What Freedom Means for Christians

“If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” – John 8.31-32

birds freed from cage

What does Freedom mean?

The definition of freedom is “the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.” It is defined as the absence of subjection to foreign domination or despotic government or the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved.

Examples of Freedom

So, examples of freedom could be an animal that is let out of a cage or the right of a citizen to express their ideas and opinions. Another example is when the American colonies broke from the subjection of the British Empire declaring their independence during the revolution on July 4, 1776. Still another is the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863 that declared “that all persons held as slaves are henceforward shall be free.”

The latter example is probably closer to the meaning of what freedom means for the Christian. For the Christian, freedom means, not being imprisoned or enslaved to sin and death. For instance, the Apostle Paul states:

“knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.” – Romans 6.6.7

Or again Paul continues…

“Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him.” – Romans 6.8-9

Summation of Freedom

From these and other scriptures we learn that one is not free spiritually when they are subjected to the power and authority of sin and death. Thus, when a person enters into a covenant relationship with Christ, Jesus paid for their freedom with His blood on the cross and by rising again. Meaning this, Jesus’ death and resurrection freed Christians from sin and death. This is what it means to be free in Christ. Sin and death no longer have power over the one for whom Christ died.

Therefore as Paul states later in Romans…

“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” – Romans 8.1-2

Exchanging Masters

Before we entered into a covenant relationship with Christ or even before Christ died and rose again, sin and death were the masters over the human soul. When the first Adam became a living soul, he sinned. Instead of God being his master, because of sin, man became enslaved to sin. Subjected not only to its fleshing desires but allowing it to master the way one thinks, feels, and acts. Not only was man subjected to the fleshly enslavement of sin, but because of sin, death also became a master over man. This was the curse from the garden when God told Adam not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. By doing so would introduce sin and death into humanity and thus throughout history mankind would continually be enslaved to both.

Concerning this, Paul writes…

“Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned— for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.” – Romans 5.12-14

But praise be to Christ, the new Adam, Who became our new Master because of His own righteousness, His death and resurrection became not a type of emancipation for those who believe, but something greater.

While Adam’s act renders us as slaves to sin, Christ’s act of obedience accounted to us “righteousness” that has been imputed to us through faith in Him alone. Thus, freeing us from the power and sting of sin and death.

Because of this, Christ now becomes our new master. Not a master of the burden of death, but of life. Therefore we are not to live for sin, but live as servants of God (1 Peter 2.16).

What Christian Freedom Looks Like?

Christian freedom then looks like this:

“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right” – 1 Peter 2.13-14

Notice in these two verses that freedom does not mean that you are entitled to anything. It means to be submissive, not only to Christ but also to those He sovereignly places in authority over us.

This is current today because there are many who feel their rights are being infringed upon or lack rights. This is contrary to biblical freedom because this world is not our home. As Christians, we are aliens in this world. So then, it makes sense that our freedom in Christ goes against the norm of culture, thus, creating tension in what we feel should be inalienable rights, when in fact we have no rights other than what we have in Christ alone.

When Jesus was being interviewed by Pilate before His crucifixion, Jesus was not concerned about the Roman powers because He knew His kingdom was not of this world. The Apostles and early Christians realized this same principle. Our freedom in Christ goes beyond any human institution because it is first from heaven. Therefore, we can act as free men no matter where we may reside on this planet because our home and kingdom are not of this world. That is why Paul could be free even though he was imprisoned in Rome for the sake of Christ.

So then, How should we act? Peter goes on to explain…

“Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God.” – 1 Peter 2.16

How do we do this?

“Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king. – 1 Peter 2.17

What is the reward for obedience?

“For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.” – 1 Peter 2.20

What is the point of all this? The point is not finding favor within ourselves but finding favor with God. Living our lives as holy sacrifices unto the Lord so that we may find favor with Him. Not because we have earned or deserved anything. He alone has called us out of the darkness. Freed us from the enslavement of sin and death, by His own love, by His own power, through His only Son, Christ Jesus our Lord.

He chose us as one race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession. Why? “So that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” – 1 Peter 2.9

The Truth that Makes You Free

Now back to our opening verse. A true disciple of Christ is one who abides in His word. When we submit and delight ourselves in His word, His Spirit reveals to us His truth. It is in knowing this truth that you makes you free.

What is this truth? The truth that we are speaking of is that Jesus is the son of the living God.

In writing his gospel, John makes a very clear statement concerning this truth when he writes…

“but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” – John 20.31

When you know this truth, you will be free indeed. You are no longer condemned as a sinner and a slave because you are now in Christ Jesus (Romans 8.1).

Conclusion:

I believe it is important for us all to know and understand the significance of this truth. The liberties that we have enjoyed in this country as Christians have been abnormal when compared to the rest of the global culture and history. I feel Christians tend to have an entitlement ideology that guides their walk. Christian freedom is not an entitlement. It is a joyful sacrifice of a life that seeks to live for Christ in such a way that pleases God.

The sufferings we face today are not to be compared with the glory that awaits us in Christ (Romans 8.18). We have a victory that awaits us. We have a hope we should eagerly look to. Live in the freedom in knowing that there awaits for you a prize in the upward call of Christ.

Rest in this truth. Be free in this truth. Trust in this truth. Know that because of Christ you are free and if He makes you free, you are free indeed.

Grace and Peace! Gt

Why Is Life So Hard?

“For what does a man get in all his labor and in his striving with which he labors under the sun? Because all his days his task is painful and grievous; even at night his mind does not rest. This too is vanity.
There is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink and tell himself that his labor is good. This also I have seen that it is from the hand of God. For who can eat and who can have enjoyment without Him? For to a person who is good in His sight He has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, while to the sinner He has given the task of gathering and collecting so that he may give to one who is good in God’s sight. This too is vanity and striving after wind.” – Ecclessiastes 2.22-26

ageless wisdom - wave

It’s the Hard-Knock Life

The musical Oliver is Charles Dickens’ story of Oliver Twist. The story follows the life of a young orphan boy named Oliver Twist as he navigates London’s underworld of theft and violence, searching for a home, family, and love. One of the musical numbers describes what life is like for these orphans during the victorian age of London. The song is entitled, “It’s the Hard-Knock Life.” Some of the lyrics go like this:

It’s a hard-knock life for us…
‘Stead of treated
We get tricked
‘Stead of Kisses
We get kicked…

Don’t if feel like the wind is always howl’n?
Don’t it seem like there’s never any light!
Once a day, don’t you wanna throw the towel in?
It’s easier than puttin’ up a fight…

Perhaps you feel, like Oliver and his orphan peers, that you sometimes want to throw in the towel because life is so hard.

Sally Brown and the Jetson’s

Perhaps you’re thinking that you aren’t receiving your fair share. That was the mindset of Charlie Brown’s younger sister. In the classic Christmas cartoon, Sally responds to Charlie concerning her Christmas wish list to Santa by saying, “All I want is what I have coming to me. All I want is my fair share.”

Maybe, you thought by now we should be living like the Jetson’s, another classic cartoon from the 60’s that depicted what life would be like in the future. Though we have some of the modern advances, life doesn’t look as easy as it did in the cartoon.

Whether your mindset is like Sally or you feel we should be further along in the 21st century, life in 2020 thus far has been anything but easy.

What Does a Man Get From All His Labor?

Why is life so hard? What advantage do I have from all the work I do? Shouldn’t life be easier and more rewarding? These questions and more are some of life’s topics that Solomon addressed in Ecclesiastes.

Why is life hard? I believe the answer is found in the word, “labor.”

Labor is difficult. Think about how difficult work can be: the hours, the pay, the employees, and employers. Not to mention the conditions, stress, and pain. The word “labor” used by Solomon here is “amal.”  It literally means to toil anguishedly in troubled misery. For some, this may exactly describe your life now. You are in anguish. You are miserable. You feel like you are being kicked rather than kissed. Why is labor so difficult?

First job review gone bad. To answer why labor is so difficult, we need to go to man’s first job review in Geneses 3. Adam basically had several tasks.

  1. Be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth.
  2. Subdue the earth and rule over all creatures.
  3. Name the creatures.
  4. Don’t eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

That’s it. Easy tasks. Even cultivating the ground would be easy because God would make everything grow without any pests, weeds, or disease.

