Archive for the ‘Encouragements’ Category:

Liberty

Throughout history, people have suffered under the rule of oppressive powers or governments.  Some people have suffered as slaves to harsh owners.  The Israelites were enslaved in Egypt and were harshly treated so much that they cried out to God for deliverance (Exodus 2:23).  Even in more modern times, people have been oppressed by unjust powers.  Before the American Revolution, people felt the oppression under the British rule.  Patrick Henry made his famous speech in which he said “Give me liberty or give me death.”  His speech reflects the feelings of many who are oppressed; they strongly desire to be free from their oppression.  When people have rebelled against oppressive powers, wars have been fought as they sought liberty.  Today we have many freedoms, so we may not appreciate the liberty that we currently have.

And yet, each one of us, as sinners, was a slave to sin.  John 8:31-36 “Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, ‘If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.  And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.’ They answered Him, ‘We are Abraham’s descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How can You say, ‘You will be made free’?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin.  And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever.  Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.’”  The Apostle Paul described it in Romans 6:16 “Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?”  As sinners, we were slaves to sin.  We suffered the consequences of our sins.  Sin can be a downward spiral in that one sin leads to another and one act of lawlessness leads to more lawlessness (Romans 6:19); it eventually leads to death (Romans 6:21).  Before we were Christians, I believe that we all desired liberty – freedom from the power of sin and freedom from the consequences of our sin.

Through Christ Jesus, we have liberty.  Jesus read the following scripture about Himself in Luke 4:18-19 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; he has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”   We are set free from sin when we obey the gospel.  Romans 6:17-18 “But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered.  And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.”  Yes, Christians are now slaves to righteousness, but righteousness is not the oppressive master that sin was.  Romans 6:20-23 “For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.  What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death.  But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life.  For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Being a slave of God and of righteousness is far superior to being a slave of sin.  Now we have a loving master who works for our good and gives us eternal life.

Since Christ has given us liberty, we should feel free and rejoice in our freedom.  When a captive bird is set free, it stretches its wings and flies away.  When a prisoner is set free, he now can go anywhere he pleases.  We live in a free country.  That means that we are free to go where we desire and do what we want.  But even though we have freedom, there are still laws and ordinances that we must obey.  We cannot destroy someone else’s property.  We cannot willfully harm another person.  We cannot steal from our neighbor.  We are free, but even in our freedom there are restrictions.  As redeemed disciples of Jesus, when we are set free from sin’s control, we should also feel our freedom.  But that freedom does not include freedom to sin again.  1 Peter 2:16 “As free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God.”  Our liberty is not to be a covering for evilness.  Galatians 5:13 “For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”  Our liberty is not an opportunity to fulfill the sinful desires of the flesh.  Once we are freed from sin, we cannot again be entangled in the evilness of the world.  2 Peter 2:19-21 “While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage.  For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning.”  After we have been set free from sin, if we go back under sin, our situation is worse than before.  Therefore, our liberty in Christ is not a liberty to sin. 

Rejoice in the freedom wherein Christ has set you free.  You are now free from sin and its consequences.  Instead, you are a slave of righteousness and holiness.  Your desire should be to your Father in Heaven who blesses you and gives you eternal life.

The Gospel

The gospel is the good news from God that people need to hear.  1 Corinthians 15:1-5 “Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you — unless you believed in vain.  For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve.”  The essence of the gospel is that Christ died for our sins, He was buried and He was resurrected from the dead.  We must believe and obey the gospel, for Jesus will return “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 (2 Thessalonians 1:8).”  Being immersed in water, or baptism, is a wonderful picture of obeying the gospel; baptism is a death, burial and resurrection.  Romans 6:3-6 “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?  Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.” Every one of us must believe what God and Jesus Christ have done for us.  We must die to our old sinful life, be buried in baptism, and then rise to walk in newness of life. God has given us a great gift by saving us through His grace.

Another expression of the gospel is given in Titus 3:3-7 “For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another.  But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” 

We ourselves were once foolish – unwise in how we lived our lives in that we followed foolish paths.  We were disobedient – not obeying God but violating His commandments and His principles.  We were deceived – thinking that our choices were good when they were wrong.  We were serving various lusts and pleasures – our desires for the things of this world dominated our lives.  We lived in malice – our way was filled with depravity and wickedness.  We lived in envy – we coveted what others had.  We were hateful and hating one another – through our selfishness we hated any who opposed us.  This describes any person of the world who does not have Jesus Christ.  To some extent, it describes each one of us.

