Archive for the ‘Encouragements’ Category:

Faith, Great or Small?

We understand that faith is essential to us as Christians.  We are saved by grace through faith.  Ephesians 2:8 “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.”  We are justified by faith.  Romans 3:28 “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.”  It is impossible to please God without faith.  Hebrews 11:6 “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”  Faith is being confident of things we cannot see.  Hebrews 11:1 “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

We have faith in God.  We have faith that Jesus Christ is the son of God.  We have faith that Jesus died in our place so that we have the forgiveness of our sins.  But we must also have faith in God’s promises.  We have faith in everlasting life provided by God.  We have faith in an eternal home with all the redeemed.  We have faith that God is for us and not against us.  We have faith in His power toward us.  We have faith that He works His will on this earth.  We have faith that He hears our prayers.  We have faith that He will never leave us nor forsake us.  We have faith in other promises He has given us.  As true Christians, we live our lives in faith.  Our faith should be a major influence in how we live our lives.

Is your faith great or small?  Consider the story in Matthew 8:5-10 “Now when Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, pleading with Him, saying, ‘Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, dreadfully tormented.’  And Jesus said to him, ‘I will come and heal him.’  The centurion answered and said, ‘Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof. But only speak a word, and my servant will be healed.  For I also am a man under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.’  When Jesus heard it, He marveled, and said to those who followed, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!’”  Here was a gentile centurion who wanted Jesus to heal his servant. He humbly requested that Jesus just speak the word and his servant would be healed.  He didn’t believe it was necessary for Jesus to come and lay His hands on his servant; all he asked was for Jesus to say the word.  This demonstrated that this man had great faith in the power of Jesus.

I especially like the story told of the woman who touched Jesus in Matthew 9:20-22 “And suddenly, a woman who had a flow of blood for twelve years came from behind and touched the hem of His garment.  For she said to herself, ‘If only I may touch His garment, I shall be made well.  But Jesus turned around, and when He saw her He said, ‘Be of good cheer, daughter; your faith has made you well.’ And the woman was made well from that hour.” This woman was unclean because of her flow of blood.  She was not to touch anyone.  And yet, her faith and her strong desire to be healed caused her to touch Jesus and be healed.

There are multiple examples in the Bible of people with great faith.  We could talk about Abraham who believed God’s promise that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars.  We could talk about the three Hebrews who trusted that God would deliver them from the fiery furnace.  We could talk about David who believed that God would deliver the giant Goliath into his hands.  Hebrews the eleventh chapter lists many people who had great faith.

We also have examples in the Bible of people with little faith.  One time, Jesus walked on the waters of the Sea of Galilee while His disciples were in a boat.  They were afraid and Jesus tried to comfort them.  Matthew 14:28-31 “And Peter answered Him and said, ‘Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.’ So He said, ‘Come.’ And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus.  But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, ‘Lord, save me!’ And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’”  We might commend Peter for his initial faith in getting out of the boat and starting to walk on the water.  But then his faith became weak and he began to sink.  Jesus rebuked him for his little faith and his doubt.  What about you?  Do you sometimes start to walk in faith but then you doubt and your faith proves to be little?

Another time, a father requested healing for his child.  He said to Jesus in Mark 9:22b-24 “’But if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.’ Jesus said to him, ‘If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.’ Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, ‘Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!’”  I relate to this father.  Sometimes my faith is small.  I need God to help my unbelief.  We have recorded in Luke 17:5 “And the apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith.’” I think that is a worthy prayer.  Pray that God would increase your faith.

I encourage you to seek to have greater faith.  Live your life in faith.  Trust in the power and providence of God.  Trust in His promises.  2 Corinthians 5:7 “For we walk by faith, not by sight.”  Live your life in faith.  Be a person of great faith.

When Will Jesus Return?

Jesus promised to return for us.  John 14:1-3 “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me.  In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” This is a great promise! Many of the early disciples thought that He would return in their lifetime.  But it has been almost 2,000 years since Jesus was crucified and arose from the dead. 

