A NEW BEGINNING

The New Year is upon us. 2021 will be full of new opportunities to grow, to serve and to be a blessing to others. But, of course, it will also be full of new challenges that go right along with all the old ones we’ve been dealing with lately. There are tons of things that will not change as the new year begins. But I thank God for every event that takes place in life that reminds us of the ability we have to start over again. If you think about it, one of the greatest themes of Christianity is that one can have a fresh start, a clean slate and a new beginning. The very fact that our start as Christians is called a new birth should shout that message to us. Besides that Paul described our conversion as all things being made new in 2 Corinthians 5:17. The command in the Bible that has been called the hardest command ever given is also one that shouts you can start all over. That command is to repent of the sins in our lives. It is one of the most common commands ever given. Jesus even said, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

What is really involved in repenting of our sins anyway and why would anyone regard it as the hardest of all commands? The word literally means to change one’s mind. It typically carries with it the notion that one is changing their mind from a wrong way of doing things to a right way. It isn’t ever a flippant kind of thing in the Bible. It carries with it the idea that one is turning around and heading in a new direction. When Paul was preaching to the people in Athens in Acts 17 he told how people generally had gone in the way of idolatry and declared that the times of such ignorance God had once overlooked, “But now he commands all people, everywhere to repent because he has appointed a day in which he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”

Repentance always involves our taking responsibility for our own actions or inactions. Instead of following that normal course of looking at every mistake we have made and seeing who we can blame for it, repentance demands that I own my own failures and accept all the blame for them. Sin of every kind involves submitting our lives to Satan and his control. When I repent of my sins, I’m taking the responsibility and determining that I will change my loyalty from Sin and Satan, to God and following His will. Repentance should be a normal, regular part of our lives.

Think for a few minutes about habits, attitudes or actions that have become a part of your life in this last year that aren’t good for you, for your family and certainly not for your relationship with God. What a tremendous time to make a list of all such wrongs and then burn the list. Repent before God of each wrong, confessing it to the Father and asking for both forgiveness and assistance from God in helping you live a whole different life in this coming year.

After doing that, take some time to make a list of a few very important things you will do differently during 2021. Consider things like daily Bible Study, reading through the Bible this year, being in a Bible study group, pray regularly, and making a prayer calendar in which you ask a different person to be a prayer partner for every day on the calendar. Then either you call them or they call you on that day and pray with each other. Make worship a regular part of your life this new year. Gathering with God’s people to worship, praise God, and build each other up are extremely important parts of Christian living. We need each other to help us live as we should before God. Think of some ways you can serve others this year that hasn’t been true of you in the past year. It could be simple things like calling, visiting, writing cards, or emails. It could be to make a sincere commitment to witness for Jesus to someone every week this year. It isn’t hard to be a witness for Jesus. It simply involves speaking up for Him in daily life. Offer to pray for people in their struggles. Tell them what God is doing in your life. Invite people to worship with you. Or share some verse of the Bible that has touched your life.

If I could offer one powerful suggestion that has been a tremendous blessing in our life it is to have a family devotional time every day or if you can’t every day, try three days a week. But have a time that fits your family when you read from the Bible together, talk about what you see in the reading that affects your life for God and perhaps read from a devotional book or one online that you have found. Sing together in praise to God and pray together as a family. If every Christian family practiced this one thing it would make a huge difference in the future of the church of the Lord. It will ground our children in the faith and prepare them to be witnesses for Him in school or in their activities daily.

In a time when so many grow up to give up on their faith and go in a totally different direction, it is extremely important for every Christian and especially Christian families to bring up their children in the training and discipline of the Lord. When our children see and hear us study, pray, sing and worship God it helps them to build their personal faith and relationship with God. Let’s truly make 2021 one of the greatest years for God’s people ever.

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WISE MEN SEEK JESUS

It seems appropriate to think about the wise men who saw the star in the east and followed, to get to visit the baby Jesus in Bethlehem as described in Matthew 2 since tonight the human explanation for what they saw is to be replayed for the first time in 800 years. The planets of Mars and Jupiter are to line up in such a way tonight to create an amazing sight in the sky. it really doesn’t seem reasonable that this is what the wise men saw since the whole reading seems to indicate this sign in the sky was something that had lasted for an extended time and reappeared for them after they visited Herod with questions about the birth of the Messiah. But it is inherent in mankind to try to find a human explanation for every miraculous sign given in the Bible. I find it amazing that God had Matthew the Jewish writer to tell of the wise men from the east seeking out Jesus while Luke the Greek would be the one chosen to tell the story of the angels appearing to Jewish shepherds in the field to announce the birth of Jesus.

