People of Promise 96 Release

So, Saul (Paul) is confronted by Jesus and asked why he is persecuting the Lord. Then, He is told that Jesus is selecting Him personally to take the Good News (Gospel) to the non-Jewish nations (the Gentiles). Jesus goes on to say that He is sending Paul To open their eyes that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, (Acts 26:18). In the last lesson we had a look at this darkness and Light, and the power of Satan and the power of the Lord.

Let’s look now at why Jesus wants people freed from darkness and the power of Satan. It is so that they may thus receive forgiveness and release from their sins and a place and portion among those who are consecrated and purified by faith in Me (Acts 26:18b). Think about it for a moment. Here is the definition of a totally selfless act. Jesus died a horrible death on the cross so that we could receive forgiveness; He didn’t do it for Himself, He did it for us. First God creates humanity in perfect union with Himself (Gen. 1:27). Humans rebel against His care and love and give their dominion over the world to Satan (Gen. 1:28, 3:6, 1Tim. 2:14). God comes as a human and sacrifices Himself to buy humanity back from their slavehood to Satan (1Cor. 15:5). And God bought us back willingly, for He desires us to be with Him and enjoy Him in all things (1Tim. 2:4, Hos. 6:6).

It is this willing self-sacrifice on the part of our Creator that is the most astounding aspect of our entire relationship with Him. He was not coerced into it; He was not taunted and jeered at, and then out of reluctance, made the sacrifice; He was not bought off; He was not cajoled into it; He was not forced into it. No, He did it freely and willingly. That’s how much God loves us. That’s why we define Agape love as “giving the best you have without regard to the consequences to self.”

Let’s back up just a tiny bit here. The sacrifice was made so that we could receive forgiveness from Him. Forgiveness for “living outside a relationship with Him” (This is the definition of sin). Just think about it for a moment. We rebel against our loving God and live in relationship to Satan. God’s law says that the result of living outside a relationship with Him is death (Rom. 6:23)—that is, total separation from Him for all eternity. And He doesn’t want that for anyone, so He becomes a human and dies on a cross to buy us back out of slavehood. That’s Agape!

Not only did He buy us back, but He has made all who will accept this free offer to be His child, in total right relationship with Him once again, with all the rights and privileges of any child (Rom. 8:17). He pours out His Agape into every one of his children (Rom. 5:5), gives us the awesome power of His Spirit so we can live in His will (Eph. 1:19-20), and puts the mind of Christ in each of us so that we can think His thoughts and act on them the way He intends (1Cor. 2:16). This is astounding. Imagine, God takes a fully broken human with nothing in him/her that even remotely resembles His first design for humans, and rebuilds them from the ground up.

Ah, but there is a catch. And that is that this rebuilt human has to first want to be rebuilt. This we called being born again (John 3:3). Then the newly rebuilt human must begin a life-long pursuit of his/her relationship to the One Who did the rebuilding. God doesn’t make us new just to make us new. He makes us new so that we can grow ever closer to Him and enjoy His presence and His blessings. Remember, God is complete in and of Himself and doesn’t need a bunch of “needy” humans to look after in order to be complete. He looks after us willingly because He genuinely enjoys our company and genuinely enjoys helping us to become everything that we are capable of becoming.

Don’t sell God short. He’s not out to “get” anyone—that’s Satan’s tact (John 10:10). God is out to help anyone and everyone who will call upon the name of the Lord (Acts 22:21). God doesn’t bring bad things into our lives so He can turn around and bring good out of them (Rom. 8:28, James 1:17). That would be the act of a schizophrenic monster. No, when Satan does evil to us directly, or via his minions, or via the people or things of the world, God is ever ready to reverse their intent and bring good to us. This is a promise that we can and should stand on in absolute certainty.

All those who become God’s children absolutely do receive a place and portion among those who are consecrated and purified by faith in Me (Jesus). This is not just a place off at the fringe of the “heavenly crowd.” It is a place of all power and authority, seated with Jesus at the right hand of God! (Col. 3:1, Eph. 2:6). It is from this position of power and authority that we are to operate—not from a “humble, old sinner saved by grace,” position. We are not to operate from a “hat in hand,” begging position. We need to remember that God made us to be His children with all the right of His kingdom (Rom. 8:17, Heb. 4:16). We need to get up every morning and say, ”Never forget, you are a child of the King!” And for the rest of the day, we need to operate that way. Not with a haughty attitude, but with one of great thanksgiving and praise to our God who is so loving and caring and looks after us so carefully. We need to operate from a position of ultimate power, yes, but with a grateful heart that allows God’s love to flow out to those around us. Never forget, you are a child of the King! Act on it.

 

People of Promise 95 Overcome

Our discussion of Jesus’ confrontation of Saul (Paul) on the road to Damascus continues. As we noted in the last lesson, after knocking Saul to the ground and accusing him of persecution, Jesus told Saul: But arise and stand upon your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, that I might appoint you to serve as [My] minister and to bear witness both to what you have seen of Me and to that in which I will appear to you, Choosing you out [selecting you for Myself] and delivering you from among this [Jewish] people and the Gentiles to whom I am sending you—To open their eyes that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may thus receive forgiveness and release from their sins and a place and portion among those who are consecrated and purified by faith in Me (Acts 26:16-18). Our first note was to pay attention to what God says and get in line with it so that we can achieve all God has for us.

Second, after Jesus notifies Saul that he is being called to inaugurate the message of the Gospel among the Gentiles, He tells Saul that he will open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to the power of God. This is not a minor task, nor a minor outcome. First, God promises to open the eyes of the Gentiles. That is, His message of Truth and reality will penetrate the darkest of minds if they will honestly consider it. This is what God has wanted all along. He desires all be saved (1Tim. 2:4), and Paul was the one He chose to take that message to the Gentiles. Note that once Paul got underway in total obedience to God’s call, others, who were taught by Paul, then continued to spread the message to the Gentiles. That’s the way God operates. One never knows, as they carry out God’s instructions, who they will influence, and how God intends that influence to be used for Kingdom purposes.