Is Jesus really going to return?  The apostle Peter anticipated that question.  2 Peter 3:3-4 “Knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.’” It sounds like today.  If people are not saying these words, they are living them with their lives.  In other words, they are living their lives as if the world is going to continue on forever and Jesus will not return.  Continuing with verses 5-6:  “For this they willfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water.”  This is talking about the flood that came upon the earth to destroy it and kill everyone except Noah, his family, and the animals he had in the ark.  At that time the people were living their lives as if nothing would ever happen.  But God chose to destroy the world with a flood to bring an end to that evil generation.  The same thing is going to happen again.  God is going to destroy the world, but this time it is going to be with fire.  Verse 7:  “But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.”

When is Jesus returning?  No one knows.  Only God the Father knows.  Here is what Jesus said.  Matthew 24:36-44 “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.  But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.   For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.  Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left.  Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left.  Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming.  But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into.  Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”

If we knew when Jesus was returning, we might be tempted to wait until the last hour to get ready for Him. 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6 “But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you.  For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, ‘Peace and safety!’ then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape.  But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober.”

Since we believe that Jesus is going to return and since we don’t know when that is going to happen, we must live our lives being prepared at all times for his return. We must watch and be ready.  1 Peter 4:7 “But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers.”  We must be patient and not give up.  James 5:7-8 “Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.”

Whether Jesus returns in your lifetime or you die first, He is going to return.  An accident or illness can come into your life and your life may soon be ended.  The apostle Paul gave the following exhortation.  Romans 13:11-14 “And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light.  Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy.  But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.”  Purify your life.  Make no provision for the flesh to fulfill its lusts.  Be ready.

2 Peter 3:10-14 “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.  Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless.”  My encouragement to you is that you be found at peace with God – that you be without spot and blameless.  That way, you will be ready for the return of Jesus.

Our Covenant

After the flood, God made a covenant with every living creature on the earth.  Genesis 9:12-13 “And God said: ’This is the sign of the covenant which I make between Me and you, and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations:  I set My rainbow in the cloud, and it shall be for the sign of the covenant between Me and the earth.’” A covenant is an agreement or contract between two parties.  Even today we can look at the rainbow and remember this covenant we have with God, that He will not again destroy the earth with a flood.

The Bible describes multiple covenants.  God made at least two covenants with Abraham (Genesis 15:18; Genesis 17:7).  Abraham made a covenant with Abimelech (Genesis 21:27).  David made a covenant with Jonathan (1 Samuel 18:3).  One of the most important covenants was the one God made through Moses.  After God delivered the Israelites from Egypt, He asked Moses to come up to Him on Mount Sinai.  Exodus 34:28 “So he was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread nor drank water. And He wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.”  You can read the words of this covenant between God and the Israelites in Exodus 20:1-17 or Deuteronomy 5:6-21.  This covenant was a good covenant, but the Israelites did not continue in the covenant.   Hebrews 8:7-9 “For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second.  Because finding fault with them, He says: ‘Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah — not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says the Lord.”  God decided to make a new covenant with His people.

Christians are the true Israelites or Jews of today.  Romans 2:28-29 “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.”  When you and I are circumcised, not in the flesh but in the heart and in the Spirit, we become the true Israelites.  Therefore, the new covenant God has made is our covenant.  Let us look at our covenant with God.

Hebrews 8:10-12 “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.  None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them.  For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”  This passage is quoted from Jeremiah 31:31-34.

“I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their heart.”  The first covenant with God’s people was the Ten Commandments – laws written on tablets of stone.  These laws were external to the people and, over time, they chose to disobey them.  Now, God promises to write His laws in our minds and on our hearts.  They are no longer external, but internal and very much a part of us.  From our very minds and hearts we choose to obey God’s laws.  We know what He wants us to do and what not to do.

“I will be their God, and they shall be My people.”  We are now His people, His children.

“None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them.” Under the old covenant, Israelite children were born into the covenant with God; male children were circumcised on the eighth day.  They had to be taught about the Lord; many never came to know Him.  Everyone who enters the new covenant with God must have faith in Christ, repent of their sin, and submit to the will of God by being buried in baptism as a sign of the death to the old life and a desire to walk in newness of life. We enter the new covenant knowing the Lord.  Of course, we come to know Him more and more as we grow in His grace.

“I will be merciful to their unrighteousness.”  Ephesians 2:4-5 “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).”  Psalms 145:8 “The Lord is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and great in mercy.”  Even when we sin, God is merciful to us.  He is slow to anger.  He is a loving Father.