Both these stories shout the message from the very beginning of Jesus’ life on the earth that he was to be a Savior for all people. The shepherds in the field were considered lower class people among the Jews. If they had been picking how the storyline went they would certainly have chosen Pharisees or members of the Sanhedrin or maybe even one of the priests to be the ones God brought to see the baby Jesus. Obviously, the timing of the two stories is very different. The shepherds came while Jesus is still in the manger in the stable with his mother and Joseph. When the wise men came to visit they were in a home. The fact that Herod demanded all the baby boys 2 years old and younger to be put to death when he sought to destroy him may well indicate that Jesus was between one and two years old by the time they made their visit.

These wise men were students of the stars. They sought God through the signs of life that they observed in the sky. When they went to Herod seeking for the one born king of the Jews they said, “We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” Herod had to seek help from the chief priests and teachers of the law to find out where the Messiah was to be born. They told of the prophecy from Micah 5:1-4 that the Savior would be born in Bethlehem. When the wise men left Herod who had asked them to come back and tell him what they found, they headed toward Bethlehem. “The star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route” (Matthew 2:9-12).

What are the lessons that are important for us to learn from this familiar story? Why did God have Matthew to put this into his gospel account? First, it does shout the message that wise people pay attention to what is going on around them and certainly seeks the Savior of the world. Of all the things in life that people are searching for in our time, it is remarkable that so many fail to search for the one person who they most need to know If we can gain all the things of life and have the biggest house, the finest cars and have the largest salary, but still not know Jesus, our whole life will have been a horrible waste with a horrendous conclusion.

Second, wise people are willing to put themselves out to find Jesus and to worship Him. I don’t know how far they traveled following the star. But it took some effort to make the trip, to come to Jerusalem and seek out, Herod. It took time and effort to get to the child. But they gave the effort and found the baby that was born to be king.

Third, wise people are givers and not just receivers. They were looking for the one born to be king of Jews. But they brought gifts to give to the baby. They brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These gifts showed sacrifice, and effort to give and to worship the Lord of the Universe. How odd to bow before a baby and think of them as Savior, Lord, and King.

We can’t travel today following a star to see the baby, Jesus. But we seek him as our Lord and Savior, our king. We can bring gifts to him of ourselves and of what we have as an offering to Him. We can bow before Him at any time to offer ourselves as His fully committed servants. We can share with others what we have seen and learned about our Lord and Savior every day. We can remember Jesus lives and reigns today and loves us more than we can imagine.

May God bless you and your family this Christmas season.

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CONQUERING OUR FEARS

One of the most often commands from Jesus to his disciples was, “Don’t be afraid.” He challenged them after his resurrection to “Fear not little flock for it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Several of the times he challenged them about not being afraid he also tied it to a lack of faith. It seemed clear to Jesus that strong faith and fear didn’t go together. He also illustrated for us the problem that fear brings into life when he told the story of the master going on a journey and calling his servants to give them talents of gold for them to use while he was away. When he returned from the journey after a long time, he called the three servants to give an accounting of their work while he was away. The one who had been given five talents of gold came with the good news that he had traded and gained five more talents of gold. The one who had been given two talents of gold came and reported that he had gained two talents more of gold. To both of these the master said, “Well-done! you are a good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a few things, I will put you in charge of many. Enter into the joys of your Lord.” But the man who had been given one talent of gold, which was still a huge amount of money, came with his one talent. He laid it before the master and declared, “Here is the talent of gold that you gave me. I knew you that you are a hard man. You reap where you haven’t sown any seed and you gather where you have planted anything. So, I was afraid and took the money you gave me and hid it in the earth. Now here is what you gave me.” I’m not sure what the man expected when he returned. But the master’s response was likely much stronger than he expected. “You wicked and lazy servant. Since you knew me, you should have taken the money and put it into a bank at then I would have at least received my own money with interest on my return. Take the talent of gold from him and give it to the one who has the ten and cast him into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Fear often has horrible consequences for us. It leads to worry and stress over things that should have been laid at the feet of the Lord for him to take care of. It often closes our mouth to sharing the message of the gospel that is so desperately needed in the world. Fear causes us to fail to speak up for what is right and to simply allow those who are working for the devil to have their way and even do harm to others without our interfering at all. Perhaps that is the reason that in Revelation 21:8 in picturing the final judgment he said, “But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, and the idolaters and all liars – they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”

The thing that should mark us as God’s children in the world is the very opposite of living in fear. It is BOLDNESS. In Acts 4:28-30 the church gathered in Jerusalem after Peter and John had been arrested and brought before the Jewish Sanhedrin to testify about their healing of a man who had been cripple all his life by the name of Jesus Christ. When they were commanded not to preach or teach anymore in his name they stood strong and said,”We must obey God rather than men.” When they were released and went back to tell the church about what had happened, the church prayed to God about the whole affair. “They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your hold servant Jesus.” Persecution was just getting under way against the followers of Jesus. Notice they didn’t plead for protection or safety but for boldness to speak his word clearly.

Later, when Paul asked the church in Ephesus to pray for him in chapter six and verses 18-20 he marched down very similar ground. “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.”