Jesus notes that Paul will turn people from darkness to the light. This is not a literary turn of phrase that “sounds cool.” It is reality. Hell is not a bright place, full of the light given off by all the fires of burning bodies. Hell is a place of absolute blackness of the spirit. That is, it is a place where God is totally absent. I once asked God to let me see what Hell is really like. He asked if I was sure, and confidently, I told Him I was. He lifted the veil just a tad, and allowed me to see, no, to feel Hell. It is darkness beyond darkness. I remember being in deep caves and having the tour guide turn off all the lights. Now that is darkness. But not the darkness of Hell. It is a darkness that one can feel. It penetrates one’s spirit like an arrow, no, more like a totally saturating fluid that washes away all hope, all joy, all delight, everything but itself. I shudder, still.

On the other hand, God has also shown me the fullness of the light of Himself. I was exercising and singing a praise song one day when the Spirit of Jesus suddenly stood at my right side and put His arm around me. As He touched my left shoulder with His hand, everything suddenly disappeared in a blossom of light that was filled with love beyond comprehension. The room was gone, the weights were gone, the house was gone. Nothing existed except His light, which penetrated all that I was. It was light that I could feel, as if it touched me physically; it was love that was palpable.

This is the darkness and the light that Jesus is telling Paul about. But note the parallel that Jesus then draws: from the power of Satan to the power of God. Satan is the purveyor of the darkness, in direct opposition to the Light of God. God’s light is knowledge of Himself. It is His eternally penetrating Agape love. It is a full understanding of His holiness and absolute purity. Satan’s darkness is his power to kill, steal, and destroy (John 10:10). There is only darkness in his will and his ability. But please remember this, Satan is only a created angel, and is not the opposite of God. He opposes God but does not have God’s power nor abilities. Reassuring his readers of this, John wrote: Little children, you are of God [you belong to Him] and have [already] defeated and overcome them [the agents of the antichrist], because He Who lives in you is greater (mightier) than he who is in the world (1John 4:4). And then again, For whatever is born of God is victorious over the world; and this is the victory that conquers the world, even our faith. Who is it that is victorious over [that conquers] the world but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God [who adheres to, trusts in, and relies on that fact]?(1John 5:4-5).

As noted, this victory over the world comes through Christ Jesus, even as He told us, I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have [perfect] peace and confidence. In the world you have tribulation and trials and distress and frustration; but be of good cheer [take courage; be confident, certain, undaunted]! For I have overcome the world. [I have deprived it of power to harm you and have conquered it for you.] (John 16:33). The question that we must pose is do we really believe this and act on it, or is it just “too good to be true.” Well, the truth is, if God has promised it to us (and He has), then even though it seems too good to be true, it actually is true. His victory over the world lives in us, but we need to activate it and employ it so that we can be examples to all those around us.

Why would anyone want to be a Christian if all that it means is to “be good.” That’s silly. We want to be Christians so we can represent the One Who bought us back out the darkness of Satan’s grasp and placed us in the fullness of God’s loving light. We want to show others how to overcome the world and live a life of continual blessing and love in God’s presence. That’s what the Gospel is all about.

 

People of Promise 94 Heart’s Desire

After Jesus confronts Saul (Paul) on the road, and asks why Saul is persecuting Him, He goes on to say, But arise and stand upon your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, that I might appoint you to serve as [My] minister and to bear witness both to what you have seen of Me and to that in which I will appear to you, Choosing you out [selecting you for Myself] and delivering you from among this [Jewish] people and the Gentiles to whom I am sending you—To open their eyes that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may thus receive forgiveness and release from their sins and a place and portion among those who are consecrated and purified by faith in Me (Acts 26:16-18). That’s some appointment. But in this address to Saul, we see some very important promises to us, also.

First, when God calls you, pay attention to precisely what He says. And then do it. Paul did exactly that, and as a consequence, set the stage for the whole world to be exposed to the truth of God’s Word. God ‘s call upon one’s life is not only a positive thing, but it is backed by the promise of the fullness of His Spirit (Eph. 1:19-20). This means that whatever God asks you to do, you can do with His leading and power to back you. However, just because He will back you 100 percent doesn’t mean that you will necessarily rely on Him 100 percent. That’s the rub, and that’s where faith comes in. We need to stick to our appointed task with absolute trust in the One Who has appointed us, even when it looks like what He asked us to do is not going so well. Paul is our prime example of an ordinary person reborn in Christ who relied 100 percent on God’s plan for his life. He could in all honesty and truth write, Pattern yourselves after me [follow my example], as I imitate and follow Christ (the Messiah) (1Cor. 11:1). Paul relied 100 percent on the teachings and actions of our Supreme Paradigm, Jesus.

Such faith is not something that comes at the snap of one’s fingers. Remember, Paul was tutored directly by Jesus for a very, very specific task: taking the Gospel to the Gentiles (the non-Jewish nations) (1Cor. 11:23). In fact, Jesus has told the disciples that this would happen, But you shall receive power (ability, efficiency, and might) when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be My witnesses in Jerusalem and all Judea and Samaria and to the ends (the very bounds) of the earth (Acts 1:8). Jesus came first to the Jews because they were specifically called to be God’s emissaries to the world (Ex. 19:6), and it was from them that the Messiah would arise (Rom. 15:8). But it was God’s plan that all humanity should be able to call upon the Messiah’s saving act on the cross (Act 11:18) because God wishes all men to be saved and [increasingly] to perceive and recognize and discern and know precisely and correctly the [divine] Truth (1Tim. 2:4).

Well, you ask, if we don’t have Jesus’ personal instruction like Paul had, how can we be expected to do what God asks. Ah, that’s the beauty of the written Word. The Bible is not just a collection of writing by a bunch of guys that set out to form a new religion. No, Every Scripture is God-breathed (given by His inspiration) and profitable for instruction, for reproof and conviction of sin, for correction of error and discipline in obedience, [and] for training in righteousness (in holy living, in conformity to God’s will in thought, purpose, and action) (2Tim. 3:16). God had the Bible prepared for us So that the man of God may be complete and proficient, well fitted and thoroughly equipped for every good work (2Tim. 3:17). Thoroughly equipped, but only if we are willing to take the necessary time to work on the old RSMMA (Read, Study, Meditate, Memorize, Act). I know, I sound like a broken record, but honestly, that’s why we were given the Scriptures, and why we need to Study and be eager and do your utmost to present yourself to God approved (tested by trial), a workman who has no cause to be ashamed, correctly analyzing and accurately dividing [rightly handling and skillfully teaching] the Word of Truth (2Tim. 2:15).