“Their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”  Isaiah 43:25 “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; and I will not remember your sins.” God is all knowing, so He knows all things that have happened.  He chooses to not remember our sins.  1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” The past is over and He does not hold it against us.  He only looks at us in the here and now.

What a wonderful covenant you have with God!  He promises to put His laws into your mind and write them on your heart.  You know the Lord and can come to Him anytime in prayer.  He is merciful to your unrighteousness and He will not remember your lawless deeds.  I encourage you to love your God because of the great love He has for you. 

Whoever Hears These Sayings of Mine

In Matthew chapters 5, 6 and 7, Jesus went upon a mountain and gave His disciples many important teachings.  These teachings are known as the Sermon on the Mount.  At the end of His instruction, He gave the following in Matthew 7:24-27 “Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock:  and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.  But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand:  and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.” You must understand that His teachings are very important.  I have made an attempt below to summarize many of the teachings He gave on the mountain. 

Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers and those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake; rejoice if you are persecuted (5:3-11).

Those who follow Jesus are the salt of the earth and the light of the world; be the seasoning of the earth and the light to the world (5:13-16).  Jesus came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets.  Our righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees (5:17-30).

Sin begins in the heart and does not have to result in wrong action for it to still be sin; examples are given of thoughts of hatred, which is the same as murder, and lust for a woman, which is the same as adultery (5:21-22; 27-28).  Be reconciled with your brother quickly (5:23-26). If something causes you to sin, get it out of your life (6:29-30).  Do not cause others to sin by your actions (5:31-32).

Do not swear (5:33-37).  Do not resist an evil person.  Give more than is required of you (6:38-42).  Love your enemies as well as your neighbors (5:43-58).  Don’t do your good deeds and righteous actions to be seen by others; do them to please God who will reward you (6:1-7; 16-18).  Your prayers should include praise to God, requests for the success of His kingdom, your needs, forgiveness of your sins, guidance in life, and protection from the evil one (6:8-13).  If you do not forgive others, you will not be forgiven (6:14-15).

Lay up treasures in heaven and not on earth; you cannot serve God and riches (5:19-21; 24).  What you seek for in life determines if you have light or darkness within you (6:22-23).  Do not worry.  God knows your needs and will bless you; seek His kingdom first (6:25-34).

How you judge others is how you will be judged.  Correct your faults first before trying to fix others.  Avoid spiritual discussions with those who will turn on you (7:1-6).  In your requests to God, ask, seek and knock and He will bless you.  He wants to give you good gifts (7:7-12).  Whatever you want others to do to you, do also to them (7:12).

There is a narrow gate that leads to life and a wide gate and broad way that leads to destruction; seek the narrow gate and difficult way that leads to life (7:12-14).  You will know if someone is good or bad by their fruit (7:15-19).  In the judgement, you will be accepted, not because you claimed to be a follower of Jesus, but because you did the will of God and did not practice unrighteousness.

I give this summary to help you appreciate the very important principles that Jesus gave us.  If you listen to His words and put them into practice in your life, you will be wise.  When the storms of life come upon you, you will stand because you have your foundation upon the truths of God.  But if you do not put His words to practice in your life, you will be unwise and fall when the storms of life come upon you.

James put it slightly differently in James 1:22-25 “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.” 

The teachings we find in the Bible are the words of God.  If you want to be blessed in what you do, do not be a forgetful hearer of the word but put His words to practice in your life.

He Cares For You

What do you understand about the kind of God that we have?  Some people understand God to be the creator of the universe, but once He created it and set everything in motion, He just sits back and watches what happens without interacting with His creation.  Other people see God as a critical, vengeful God who is trying to catch them in doing something wrong so that He can punish them.  It has been said that we each tend to see God like our earthly father.  For example, if our earthly father was loving, then we see God as loving, or if our earthly father was very critical of us, then we see God also critical of us.  The Bible helps us understand about God.  We come to an understanding about God when we see how He interacted with various people and nations described in the Bible.  We see His creation, commandments, grace and principles He has given.  We see Jesus who was God in the flesh.  Note what Jesus said in John 14:7-11 “’If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him.’  Philip said to Him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?  Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works.’” Through Jesus, we come to know God the Father.