It concerns me that it is rare today to hear anyone in public prayer pray about the preacher or the preaching of the word to others and even more rare to hear anyone pray for boldness on the part of those who do preach God’s word. We pray lots for the sick, the hurting and the people facing hard times. But boldness has dropped from our list. Safety has become the big thing. Even the plea for greater faith and trust in God in the times of stress has largely dropped out of sight.

What would it change in church, in daily life and in our world today, if faith, boldness and trust became big items at the top of our prayer lists? Would it change the hearts of those who preach and spend more time being concerned that they don’t hurt anyone’s feelings than whether or not the gospel is preached in its fullness? Would it change the teacher or the worker on the job who struggles with fear to ever speak up for God and to openly speak of one’s faith and commitment to Christ? Fear is killing our growth, our witness for Christ and our commitment to stand for what is right no matter who stands on the other side. “God please give us greater boldness as your people today and every day to follow.”

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FROM THE HEART

Do you ever get frustrated when you are trying to get through some point to a person, whether younger or older, who doesn’t understand an important point that you are trying to get them to understand? I often see it in the eyes of young people, or grandchildren when they are trying to explain something online or on the computer to a person who really has no grasp of the computer or how to use it. I get the feeling when reading through Romans 6 that Paul had some of those same feelings of frustration with the Christians in the first century. There were so many fundamental truths of Scripture that he had preached to them and tried to help them understand that, for some reason, just were not being grasped by many of those who heard or read his messages. Look at verses 15-18 and see if you don’t feel some of that frustration. “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey – whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and become slaves to righteousness.”

In my mind I see Paul as he sits down writing these words thinking to himself, “Why in the world is this so hard for them to get?” Yet, the whole point he makes is one that challenges us in our own time. It is pretty easy to hear a Christian excusing their wrong actions by saying, “We are under grace now, so it will be alright.” Any concept that leads to the thinking that grace simply covers over my sin and I can be right with God while living in ways that totally reject God’s authority, is deeply flawed. Paul’s words were, “By no means!” I imagine his face getting somewhat red as he declared, “Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves as obedient slaves to someone you are the slaves on the one you obey – whether sin that leads to death or obedience that leads to righteousness.” Rather than grace excusing my sin, it should motivate me to be more faithful and true to God. It should lead to a deeper commitment to be obedient to him. Our obedience to God leads to righteousness in our lives.

I suspect that some who read this passage in the first century and every century since have seen the concept of being slaves and that leads to obedience to God, as an invalid picture. Since we have freedom in Christ, how can we be slaves? But God does call us to such a deep commitment to him that we are ready to follow his lead and obey his commands in every part of our lives. But Paul’s continuing words on this point clarify something that can easily be missed. He thanks God that while they used to be slaves of sin that they have now become slaves of righteousness. But how does one make such a huge transition in life? It happens when we “Obey from the heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance.”

Obedience to God isn’t that kind of resentful, begrudging kind of obedience that submits in actions but in their heart they continue to fuss about it for a long time. Do you remember times when your parents demanded some action on your part and you obeyed but was angry about it for a long time? God calls us to obey from the heart. With Christmas season approaching, think of how it feels when you receive a gift from your marriage partner, that leaves the impression they bought it but hated every minute of it? The gift doesn’t mean much if it feels like the giver gave resentfully and hated doing so. It means a ton more, when the partner lovingly, gives with all their heart. Our obedience to God is to be such that it is obvious to the Lord that our whole heart is in the gift. It is that attitude that I will do exactly what God tells me to do, wishing I could do more or better.

Notice also it is obeying the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. I wonder if he was thinking of when a person out of faith and repentance, commits their life to God by being baptized into him. Being buried in the water and raised to a new life in him carries with it tons of symbolism. It is truly a pattern of the teaching that puts to death the old way of life and buries that person to raise up a new man to live a brand new kind of life in him. Earlier in verses 3-4 he made the point that when we are buried with Christ in baptism and are raised with him to live a whole new kind of life in him. It is an entering into the death and burial of Jesus along with him. It shouts the need for revival, New life and a new start in Christ.

When we go through this obedience to God it involves dedicating ourselves to the Lord. He has our allegiance. We are set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.

Far too often baptism is seen as just a step to be taken to get into the church or to demonstrate our faith. But it goes deeper than that. It is a heart moving the action to devote ourselves totally to Christ as his slaves. Righteousness becomes our goal all the time. Instead of looking for a way out or a way around some of the teaching God has given us, we are committed to following his will all the time in every situation. It isn’t reluctant slavery but one we volunteer for and we are committed to with all our being.

Many years ago a young man won the gold metal in pole-vaulting. After receiving the award he was asked how he jumped so high for the trophy. He answered, “I just throw my heart over the pole and the rest of me follows.” That is a great illustration of the commitment we make to Jesus our Lord.