And as we build our RSSMA, our absolute trust in God is re-enforced and grows. You see, faith comes by hearing [what is told], and what is heard comes by the preaching [of the message that came from the lips] of Christ (the Messiah Himself) (Rom. 10:17). And as we dig deeper and grow in our understandings, God is able to assign new tasks to us. Not necessarily tasks that will give us more exposure before men, not necessarily tasks that we might feel are “more important” to the Kingdom, but tasks that require us to grow and develop so that we are more fully equipped to become all that God wants us to be. Any task that God asks us to do is an important one, whether we think so or not. Never turn your back on a task that He asks you to do, no matter how seeming insignificant it is in your eyes. If God ask you to do it, it must be important to Him, and that’s what really counts.

And, I might note, that as we grow our RSSMA and move from task to task, God’s continual blessings flow freely to us. Not money, stop it now. “Blessings” don’t mean cash. They mean anything that God pours into our lives to increase our equipping to be all He intends, and do all He intends. It might be something so simple as a better ability to see the truth of His Word, or maybe the granting of a prayer for someone’s salvation, or a new job where our talents are more fully used, etc. Large or small, all His blessings are aimed at helping us to become more like Christ—and after all, isn’t that what we want in the very depths of our being (Ps. 37:4)?

 

People of Promise 93 Jesus’Body

Paul had been brought before King Agrippa and was “telling his side of the story.” Eventually he gets to the part where Jesus confronts him face-to-face on the road to Damascus. Paul relates: When on the road at midday, O king, I saw a light from heaven surpassing the brightness of the sun, flashing about me and those who were traveling with me. And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice in the Hebrew tongue saying to me, Saul, Saul, why do you continue to persecute Me [to harass and trouble and molest Me]? It is dangerous and turns out badly for you to keep kicking against the goads [to keep offering vain and perilous resistance] (Acts 26:13-14).

Before we go on to look at the “main event” of today lesson, let’s take a short side trip through this very important passage. Note that Jesus does not ask Saul (who will become Paul) why he is persecuting the People of the Way (as Christians were called in those days); Jesus mentions no name of any persecuted persons, He simply says, “Why do you continue to persecute Me?” Seems a bit odd until one realizes that Christians really do form the Body of Christ on this earth (Eph. 1: 22-23). Let me say that again—we really are the Body of Christ. Jesus specifically wrote that clause into His Last will and Testament: Neither for these alone do I pray [it is not for their sake only that I make this request], but also for all those who will ever come to believe in (trust in, cling to, rely on) Me through their word and teaching, That they all may be one, [just] as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be one in Us, so that the world may believe and be convinced that You have sent Me (John 17:20-21).

We really are one with Christ, and we need to remember that fact in all that we do. We really show the world what we think of Christ by the way we act. This statement needs to be very carefully folded into the very fabric of our being if we really want Christ to be honestly and fairly represented here on earth by His brothers and sisters, His Body. Hmmm, this could easily develop into a full-blown lesson. So, why not.

Paul, perhaps more than anyone truly understood the meaning of being Christ’s Body here on earth. In 2Cor. 11, Paul makes a long list of all that has been done to Him simply because he preached the Gospel. This list includes beatings, whippings, shipwreck, imprisonment, and on and on. Christ was not respected by the world when He walked here, and He still isn’t. Being a part of the Body means that the world does not champion our cause.  And don’t ever expect it to! Perhaps in this nation, people are a bit more civil and don’t call for the whipping of those who preach the Gospel, but doesn’t mean that the Body gets a free ride. In fact, not a day goes by that one doesn’t hear of all sorts of actual inroads and proposed worldly inroads of one kind or another into the Christian community.

On the other hand, if we know that such things are going on, we can pray, we can vote, we can write letters, we can call Congress members, and so on. All of these are excellent non-violent ways of sustaining the strength of the Church in the world.

Having said that, let me also point out that being a member of the Body grants us rights and privileges and power that the people of the world do not and cannot have from God. These are based on His promises to us, obviously. But do we lean on them in the absolute trust that we should—most likely we do from time to time, but it should be all the time. As a Body we are weak because we don ‘t walk fully in all that Christ has for us. We grasp at straws, and clutching any that manage to drift into our reach, we think that we have the fullness of God in our lives. The only One Who ever walked in that fullness was Christ Jesus.

Paul makes a rather astounding statement in his letter to the Colossians: See to it that no one carries you off as spoil or makes you yourselves captive by his so-called philosophy and intellectualism and vain deceit (idle fancies and plain nonsense), following human tradition (men’s ideas of the material rather than the spiritual world), just crude notions following the rudimentary and elemental teachings of the universe and disregarding [the teachings of] Christ (the Messiah). For in Him the whole fullness of Deity (the Godhead) continues to dwell in bodily form [giving complete expression of the divine nature]. And you are in Him, made full and having come to fullness of life [in Christ you too are filled with the Godhead—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—and reach full spiritual stature]. And He is the Head of all rule and authority [of every angelic principality and power].

See the part where he notes that Christians are, in Christ, made full? Well that means full, not half full, not partly full, fully full. And it is as fully full beings that we need to operate. When God told is to be perfect as He is perfect, He didn’t mean that we can’t ever make mistakes, He meant that we are to lean on Him fully. We are draw on His strength, His wisdom, His promises, and not allow the things of the world to take our eyes off Christ. When Paul told the Corinthians, that we walk by faith [we regulate our lives and conduct ourselves by our conviction or belief respecting man’s relationship to God and divine things, with trust and holy fervor; thus we walk] not by sight or appearance (2Cor. 5:7), he meant that we base our thinking and our conduct on a solid relationship to God through Christ Jesus, and that His Word remains in us so that we don’t do things the way the world does them; we do things the way God does them. That’s saying something!

Seize the prize, grab the brass ring, step out, grab the opportunity, don’t hesitate, move forward boldly, etc. God has given each of us far more than we are willing to put into practice (and that includes me); so, stay at it. Never let down, expect great things, call upon God to help you fully employ all that Christ made available to us on that cross. Live fully in Him.