But, mutiny and deception changed everything. Enter the serpent who deceived Eve and caused her to rationalize God’s command. She gave in to the temptation. Adam seeing this also participated and did nothing to stop her and ate of the fruit that God simply commanded not to eat. God, the boss, called everyone into human resources to not only question all involved but also to reprimand everyone and hand out pink slips.

God’s Reprimand

The serpent was cursed more than all the beast of the field, made to slither on its belly and eat dust. For the woman, God would greatly increase the pain of childbirth (Genesis 3.14-16. For the man, Adam, his job in cultivating the ground would become much more difficult.

“Then to Adam He said, ‘because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘you shall not eat from it’; cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; And you will eat the plants of the field; by the sweat of your face you will eat bread, till you return to the ground, because from it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.'” – Genesis 3.17-19

Pain Introduced to the Joys of Life

Because of their disobedience to God, both the man and woman (Adam and Eve) would now experience pain for the first time. The pain in childbirth and the pain of working. Both the words “pain” (Gen. 3.16) and “toil” (Gen. 3.17) are the same Hebrew word that means hardship. Words like worrisome, labor, pain, and sorrow are also used for this word.

Thus the pain you feel. The stress you experience. The hardship you face in life comes from our first parents who chose to believe a lie rather than truth. Doesn’t this speak the truth for us all?

The Serpent Still Entices

Do not be fooled. The serpent, though slithering on his belly, still seeks to kill, steal, and destroy (John 10.10). This has and will always be Satan’s strategy. His one main purpose of existence is to undo all that God has and will do. But, he will not win in the end.

Yet, do not be fooled. He is slithering around causing people to second guess truth and wisdom. Tantalizing them with false sayings and half-lies. He gratifies himself with the pleasure of seeing people in pain and watching them implode as they fight among themselves. He is the author of lies and destruction. The deceiver of men and nations. The destroyer who masks himself as light.

Do not listen or give in to his seductive words. Do not allow him to have a foothold in your life. Expose him for who he is and call him out with the truth of the gospel in Jesus’ name. Do not allow him to cast on your soul the dark cloud of despair. The accusations. Nor be the reason for your fear and anxiety. Look to the light and truth of Christ who is our hope and joy no matter the pain we may experience in this life.

Finding Joy in the Hard-Knock Life

Going back to our passage in Ecclesiastes, in the midst of the pain and labor of life, Solomon offers hope. Look again at what he writes:

“There is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink and tell himself that his labor is good. This also I have seen that is from the hand of God. For who can eat and who can have enjoyment without Him? (Ecclessiastes 2.24-25)

How do you receive your fair share as Sally Brown wanted? You receive it as joy from the Lord. Is life hard? Yes! Is working difficult? Yes. Should I let it define me? No! It is how you look at it from God’s perspective.

We know that life is hard because of sin and deception. There is nothing that will change that until Christ comes again and makes all things new. Until then we have this hope and this calling as followers of Christ. Our hope is not laid upon our life and what we can get out of it, it is laid upon the hope we have in Christ by faith. Our joy is not in the flesh, our joy is from the Spirit. Our joy and satisfaction come from God.

We can labor hard but still have joy. We can suffer much but still have joy. It is not in what we labor for that brings us joy, it is in our Creator and Savior that our joy is found.

Kissing the Wave

In closing, I want to share several quotes I hope will encourage you right now.

How long O Lord: David prayed, “How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever?…but I have trusted in Your lovingkindness; my heart shall rejoice in Your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because He has dealt bountifully with me” – Psalm 13

Learning to kiss the wave: Charles Spurgeon tells us that trials teach us hard lessons. He said, “I have learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the rock of ages.”

Kissing the wave: Dave Furman is the pastor of a church in the Middle East. He knows what is it like to kiss the wave every day of his life. He knows what it is like to grasp for air because he experiences debilitating nerve pain. Life is hard for him as his condition invades the simplest of functions in life you and I take for granted. Pastor Dave writes about his trials and suffering in a book that borrows from Spurgeon’s quote of kissing the wave (Kiss the Wave).

When we are weak, God is strong: The apostle Paul writes, “If I have to boast, I will boast what pertains to my weakness.” (2 Cor. 11.30).  He does so that God will receive glory and keep him from being prideful.

CLOSING: All I Want is My Fair Share… Really?

Really? Do you really want what is coming to you? I don’t think you know what you are asking. Ignorantly, Jesus’ disciples said to Him that they were able to drink the cup, not knowing that Jesus meant the cup of suffering and persecution and martyrdom. I for one do not want my fair share. I want God’s will to be done. I pray that this is your desire too.

Someday, the Lord will make all things new where there will be no more pain and suffering, but until then kiss the wave of this hard-knock life.

Grace and Peace! – GT

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What Does the Bible Say About Anarchy?

“Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities, For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore, whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.” – Romans 13.1-2

crowd of protesters
Photo by Life Matters on Pexels.com

 

Defining Anarchism:

At its roots, anarchism is a theory that says that society is improved when people freely rule themselves apart from all laws. It is touted as a worthy ideal by those who reject the necessity of governing authorities. Anarchism described is anarchy. Anarchy is the chaos that erupts at the lack of governmental authority in a society. Examples of anarchy/anarchism are carried out in riots as individuals become their own authority and become a looting and destructive movement.

What incites anarchism? Most in history begin due to poverty, unemployment, inhumane conditions, governmental oppression, taxation or conscription, or racial or religious tensions. Frustrations are vented, sometimes incited, and the disorderly group becomes violent, lashing out in public against authorities, property, and people. In some cases, anarchist riots are incited by certain entities that want to transform their society into their image. In other cases, these riots are disorganized herd groups exhibiting irrational behavior that makes it difficult for police and other security forces to control without some measure of control.

Is Anarchism ever right?

Biblically? No. Our scripture passage above clearly indicates that everyone is to be subjected by governing authorities. To go against this is to go against not only the Word of God but God Himself and will bring condemnation on themselves.

What is at the heart of anarchism?

Self-rule. This is the motivation behind anarchism. It is the idea that I want to be my own god. I do not want anyone else including God Himself telling me what I can or cannot do. Self-rule is a perverted idea that rationalizes that if I shed the shackles of governing laws this equals liberty. It supposes that if we are left alone to rule ourselves we can live more at peace together without any enforcement of rules or laws.

What happens when anarchism rules the day?

The Bible and history are full of examples of what happens when anarchy attempts to become the norm.

  • The fall of man (Genesis 3.1-7). This is when Adam and Eve ignored God’s command (Genesis 2.16-17) and desire to become like God knowing good and evil. The result was sin. The outcome was death, separation, pain, suffering, and removal from the garden and the tree of life, thus begins man’s journey battling against submission to God or seeking self-rule (anarchy).
  • The flood (Genesis 6.5). 2000 years after Adam and Eve were dismissed from the garden of Eden, the desire of man to be free from God’s governing shackles grew. Genesis 6 describes a time in the world when God was sorry that He had made man on the earth and grieved (Genesis 6.6). The reason for this was because “every intent of the thoughts of his [man’s] heart was only evil continually” (v.5). Thus, God found one righteous man, Noah, and blotted out the rest of humanity and every living thing on the face of the earth with a flood and started over with Noah’s family and the living creatures on the Ark.
  • The Tower of Babel (Genesis 11). Approximately 700 years after the flood man continued to disobey God’s command. God’s command to Noah and His sons was similar to Adam and Eve, they were to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth” (Genesis 9.1). Instead of filling the earth, the human race settled in what we know to be modern-day Iraq. There they gathered as one people who sought once again to become greater than God by making a tower marking their name and refusing to be “scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth” (Genesis 11.4). This was in direct opposition to God’s command. So, the Lord confused their language and the people disperse to all four corners of the earth.
  • The Period of the Judges (Judges 17). During the early part of Israel’s history, God had brought them up out of Egypt as His chosen race and priests. He settled them in Palestine. They were to be a theocracy, a nation of people ruled by God. No king, no governor. It would be a nation that burden by the laws of man, but living freely under the headship and rule of God and His laws. No bureaucracy, no police force, just simple villages and tribes that were to be united under the covenant of God and His people. This seemed like a utopian plan, except that we find that man is never satisfied. In the book of Judges, we learn that “in those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes,” (Judges 17.6). This is anarchy. The book of Judges describes seven sin cycles where God’s people disobeyed, were punished, and rescued by God, all because His people wanted what Adam and Eve wanted, to be like God. Eventually, Israel would continue to disobey God until they are overcome by the Assyrians and Babylonians and taken into captivity because of their outright disobedience towards God and His rule over them.