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BEING EATEN ALIVE

One of the most vivid pictures I can imagine is of a person or pet being eaten alive by some wild animal. Just the imagination of the pain, suffering and terror of such a thing happening is mind boggling. But the real danger in life isn’t so much of being eaten alive physically as it is of being eaten alive mentally, emotionally and spiritually. It is easy to be eaten alive with fear, doubt, discouragement and depression. I’ve known plenty of people who were eaten alive with jealousy and others with such a sense of awe or devotion to some person or cause that they can’t see any negative in anything they have to do with.

I want to be eaten alive but with the right things. Remember a story that is told in the Gospel of John and near the end of the second chapter. Jesus was just beginning his ministry and he, his mother and the four disciples he had chosen so far all went to a wedding banquet in Cana in Galilee. Jesus performed his first miracle by turning water into wine. Then he and the disciples went up to Jerusalem for the Passover. While there they went into the temple and Jesus saw how they had turned the temple of God, the place of worship, into a market place. He was enraged by what he saw and made a whip and began driving out the animals, turning over the tables and scattering the money that was being given by the money changers. He shouted, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” Mark’s account of this event adds the statement you have turned what was intended to be a house of prayer for all nations into a market. Perhaps the point was made because they were taking the area designated for the women and Gentiles and used it as the place to sell the animals for sacrifices and to exchange their money for the coinage accepted in the Temple. It made it near impossible for the people of all the nations to come to pray in such an environment.

There are two huge things that rise out of what happened that day. One is the disciples response. They watched Jesus in action and remembered Psalms 69:9 that says, “Zeal for God’s house has eaten me up.” Jesus response was to say to the people, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” They of course thought he was talking about the physical temple they were in and so answered, “It has taken us 46 years to build this temple and you can tear it down and rebuild it in three days?” But he was really talking about the temple of his body and foretelling the fact that they would destroy his body on the cross and three days later he would be raised from the dead.

Focus with me on the statement made by the disciples. They recognized he was literally having the heart described in the Psalm, so that zeal for God’s house consumed him. He couldn’t stand the thought that these people would so desecrate the temple of God that they would take what was meant as a place for people of all nations to gather and pray and turn it into a place where it’s whole purpose was to make worship for the Jews easier. They didn’t have to go anywhere to get the animals or bring them from home. They could even exchange their money for the accepted coinage there. instead of thinking about how they might have a positive effect on the nations around them if they came together to pray in this place, it was totally about making it all convenient and easy for the Jews who gathered to worship God.

What they were doing set Jesus on fire. He gave no thought to what was proper or how others would perceive him. He just knew he had to act. Can you imagine how people would react where you go to church if we had such a moment in our churches? Imagine Jesus visiting our church and seeing the people gathering around the coffee station and visiting lots with each other while ignoring those whom they don’t know who are there because they feel the need to learn about God and how He might help them in life. Imagine Jesus grabbing the Starbucks pot and throwing it to the floor and shouting at the people this is supposed to be a place of prayer and worship for all people and you’ve turned it into a fellowship hall for fellow Christians. How would the people react? How would you react?

But the bigger question is, what is it in life that consumes you? What is so important to you that zeal for it eats you up? It is easy in life to become so neutralized to everything in the world that nothing really moves us very much. We may have watched so many commercials where people are eaten up with their political ideas and dreams that we think, “I’ll never get that hot and bothered about anything.” We become so cool and calm that we can’t really remember the last time when we really got upset about something. There ought to be things, situations, and challenges in life that so move and upset us that we must act. For Jesus, it was his devotion to God and to His house. Surely, we ought to have a passion for his church and his worship and work in this world to the degree that we must act at times when we see that mission being lost. We do tons of thinking these days about the church being what people want, what certain age groups want, or what would draw this group. But what should consume us is when we stop being concerned so much about what God wants and are too concerned with what some people want.

I suspect that some will read that whole thought and respond, “But Leon, how can we know what God wants the church to be?” Well, the Frist answer to that is pretty simple. We need to actually read the Bible and believe that what God tells us, He really means for us to follow. God hasn’t changed his mind since Covid arrived. Honest, open and humble study of the Bible will change the whole world. Second, we should pray for the wisdom that God gives us so we can see what He wants us to see. Third, pray for God’s guidance to show us His will.

In this process it is extremely important to remember that the Scriptures are inspired by God or God breathed and they are profitable for teaching, correcting, instructing and rebuking so that God’s person is totally furnished for every good work (2 Timothy 3:15-17). It is based on that reality that Paul commanded Timothy to “Preach the word” whether people like it or not. God help us to be totally consumed with his house, his word and his will in everything.