 

People of Promise 92 Build Up

We are told that as brothers and sisters in Christ we are to exhort, edify, and comfort each other: And we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s servant in [spreading] the good news (the Gospel) of Christ, to strengthen and establish and to exhort and comfort and encourage you in your faith (1Thes. 3:2). Exhort means to encourage and cheer onward, edify means to build up–and comfort, well that means to comfort. Exhortation and edification are closely related, for they are both basically forth-telling prophecy. That is, they are based on discovering the true meaning of scripture by digging in and studying the original written Word, and then, inspired by the Holy Spirit, comparing the meaning of any particular passage to the overall character of God and His desires for us in such a way as to spark our faith in, and dependence upon, Him.

Exhortation is the encouragement part of such work; that is, helping others to increase their confidence in who they are in Christ Jesus, both emotionally and spiritually. Edification is a building up. A building up of our intellectual understanding of our relationship to God through Christ Jesus. In this sense, exhortation and edification are hand in glove, so to speak. Simply understanding something intellectually does not mean we have the ability to use such knowledge. Exhortation get the knowledge out of the head and into the reality of active use.

Comfort is an interesting concept. We often think of comfort as a satisfaction of life—“a comfortable life”; easy, relaxing and not in any way demanding or stressful. But comfort can also mean to give compassionate help to others, to “ease” their burdens. And in the Biblical sense, that is what is meant. Jesus, of course, sent us The Comforter, the Holy Spirit. Just look at Jesus’ life to see what God wants for us—Jesus was an exhorting, edifying and comfort-giving machine. He told us about and showed us the character of God. His basic call was that the Kingdom came to earth with Him (Matt. 12:28 Luke 11:20), and He would make it available to everyone who called upon His name (Acts 4:12, Rom. 10:13). He showed us the fullness of God’s comfort by healings (Matt, 4:24; untold numbers—see John 21:25), and feeding the crowds (Matt. 15:28, Mark 6:44), extending God’s forgiveness of sins (Matt. 9:2, Luke 7:48, 1John 2:12), and helping us to understand how close God wants to be to us (John 14:17, 20, 15:4, 17:21).

God wants each of His children to provide exhortation, edification, and comfort to the Church—that is, we are to look out for each other and provide whatever we have in the service of others. And this is as it should be. At the same time, we are told to build yourselves up [founded] on your most holy faith [make progress, rise like an edifice higher and higher], praying in the Holy Spirit (Jude 20). Obviously, we can’t extend proper edification to others if we ourselves are unedified. We gain understanding of who we are in Christ, obviously, by praying. But even more important is working on the old RSMMA (resume) with added prayer. By reading, studying, meditating, memorizing, and acting on God’s Word–including the Holy Spirit in all this by prayer–we gain the greatest amount in the shortest time, allowing us to help each other become all that God intends for each of us to become.

All well and good, but where is there a promise in this? Well, the promise is hidden, unless one looks at the statement in a slightly different way. If we are faithful to work on our RSMMA with the involvement of the Spirit, God’s promise is that we will indeed be edified—built up—in our understanding of Him and who He has made us to be in Christ Jesus. Not just by our effort alone, but by His assistance and guidance and teaching. It’s sort of like lighting the fuse on a stick of dynamite. We’re the match that kindles the process, but the dynamite is what does the work. Even so, without the match, the dynamite lies there ready to do its work, but can’t. That little spark of our desire to know God more fully kindles a blast of knowledge that will forever change one’s life, exploding old worldly ideas and allowing the building of a new and better future in God’s plans for us.

But again notice—we are yoked to Christ Jesus (Matt. 11:29-30), and if either Christ or we falter, then the strong one will have to stop and help the other up, and then wait until the other is recovered before going on. Jesus never stumbles and falls, and does not get tired. Not only that, but He carries the largest share of the load. Even so, we still have to carry our share, and not stop dead in our tracks, or else, Jesus will have to stop, too. And that is not a good thing for us. Stay active, get out the Bible, blow off the ½ inch of accumulated dust, open it, and get your RSMMA started in earnest. God promises that you will never regret it.

 

People of Promise 91 No Harm or Evil

Or are you [so blind as to] trifle with and presume upon and despise and underestimate the wealth of His kindness and forbearance and long-suffering patience? Are you unmindful or actually ignorant [of the fact] that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repent (to change your mind and inner man to accept God’s will)? (Rom. 2:4). This statement of Paul’s to the Romans doesn’t sound like much of a promise, but actually there is one in there. Note the way that God has devised to bring people to repentance. Unlike a human dictator who would force people to accept his rule, God extends His grace and mercy to us so that we can understand how much He truly loves us, and how much He wants us to become His children. The promise in all this is that God has no intention to harm us or do evil to us, but rather to give us all that He has.

In actuality, God can’t do evil to us. Let no one say when he is tempted, I am tempted from God; for God is incapable of being tempted by [what is] evil and He Himself tempts no one (James 1:13). God does not have any evil by which to tempt us or to harm us. In fact, “evil” really signifies everything that is opposite of God’s character; that’s why Satan is called the “Evil One.”

It almost seems impossible to convince humans to repent of their ways without a good smack “up side the head,” but God doesn’t hand out smacks. He hands out blessings and care. Just look at the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, gentleness, kindness, faithfulness, and self control (Gal 5:22-23). No evil in there. Just the things that give us a life of purity in Him. God wants us to repent and accept Him as Father so that He can pour out all the very best into our lives.

Of course, as humans, our idea of “best” is not necessarily in line with God’s idea of best. For us, “best” is lots of cash, a huge house with servants, several pools, as many cars as we want, and vacations every week. Our idea of best is completely self-serving. Our idea of best is the cry of the “Gimmie Bird,” “I need, I need, I need, I want, I want, I want.” But God’s idea of best is not anything like that. Certainly He wants us to have enough to eat and a comfortable place to live, and sufficient money to live a life style commensurate with the society in which we live. But beyond that, He also wants us to operate our lives in such a way as to show others His goodness.