How Christians should respond to present-day anarchism?

If it is never right to adopt anarchism as a way for people to govern themselves, how are Christians today to react, respond, and live among a society that is being incited, encouraged to take matters of law into their own hands?

Look to the Jesus principle

I believe I have mentioned this before in some earlier posts or conversations, but in reading the Old and New Testament I witness a different and righteous response to social injustice that is more peaceable and honoring to God.

  • David could have taken matters into his own hand on a couple occasions when he was being pursued by King Saul. David did not seek revenge or take justice into his own hands but left that up to God (1 Samuel 26.9). David is being advised to strike down Saul, but David knows that doing so would bring upon himself judgment from God and guilt.
  • Joseph was able to see the big picture of God when even though his brothers actions towards him was meant for evil, God meant it for good in order “to preserve many people alive” (Genesis 50.20).
  • Daniel trusted in the Lord. Even though he disobeyed the command of the king, his obedience to God was greater than to obey man because it was in direct conflict with the worship of the one true God (Daniel 3, 6).
  • Peter and John chose to obey God rather than man and were arrested for doing so (Acts 5.29).
  • Jesus demonstrates the balance was obeying God verses man. Jesus is asked whether of not it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar? Jesus knew that those asking the question were attempting to entrap Him. Jesus’ response to them was to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar;s; and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22.21).

Overall, the Jesus principle teaches us that we should:

  1. Trust God in all matters.
  2. Let God take revenge.
  3. Live peaceable among all.
  4. Obey God over the rule of man.
  5. Expect persecution for principle #4.
  6. Be an execellent citizen of both heaven and earth.
  7. Pray for all men and governing authorities so we may live in peace and dignity.
  8. Submit to God and those in authority over you, as long as it does not cause you to disobey God and His Word.

Concluding thoughts

These are difficult days. But, every generation has had to deal with their problems within their culture. Christians are not immune to this. I believe it is an unrealistic conclusion to expect non-christians to act Biblically, no matter if the laws of the land have/had been rooted in Judeo-ethics. Expecting a portion of our population to abide by God’s law is futile unless God intervenes and changes the hearts and souls of people.

But here is what you can do as written by the prophet Micah:

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6.8).

During these times of crazy headlines and unsettleness, it is upon God’s people to pray, trust and obey the Lord. It is important that those who are Christ-centered to stand together in peaceful unity (Ephesian 4) as living lights, proclaiming the gospel, and remaining steadfast in your faith in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Yes, anarchy is wrong because it rejects God’s command, but it is also wrong for Christians to seek revenge and not promote peace. Do what is right, be kind, and walk in humility with our God through Christ.

Grace and Peace! – GT.

My Morning Prayer

“In the morning, O Lord, You will hear my voice;
In the morning I will order my prayer to You and eagerly watch.” – Psalms 5:3

 

Ageless Wisdom morning prayer time

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Influences on my Prayer Life

The prayer I am sharing today comes from several sources, ideas, patterns, and times that have greatly influenced the way I pray. These influences have shaped the way I pray as a disciple of Christ. Through the years these influences have helped deepened my prayer life and gave it more focus.

What have been some of those influences?

  • The Bible. More specifically the prayers of Jesus, David, and Paul.
  • The Puritans. The Puritans have probably influenced me the most outside of Scripture. The Valley of Vision showed me how empty many of my prayers have been and how self-centered I prayed. This little book of compiled prayers opened my eyes to personal and effectual prayers to the Lord.
  • The Method for Prayer. This book is a compilation of Scripture that Matthew Henry systematically organized. The central idea of this book is that we should be praying Scripture back to the Lord because in ourselves we have little to say. There is no added exposition or explanation from Henry. He simply compiles Scripture into sections and themes so we can use them to form our personal prayer to the Lord.
  • Bible-Based Praying by Don Miller. Back when I was in college, I had the privilege to sit under Don Miller’s teaching on prayer. The premise of this study was how to pray biblically like Jesus did. This study also teaches you how to pray for an hour by praying in 12 five minute sections. Sections that include praise, confession, family, government, missions, the lost, and more.
  • The Doctrine of Prayer by T.W. Hunt
  • A Call to Spiritual Reformation by D.A. Carson

These sources and others have been an influence on my prayer life over the years of my spiritual journey with the Lord. They have taught me the purpose and place of prayer as well as the when, where, and how to pray.

Preaching to Myself

As I reflect on some the sources above, I find that I am preaching to myself in certain areas of my prayer life that are waning currently. So I am writing to myself, as much as to others, to spur myself on to continue in the discipline of prayer and strengthen areas I have neglected.

Why Scripted Prayer?

This is why I have scripted out a prayer. The prayer below has been in the works over the years. I wrote it simply to keep my heart and mind focused. It is more of a fleshed-out outline that guides me during my conversation time with the Father. There is no special blessing that comes from repeating this prayer. It is simply the outline for discipline and focus when I converse with my Savior.

I pray that this prayer and the sources above will guide and encourage you as you seek personal time with our Master and Savior each day.

Blessings to all the saints of God in Christ.

My Morning Prayer

My Father, Whose throne and kingdom is in heaven. How glorious and holy are You.
How brilliant is your presence that even the brightest and hottest star in the universe is but dark compare to You. You are perfectly pure in your holiness. Like pure gold that is transparent.

Your Word is perfect as it restores the soul and makes the simple wise. Your teachings are right and Your commandments are pure and open my eyes to see the truth that sets me free.

I fear You because Your judgments are true and righteous. Yet I desire You because truth is more desirable than honey and gold. Though I am warned concerning Your laws, I rejoice in keeping them because there is a great reward in obedience. 

Therefore Father, let Your kingdom come. Let it rule not only in my heart but also in my life. Let Your will also be done here on earth, and in my life just as it is in heaven among Your saints and angels. 

Father, thank You for awakening me this morning and giving me breath to see the sun and all that You have created. I am thankful for the earth you created and acknowledge that it and all that is in it belongs to You. Forgive me Lord if at times I forget to proclaim my thanks and complain. When I am reminded, I am truly grateful and thankful for the life You have given me.

Lord, the events of the day are unknown to me. I plan, but You direct my steps. Give me the strength and courage I need to accomplish all that You bring to me. Knowing that You will never give more than I can handle. Though my heart and flesh may fail, You O Lord are the strength of my heart and portion forever. 

Help me to rejoice in all things and to know in Christ I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. Therefore Lord, I commit this day to you, no matter what happens. I know You have me in the palm of your hand. Though some may trust in chariots and horses, I will put my trust in You and the strength of Your mighty arm. Help me Lord to be steadfast in You by putting all Your armor on so that I may be able through You protect myself from the devil and his fiery darts, and to remember to pray for all without ceasing.

Father, I am so dependent upon You, not only for spiritual life but also for the physical. Give to me today the provisions I need to survive. I thank You for the work You give to me and how it sustains this temporal body by the daily provision of food. 

Lord, each day is full of temptations. Opportunities for me to sin against You. Lord, please forgive me of my sins. Just as opportunities to sin against You come, so will people who sin against me. Lord, just as You forgive me, Lord I forgive them, for how could I expect You to forgive me if I do not forgive them.

Father, speaking of temptation, lead me not into it, but deliver me from the evil one. As I walk through this day, help me Lord to walk not by sight, but by the Spirit. Not in flesh, but in the Spirit. Guide my path. Let Your Word be to me as a light to guide my way and to keep me from sin. Guard my thoughts, words, and actions. Be with me throughout the day and help me to navigate, reflect, and live out my life as a living and pleasing sacrifice. Not conforming to this world, but being transformed by You so that I may Know Your good and pleasing will. That whatever I do in word and deed, I glorify You.