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THINK ABOUT IT

It’s important to be aware of our feelings. But we need to be honest and recognize that our feelings change all the time. We can feel horribly down and something good happen or we even get a phone call from someone we dearly love and our feelings change. Also, the fact that I feel a certain way, doesn’t mean that I’m right about what I feel. I can feel guilty when I haven’t done anything wrong. I can feel innocent when I am guilty and need to change. Solomon declared, “There is a way that seems right to a person, but the end of it is death.” I’ve known people who felt God was calling them to kill someone else that they believed had wronged them. I’ve known those who were sure their husband or wife was being unfaithful to them based solely on their feeling that something just wasn’t right. Perhaps this is the reason God doesn’t command us to feel in any particular way.

He does tell us to do some things that will certainly change our feelings. For example, when he commands us to “Rejoice in the Lord” and to “Let your gentleness be evident to all” our obedience to do these things will certainly change how we feel about life. He went from that to telling us not to worry about anything but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” He promised us if we did these things the result would be that “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” It would seem to me that the greatest feelings I could possibly long for would be to have joy in the Lord and to have His peace that is far beyond anything we can imagine to stand guard over my heart.

But, notice God led Paul to take another step before stopping this discussion. This is in Philippians 4 beginning in verse 4 and going through verse 7. He then concludes the thought in verses 8 and 9 thusly: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”

I would love to live everyday filled with the joy of the Lord, having peace from the inside out and praying regularly to God as he blesses and guides me. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to live without worry, no matter what happens to us? I don’t know about you but worry comes easy for me. I can very easily sit down and worry about family, about children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. I can easily worry about the future of the church or of the country or a thousand other things in life that I have little or no control over. I can certainly pray about them. I do know that God not only controls the future but can change it at any time. It has always amazed me that Jesus in the greatest sermon ever preached, the Sermon on the Mount, would take a rather large segment of the sermon to talk about worry and tell the people how useless worry really is. We can’t turn one hair white or black. Our worry certainly won’t add any years to our life. His answer for what we should do instead of worry was twofold.

First, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things (things we are worried about) will be added to you.” Second, “Don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Isn’t it interesting that close to two thousand years before Dale Carnegie made famous the idea to “Live one day at a time” Jesus had said the same thing. Paul, led by the Holy Spirit, added one more answer that we could call the third response and it was to pray about everything, with prayer, supplication and thanksgiving to let our request be made known to God. His fourth point is to THINK about the right things.

How can we get our minds focused so that we think on the right things all the time? Surely we would all both like to think on the right things and see the value of doing so. But it is near impossible to think on things that are noble, right, pure, admirable and praiseworthy if we are spending lots of time on social Media watching and listening to all the grips that people have in the world. I love some people who post positive, godly and caring kinds of things and build you up, but they are rare. It is near impossible to watch the news that runs 24 hours a day and hear every horrible thing that goes on in the world and keep our minds on the right things.

So, how can I really focus my mind to think about these things and not be carried away with all the troubles that surround us? It is vital to follow God’s lead in how. Remember his lead was to not focus on things and worries of life but to seek before everything else his kingdom and righteousness. That is even before Covid. Then, live one day at a time or as Carnegie said, “live in day-tight compartments.” Rejoice always in the Lord and pray about everything. When we follow that plan of action, it suddenly becomes the natural thing to think on the pure, noble, truthful, lovely, admirable and praiseworthy.

What if we all followed that plan? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to sit down and talk with fellow followers of Jesus and talk about all the things that are good in the world? I suspect it would lead to a complete change of focus and our fears would fade away like darkness as the sun rises each day.

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HOW CAN I KNOW IF ITS FROM GOD?

How many times in your life have you felt sure that God was leading you to do something only to have it turn out horribly and for it to become obvious that it wasn’t really from God at all? It is pretty common to hear folks in church talk about how God has led them in particular directions. it may be an age thing, I’m not sure, but I’ve been around the block more than once and the truth is I’ve had people declare that God or the Holy Spirit has led them to do some horrible things that obviously didn’t come from God. One that stands out was a man who had left his wife and children to move in with another woman. He sat across the desk from me in my office and declared that this was from God. He had been praying about it and God was leading him to leave his family and small children to go to the other woman who made him feel more needed. When I was unconvinced that this was really from God and said that he was being led by the devil instead, he became quite upset.

it is certainly possible to believe God is leading us in a direction when it isn’t God at all. Think about something God tells us in 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12. “The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason, God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.” It is interesting how this fits with I John 4:1-3 after John had told the people that one way they could know they were right with God was by the Holy Spirit given to them. But immediately he turned to say, “But test the spirits to see whether they are really from God, for many false teachers have gone out into the world and there are many adversaries.” He pointed out that these false teachers were really antichrist because they were teaching that Jesus didn’t really come in the flesh at all.

The Holy Spirit is at work in our lives and in our world. He leads us and guides us. He opens doors for us and helps us in our weaknesses. He strengthens us in the inner man so Christ can dwell in our hearts through faith. God is constantly at work in the lives of His children to guide them in the right way. But, Satan is also extremely active and what is often amazing to us is that Satan often works in the heart of a Christian by offering something that looks very much like what God offers. He leads us away from the right way with counterfiets that are so close to the real thing it takes God to show the difference. When we lose our love for the truth and for what is right that leads to our salvation God will send us a STRONG DELUSION or WORKING OF ERROR so that we will BELIEVE THE LIE AND BE CONDEMNED.