Such a lifestyle involves more that just passing out a few bucks on Sunday morning. The church is always discussing the idea of tithes, gifts, giving, etc. And while this can get a bit irritating at times –like phone calls at dinner time soliciting funds for some charity—there is a basis for it. That basis may be exaggerated by human attempts to get money for the church, but its core is Agape. We have been given God’s Agape love (Rom. 5:5), and it prompts us to love others with a desire for the best for them. This is the basis of giving to God-instituted organizations. Never give because some human tells you that you have to. Give because God prompts you to do so. We give so that others can come to know God through a display of His love for them through us.

In that regard, we are working hand-in-hand with God for the benefit of all humans. As His children (Rom. 8:14, 17, 9:26, Gal. 3:26), we are to display His characteristics to those who don’t know Him. Not that this is easy to do, because out old human understandings often cause us to do things the way the world does them—“Repent or else.” This, of course, is the theme of the “Hell, fire, and brimstone” type of evangelism. Literally, to “scare the Hell out of them.” But that’s not God’s way. It’s the human way. God’s way is to exercise Agape toward us—giving the best He has without regard to Himself. One has only to look at Jesus’ life to see the great truth of this. Not once did Jesus preach Hell, fire, and brimstone. All He ever did was give, give, give, until that day when He had to give all He had—His life for us.

Certainly, Hell is the alternative to Heaven, but to use the threat of Hell is to create the image of God as the Sovereign Punisher, not the Sovereign Lover of all humanity. God never created Hell for humans. He created it for Satan and his fallen angels, but if any human belongs to Satan, then guess what? That person will receive the same final end as Satan. And that’s not what God wants. He wants everyone to understand how very much He loves us, and all the truly wonderful blessing that He has for us (Deut. 30:19, John 3:16). God weeps over every person who rejects Him and follows the Evil One–to their ultimate destruction.

Our message to the unsaved should be repent (change your mind and purpose); turn around and return [to God], that your sins may be erased (blotted out, wiped clean), that times of refreshing (of recovering from the effects of heat, of reviving with fresh air) may come from the presence of the Lord (Acts 3;19). God is the reviver of our spirit, our soul, and our body. Satan is the destroyer of our spirit, our soul, our body. And we get to choose to whom we will devote ourselves.

 

People of Promise 89 For Good

There are times when a quick read of a Bible verse or passage, without taking time to logically and analytically reflect on its meaning, can give us a very wrong impression of our loving, caring, gentle, compassionate, and very much concerned-for-our-well-being Father. One of those verses is Romans 8:28: We are assured and know that [God being a partner in their labor] all things work together and are [fitting into a plan] for good to and for those who love God and are called according to [His] design and purpose.

Many times I sense by a person’s comments, or am directly told by them, that God brought sickness, death, accidents, disease, and other calamities into their life because it was part of His plan for eventual good for them. Oh my goodness, what a distorted, crippled view of reality and of God. I’m not certain why people believe this, except that they misunderstand God’s sovereignty and think that everything that happens in their life is brought about by God. Absolutely and positively not true. There’s Satan, the world, and non-believers all out there to bring bad, in addition to our own free-will, errant ways.

None-the-less Rom. 8:28 holds a very powerful promise that God wants us to be aware of. It is His intent, and one that he has bound Himself to by a promise and an oath. This was so that, by two unchangeable things [His promise and His oath] in which it is impossible for God ever to prove false or deceive us, we who have fled [to Him] for refuge might have mighty indwelling strength and strong encouragement to grasp and hold fast the hope appointed for us and set before [us] (Heb. 6:18).

The promise that He makes to us in Rom. 8:28 is that (1) we must be a partner with God in whatever it is that we are doing. So, when we do things outside His will, He makes no promise to turn that to our good. (2) All that we do with God will be for our good, and never for our bad. (3) It is for God’s children—those who love Him and doing what He wants them to do– and not for others.

Thus when something bad comes into our life: (1) it is not from God. God didn’t cause a car accident so that He could teach a person to have more faith, or to endure suffering, or to bring others closer to the accident victim, etc. God doesn’t bring sickness and disease on us, period. And yet, I’ve heard others say that a particular sickness was given to them as part of God’s discipline in their lives. How, I might ask is sickness a discipline? Seems to me that sickness should be viewed as suffering and punishment, not discipline. People say such things because they equate discipline with punishment—that’s human thinking. And yet, we are not to apply our human ways of thinking and doing to God’s way of thinking and doing. For we walk by faith [we regulate our lives and conduct ourselves by our conviction or belief respecting man’s relationship to God and divine things, with trust and holy fervor; thus we walk] not by sight or appearance (2Cor. 5:7).

In other words don’t put words in God’s mouth, don’t assign Him human emotions, human methodologies, human desires, human revenge, etc. God is God and not man. We are to learn His ways, not assign our ways to Him, and then make up whatever we want concerning His character and relationship with us.

When we evaluate Scripture, we need to apply logic to that analysis. This means really digging in and actually studying with a clear look at what is being said, and how it applies to God’s nature and His relationship to us. Remember, God has only good for us (James 1:22), so things that are bad are obviously and logically not from God. Still, even if Satan brings bad and intends it to harm our relationship to God, God can bring good out of it. There are countless stories of God bringing good out of bad. He’s done it in the past, He’s doing it now, and He will do so in the future.

The key to what this passage is really saying is that if we are working hand-in-hand with God, we cannot fail. In the short term, things may look grim, but we need to hold fast and not lose heart, and not lose faith. God is not going to allow His project to fail, and we need to hold onto that like life itself. We need to give Him praise and thanks for allowing us to work with Him and praise and thanks for being ever ready to help us in the projects He asks us to work on with him.

The only time that God’s projects “fail” is when we fail, not when God fails. We can derail His intents by refusing to cooperate, refusing to hold fast, giving up when the going gets tough, and not believing that God will bring good out of the project. Our disbelief can cancel God’s plans. Sticking with God will create the most good for the most number of people. Joseph’s life is the perfect example of God bringing the very best out of a bad situation so that His plan for the Hebrews could be brought to fruition. And then along came Moses and all his anxieties and life issues, but because He was faithful to God, He became God’s friend and a great leader remembered for all the miracles that God worked through Him.