There are many aspects of God that we could investigate.  But one characteristic of God that I wish for you to understand is that He loves you and cares for you.  If you truly appreciated how much God loves you, it should motivate you to seek to please Him in all things.

God has already demonstrated His love for you.  John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”  Romans 5:7-8 “For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die.  But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  God sent His only begotten Son that He loved very much, to come to this earth and to go through an agonizing death for you so that you should not perish but have everlasting life.  Jesus took the penalty for your sins when He died on the cross.  This alone demonstrates the love that God has for you.

God’s love does not stop with His gift of His Son.  He continues to seek your success.  Philippians 1:6 “Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.”  Hebrews 13:20-21 “Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.”  He continues to lead you, protect you, discipline you and care for you throughout your life.

He will lead you.  You have been given the Spirit of God to lead you.  Romans 8:14 “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” The psalmist David saw the leading of God in his life.  Psalms 23:1-6 “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.  He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters.  He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.  Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.  You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over.  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”  David saw how God was involved in his life.

He protects you.  2 Thessalonians 3:3 “But the Lord is faithful, who will establish you and guard you from the evil one.”  1 John 4:4 “You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” Psalm 55:22 “Cast your burden on the Lord, and He shall sustain you; He shall never permit the righteous to be moved.”

He disciplines you.  Hebrews 12:7-10 “If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten?  But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons.  Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live?  For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness.”  He disciplines you so that you will be a partaker in His holiness.

He cares for you.  1 Peter 5:5b-7 “And be clothed with humility, for ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.”  Whatever concerns you have, whether they be spiritual or physical, or whether they be great or small, He wants you to give them to Him. You do not need to be anxious because the God of the universe cares for you.

God loves you and wants you to be successful.  If you let Him, He leads you, protects you, and disciplines you.  My encouragement is for you to seek to please Him in all that you do.  Trust Him and lean upon Him because He cares for you.

Nothing Hidden

The Bible contains the words of God given to Jesus, to His apostles and to other men of God; they in turn passed His words to us.  God wants us to know His words so that we can live by them.  Matthew 4:4 “But He answered and said, ‘It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’’” God’s word should work within each of us to change our lives.  1 Thessalonians 2:13 “For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe.”

There are many opinions, half-truths, and lies that you can hear in the world.  But the word of God is truth.  Jesus said in John 17:17 “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.” And since it is God’s truth, it is powerful.  Hebrews 4:12 “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”  A two-edged sword can easily cut wherever it is driven.  The word of God is sharper than any human sword and penetrates into the heart of any who hear the word.  It examines the very thoughts and motives of an individual.  There is nothing in the heart that is hidden from the word of God.  It can detect hypocrisy and hidden sins as well as genuine faith and love.  It shows exactly what is happening with each of us.

The writer of Hebrews continues in Hebrews 4:13 “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.” Not only does the word of God penetrate into the heart to examine the thoughts and motives of an individual, but God sees everything.  You cannot run away and hide from God.  Jeremiah 23:23-24 “’Am I a God near at hand,’ says the Lord, ‘And not a God afar off?  Can anyone hide himself in secret places, so I shall not see him?’ says the Lord; ‘Do I not fill heaven and earth?’ says the Lord.”  Nothing escapes the notice of God.  Jeremiah 32:17-19 “Ah, Lord God! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and outstretched arm. There is nothing too hard for You. You show lovingkindness to thousands, and repay the iniquity of the fathers into the bosom of their children after them — the Great, the Mighty God, whose name is the Lord of hosts.  You are great in counsel and mighty in work, for your eyes are open to all the ways of the sons of men, to give everyone according to his ways and according to the fruit of his doings.” He knows all the details even to how many hairs you have on your head.  Matthew 10:29-30 “Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will.  But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.”

If you have put your faith in God and seek to please Him in all that you do, it can be a great comfort to appreciate that He knows what is happening in your life. Psalm 34:15-16 “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their cry.  The face of the Lord is against those who do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.”  He knows the trials that you have.  He knows your needs (Matthew 6:8).  Since you are one of His beloved children, His ears are open to your prayers.  It is wonderful to know that God sees you, loves you, and wants to help you and fulfil your needs.