Think of a great man of God as an illustration. His name is Abraham. God had promised him a son through which he would produce a great nation and bring the Messiah into the world. But he is 85 years old and his wife is 75 and God’s promise still hasn’t been fulfilled. Sarah thought of a way to help God out on his promise. If Abraham would just go in and have sex with Hagar, Sarah’s maid, she would have a son but it would belong to Sarah since it was her idea and Hagar is her slave. Abraham thought about it and it sounded good to him. He went in to have sex with Hagar. She became pregnant and had a son. Everything seemed good. Now Abraham would have the promised son. The problem was, it wasn’t from God. Sarah had bought into the delusion and her idea would cause her problems for years to come. But move on down several years. At 100 Abraham and Sarah have a son. She was 90 and had the son they named “laughter” or “Isaac” in Hebrew. When he was a young man, Abraham’s pride and joy, Abraham had another leading from God. It was to “Take your son, your only son, the son you love and make him a burnt offering to me.” Now think about it, which of the two leadings from the Spirit seems more right or holy or from God to you. Imagine getting a revelation from God to murder your son and make him an offering to God. He knew it was from God so he got up early the next morning and took Isaac to travel to Mt. Moriah where he would tie Isaac to the altar and raise the knife to kill him before God stepped in and told him to take the ram in the bushes to make it an offering to God. God was proving to Abraham that nothing was to stand between him and God, not even his prized son.

So, how can we know if an urge, an opportunity or a leading is really from God or if it is a strong delusion leading us away from God? How can we TEST THE SPIRIT TO SEE IF IT IS FROM GOD?

Will it lead to the truth of God being held close and followed? All kinds of signs may come from the devil or the man of sin. But Satan never exalts truth that leads us to obey God fully.

Will it exalt Christ in the world? Too often our moves exalt some person or group instead of Jesus.

Will it lead to our accomplishing the mission of making disciples in the world who are obedient to the teaching of God and who go out to make more disciples in the world?

Will it lead me to a closer walk with God?

We ought to pray all along that God will lead us in the way He wants us to go and to give us a heart that is totally devoted to Him. Jesus told his disciples to “Watch and pray that they wouldn’t enter into temptation.” It is vital that I have a heart so totally devoted to God that when I do realize I’ve been led in the wrong direction I am quick to make it right and set myself back on the right course with God. It is vital that we “Trust in the Lord with all our hearts and lean not on our understanding. In all our ways acknowledge Him and He will direct our steps.”

“God please lead me in the way You want me to go. Open my eyes and heart to Your will in all things and open my eyes and heart to see when a leading is counterfeit produced by Satan to look like the real thing but will only bring wrong living. Oh, God, forgive my missteps and guide my future one step at a time. Through Jesus I pray. Amen.”

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IT’S BROKEN

It was one of those days when it seemed that everything I did resulted in something bad. Linda had just bought a beautiful tea pot from an antique store and brought it home. It was all wrapped up to keep it safe and she unwrapped it and handed it to me to put upon a cabinet. As I stretched to get it in the right spot, suddenly the lid or top part of it came tumbling off and crashed to the floor. It was shattered. There was no possibility of gluing it back together. And putting it up without the top part, didn’t have that look that she was searching for. What do you do when a thing is broken, shattered and it looks impossible to put it back together again? With the teapot there was only one solution. Throw it in the trash and try to forget the whole thing. Obviously that hasn’t worked very well since it was almost twenty years ago that it happened. It’s still the case when I am about to put anything breakable up high I will either remember that occasion or Linda will remind me not to drop this one like I did with the tea pot.

God called Jeremiah to go out to visit a potter at his shop one day to teach him a lesson about what to do with the broken people in life. The story is found in Jeremiah 18:1-10. Jeremiah went down to the Potter’s house and saw him working at the wheel, forming a vase. “But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him. Then the word of the Lord came to me. He said, ‘Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does? declares the Lord. Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel. If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down, and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it.”

When I drop a dish or a bowl or anything of the sort, I usually watch as it crashes to the floor and shatters into little pieces. From my point of view, there is no possibility of repair or reshaping it into something else or doing anything with it other than put it into the trash and replacing it with something else that is similar. God has a totally different viewpoint. He looked at the marred pot that represented Israel and reminded Jeremiah and us that He could take a broken nation and mold it into something new and wonderful.