Lord, use me as You see fit to bless others and to be a shining light. I am grateful that You have chosen me. You have called me out of darkness and into Your marvelous light so I may proclaim to others the excellencies of Your goodness found in the gospel. Rather than seeking my own will, let Yours be done through me today as I align my will with Yours. Thank You Lord for all that You do for and through me.

Lord, it is so tempting to focus only on my wants and needs. Help me to bless those around me. Help my children and their families, my friends, our leaders, and our churches.  Please protect and heal those in my concentric circles. I thank You for everyone of these wonderful people I have in my life. I ask You to guide their paths and bring them closer to You.

I also pray Father that You would grant to my brothers and sisters in Christ, according to Your riches of Your glory, that they be strengthened with power through Your Spirit in their soul, so that Christ may dwell in their hearts through faith, being rooted and grounded in love, they may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that they may be filled up to all Your fullness.

Go with me now Lord, for You are able to do far more abundantly beyond all that I ask for in this prayer, according to the power that works within us.

To You belongs the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus. For Yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever.

In Jesus name I pray. Amen. 

It is my prayer that you will look to God’s Word and Christ as our greatest influence in prayer. It is also my prayer that the Spirit of God will spur you on to pray without ceasing for all the saints, for all occasions, with all kinds of prayers as you sojourn in this life until Christ calls us home.

Blessings to all!

Grace and Peace,

Glenn Tatum

If this article helped you, you may like to read these:

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How a Christian Behaves Really Does Matter

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“Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.”

1 Peter 2.12

ROME ON FIRE

On July 19, A.D. 64 an urban fire broke out in Rome causing widespread devastation. It was finally contained after six days, only to erupt again with a vengeance and destroy ancient landmarks and homes. A significant portion of the population was left homeless. The citizens were upset and bitter. They took to the streets in protest because they knew who was responsible for the fire. Though eventually, the Christians would become the scapegoat, the Roman citizens initially looked to Nero as the guilty one who started the fires. It was even reported that Nero hindered  the attempt to extinguish the flames.

NERO’S SCAPEGOAT

Why would Nero want to burn down his own capital? Historians tell us that Nero had a passion for building. The population knew this to be true and that the fire was started by him with the effort to rebuild Rome in his image. Because the prosecution against him was so damning, Nero needed a scapegoat.  And he had the perfect one, the Christians as noted by the Roman historian, Tacitus. 

WHAT DID CHRISTIANS DO TO DESERVE THIS?

William Barclay offers a number of reasons why Christians were picked by Nero as his scapegoat:

  1. Christians were already victims of certain associations and slander.
  2. Christians were connected in mind with the Jews (antisemitism).
  3. Rumors that Christians were cannibals because of their communion practice.
  4. Christians were charged with tampering with family relationships, a religion that splits the home was unpopular.
  5. Christians spoke of the world going up in flames.
  6. Christians were being harassed by the Jews in the courts which eventually influenced Nero because of certain proselytes in his courts (Aliturus, an actor and Poppea, his mistress).

NERO’S BRUTAL PERSECUTION

By blaming the fire on the Christians, Nero was able to deflect the hatred towards him onto the Christians. A savage outbreak of persecution erupted like the fire in Rome against all Christians across the empire.

Nero’s persecution was brutal. For example, Nero had Christians rolled in pitch and then set on fire while they were still alive and used them as living torches to light his gardens. He also would sew them up in wild animal skins and then set his dogs loose and watch them tear the Christians from limb to limb. Tacitus records that this persecution was not legal.

PETER’S MESSAGE THEN AND NOW

It is in this setting that Peter’s letter is written. It was a letter sent out to the churches scattered throughout Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey). The letter was sent to provide hope, encouragement, and instruction to believers undergoing persecution. It was a letter that called on all believers to stand firm in God’s grace in the midst of fiery trials. 

CHRISTIANS ARE TEMPORARY RESIDENTS

Peter informs his readers they are “aliens and strangers” (1 Peter 2.11) to this world. They were set apart by God as…

“a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you [they] may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”

1 Peter 2.9

THE CONSTANT BATTLE

Because of this, they would be “aliens and strangers” in a world that would not understand them. Sojourning as aliens in this world, they would experience ongoing conflict, not only from others but also their own personal flesh which would wage war against their souls.

To this, Peter offers this instruction (1 Peter 2.11).

Abstain from Fleshly Lust

This means to back off. Do not give in to the things that set its desire against the Spirit of God. Paul list a number of these (Galatians 5.19-21)

  • immorality
  • impurity
  • sensuality
  • idolatry
  • sorcery
  • enmities
  • strife
  • jealousy
  • outbursts of anger
  • disputes
  • dissensions
  • factions
  • envying
  • drunkenness
  • carousing
  • and things like these

All these things cry out to your flesh. They entice your desires. You know this to be true because you probably have experienced this tugging at your heart, enticing you to act in sinful ways that are not honorable to God.

Advice from a loving father:

“My son, if sinners entice you,
Do not consent.
If they say, “Come with us,
Let us lie in wait for blood,
Let us ambush the innocent without cause;
Let us swallow them alive like Sheol,
Even whole, as those who go down to the pit;
We will find all kinds of precious wealth,
We will fill our houses with spoil;
Throw in your lot with us,
We shall all have one purse,”
My son, do not walk in the way with them.
Keep your feet from their path,”

Proverbs 1.10-15

Therefore, heed Peter’s instruction to stop acting on fleshly behavior. Do not give into your passions. Do not let sin be your master. Practice self-control and you will conduct yourself in a way that is good and honorable before God as His child and citizen of heaven. Do not be enticed by others and join in with their cause.

Keep your Behavior Excellent

Peter’s first point to abstain from fleshly lust is similar to Paul’s instruction to “put off the flesh” (Ephesians 4.22). Likewise, Peter’s second point is like Paul’s message to “put on the new nature” (Ephesians 4.24).

Peter is essentially saying the same thing by stating to his readers to “keep your behavior excellent” among those who do not believe. Why is this so critical? He explains by stating, “so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.” – 1 Peter 2.12

What Peter is saying is this, “listen, they are accusing you of burning down Rome and other things…if they observe that your behavior is excellent, their accusations do not have a leg to stand on.” Thus, do not give others a reason to accuse you of doing wrong, for there are no laws against doing right.

What does Peter mean by “excellent behavior”? He means “good conduct.” It is that conduct that is fair, honest, honorable, and treasured. It is doing what is right. It is a behavior that is even commendable among the pagans.

Sadam Hussein and Christians

We know how brutal Sadam Hussein was as a leader in Iraq. Most of that was against Muslims of a certain sect. In talking with Christians from Iraq after Sadam was ousted and executed, many of them said that Christians were free to worship, do business, own land, and other things because Sadam could trust them. They were not a problem for him. He knew where they stood and their actions and behavior provided freedoms that some of the Muslims did not have.

This is the type of behavior that Peter wanted from his readers as they sojourned as aliens in a world that could not understand what and who they were.

Glorify God

When Christians behave the way that God instructs, that behavior brings glory to Him. This is the goal of the Christian. To walk and live in such a way that their lives bring glory and honor to God. As the pagans observe the way Christians act, that behavior becomes an honorable action being observed.

What areas are being observed?

  • Your relationships
  • Your marriage
  • Your work ethics
  • Your speech
  • Your social media posts
  • Your reaction towards social injustice
  • Your emotions
  • Your morals
  • Your beliefs
  • Your family
  • Your integrity
  • and countless other examples

Do these areas of your life bring glory to God. When people observe your marriage, is it holy? Do you as a Christian couple live as one flesh in a way that pleases God? As a Christian, are you co-habitating before marriage? Is there any conflict about what the Bible says how you should behave verses how your premarital relationship is being observed by others?

What about what you post on the social media? Do you chime in defacing, demoralizing, tearing down people and circumstances by simply pasting others’ posts? What about your purity? Is your purity in check on the web?

What about your emotions? Do you have an anger problem? Do you lash out at people? Does it make you feel good that you can make someone feel small? What is being observed about you by others and God says alot about your faith and walk in Christ.