God also sees the ways of the unrighteous.  Proverbs 5:21-22 “For the ways of man are before the eyes of the Lord, and He ponders all his paths.  His own iniquities entrap the wicked man, and he is caught in the cords of his sin.” Jeremiah 16:17 “For My eyes are on all their ways; they are not hidden from My face, nor is their iniquity hidden from My eyes.”  Since God sees the ways of the unrighteous, they will receive their reward and they will perish.  Psalm 1:4-6 “The ungodly are not so, but are like the chaff which the wind drives away.  Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.  For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the ungodly shall perish.”

Everything about you is seen by God.  He knows what you do; He sees your works; He knows your thoughts; He knows your heart.  There are no secrets you can keep from God.  Hebrews 4:13 “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.”  Since He knows everything about you already, I encourage you to seek to be open and honest with God.  Serve Him with a loyal heart and a willing mind. King David encouraged his son in 1 Chronicles 28:9 “As for you, my son Solomon, know the God of your father, and serve Him with a loyal heart and with a willing mind; for the Lord searches all hearts and understands all the intent of the thoughts. If you seek Him, He will be found by you; but if you forsake Him, He will cast you off forever.”

Depart From Iniquity

We know that those who practice the works of the flesh will not inherit the kingdom of God.  Galatians 5:19-21 “Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”  When you think of those who practice such things, perhaps you think of the wicked people of this world who have no faith in God and are consumed by their fleshly desires.  But consider what Jesus said in Matthew 7:21-23 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.  Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’  And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’”  Here, Jesus is talking about individuals who believed in Him, who taught others about Him, and who did many wonders in His name.  These will be rejected in that day, not because they didn’t believe in Him, but because they did not do the will of His Father in heaven and they practiced iniquity or lawlessness.  Jesus later taught in Matthew 13:41-42 “The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”  There will be those in His kingdom, the church, who offend and those who practice lawlessness; His angels will gather them out of His kingdom and cast them into the furnace of fire.

Some churches tolerate those who practice lawlessness.  The church in Corinth tolerated sexual immorality.  1 Corinthians 5:1-2 “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles — that a man has his father’s wife!  And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you.”  The church in Pergamos tolerated lawlessness.  Revelation 2:14-15 “But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality.  Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.”  The church in Thyatira had a similar problem.  Revelation 2:20 “Nevertheless I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.”  Many churches today tolerate lawlessness among their members.  Paul gave instruction to the Corinthian church in 1 Corinthians 5:12-13 “For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? But those who are outside God judges. Therefore ‘put away from yourselves the evil person.’”

A Christian believer may tolerate lawlessness in his own life.  He may commit sexual immorality.  He may look on a woman to lust after her and commit adultery in his heart (Matthew 5:28).  He may envy other people.  He may get drunk or willfully come under the influence of illegal drugs.  He may hate his neighbor or even his brother.  When confronted with his sin, he may lie about it.  There can be any number of acts of lawlessness that a believer might tolerate in his own life.  He may have the attitude “I know it is wrong, but I’ll go ahead and do it and then get forgiveness later.”  If you are guilty of sin, you need to truly be sorry for your sin and not tolerate lawlessness in yourself.  2 Corinthians 7:10 “For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.”

Seek for purity and do not tolerate any lawlessness in your life.  Titus 2:11-14 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.”  When you truly appreciate the love and grace of God toward you, you will want to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts and be zealous for good works. 1 John 3:2-3 “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.  And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.”  You should seek to be pure from lawlessness in your life.

I encourage you to have the same heart as David expressed in Psalms 141:3-4 “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips.  Do not incline my heart to any evil thing, to practice wicked works with men who work iniquity; and do not let me eat of their delicacies.”  The apostle Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 2:19 “Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: ‘The Lord knows those who are His,’ and, ‘Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity.’”  My encouragement is for you to depart from all iniquity or lawlessness.

A Rest

Whenever I have spent a long day working or traveling or other activity, I become tired and desire to rest.  I look forward to a good night’s sleep so that my body can be renewed and I can be ready for the next day of activity.  You remember that God created everything in six days and He also rested from His work.  Genesis 2:1-3 “Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished.  And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done.  Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.”