“But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared.”  Through the gospel we understand the grace of God demonstrated in His kindness and love for us.  John 3:16-17 “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.  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”  What great love God has for us that He sent His son so that we through Him might be saved!

“Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.”  God didn’t save us because we were righteous.  There is no amount of good deeds that we can do that merits salvation.  We are all unrighteous before God.  Of necessity, God had to save us through His grace and mercy.  Ephesians 2:4-9 “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), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”   He saved us through the washing of regeneration; this is baptism where we are born again.  He also gave us the Holy Spirit to live within us and lead us in the paths of righteousness.

“That having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”  Since we have been made right or justified before God through his unmerited favor, his grace, we now will inherit eternal life.  God’s grace and our hope should motivate each one of us to live holy lives in the sight of our loving, merciful Father in heaven.

Praise God for His wonderful grace!  Don’t ever be ashamed of the gospel.  Romans 1:16a “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes.” Proclaim the gospel to any of your associates who do not know about God’s amazing grace because the gospel is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes.

Forgiveness

Have other persons trespassed against you?  You could probably compile a long list of offenses that you have received from others.  Maybe just thinking about a person will bring up memories of what they did to you.  Have you forgiven each person their offense?  Maybe there are some offenses that you just cannot let go. Then let me turn it around.  Have you ever done things to others that you should not have done?  I think it is pretty certain that you have. I know that over my lifetime I have done and said many things to others that I regret.  Maybe you have done things that hurt others.  Or maybe you said things that were hurtful or uncaring.  Afterwards, did you realize you were wrong and did you want to be forgiven for what you had done or said? 

Not only have you trespassed against another, but you have trespassed against God and His standard of righteousness.  Psalms 53:2-3 “God looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any who understand, who seek God. Every one of them has turned aside; they have together become corrupt; there is none who does good, no, not one.”  Yes, every one of us is a sinner before God.  Your sins separated you from God and you became His enemy.  As a just God, He has the right to condemn you to eternal damnation.  But the wonderful news of the gospel is that He loved you and provided a way back to Him.  John 3:16-17 “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.  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”  Ephesians 1:7 “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace.” 

Now you have received the forgiveness of your sins.  As the prophet said in Micah 7:18-19 “Who is a God like You, pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in mercy. He will again have compassion on us, and will subdue our iniquities. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.”  I like that illustration.   There are places in the ocean that are so deep and remote that even modern man has not explored.  That remote place is where your sins have been cast.  Hidden.  Forgotten.  Now, through Jesus, you are considered a child of God and can be declared righteous and receive all spiritual blessings and the riches of heaven.

There are some conditions on your forgiveness from God.  And one condition is that you forgive others their offenses to you.  In the Lord’s prayer, Jesus taught His disciples to pray in Matthew 6:12 “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”  Then after the prayer, He said in verse 14 and 15 “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”  The importance of forgiving others cannot be overstated.  If you want forgiveness from God, you have to forgive others.

But it is not easy to forgive some offenses.  What if he repeatedly sins against you?  Matthew 18:21-22 “Then Peter came to Him and said, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.’”  Don’t do the math.  It is not an exact number of times you need to forgive.  Jesus is saying that as often as he sins against you, you need to forgive him.  Then Jesus gave the parable of the King that forgave his servant a great debt, but that servant turned around and would not forgive a fellow servant a small amount.  The king then restored the debt on the first servant and sent him to be tortured until he would pay the total debt (Matthew 18:23-34).  Jesus concludes in verse 35 “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”

Jesus also taught in Luke 17:3-4 “Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.  And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him.”  You may reason that the one who sinned against you didn’t come to me and say he was sorry so you don’t need to forgive him.  But look at the example Jesus gave when He was tortured and nailed to the cross.  Luke 23:34 “Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.’”  Those who put Jesus on the cross were not sorry for what they had done.  Yet, Jesus forgave them.  You should be like Jesus and forgive even if someone doesn’t say he is sorry. If you don’t forgive another, it will create bitterness within you towards them.  Bitterness is a sin on your part and will even cause you health issues because you hold the feelings inside you.  Let the feelings go and forgive.

Why did God forgive you through Jesus?  He gave you forgiveness because he loved you (John 3:16).  Why should you forgive others?  Because you love them.  Remember that the second greatest commandment is to love your neighbor (Matthew 22:39).  You don’t love their sin and their trespass against you.  But can love them as a precious soul before God and forgive them.

My encouragement to you is to forgive any and all that have trespassed against you.  Don’t bring it up and remind them what they have done.  Don’t bring to your remembrance and think about what they did to you.  Cast out all bitterness.  Forgive.  Colossians 3:12-13 “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.”