Persevering to the End

Peter’s instruction for Christians is timeless. Our excellent behavior should persevere all the way until Christ comes again. This is what he means by “in the day of visitation.” Christians will be under scrutiny and observed by all until Christ returns. Then God will receive full glory as every knee bows and every tongue confesses that Jesus is Lord (Philippians 2.10-11). What a glorious day that will be. But in the meantime, let Him receive some of that glory now by how we conduct ourselves in this world.

Peter’s Vision

There is a great temptation to get caught up in what takes place in this world. Conflict with our culture is not won by aggressive behavior towards it. It is won by “good conduct” or “good works’ that are in accordance with God’s will and His gospel. Peter’s vision for all Christians is that their exemplary behavior will change the minds of their accusers and in effect ‘overcome evil with good, making the gospel and Christ a more pleasing witness (cf. Acts 2.47).

Examine Yourself

  1. Can people tell that you are a Christian by your behavior?
  2. Are your relationships with others pure and honoring to God?
  3. Was your post on Facebook today edifying?
  4. Do you discern what you and your family view on Netflix?
  5. Why would a non-Christian glorify God by your behavior today?

These are important questions to ask ourselves in days when there is much chaos, emotion, and fear in the world. I pray your desire is to live as a citizen of heaven who is a temporary resident in this world. By doing this you bring glory to God as you await His return.

Grace and Peace! – GT

They’ll Know We are Christians by Our…

“…and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.”

Acts 11.26

“They’ll Know We are Christians by Our Love”

Those who belong to another generation will remember this song we use to sing in church:

We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
And we pray that our unity will one day be restored
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
Yes they’ll know we are Christians by our love.

Words and Music by Peter Scholtes

I was thinking about this song this morning while reading the Scripture verse above. It was one of those rabbit trails that I occasionally go on. I started meditating on what it meant to be called by Jesus to be His disciple. That led to what is the difference between being a Christian and a disciple. Then that led to, do people know that I am a Christian? If so, how do they know that I am a Christian? Then, finally, how does that correlate to being a disciple?

So, is there really a difference?

I feel like I need to start by defining what it means to be a Christian and then a disciple of Christ. As Justin Gravitt shared on his blog, it’s like trying to figure out the difference between a square and a rectangle. What is the difference? He writes:

The difference between squares and rectangles aren’t as clear as you were taught. In fact, every square is also a rectangle. So what’s the difference? A square is a quadrilateral where all four angles are right angles and all four sides are the same length, but a rectangle is a quadrilateral where all four angles are right angles. So, every square a rectangle, but not every rectangle is a square.

Justin G. Gravitt

So, does that mean every disciple is a Christian, but not every Christian is a disciple? That’s the question I will attempt to answer.

To answer that question we need to see how the Bible defines the terms Christian and disciple.

A Christian can be defined as…

  • one who is identified by others as a follower of Christ – Acts 11.26.
  • one who is a witness concerning the gospel of Jesus Christ – Acts 26.28.
  • one who may suffer for the sake of Christ’s name – 1 Peter 4.16

As you see, the word or title Christian is only used three times in the New Testament. It is difficult to put together a theological belief or defintion based on just three verses. But, one might say that from these references that a Christian is identified as one who follows Christ and His teachings, testifies concerning His gospel, and one who may suffer persecution because of His name.

Another observation concerning the term Christian is that it was a name of derision given by unbelievers. It wasn’t until Peter mentions it in his letter that the name was viewed as a positive, but only for those who were suffering for the sake of Christ under the hands of the Roman Emperor, Nero (1 Peter 4.16).

A Disciple can be defined as…

There are more than 230 references in the New Testament that use the word or title, disciple. The word for disciple in the greek language is “mathetes.” It describes one who is a learner, like a student. The root of this word is used to describe one who learns or understands. So then a disciple can be described as…

  • One who is informed – Matthew 10.24.
  • One who learns – Matthew 10.25.
  • One who practices – Matthew 14.26,27.
  • One who is appraised – Matthew 14.33

These are just a few references concerning what it means to be a disciple of Christ. But, there is one description here that is missing that ultimately identifies one as a disciple of Christ. That is, they are called by Christ, not by the world, to follow Him and fulfill His great mission (Matthew 28.18-20). So then, a disciple is…

  • One who responds to the call of Christ – Matthew 4.19.
  • One who obeys the commission of Christ – Matthew 28.18-20
  • One who lives a cross centered life – Luke 9.23.
  • One who makes disciples – Acts 14.21

Sorting this all out…

This is by no means an exhausted list. I simply pare these down for the sake of space. But from observation we can see that being a Christian and being a disciple of Christ are similar, but different. Just like a square and rectangle.

To be identified as a Christian is how the world see us. To be identified as a disciple is how Jesus sees us. I guess the question then, is how do you see yourself?

How the World Sees Us as Christians

In some places around the world, to be identified as a Christian is the same as it was in the New Testament. But, in other places it has become plain and ordinary. For example, in places like China or in the Muslim world, you will suffer much for being identified as a Christian. Thus, people in those regions do not publicly indicate or give evidence they are a Christian unless they are willing to be persecuted or even die for Christ.

In the Islamic 10/40 widow, governments categorize people as either Muslim, Christian, Jew, or sometimes others. To be identified as a Christian in those regions does not necessarily mean that you are a born again believer who understands and believes in the gospel of Christ. It just means you are not a Muslim. Which means you can proselyte and disciple anyone who is a non-Muslim.

In places in the west, especially in America the term or name Christian is ordinary or plain. You can list yourself as a Christian. Certain cults identify themselves as Christians. Many call themselves Christians, list themselves as a Christian, but they themselves may not be a true Christian, much less a disciple of Christ.

How do you see yourself?

How do you know you are a Christian or disciple of Christ? Mike McKinley wrote a short book that ask the question, “Am I Really a Christian?” Each chapter is based on a statement such as…

  • You are not a Christian just because you say that you are.
  • You are not a Christian if you haven’t been born again.
  • You are not a Christian just because you like Jesus.
  • You are not a Christian if you enjoy sin.
  • You are not a Christian if you do not endure to the end.
  • You are not a Christian if you don’t love other people.
  • You are not a Christian if you love your stuff.
  • Can I ever really know if I am a Christian?

These are great thought provoking statements to test our faith in Christ. How do you know you are a Christian? Go back to what I wrote above. In short, you are a Christian if you…

  • Have been called by God through Christ – 2 Thessalonians 2.13.
  • Received the gospel by grace through faith in Him alone – Ephesians 2.8-10.
  • Repented of your sins and have been baptized – Acts 2.38.
  • Follow Christ and His teachings – 1 John 5.2.

The gospel of John states it simply when the Apostle writes…

“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”

John 1.12-13

I pray that you observe from these verses that no one can declare themselves as a Christian or follower of Christ, only God can through Christ. Only He gives the right to become His child. Not man. It is not by your geneology or parents, nor can you save yourself, or because someone declares you Christian, but only God.

So, the question for you to ask is this, has God given you the right to become His child through His one and only Son, Christ Jesus our Lord? Have you accepted His call and repented from your sins to follow Christ and obey His commands?

Does the world know you are a Christian?

Has anyone ever accused you of being a Christian? If so, you may be a Christian. That also may mean you are a disciple of Christ. Why would someone point you out in being a disciple of Christ? It may be because of several reasons…

  • Your speech is different.
  • Your actions are different.
  • Your love for others is different.
  • Your lifestyle is different.
  • Your countenance is different.
  • You are unashamed of the gospel.
  • Your ethics are different.
  • Your beliefs are different.
  • Your view of life is different.
  • It may simply be that you are just different.

Does it matter?

Does it matter whether you are a square or rectangle? Yes and no. No, because if people identify you as a Christian, then you are on the right path. Yes, because being a disciple means to press in deeper into a personal relationship with Christ. You have been saved by grace through faith in Christ alone, but now you want to worship, walk, and be a witness of Christ all the days of your life. Possibly persuading others to become a Christian who are called by God though Christ. That is why it matters. That is why it is important for others to know you are a Christian.