The seventh day, or the Sabbath, was given to the Israelites as a day of rest.  Exodus 31:14-16 “You shall keep the Sabbath, therefore, for it is holy to you. Everyone who profanes it shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his people.  Work shall be done for six days, but the seventh is the Sabbath of rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death.  Therefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant.”  The Sabbath was given to the Israelites as one of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:8-11).  I do not see that the Sabbath was passed down to us as gentile Christians.  The Council of Jerusalem met to decide if gentiles needed to obey the law given by Moses (Acts 15).  The conclusion was that gentiles do not need to obey the Law of Moses.  The apostles and elders gave the following instruction to gentile Christians in Acts 15:28-29 “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well.” No command is passed on for keeping the Sabbath.  Some Christians think that Sunday, the first day of the week, is their Sabbath and they do not do any work on that day.  If that is your conscience, then follow your conscience.  Jesus said that the Sabbath was made for man (Mark 2:27).  It is not good for people to work seven days a week, every week.  God saw that was so and He gave a day of rest to the Israelites.  We all need rest, so I believe it is good to have a day of rest.

Jesus offers us rest.  Matthew 11:28-30 “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”  The Jews were burdened by all the laws that they were required to keep.  Sinners are wearied by the slavery to sin.  Sinners are also burdened with their guilt for the wrongs that they have committed.  By coming to Jesus, we are freed from the slavery to sin and freed from the guilt we carry when we receive the forgiveness of our sins.  Jesus is a loving master who welcomes us and gives us rest.  Yes, He has a yoke and a burden, but compared to the yoke and burden of sin, His way is easy and light.  By submitting ourselves to Jesus, we can find rest for our souls.

When the Israelites were in Egypt, they were burdened by the labor they were required to do.  They were freed from slavery and promised a rest in the Land of Canaan.  But when they left Egypt, they hardened their hearts and rebelled against God.  Hebrews 3:16-4:1 “For who, having heard, rebelled? Indeed, was it not all who came out of Egypt, led by Moses? Now with whom was He angry forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose corpses fell in the wilderness? And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief. Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it.”  Because of their rebellion, the Israelites wandered in the wilderness for forty years until all of the people who left Egypt died, except Joshua and Caleb.  They did not enter God’s rest because of unbelief and disobedience, but there still remains a rest for the people of God.  Hebrews 4:8-11 “For if Joshua had given them rest, then He would not afterward have spoken of another day. There remains therefore a rest for the people of God.  For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His.  Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience.”

When Jesus returns and is revealed from heaven, He will give us rest.  2 Thessalonians 1:7-8 “And to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.” We will dwell in the heavenly city described in Revelation 21 and 22 where we will rest from our labors here on earth.

I want a rest from my tribulations, trials, and labors here on this earth.  I trust that you also want a rest.  The writer of Hebrews cautions you not to be like the rebellious Israelites who fell in the wilderness and didn’t receive the promised rest.  Hebrews 4:1 “Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it.”  The Israelites fell short of their promised land because of unbelief and disobedience.  The writer gave the following admonition.  Hebrews 4:11 “Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience.”  My encouragement to you is to be diligent to enter the rest that God has prepared for the faithful.

Do Not Harden Your Heart

The Children of Israel were slaves in Egypt and they cried because of their taskmasters.  God heard their cry and sent Moses to deliver them.  After ten miraculous plagues that He sent upon the Egyptians, Pharaoh let them go.  The Lord delivered them from Pharaoh by making a path through the sea so that they walked on dry ground.  They entered the wilderness free from slavery.  But they soon turned away from God and began worshipping a golden calf.  They missed what they had in Egypt and desired to return.  They complained and rebelled against God who had delivered them. 

We must learn from the bad example of the Israelites.  Hebrews 3:7-19 “Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says: ‘Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, in the day of trial in the wilderness, where your fathers tested Me, tried Me, and saw My works forty years.  Therefore I was angry with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart, and they have not known My ways.’ So I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest.’’ Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called ‘Today,’ lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end, while it is said: ‘Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.’ For who, having heard, rebelled? Indeed, was it not all who came out of Egypt, led by Moses?  Now with whom was He angry forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose corpses fell in the wilderness?  And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.”

We, as Christians, are like the Israelites.  They were delivered from slavery to the Egyptians and we are delivered from slavery to sin.  They saw the power of God in the miraculous plagues sent on the Egyptians, in the pillar of cloud and fire, in the parting of the Red Sea, in the manna and the quail and other signs.  We have seen the power of God through His creation, the forgiveness of our sins, the changes in our lives and the gift of the Holy Spirit.  They were promised the land of Canaan which was described as a land flowing with milk and honey.  We are promised eternal life with God and Jesus in the Holy City where there will be no more pain, death, sorrow or crying.  They wandered in the wilderness for forty years before they could enter the Promised Land.  We spend however long we live here upon this earth with trials and tribulations in anticipation of entering the Holy City.