Brokenness is all around us. It all begins with broken people and leads to broken homes, broken churches, broken relationships, broken families, broken churches, and broken countries. It actually started a long time ago when God placed the man he had created in his own image and likeness into an amazingly beautiful garden. It was a place called Eden and it had everything right. Animals were gentle and easy to pet. In reality, even God couldn’t see anything wrong in the garden and declared it very good. But there was one thing missing. It wasn’t good for the man to be alone. God made him a helper that was suitable and fitting for him and brought her to him. Adam was astounded. “This is now bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh. She will be called woman, and for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two will become one flesh.” It was an ideal situation. A handsome man in love with a beautiful woman living in an amazing paradise. What could go wrong here?

God had planted in the middle of the garden two trees. One was the tree of life that one could eat of it and live forever. The other was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The only thing God asked of the couple was to dress and keep the garden and not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It would seem that it would be easy to carry out such a command doesn’t it? But Eve wouldn’t agree. As she stood beneath the tree the devil came in the form of a serpent and began his sales pitch on why she should eat from the tree. He questioned God’s motives for not wanting them to know the things He knew about good and evil. He said that she wouldn’t really die like God said if she took of it. She stood and looked and thought. “It is a beautiful tree and the fruit on it sure looks good. What could be wrong with me taking a bite so I can be like God and know good from evil?” So, she took of the fruit of the tree God had said not to eat and she gave it to Adam and he ate from it as well. Now the most beautiful place with the most amazing relationship with God and nature and the wonder of this happy home, was all shattered. It fell to the floor and broke into a thousand pieces.

Brokenness had entered the world and in reality it is here to stay until the Lord comes again. It was sin that brought on the brokenness in the world and it is sin that keeps it going in all kinds of forms continually. Its effects have come in the form of broken health so that we feel shattered when the news hits that we have some kind of illness that is terminal. They are demonstrated when a family is broken by the death of a child or a parent. it shows when a church struggles to get along with each other and division comes into the family of God.

From our standpoint, when something breaks, it might as well be gathered up and thrown into the trash to be carried away and all we can do is look for another one. But God looks at brokenness and offers healing. He can put the broken pot back together again in such a way that it is more valuable and more beautiful than they ever were before. He is truly the potter that takes the marred clay pot and remolds it into a new pot that is better, more beautiful and more valuable than ever before. In remolding, it always begins with the reforming of individuals who can reform relationships and change the course of life.

Truly we live in a broken world. We live in a broken nation. We likely worship with a broken church. In all of our families there is some brokenness to deal with. Every friendship goes through times of being broken. The great question is, when will we stop trying to super glue things back together and yield to the ultimate potter to reform our lives and world?

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ONE NATION, UNDER GOD

What a noble concept! It is far too easy to point to those times and circumstances when the concept was left laying in the dust because of the failure of people to really be submissive to God and his lead in life. Like every other nation that has ever existed, the United States of America has tons of flaws. I’ve had the privilege of traveling to several other countries through the years and seeing what other nations have to offer in comparison to what we have seen in this nation. I’ve not had the privilege yet of seeing that perfect nation or government. Think of the fact that the one Nation set up by God Himself is the nation of Israel. Yet, if you look back over the history of Israel, it is far from a perfect nation. Like other countries it has had leaders that were corrupt. People have been put down, mistreated and abused because they weren’t of the chosen people. Their wickedness led to God allowing enemies to come in and utterly destroy their cities, their capitol, the temple and tear down the walls around the city of Jerusalem. If a nation established by God and given the rules to live by, directly from God, can’t keep things perfect and always heading in the right direction, why on earth would we expect to be able to develop a country without flaws on our own.

Oh, I know there are those who believe that the United States is the new Israel that is chosen today by God, but there is certainly noting in the Bible that would ever give such a notion. Here is what is true. God did set up civil governments of all sorts. In Romans 13:1-5 we have one of the greatest teachings with regard to government ever written. “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong by afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.”

Notice some extremely important points in what God had Paul to write in these verses. First, it was written during the time when Rome ruled the world with an iron hand and the particular ruler on the throne at the time Paul wrote this was a man named Nero, who was one of the worst, most ungodly leaders Rome ever had. Yet, God’s teaching wasn’t for the Christians to start a march or riot against the government, even when it was killing people because of their faith in Jesus.

Notice that God declared that He was the one who established governments. He set them up for a purpose. They were to be there to bless those who did the right thing and to punish those who did evil in the world. Has government ever strayed from the God given purpose? Certainly, they have and were doing so at the very time Paul wrote these words. Yet in the midst of such evil when Roman rulers were actually setting themselves up as gods to be worshiped, God still had Paul to write for us to submit to the ruling authorities. Notice he said when we rebel against the authorities, we are rebelling against what God has instituted and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.

But, what are we to do when government isn’t doing what we believe is right? How are we to stand against what we consider evil and still be obedient to what God tells us to do as citizens of His kingdom? First, we are to live right, holy and godly lives in the world so that our lights shine for the good and may serve to lead others to God. Does that mean we will always be treated right? Absolutely not! Paul, who wrote these words was later beheaded by Nero whom he told people to submit too. He did continue all the way to the end to be the man God called him to be and refused to seek revenge against those who were doing wrong.