Grace and Peace! GT

Why Christians Should Read Leviticus

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“Thus you are to be holy to Me, for I the Lord am holy; and I have set you apart from the peoples to be Mine.” – Leviticus 20:26

Biblical Bermuda Triangle

You started a new Bible reading program back in January. Your goal is to read every book of the Bible this year. You start in Genesis. It’s a great narrative. Exodus is even more exciting. You are proud of yourself because you are making headway on your goal. But then, it happens. The eventual Leviticus Bermuda Triangle. Even though it is partially a narrative, some get lost in the book and give up.

Have you ever read a technical manual? For some, reading Leviticus can be like that. Some read Leviticus as if it were a book full of rules and regulations and miss the intentional message from God to His people.

Some, approach Leviticus like the first week of school. The excitement of getting back together with all your classmates. You catch up with everyone in your homeroom. But then, the dreaded first assembly in the auditorium where the administration talks what seems like hours and days on what you can or can not do. Where you can go and not go. What you can wear and not wear. Things allowed and things not allowed on campus. It seems like an endless flow of rules that seem unrealistic and irrelevant to you because others can not seem to behave. If this is you while reading Leviticus, you are not alone.

The Joy of Reading Leviticus

I would like to encourage you in your devotional time with God as you prepare yourself to read Leviticus. One can joyfully anticipate reading the book that most get bogged down or who quickly skim through, like the reading of the product agreement on computer software programs.

Here are some ways to prepare yourself to read Leviticus:

  • Be Intentional: Some things just need to be done with a purposeful mindset. If you go into reading Leviticus with sour anticipation like the school assembly meetings, then you will not get anything out of it. So, be intentional, purposeful as you prepare your heart and mind to read.
  • Be Prepared: In preparing to read books in the Bible like Leviticus, I suggest getting a study Bible or look for a solid synopsis, or survey of the book. The Bible Project people have wonderful overviews and videos that survey the books of the Bible that help sort out the clutter that sometimes bogs down readers. Other resources include:
  • Be Prayerful: As you prepare to do any Bible reading, pray before you read and then delight yourself in God’s word. What do you pray? You can pray these prayers:

“Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from Your law.” – Psalms 119:18

“Incline my heart to Your testimonies and not to dishonest gain. Turn away my eyes from looking at vanity, and revive me in Your ways.” – Psalm 119.36-37

“…may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.” – Ephesians 3.18-19

The intention of praying these prayers from Scripture is to prepare your heart and mind to receive God’s word into your soul. I love the modern hymn by the Getty’s, “Speak, O Lord.” The hymn is usually sung before the preaching message during the worship service, but as you read the verses below you can see how it can set your mind and heart in readiness to devote your time in a book such as Leviticus.

Speak, O Lord, as we come to You
To receive the food of Your Holy Word.
Take Your truth, plant it deep in us;
Shape and fashion us in Your likeness,
That the light of Christ might be seen today
In our acts of love and our deeds of faith.
Speak, O Lord, and fulfill in us
All Your purposes for Your glory.
Teach us, Lord, full obedience,
Holy reverence, true humility;
Test our thoughts and our attitudes
In the radiance of Your purity.
Cause our faith to rise; cause our eyes to see
Your majestic love and authority.
Words of pow’r that can never fail—
Let their truth prevail over unbelief.
Speak, O Lord, and renew our minds;
Help us grasp the heights of Your plans for us—
Truths unchanged from the dawn of time
That will echo down through eternity.
And by grace we’ll stand on Your promises,
And by faith we’ll walk as You walk with us.
Speak, O Lord, till Your church is built
And the earth is filled with Your glory.
– by Keith & Krystyn Getty

Things You Can Learn From Leviticus

Holiness

The purpose of the book of Leviticus is to provide guidelines to the Levitical priests and the children of Israel concerning their behavior before a holy God. The heart of the book is centered around holiness. Thus, its major theme is holiness. This is where the book becomes a practical guide even for believers. The theme of holiness among believers seems to have given way to the busy faith of Christians today.

One of the characteristics of the Puritans I appreciate is their emphasis on holiness. What is holiness? Holiness depicts a life-style that is separate from other life-styles. If you want to get to know the Puritans I suggest two reading resources: “Wordly Saints” by Leland Ryken and “Valley of Vision” by Arthur Bennet. These are two great reads that illustrate the walk and ways of godly people who are bent on being holy before God with an affection that is not governed by pharisaic laws, but by genuine spiritual piety that seeks to please God rather than self.

Mercy

Because God is holy and expects His people to be holy, there is a problem, man has a fallen condition called sin. Because God cannot relinquish His holiness, He also will not turn His back on our sin. Thus, His holiness meets His mercy. God works this out for us through His sacrificial system, which eventually leads us to Christ, the true Lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the world.

This mercy was first seen in the garden in Genesis. Adam and Eve were told not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. They eventually succumb to the temptation and sinned against God. God had told them that if they sinned against Him they would die. Instead of killing them, God provided a substitute and covered their sin (Genesis 3.21). This was a foretaste of the Levitical sacrificial system that depicts God’s mercy. This system of mercy became the precursor to Jesus’ death on the cross to atone for our sin and satisfied God’s judgment on our sin.

Blood

Yes, Leviticus can be a bit gory. But, it should be pointed out that without God’s demand for blood offering there is no pardon for our sin. Because of our sin, God requires blood. Blood is our way of re-entering into fellowship with God. Without it, we are separated from God because of our sin. When we sin, God looks upon our sin in His righteousness and justice. Sin must be dealt with for God will not let the guilty go unpunished because His holiness demands it (Numbers 14.18). Thus, what is pictured in Leviticus is ultimately fulfilled in Christ Jesus our Lord. Jesus became the ultimate sacrifice, the payment for our sins. Because of His bloodshed on the cross, we now can have fellowship with God.

Celebration and Worship

Many are not aware that some of the major celebrations in the Christian worship calendar come from Leviticus:

  • Passover (Leviticus 23.4-8):  While the Hebrew celebrate to remember the angel of death who passed over the children of Israel in Egypt, the New Testament sees Jesus as the Lamb of God whose blood allows the judgment of our sin Passover us.
  • Pentecost (Leviticus 23.6): This feast takes place 50 days after the Feast of First Fruits,” thus it is called Pentecost which means “50 days.” In the New Testament, this marked the birth and beginning of the church, the spiritual harvest that Jesus spoke of in Matthew 9.37, and became a reality in Acts 2.
  • Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16, 23.26-32): Atonement means to make restitution for wrongs committed. In Leviticus, this was observed by the sacrifice of animals as the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies. It was an annual payment for the sins of the people during the Old Testament, but in the New Testament, Jesus became the ultimate sacrifice that would atone for our sins once and for all (Hebrews 9.12).
  • Other Celebrations: Other celebrations included “Unleavened Bread” – Leviticus 23.6; “First Fruits” – Leviticus 23.10; “Feast of Trumpets” – Leviticus 23.24; and “Feast of Tabernacles or Booths” – Leviticus 23.34.

We Were Made for Worship

One of the key reasons for God having His people released from Pharoh’s grip in Egypt was so that His people may meet Him in the wilderness to worship Him (Exodus 8.1). The same is for us who live in these days of grace. We were created and born again to worship God.

Worship is one of the key themes in Leviticus. The book teaches God’s people how to worship God in the way He desires to be worshipped. This way of worship allowed His people to enjoy a continuing relationship with the Holy God who dwelt among His people. It also shows how His people can maintain that relationship and express it through worship.

This is why we gather today as God people, the church. To worship God as a living and holy sacrifice that pleases Him as His people joyfully express their gratitude for His offer of salvation and the gift of eternal life through the permanent sacrifice, Christ Jesus our Lord, the Lamb of God.

Conclusion

So, as you sit down and begin reading Leviticus, it is my prayer that you do so with a heart of gratitude for who God is, what He has done, and why you can put your hope and trust in Him. He has provided the means for atonement for our sins through the sacrifice of His only Son, that whosoever believes in Him, may not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3.16).

The Perils of Fruitless Prayer: Pt. 2

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“And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.” – Matthew 21.22

I am Not a Gardener!