A soft heart trusts God and is obedient, accepts criticism, correction and discipline and in humility changes when there is a need.  A hard heart is proud, stubborn and rebellious and is calloused and blind to the love and blessings received from God. The Israelites saw the power of God and received His blessings, but they hardened their hearts.  God said “They always go astray in their heart, and they have not known My ways.”  Their desire for the things of the world was strong in them so they developed unbelief and departed from the living God.  They tested, tried and disobeyed God; they complained and rebelled against Him.  As a result, He swore in His wrath “They shall not enter My rest.”  All those who left Egypt died in the wilderness.  The exceptions were Joshua and Caleb who believed, trusted and obeyed God.

So what about you? I doubt that you will fall down before a graven image like a golden calf and worship it.  But you can worship the things of this world.  You can love money and the things that money can buy.  You can follow your fleshly lusts.  You can complain and rebel against God.  Your heart can go astray from God and not follow His ways.  You can get caught up in the things of this world so that you don’t believe or trust in God.  You can develop a hard heart. 

After the Israelites wandered in the wilderness for forty years, Joshua became their leader.  He led the Israelites into the Promised Land and they conquered the peoples and divided up the land.  Afterwards, he gathered all the people together and spoke to them.  Joshua 24:14-15 “Now therefore, fear the Lord, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord!  And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

I exhort and encourage you to be like Joshua and purpose in your heart that you and your household will serve the Lord.  The writer of Hebrews wrote in Hebrews 3:12-14 “Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called ‘Today,’ lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end.”  The “pleasures” of sin can deceive you and cause you to harden your heart toward God.  So we need to exhort each other daily to be steadfast to God to the end.  Then we will receive the promised rest with God and Jesus Christ.

The Birth of Jesus

When we look at the events in the life of Jesus, His death might be considered the most important.  In His death, He took our sins.  1 Peter 2:24 “Who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness — by whose stripes you were healed.”   Another important event in His life was His resurrection.  Through His resurrection we have assurance of our resurrection.  1 Corinthians 15:17-20 “And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!  Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.  If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.  But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

Jesus could not have died or been resurrected from the dead without first being born.  Therefore, His birth is also important.  Over 1700 years before He was born, it was prophesied that He would come from the tribe of Judah.  Genesis 49:10 “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh comes; and to Him shall be the obedience of the people.”  Over 700 years before He was born, it was prophesied that He would be born of a virgin.  Isaiah 7:14 “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.”  Approximately 700 years before He was born, it was prophesied that He would be born in Bethlehem.  Micah 5:2 “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.” Approximately 600 years before He was born, it was prophesied that he would be a descendant of King David.   Jerimiah 23:5 “’Behold, the days are coming,’ says the Lord, ‘That I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness; a King shall reign and prosper, and execute judgment and righteousness in the earth.’”  The birth of Jesus fulfilled all of these prophesies.

Here is the account of the angel speaking to Mary.  Luke 1:26-38 “Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.  And having come in, the angel said to her, ‘Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!’  But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was.  Then the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus.  He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David.  And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.’  Then Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I do not know a man?’  And the angel answered and said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.  Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren.  For with God nothing will be impossible.’  Then Mary said, ‘Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.’ And the angel departed from her.”  I appreciate the great faith of Mary and her submission to the will of God.  Nothing is impossible with God.

Joseph discovered that Mary was bearing a child.  Matthew 1:20-25 “But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.  And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.’  So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying:  ‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which is translated, ‘God with us.’  Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name Jesus.”

The birth of Jesus was announced to shepherds.  Luke 2:8-14 “Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid.  Then the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.  For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!’” By sending His son, God demonstrated His great love and grace to mankind.  Through Jesus we can now have peace with God.

I hope the re-telling of some of the events concerning the birth of Jesus strengthens your faith.  I encourage you to praise God with your life as you appreciate the love God has for you in that He sent His only son to this earth so that you can have the forgiveness of your sins and the hope of eternal life.