So, when you are working on something that God has called you to do, hang tough. Don’t allow fear and doubt to assail you and knock you off line. Stay in His will and thank Him for staying with you and working for your good. He makes my feet like hinds’ feet [able to stand firmly or make progress on the dangerous heights of testing and trouble]; He sets me securely upon my high places (Ps. 18:33)

 

People of Promise 88 Hold Fast

One of the hardest things to do is to notfling away your fearless confidence, for it carries a great and glorious compensation of reward. For you have need of steadfast patience and endurance, so that you may perform and fully accomplish the will of God, and thus receive and carry away [and enjoy to the full] what is promised (Heb. 10:35-36). I say it’s one of the hardest things to do because humans are the least patient of all the beasts. In fact, many become quite beastly when they are delayed for any reason—just look at the way people drive.

As a society, we race from event to event. Parents teach their children about never resting by ushering them to every activity possible: volleyball, basketball, football, baseball, track, gymnastics, dance class, music lessons, tutors, mentors, summer school, camp, and on and on and on. No wonder teens are always exhausted. And because we want to “keep up with the Jones’” we race from job to job, trying to accomplish more than is humanly possible in the shortest time possible, so that we can get on with getting on. No wonder everyone wants God to give a positive and immediate answer to every prayer. It just doesn’t work that way in our relationship with God.

Oh sure, there are times when God wants us to get something done ASAP, and that’s understandable. There are events that do require immediate attention. And God understands that there are sometimes things in our lives that require His immediate attention. But by-and-large, we are just too impatient, too much of the time. We don’t want to work at a relationship with God, we just want a genie-in-the-bottle-God who will whip out whatever we need the very instant that we feel we must have it. Sorry, that’s not God’s role, nor His intent for us.

Building a relationship takes time. Even people that have been married for years don’t necessarily know every event in the childhood of their partner. Sometimes there are well-guarded secrets, sometimes things are buried in the dim recesses of the past and only come to light when something similar in adulthood triggers the memory, sometimes the remembered events are embarrassing, and so on. But in the process each member of the couple builds on his or her understanding of the other, and their relationship become richer and fuller.

That’s the way we build relationship with God. True, one can get into hyper mode and build a relationship very quickly, forming a bond that will never fade. But even so, God can’t tell you everything about Himself in our short lifetimes here on earth. He wants to build an eternal relationship with us. The moment that we experience rebirth into His Kingdom, that relationship is established. We are the ones that determine how fast and how completely it is built. We build it by learning everything that we can about our Father, our big Brother Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. And we do this by reading the Word and allowing it to live in us (Heb. 4:12).

We also do it by allowing the peace (soul harmony which comes) from Christ rule (act as umpire continually) in your hearts [deciding and settling with finality all questions that arise in your minds, in that peaceful state] to which as [members of Christ’s] one body you were also called [to live]. And be thankful (appreciative), [giving praise to God always]. Let the word [spoken by] Christ (the Messiah) have its home [in your hearts and minds] and dwell in you in [all its] richness, as you teach and admonish and train one another in all insight and intelligence and wisdom [in spiritual things, and as you sing] psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, making melody to God with [His] grace in your hearts. (Col. 3:15-16).

As our relationship with God begins to take form, and we begin to understand all that He has done, is doing, and will do for us, we grow more and more reliant upon His Wisdom, His commandments, and His Promises. For as many as are the promises of God, they all find their Yes [answer] in Him [Christ]. For this reason we also utter the Amen (so be it) to God through Him [in His Person and by His agency] to the glory of God (2Cor.1:20). We need to hold onto this understanding, tenaciously.

And of course, we will get pressure from Satan, the world around us, those that don’t know Christ, and even our own doubts and fears that maybe this time God might not come through. But so What if some did not believe and were without faith? Does their lack of faith and their faithlessness nullify and make ineffective and void the faithfulness of God and His fidelity [to His Word]? By no means! Let God be found true though every human being is false and a liar, as it is written, That You may be justified and shown to be upright in what You say, and prevail when You are judged [by sinful men] (Rom. 3:3-4).

Our struggles are not with God’s faithfulness, it is with our own understanding of God; our relationship to Him. The more we build that relationship, the more we come to understand Him, and how He works and what He expects from us. God’s timing and His efforts on our behalf are crafted to give us the best that He has. Now be careful. Don’t assign everything that happens in your life as coming from God. That’s just silly (read stupid) fatalism that completely cuts God out of the picture. When bad things occur, we need to run to God, not run away. And we need to put Philippians 4:6-7 into play. Do not fret or have any anxiety about anything, but in every circumstance and in everything, by prayer and petition (definite requests), with thanksgiving, continue to make your wants known to God. And God’s peace [shall be yours, that tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ, and so fearing nothing from God and being content with its earthly lot of whatever sort that is, that peace] which transcends all understanding shall garrison and mount guard over your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Talk to God about your concerns. Don’t just mumble a couple of pitiful, insipid prayers. Get serious, and really talk. Talk like you meant it. Talk like you were standing right there in front of Him, and He was listening very carefully, nodding in agreement, voicing His Hmmm’s, injecting “I see, and I understand.” And stay with it. A few weak words will not get you where you want to be. How about something radical like talking to God for a full hour, explaining every detail of the situation, discussing your thoughts about it, telling Him what you really need and why. My goodness, that would be a lot of work—perhaps, but it certainly builds relationship, and it helps you stand and hold fast to your confidence in God. And while you’re talking away, don’t forget to give Him praise and thanks for helping you in the situation. Talk until His true peace settles on you. Then you know that you’ve done what needs to be done from your end. And let the peace (soul harmony which comes) from Christ rule (act as umpire continually) in your hearts [deciding and settling with finality all questions that arise in your minds, in that peaceful state] to which as [members of Christ’s] one body you were also called [to live]. And be thankful (appreciative), [giving praise to God always] (Col 3:15). God’s peace is the umpire that says, yes, you’ve done what needs done, so stay with it until that peace comes.

When things go well, we need to run to Him, too—giving praise and thanks for all He’s doing to help us to do everything that we can to become all that He intends. Growing up means saying thanks no matter what the situation (1Thes. 5:18). He’s there to help in the bad times and should be thanked, and He brings the good things (James 1:17), and we need to express our thanks for them. The more we do, the closer we become with Him, and the easier it becomes to hold fast to our confidence in His caring and love for us.

