 5:17-19) Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old is gone, the new is here!  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.  And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.

Last week I wrote about God’s amazing plan to bring us back to what he desired for us from the beginning.  He reconciled us through the sacrifice of his only begotten Son Jesus Christ.  Jesus took our sins upon him and paid the price that we were unable to pay.  So here we are a new creation before God.  He has given us the promise of eternal life – never to be separated from him again.  Can we share a WOW! 

What are we going to do to show our gratitude for this great gift?  We don’t have to do anything to earn this gift because it has already been given.  The Apostle Paul tells us what God wants us to do to show our gratitude.  He has given us the “Ministry of Reconciliation”.  He wants us to tell those we live among: “that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.” 

Yes, as you think about it, this message is not necessarily going to be received as the good news.  People don’t always believe it, and some simply want to go on sinning.  They are often offended by the message.  Jesus told us to be as wise as serpents, but be as gentle as doves since our ministry is not always effective by using the direct approach.  I have always tried to live in the joy and hope God has given me. I’ve worked to love people, care for them, and pray for them, while waiting for the time to come when their heart is opened to receive the message.  This is how I have approached the ministry of reconciliation, but we are all uniquely gifted by God to share the message in the way he has designed us. 

In loving gratitude, let’s continue to tell of the wonderful, miraculous gift God has given us.  Our sins have been forgiven, and we have eternal life with him available to us.  Thanks be to God that he has entrusted to us the ministry of reconciliation.

THE DEPTHS OF GOD’S LOVE FOR US

(John 3:16) For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

(Genesis 2:15-17) The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.  And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

(Romans 6:23) For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

(Galatians 4:4&5) But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.

In John 3:16 it is stated that God so loved the world.  We are part of the world he loves.  Since we are loved so much, he definitely doesn’t want us to perish.  In the verses from Genesis, we find the warning from God not to eat from the forbidden tree.  Adam ate from the forbidden tree and brought sin and death into our world.  As a result, we all have the sinful nature from our ancestor Adam; therefore, we are all under the sentence of death that Adam received.  This presented a dilemma for God.  He loves us all and wants us to be with him eternally.

God is just, so the sentence of death had to be carried out; but God, who is never surprised by events, saw this coming, and he made a plan to redeem us.  He sent his one and only son.  Jesus came to earth, took our sins upon himself, and paid for them with his death on the cross. He fulfilled the requirements of the law for us all.  Our death sentence was cancelled.  Justice was served, and God’s redemption plan was completed.

God loves us, and he demonstrated the depth of his love for us by sending his one and only Son to the cross.  Through this great and terrible sacrifice, redemption has been accomplished.  I believe that he is now eager for us to come to him.  God has given us opportunity for the eternal life that he always intended for us.

A DEPRAVED MIND

In my concern for our country, I would like to spark some Biblical insight about what is happening to America.  Last week I shared that countries will be judged for their wickedness.  Today I’d like to give some thoughts on what is wrong with our thinking.  Have you noticed that our leaders seem especially irrational in their thinking?

In Romans chapter one the Apostle Paul explains how rejecting God affected our thinking.  Romans 1:21, For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.

If you think there isn’t a God, you fit in well with the liberal thinking of our times.  However, America was founded with the idea that there is a God who is identified in the Bible.  There is certainly still enough evidence to this conjecture to be convincing.  No doubt there are many who would like to destroy this evidence, but let’s get back to our investigation of the problem with our thinking.

Romans 1:28-30, Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done.  They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity.  They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice.  They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents.

In God we find the source of wisdom.  We think we’re intelligent, but without God we falter in our use of knowledge.  Sin gets in the way of our ability to think rationally.  We need God!  He is our only hope!  Unless we repent and turn to God, we are doomed to continue in our futility and irrational sin driven thinking.

THE NATIONS WILL BE JUDGED

Is anyone concerned?  Is anyone fearful?  I’ve been reading in the Prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel.  They speak of Israel’s sin against God, and the pending doom that awaited them.  Jeremiah 9:3 states,

“They make ready their tongue like a bow, to shoot lies; it is not by truth that they triumph in the land.  They go from one sin to another; they do not acknowledge me,” declares the Lord.

We are not Israel, but we are a blessed nation.  Did the blessings come from our own hand, or did they come from God?  Can we escape the doom of Israel as we continue to reject God? Are we exempt?  Though it reads on our coins “In God we trust”, we as a nation do not.  We have gone our own way, and we refuse to acknowledge God.  When Israel strayed and turned its back on God, the surrounding nations, the descendants of Ishmael, harassed them.  I find it most interesting that the eyes of Ishmael’s descendants are now turned to the U.S.  We have now become the great evil.  Ishmael is against us.  Is it by accident that this has happened?

If indeed God does not exist, as many now declare, then we have nothing to worry about.  I believe God does exist, and he created us. We as a people belong to him.  I also believe that God has the right to and will judge nations.  Individuals are judged after death, but nations are judged here and now.  If this is true, the people of the U.S. should be concerned; we should be fearful.  I close with this warning from Hebrews 10:30-31,

For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.”  It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

THE DEVIL’S SCHEMES

I had eye surgery this week so this is a repost.  I’ve been aware that our sequestering is an opportunity for the Devil to turn us against each other.  Negative thoughts can be whispered in our ears to cause us to think badly about those we love.  This is a reminder I needed to hear.  I hope it helps you.

 

Ephesians 6:10-12

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.  Put on the full armor of God so you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

We have an enemy that we cannot see.  This enemy is of the spiritual world.  How do we defend ourselves?  The ensuing list from Ephesians 6 tells us with this armor analogy:

The belt of truth

The breastplate of righteous

Feet fitted with the readiness of the gospel of peace

The shield of faith (which extinguishes the flaming arrows of the evil one)

The helmet of salvation

The sword of the Spirit (which is the word of God)

These are to help us stand against the devil’s schemes.  Let’s take a look at how the devil works.

In Genesis chapter three we get our first look at the enemy’s methods.  He uses three devices.  One, question the truth, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”  Two, dispel the truth, “You will not surely die.”  Three, set a temptation, “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God knowing good and evil.”

Here’s an example of how it plays out today.  Everybody says that drugs are bad, but are they?  You surely won’t become addicted.  Look at all the fun your friends are having.  You don’t want to miss out.

Yes, the scheme is still the same, and we are just as vulnerable as Eve.  The way these lies are communicated is through suggestions, whispers in the ear, or through someone who has already bought the lie.  The devil is always scheming.  The plan is to steal, kill and destroy (See John 10:10). He and his helpers are constantly busy.  What lies and temptation is he setting before you?

GOD’S KIND OF LOVE

God’s love is other oriented. God’s love is self-denying.  I’m relying simply on what Jesus demonstrated on the cross to make these statements. Jesus thought about us. He put our need for salvation before his own needs.

God’s love is personal. As Jesus ministered with his disciples, he knew each one of them individually. They were intimately involved in Jesus’ mission.

Today we are recipients of God’s kind of love. He continues to look to us and our needs. He knows us personally and draws us into his family.

1Peter 1:17-21 MSG, Your life is a journey you must travel with a deep consciousness of God. It cost God plenty to get you out of that dead-end, empty-headed life you grew up in. He paid with Christ’s sacred blood, you know. He died like an unblemished, sacrificial lamb. And this was no after-thought. Even though it has only lately – at the end of the ages – become public knowledge, God always knew that he was going to do this for you. It’s because of this sacrificed Messiah, whom God then raised from the dead and glorified, that you trust God, that you know you have a future in God.