My wife has a green thumb. I have a brown thumb. This means when I plant things they die, when my wife plant things they grow. There was one exception to this when we lived in Northern California. We lived in a small condo that had a patio which included a 3-foot by  8-foot pad of dirt. We had just enough earth to plant a small garden. She wanted tomatoes. Through the years she would plant, water, and fertilize these plants. They would grow tall and beautiful but bore no fruit. It was one of those rare occasions that my wife could not get a plant to produce. I eventually, pulled the plants up and bricked the pad, and replaced the plants with a BBQ pit. No more fruitless tomato plants. Instead of eating fresh tomatoes from our garden, we had BBQ.

A Barren Fig Tree

In Matthew 21.18-22, Jesus was on His way back to Jerusalem from Bethany after spending the night there. While walking, he became hungry and saw a fig tree by the road and found that it had no fruit. Seeing this, Jesus said to the tree that it will no longer bear fruit and then at once the fig tree withered.

Jesus’ disciples were with Him and were amazed and asked Him how did the tree suddenly wither all at once. Jesus said to them that…

“if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ it will happen. And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.'” (Matthew 21.21-22).

An Object Lesson on Prayer

At first reading, the story seems to show Jesus was vindictive towards the fig tree, but actually, Jesus used the tree as a symbolic act to teach His disciples about the barren faith of Israel.

Object Lesson 1: Religion that is faithless is better off dead. This is the peril of fruitless worship and prayer. The fig tree represented God’s people, the nation of Israel. They were chosen by God, by faith (Genesis 15.6), to be a great nation that would be a blessing to all the families of the earth (Genesis 12.2-3). They were to be God’s light among the gentiles nations (Isaiah 42.6). A priest among the peoples of the earth (Exodus 19.5-6). By the time Jesus came to earth, the religion of Israel was barren and empty. Jesus came looking for fruit among His own people and found nothing. All He could find among them was only criticism among her leaders (Matthew 21.1-17).

The Jewish leaders were more interested in keeping and protecting their faithless, dead religion than to receive the only begotten from heaven who is life and the light of men (John 1.4, 11). So, instead of finding fruit, Jesus found a faithless, barren religion that would be better off as a withered tree than a luscious tree that bore no fruit. Thus, He withdrew His blessing from the nation and soon the religion Israel practiced would wither and die away.

Object Lesson 2: True faith and prayer are a powerful combination. The sign of the withered fig tree amazed Jesus’ disciples. But, what should have really amazed them is His promise of the great things they would see through faith and prayer. Faith and prayer are powerful combinations. When both are in accordance with God’s will they are effective and can accomplish much (James 5.16b). The apostle John states that God does not hear the prayer of sinners (unbelievers), “but, if anyone is God-fearing and does His will, He hears them” (John 9.31). Thus, the object lesson for the disciples here is…

“not to falter in faith, for faith can move mountains; faith can remove all obstacles” as long as it is in accordance to God’s will (John Phillips Commentary).

The mountain that Jesus speaks of represents the temple mount where Israel practiced a dead and faithless religion. Jesus taught His disciples that through faith and prayer, you can uproot this mountain and cast it into the sea. Their faith in Him would remove this obstacle that was blocking many peoples from coming to faith in God through Christ.

Jesus places before His disciples a prayer opportunity that would be in accordance to His will when after He rises from the dead the Holy Spirit would come on them on the day of Pentecost. On that day they would see thousands come to faith in Christ starting in Jerusalem on this mount, to the uttermost part of the world. With the obstacle removed, they would by faith come to know God through Christ and take the gospel into all the world (Acts 2.1-47).

How Does this Relate to our Prayers?

Fruitless prayers are the result of the lack of faith in God. Fruitless prayers are man-centered prayers. They are just as the Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day were. These kinds of prayers ask for our will to be done, rather than God’s will. The lack of faith is the obstacle that keeps our prayers from being fruitful. These obstacles, like the mountain need to be identified and moved.

How can we identify them? They can be identified in these ways:

  1. The mountain of unbelief. Unbelief means to lack faith. Faith in God, faith in Christ, and faith in His will. The only cure for unbelief is for one to place their faith in Christ alone. This needs to be the center-piece of the disciples’ life. Faith in Christ should be the core foundation of the disciples’ prayers. Faith in Christ is the connecting source to powerful and fruitful prayers.
  2. The mountain of dead religion. One’s spiritual life may actually be as the barren fig tree. It looks healthy. It says all the right words. It seemingly does the right things, but it is fruitless and barren. It is dead. Why?
    • It is void of God’s Word.
    • It is void of the message of the cross.
    • It is void of the power and work of the Holy Spirit.
    • It is void of the works done by faith in Christ according to His will.
  3. The mountain of pride. Pride is another obstacle when it comes to fruitless praying. Pride keeps us from humility and submission to God. This is because of two things:
    • The pride of personal will. I want what I want when I want it. This is self-interest praying.
    • The pride of the flesh. I want to feel good. This is hedonism. This kind of prayer only looks to satisfy one’s flesh.

How Do We Change the Way We Pray?

Humility: We change the way we pray first by humbling ourselves before God (2 Chronicles 7.14). To humble oneself means that one must be willing to die to self. Jesus tells us that…

“if anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9.23).

The mark of true humility is when we are able to die to self and follow Christ. His will cannot be your will unless you die. While Jesus was in the garden on the night before He died on the cross became our example of this when praying for the cup of death to pass. But, Jesus knew that his death was the only way to satisfy God’s judgment on sin. Jesus had to die to His will in order to save us from our sins. This is how we change our prayers. Through humility and dying to self.

Faith:  Jesus’ teaching lesson to His disciples was based on a lack of faith among the people of Israel. What kind of faith are we talking about? Where is our faith to be placed? In what or whom should we have faith in?

The Bible tells us that our faith must rest alone in Christ. This is the only link of power that connects us with the One who is power and the glory forever and ever. He is the One who is sovereign overall. He is the One who knows all things. He is the One who is in all places at all times. Our faith must rest in God alone, in Christ alone, by faith alone.

It is faith not only in His will but also in His Word. The righteous man who prays accomplishes much because His delight is in the Word of God and whatever he does he produces fruit because he is connected to the living source of power and life. Just read Psalm 1.

“How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers” (Psalm 1.1-3)

Conclusion:

Fruitless praying is the result of the sin of unbelief. But prayers offered in faith produce fruit. It is centered on God’s servant delighting himself in God’s Word and will.

In closing, my prayer for you is still the same as that of the apostle Paul in Ephesians 3.14-19…

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.”

This is a fruitful prayer that is praying God’s will for His people. May this be the kind of prayer you offer up to the Lord each day as you walk in His Word, by His might and that you may be found to be a fruit-bearing tree that prospers in and out of season.

Grace and peace! GT

The Peril of Fruitless Prayer: Pt.1

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“And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.” – Matthew 21.22

Some Questions about Prayer

How is your prayer life these days? Has it grown or decreased since sheltering in place? Do you feel closer to God or more distant? Is your prayer life on schedule or has it succumbed to the lostness of days, rendering you with a lack of direction, focus, or initiative?

If you are still engaged in prayer, awesome! If so, what do you pray for? What are you wanting from God? What is it you want Him to do? Who are you praying for? Do you feel your prayers are being answered according to God’s will, not yours?

Being Motivated to Pray

What is your motivation to pray? Praying can be like dieting or exercise. It comes and goes when the need motivates us to do so. For example, we diet because we gained weight. We gained weight because of our diet or lack of exercise, thus we begin to walk, run, or bike and eat healthier foods.

Praying comes and goes when the need motivates us to do so. The frequency of prayer tends to increase when we are faced with difficulties in life. When we are afraid, stressed, facing trials, in need, or simply looking for direction.

I think that the motivation for prayer decreases when we feel we have no reason to pray. We typically pray out of personal need. When those needs are met, we tend to pray less ignoring the glorious opportunity to pray for others and circumstances around our world that need attention in daily prayer.

God and Us

Prayer is not about us, it is about God at work in us. It is not that we possess some kind of supernatural power that is indigenous to us, it is the power of God working through us as we pray to the Father, through the Son, and by the Holy Spirit.