Second, we are blessed in this country to have the right to vote for the candidates we believe best fulfill the role of leader that will lead the country in the best way. So, we should go and vote what we believe is the right thing. But, what if I vote one way and the other candidate or party wins? Be a Christian and pray for that new leader every day that God will lead them to make the right moves and be a blessing to the country. Be the godly citizen all the time. Speak up for godliness, for truth and right. But demonstrate the heart that will reach across the aisle to help the ones you disagree with. If our party affiliation stands stronger in our minds than our loyalty as a citizen of the nation and our devotion to God then we are in trouble and need to repent.

Third, I can be the citizen that will make this nation stronger and more godly all the time. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we actually met the dream of being “One nation, under God?”

I know nations rise and fall and I certainly don’t know how long this nation will stand. I also know that whatever happens to the nation, the kingdom of God will still stand and Jesus will still be the king over his kingdom, the head over his church, and the high priest over his people. If the nation stands, we can live for God every day in it in such a way as to be the salt of the earth and light of the world. If it falls we can live for God every day as the salt of the earth and the light of the world. I hope and pray that our nation stands as one nation under God. But my loyalty is to the citizenship I have in heaven, not the one I have on this earth.

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WHO IS KING IN YOUR LIFE?

The noise during election seasons is almost overwhelming. it is much louder in these years when a new president is being elected. I started thinking about all the presidential elections I’ve been able to see and participate in. The first election I remember was of Eisenhower and truthfully I don’t remember any noise with his election. The election that first caught my real attention was when John F. Kennedy was running for president. His inaugural speech when he said, “Ask not what your country can do for you but ask what you can do for your country” is still one of the most powerful statements made by any politician I’ve heard. Elections come and go and at the time every one of them seems important and in many ways they certainly are. But one thing that needs to stand out in the minds of every Christ-follower is that we are electing a president but we already have our KING. Our loyalty mustn’t ever be tied to any human. I always want it to be the case that who I vote for is largely determined by how their stands on things related to what my king stands for. If they have the greatest and most charismatic personality ever witnessed and their positions go against the things that King Jesus teaches us, then it is obvious that I can’t support that person.

Too often in life we manage to make an amazing split in our lives and our thinking. We take our faith and devotion to Christ and put it on one side of our life and take our day to day life, whether it relations to politics or to our jobs or even our hobbies in life and place them on the other side of us so that the two parts never come together. We see our spiritual life and devotion to Christ as something we do on Sunday’s and in meetings or services done by the church. And we see our regular life as something we do through the week that is ruled by a whole different king. Sometimes in that regular part of life we actually set ourselves up as king. When we perform such a split in our lives the result is we become a classic HYPOCRITE.

When I anoint Christ as king in my life, it is about my whole life, not about some section of my life. Can you imagine Paul changing his statement in Philippians 1:21 where he said, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain” to say, “For me to live my church and spiritual life is Christ, but my regular life in the world is my own?” One of the reasons the teaching of the New Testament on baptism being immersion in water rather than just sprinkling some water on a person or even pouring some water on them, is that it is about our whole being. When one is baptized they are buried with Christ and raised with Him to live a new life (Romans 6:3-4). Can you imagine a person being baptized who said, “I want to be immersed in water with Christ and raised with him but I want to keep my social media accounts and my bank account all out of the water?” I’m afraid there are far to many people who are baptized to make that commitment to Christ who are leaving different aspects of their life out of the water so that it isn’t committed to Christ.

Picture Paul’s writing to the church in Colossi. In chapter one, verses 13-14 he said, “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.’ It is impossible to have part of us in the dominion of darkness and part of us in the kingdom of the Son God loves. God won’t leave us half way in each. He rescues us from that kingdom of the dark world and its rule or dominion or kingship in our lives. He translates us into the reign or kingdom of Jesus where the rulership belongs to Jesus Christ. He is the king. There aren’t any elections in four years, forty years, four hundred years or any other period of time when we can choose a new king. Since he lives forever, his rule never stops and never changes.

Since Jesus is king, and I am under his rule if I’m a Christian, it means that I am striving to follow Him and do His will in every aspect of my life, including elections. Listen, I haven’t had any revelations from Jesus on who to vote for. I’m not expecting any. I do know that I am to look for as many things about what a candidate believes and what their platform is and how it relates to God’s teaching for us and his call for us as His children when I’m deciding how to vote.

When you vote, know that others are also voting and someone will win and someone will lose, but Christ will still be sitting on his throne and be our king. When the election is over and the votes are counted, my job will be to be a good, godly citizen of the country and pray regularly for the leaders of the country that they might lead in a way that we might have peace and that there may be tons of open doors for the preaching and teaching of God’s word because he wants all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.

I bow to only one king who has all my allegiance and that is King Jesus.

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