 

People of Promise 87 If

God’s promises are many and ever true, but they all come with that little two letter word upon which so much depends: “if.” You see, we have to do something in order to receive and function in the promises of God. In Deuteronomy 28 Moses outlined all that God was prepared to do for the Hebrews. Note how the chapter starts: IF YOU will listen diligently to the voice of the Lord your God, being watchful to do all His commandments which I command you this day, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth (Deut. 28:1).

God is nobody’s fool, and He’s not about to freely pass out His blessings to those who won’t believe in Him, believe what He says, or act in concert with His design for humanity. So, there must be that conditional “if.” This is not a “do it or else” condition. God does not threaten us the way humans might—“if you don’t pick up this room immediately, there will be no supper for you.” It’s not a matter of forced labor, intimidation, fear, badgering, etc., etc. It’s merely a statement of fact, no different that saying, if you want to drive a car you have to have a license.

God’s promises could equally be called “terms of the contract.” For, God has made a blood covenant with humans. There was the old covenant (Old Testament) and then with Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, there’s the new covenant (New Testament). John 17 lists the terms of the New Covenant—it is Jesus’ Last Will and Testament. In order to receive all that God has provided for us in this new covenant, we have to sign our names on the bottom of the last page next to where God has signed His. When we do, we say that we agree to the terms of the covenant that God makes individually with each of us. These terms say what we will do and what God will do. So, in that sense, they are promises by God, but they are likewise promises by each of us, individually.

Too often, Christians haven’t read the covenant they made with God. They have only a vague idea of what it really says. Perhaps they have a vague understanding that if they are “good” then God will allow them into heaven. There are plenty of jokes about this: “A man appears at the Pearly Gates, and St. Peter asks him….” In this mode of understanding, God becomes the equivalent of Santa Claus—“Making a list, checking it twice, gonna find out who’s naughty and nice, Santa God is coming to town.”

Nothing could ever be further from the real Truth, Who is Christ Jesus. God does not keep a list, and then weigh us and find us either “naughty” or “nice.” He doesn’t dispense gifts to the “good” guys and a lump of coal to the “bad guys.” I almost gag writing this tripe. But, unfortunately this is the misconceived notion that many have.

Here’s how it actually works: we have become fellows with Christ (the Messiah) and share in all He has for us, if only we hold our first newborn confidence and original assured expectation [in virtue of which we are believers] firm and unshaken to the end (Heb. 3:14). When we give our life to Christ (sign the covenant) then that guarantees us “all He has for us,” and that’s a lot! When we sign the covenant we say that we believe God is real, and that He rewards us with all the blessings outlined in the covenant—which He has also signed in the Blood of Christ Jesus. We have to trust Him fully (have absolute faith in Him) that He will indeed fulfill His end of the bargain, for without faith it is impossible to please and be satisfactory to Him. For whoever would come near to God must [necessarily] believe that God exists and that He is the rewarder of those who earnestly and diligently seek Him [out] (Heb. 11:6).

Now, what God does for us goes well beyond what humans would do for us in a contract. God not only signs the contract with His own blood, but He then makes all His power and authority available to us to help us keep our end of the contract. Not only that, but when we mess up and violate the terms of the contract, He’s ready to forgive us, and set us up back in the full terms of the contract. All I can say is what an amazing thing God has done for us. It just shows how much He really loves us and how much He desires the very best for us.

Now, look carefully at the “if” statement in Heb. 3:14, if only we hold our first newborn confidence and original assured expectation [in virtue of which we are believers] firm and unshaken to the end. The question that should immediately come to mind, is “how do I do that?” The answer is rather simple, but the process not so much. Actually the process is simply, just hard to do with any consistency. What God is saying, is “stay in love with me.” “Keep your full confidence in me, never let it drop.”

So how does one stay in love with God and keep up absolute trust of the King of kings? First, and foremost is to constantly work on your RSMMA—read, study, meditate, memorize, and act. Don’t let a day go by that you don’t activate, enhance, and mobilize your trust in God by reading His Word. It doesn’t have to be great swaths of the Word—just reading John 3:16 and spending a few moments contemplating all that’s said there will certainly stimulate your faith. But you have to do it. You have to because faith comes by hearing [what is told], and what is heard comes by the preaching [of the message that came from the lips] of Christ (the Messiah Himself) (Rom. 10:17). We know this is absolutely true because we are to look away [from all that will distract] to Jesus, Who is the Leader and the Source of our faith [giving the first incentive for our belief] and is also its Finisher [bringing it to maturity and perfection]. He, for the joy [of obtaining the prize] that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising and ignoring the shame, and is now seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Heb. 12:2). Jesus is the One Who initiates faith in us and sustains it in us as we live in His Word.

The second part of the equation is to pray daily. Not some dry, preprinted prayer, but prayer from the heart. Certainly you can pray for specific people and specific things, but pray the way you would say it and for the needs that you see. It’s OK to look at the ways others pray, but use it as a model for you own words. What you should think of is that prayer is talking to God on a one-to-one basis with Someone Who loves you so much He was willing to die cruelly on the cross so you could live, and not just live, but live in His total blessing in His eternity. Pray with love and joy in your heart, and gratitude moistening you lips.

Stay young at heart, seek God’s presence and walk hand in hand with Him on a daily basis. BLESS (AFFECTIONATELY, gratefully praise) the Lord, O my soul; and all that is [deepest] within me, bless His holy name! Bless (affectionately, gratefully praise) the Lord, O my soul, and forget not [one of] all His benefits—Who forgives [every one of] all your iniquities, Who heals [each one of] all your diseases, Who redeems your life from the pit and corruption, Who beautifies, dignifies, and crowns you with loving-kindness and tender mercy; Who satisfies your mouth [your necessity and desire at your personal age and situation] with good so that your youth, renewed, is like the eagle’s [strong, overcoming, soaring]! (Ps. 103:1-5).