Prayer is a relationship-building activity between us and God. It is God inviting us into His throne room of worship and praise. It is God revealing His Word and will to us as we reverently enter into His holy presence, offering our lives as a living and pleasing sacrifice.

Because we do not see God as He is, this affects our motivation to pray. Because we tend to have a low view of God and a high view of ourselves, we pray less. In short, we pray less because we are lazy and selfish children of God.

To be honest, our lack of motivation to pray centers around our selfishness and not God’s holiness. This selfishness affects our relationship with God. How can a relationship be real if it is only one-sided? How can it be deep in knowledge and in affection if we only come to God when we only need Him? How and when we pray testifies of our relationship to God, not God’s relationship with us.

An Old but True Point

It’s an old story, but I believe it speaks the truth here. An elderly husband and his wife were stuck in traffic behind another car at a traffic light. The husband behind the wheel, the wife sitting far to the right, next to the passenger door. The wife noticed the young couple sitting closely next to each other in the car in front of them. The wife turned to her husband and said, “why do we not sit close like that anymore? I miss that, don’t you?” The husband turned to his wife and gently said, “I miss it too my love, but, I am not the one who moved over.”

God is always at the wheel. He is always in the driver’s seat of our lives. He is unchangeable and unmovable. It is assumed that we will pray. It is assumed that God is always pursuing us in a loving relationship. But, what is not assumed is that we are the ones who have changed. We are the ones who have moved and grown distant from God.

We often ask God, why have you become so distant from me? God’s reply is very much like the husband’s, “I am not the one who has become distant, you have.”

In Closing

The next few posts on this blog will be dedicated to prayer. My plan is not to simply teach another method of prayer. My goal is to provoke you to pray. My desire is Paul’s desire from Ephesians 3.14-21, “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith…that you may know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3.17, 19).

I also want to warn you about the perils of fruitless praying. So that as Christ declared to His disciples in the opening verse above, you may not pray as hypocrites do, but as faithful followers of Christ who desire the will of God over the will of man.

Grace and Peace! – GT

Learning to Be Content

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(Click Play Button to Listen to the Audio Version of this post)

Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am…and my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 4.11b, 19

In my previous post, I asked my readers how they were doing. The past month has definitely created a temporary new normal in the way we live. The amount of time we spend at home. Parents are now homeschool instructors for their children. We have new heroes who are on the front line of this pandemic. Their lives and vocation have changed, including their hours and routine. Many are absent from their families to shield them from daily exposure to germs in hospitals. The list goes on…some of us are…

  • Lonely. The new practice of social distancing has created a void in our social life.
  • Grieving. Grieving over losing a loved one or their job.
  • Anxious. Anxious about getting sick. Anxious about what to eat. Anxious about life in general. Anxious about the future.
  • Angry. Angry at God. Angry at the government. Angry at people.
  • In denial. For many, this current state of living is more surreal than real.
  • Accepting that this may be the new norm for months to come.

As I briefly mentioned from an earlier post, it is as if we are going through the stages of grief.

My goal in today’s post is to encourage you from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. In Philippians 4.10-19, the Apostle Paul addresses his current state in prison to encourage his readers on how to be content no matter the circumstance. I want to be realistic in that, I understand that it is one thing to say it or write it, it is another to live it. It sounds good, but is it a valid statement? Can one really be content no matter the circumstance?

Learning from One who Knows:
The apostle tells us we can. He also indicates that he is one writing from experience. For he writes, “I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have LEARNED the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need” (v.12).

Learning to be content:
The point that Paul makes is that he has had to “learn” to be “content.” What he is saying is that in whatever circumstance, “I have accustomed myself to be self-sufficient.” Paul realized that times of need and plenty were temporary (v.12), because of this he learned the “secret” to be content.

How did he learn this? He learned how to adapt. To adjust to new situations or conditions especially as it applies to physical needs and food. His source of adjustment comes by walking with Christ, who sufficiently strengthened him. He states, “I can do all things THROUGH Him who STRENGTHENS me” (v.13).

This lesson was not always easy for Paul. In 2 Corinthians 12.9, we learn that Paul was being tormented by something in his life. He prayed to the Lord that it would pass. But, the Lord in His wisdom chose to allow this weakness in Paul’s life to remain so that he may depend on the Lord’s sufficient grace rather than his own power. God’s grace was sufficient for Paul, for God’s power is perfected in our weaknesses.

Because of this, Paul desires the same for the church. In his letter to the church in Ephesus, he prays on their behalf, “that He [God] would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man,” (Ephesians 3.16).

Why? “So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith;” (v.17a).

That’s the secret! To depend on God’s power and strength so that He may strengthen us through Christ inwardly to build up our faith in Him.

Therefore, the lesson is this: Our faith in Christ ought not to depend on circumstances. Therefore, no matter what we face in life, even in our weaknesses, we can face ALL THINGS through Christ who strengthens us.

One of my most recent favorite worship songs is “Give Me Jesus” by Sovereign Grace Music. The lyrics are as follows:

Take the world, but give me Jesus
All its joys are but a name
But His love abides forever
Through eternal years the same

Oh, the height and depth of mercy
Oh, the length and breadth of love
Oh, the fullness of redemption
Pledge of endless life above
Take this world, my God’s enough

That’s the secret…” take this world, my God’s enough.”

Learning to trust in the Lord:
I think it is important to note that your circumstances may be only temporary. There will come times in your life when you will be better off than others and then there will be times like these when you depend on God and others to help you get by. I believe the latter is more common for most people in the world. Most of the world population is barely getting by. Most of the world is lost. No direction. No hope. Wandering aimlessly. Needing guidance. Though many may seem to conquer this world, inside they are anxious about the things of this life. At times their suffering never seems to end.

This should not be for believers. Followers of Christ ought not to be defined by the course, time, and pattern of this world. Our status is not based on physical wealth or poverty. We are far richer than anyone or thing. Our kingdom is not of this world. Our kingdom lies eternally in Christ. Thus, in times like these we have this promise from the Lord:

“The Lord will not allow the righteous to hunger” (Proverbs 10.3).

What this verse is saying is that the soul of the righteous will never know hunger. They will be filled. Our life in this world is but a mist says James (James 4.14). We do not know what tomorrow may bring, so why be anxious about tomorrow when today has enough concerns of its own. God knows what you need, therefore, seek His kingdom first (Matthew 6.25-34).

Again, I know that speaking spiritually, this does not put food on the table and in your tummy, or even pay the bills. But, the lesson here is this...to learn to be content in physical things in life, one must learn first how to be content in the Lord. This was David’s point when he wrote Psalm 23.1 – “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”

David was content in the Lord. He trusted in Him and so can you for today, tomorrow, and for eternity.

Learning to be humble and grateful:
 In times like this, we may grumble, complain, be anxious, or even get angry. We react in these ways because we have not learned to trust and depend on God for daily provisions. This humbles us. We need to learn to accept help from others and be grateful to God for their assistance. Paul responds by stating, “I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent” (v.18b) and in return blesses them that God would return the favor with the riches in the glory of Christ (v.19).

Personal lessons in life:
Like Paul, I too have had to learn this same lesson, even recently. How prideful I had been in ministry. Depending on my own abilities and talents rather than on the grace and strength that comes in Christ. God humbled me. Took me out of commission. Imprisoned me. Broke my bones and like a shepherd huddled me close to His side so that I may not be in want of anyone or anything, but Him. For this I am grateful.

What did God do?
Below I list 5 things I learned from Paul. Lessons he learned from God.

  1. It is God who taught me to be content (v.11)
  2. It is God who strengthens me (v.13)
  3. It is God who supplied my need through others (v.18)
  4. It is God who richly supplies my need spiritually in Christ (v.19)
  5. It is God Who I give glory for all things (v.20)

The secret of learning to be content in times like these is to have a high view of God. This is humbling for us in many ways. But, for God to do a good work in us, we must humble ourselves or be humbled. We must learn to trust Him more. To depend on Him more. This is the secret.

I close with this thought, in the moment of crisis, the Lord protected and provided for His children in the wilderness of Sinai. The Lord provides for the birds and the flowers, how much more would He provide for you. The secret is by seeking His Kingdom first, not yours (Matthew 6.33).

Grace and Peace! – GT