People of Promise 85 Rock Solid

One of the most important, if not the most important, understanding that we must claim and stand on is the fact that God will never, never, never abandon us, regardless of the situations we face. We can turn away from Him, we can wallow in our own thoughts, have the most glorious pity parties anyone has ever experienced, roll our cares onto others and the world, and completely cut God out of our decisions, but He won’t leave. We need to keep our lives facing into the Glorious Light of His presence, no matter what. We need to grasp, with a grip that will never loosen, very precisely what God has said regarding His ever-presence with us: Let your character or moral disposition be free from love of money [including greed, avarice, lust, and craving for earthly possessions] and be satisfied with your present [circumstances and with what you have]; for He [God] Himself has said, I will not in any way fail you nor give you up nor leave you without support. [I will] not, [I will] not, [I will] not in any degree leave you helpless nor forsake nor let [you] down (relax My hold on you)! [Assuredly not!] So we take comfort and are encouraged and confidently and boldly say, The Lord is my Helper; I will not be seized with alarm [I will not fear or dread or be terrified]. What can man do to me? (Heb. 13:5-6).

When God says something once, we need to listen and pay the utmost attention (Prov. 4:20-23). When He says it twice, we need to leap to our feet, snap to attention, and get our butts in gear immediately. When He says something three times, well, you get the idea. And in this passage in Hebrews, He say, three times, that He will not in any way leave us helpless, nor forsake, nor let us down. That means that He will not, He will not, He will not!!! Grab this, imbue your life with it, swim in it daily, never, never, never, let it slip away from the very core of your being (Heb. 6:12). If you grasp it as you should, it will become the foundation bedrock of your life. God is always there and will not ever leave you. Hold onto that as if your life depends on it—because it does (Heb. 3:14)

It does in the sense that with absolute confidence in God’s ever-presence and care, you will live the fullness of the life He has for you. Now, in this regard, look carefully at the verses above. There is a great misunderstanding that has been generated by a casual reading of what God is telling us… and be satisfied with your present [circumstances and with what you have]. Without carefully reading this into the context of the passage, it seems that we are not to try to better ourselves, not try to get a good education, not try to “get ahead,” not try to be more than we are at this particular moment. That’s not what’s being said. Can you imagine God saying “don’t try”? That’s just plain ignorant. Ignorant of what God wants for all of us. In fact, what He wants is for us to never be satisfied with all that we’ve become in Christ Jesus. We are to surge ahead as strongly as possible to become more like Christ Jesus each and every day. We are to work at having ever more faith in the Rock of Our Salvation (PS. 62:2, 95:1, John 6:29).

So what is God telling us about this “be satisfied”? What He is saying is not “don’t try to be more than you currently are,” but rather, “be relaxed in Me, and allow Me to guide you and point you where I need you to go.” “Don’t strive to second guess me.” “Don’t be dissatisfied with your current circumstances because I am with you always, and always working to move you forward.” God wants us to be satisfied in Him. Content to rely on Him. Satisfied with our son/daughtership in Him (Rom. 8:17), and not striving to outfox Him, not all anxious about who He has made us to be, not grumbling because God has not moved us along as fast as we thought He should, not upset because God has called us to move into an area of our lives where we feel a bit uncomfortable. Rather, He wants us to simply rest in Him and respond positively to His directions.

Dissatisfaction can cause some to strive for a better life, but at the same time it causes others to crash, cave in, implode, give up, lose heart, become anxious, experience fear and dread, etc. God says, Do not fret or have any anxiety about anything, but in every circumstance and in everything, by prayer and petition (definite requests), with thanksgiving, continue to make your wants known to God. And God’s peace [shall be yours, that tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ, and so fearing nothing from God and being content with its earthly lot of whatever sort that is, that peace] which transcends all understanding shall garrison and mount guard over your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:6-7).

And, although He very specifically says, do not worry or be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will have worries and anxieties of its own. Sufficient for each day is its own trouble (Matt. 6:34), He does not ever say that we are not to plan ahead. If that were the case, He would not have given us prophets to show us what is to come. Rather, He has specifically told us that when He, the Spirit of Truth (the Truth-giving Spirit) comes, He will guide you into all the Truth (the whole, full Truth). For He will not speak His own message [on His own authority]; but He will tell whatever He hears [from the Father; He will give the message that has been given to Him], and He will announce and declare to you the things that are to come [that will happen in the future] (John 16:13).

God is not against planning, He is not against our wanting to become more than we currently are. He is against anxiety, worry, fear, dread, and all other emotions that drive us away from our reliance on Him. They cause us to be dissatisfied with our current circumstances, and then, rather than planning with God, we grumble, get angry at God, snip at our loved ones, and generally fall into a bad mood. When these emotions come, they are our signals to turn our faces into the bright light of the face of Christ Jesus (Rev. 1:14), and rely fully on Him to help us get through whatever situation we find ourselves in, and onto a higher plain with Him.

We are told to Thank [God] in everything [no matter what the circumstances may be, be thankful and give thanks], for this is the will of God for you [who are] in Christ Jesus [the Revealer and Mediator of that will] (1Thes. 5:18). Note this very carefully, we are not to give thanks for the circumstance, but in the circumstance. When things are going great, it’s natural to want to give thanks. But when things are not going great, giving thanks seems a bit much, as if we were hypocritical. No, when things are going bad, we don’t give thanks for the “badness,” we give thanks that God is there, that He will never, never, never abandon us. That He is ever ready to help us get through the bad times. We need to give thanks that we can call out to Him, and He will hear, and help us (1John 5:14-15).

God has sworn to be the anchor for our souls, the “anchor that keeps the soul, steadfast and sure while the billows roll, fastened to the Rock which cannot move, grounded firm and deep in the Savior’s love.” God, in His desire to show more convincingly and beyond doubt to those who were to inherit the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose and plan, intervened (mediated) with an oath. This was so that, by two unchangeable things [His promise and His oath] in which it is impossible for God ever to prove false or deceive us, we who have fled [to Him] for refuge might have mighty indwelling strength and strong encouragement to grasp and hold fast the hope appointed for us and set before [us]. [Now] we have this [hope] as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul [it cannot slip and it cannot break down under whoever steps out upon it—a hope] that reaches farther and enters into [the very certainty of the Presence] within the veil (Heb. 6:17-19).

God wants us to affix our anchor to the three-part cord of the Godhead (Eccl. 4:12), and then allow that anchor to catch onto, and dig deep into, the Great Rock of our Salvation. He wants us to enter His great rest and rely fully on Him (Matt. 11:29-30). And with a promise like the one He has given us in Hebrews 13, we can ever and absolutely be confident of our reliance on His care and love.