Submission

In today’s modern society, submission may be seen as a bad thing; it may be seen as an act of weakness.  The world tells you to question authority, to stand up for yourself, to take charge of your life, and to do your own thing.  Perhaps the concept of democracy encourages you to speak your mind and not let others “control” you.  Maybe it is just the attitude of pleasing your own self.  Or maybe it is pride that you know better than others what should be done.  But as Christians, submission is not a bad thing – it is a good and necessary attitude to have.  God has established an order of authority and it is very important for you to recognize your position and submit to your authority as appropriate.

When you submit to someone, it is not necessarily saying that the one to whom you submit is better or wiser or more talented or even correct in their decisions.  Their decisions may be poor and not the best.  That is not the point.  The point is that you submit to your authority because they are your authority.  You may, in humility, seek to influence your authority to make a good decision.  Even Moses reasoned with God to change His decision to destroy the Israelites after they built the golden calf (Exodus 32:7-14).  But you should not rebel against your authority just because you disagree with them.  The only time you would not obey your authority is when they ask you to do something which is contrary to God’s will.  Acts 5:29b “We ought to obey God rather than men.”  God is a higher authority than any human authority.

A well-functioning society requires a structure of authority and appropriate submission.  You are to submit to the governing authorities.  Romans 13:1 “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.  1 Peter 2:13-14 “Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good.”   In the first century, slavery was common.  1 Peter 2:18 “Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh.”  Notice that submission was still required even when the authority was harsh.  Today we don’t have slavery, but the same principle of submission would be required of employees – submit to your boss, even if he is not good and gentle.

God has also established a structure of authority within the family.  The husband is the head of the family and the wife is to submit to the husband.  Ephesians 5:22-24 “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.  For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body.  Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.”  Notice the emphasis that the apostle Paul provides here.  Just as we, the church, submit to Christ, so the wives should submit to their own husbands in everything.  In many families, the wife does not submit to the husband.  It could be that the husband is lazy or timid and does not assume the leadership.  Or it could be that the wife does not respect her husband and takes over the authority.  Whatever the reason, the Christian wife should not assume the leadership in the family over her husband because it is contrary to God’s order.  1 Peter 3:1 “Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives.”  A godly wife can have a tremendous influence over her husband.  If the husband is not godly, her chaste, godly conduct may win him to Christ.  Even in a Christian home, if the wife refuses to take the leadership, it forces her husband into the leadership role; out of necessity, he learns how to be the leader in the home that God wants him to be.  Finally, children are to be submissive to their parents.  Ephesians 6:1 “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.”  When the husband learns how to be the proper leader in the home, he has been trained to meet one of the qualifications of an elder or bishop as given in 1 Timothy 3:4-5 “One who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?).”

In God’s kingdom there is also a structure of authority.  1 Corinthians 11:3 “But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.”  It should be obvious that Christ submitted to His Father; He did everything His Father asked Him to do, even giving up his life to be crucified.  Christ is the head of the church; the church is subject to Christ (Ephesians 5:23-24). Within the local church, the elders should be the leaders of the church and function as pastors and overseers (Acts 20:17-35).  We should be submissive to our church leaders.  Hebrews 13:17 “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account.”  A woman is to be submissive in the church.  1 Timothy 2:11 “Let a woman learn in silence with all submission.”  1 Corinthians 14:34 “Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says.” 

Appropriate submission is not a bad thing.  It is a good thing because it is from God and fulfills God’s purpose.  I encourage you to be submissive to the authorities God has placed over you.  In truth, we should all be submissive to each other with a humble spirit.  God gives you His grace when you are humble.  1 Peter 5:5 “Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’” 

In Your Community

God is interested in how you live your life, whether that is at home, at school, at work or among your neighbors in your community. The apostle Paul had left Titus in Crete to “set in order the things that are lacking (Titus 1:5).”  The following instruction was given by Paul for how the brethren in Crete were to live in their community.  Titus 3:1-2 “Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men.”  These instructions still apply to you today.

“Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey.”  Rulers and authorities could be the law enforcement authorities at all levels, the legislators and council people at all levels, the elected officials in charge from the national level to the local level, and all other officials established by the government.  To be subject to and obey these individuals means that, to the best of your ability, you follow their laws and rules, you do as they request, you pay the taxes and fees that they impose, and you do not rebel against their authority.  Romans 13:1-7 “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.  Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same.  For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.  Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake.  For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing.  Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.”  You submit to the governing authorities because they have been established by God.  The only exception is when they demand that you do something which is contrary to God’s will.  Acts 5:29b “We ought to obey God rather than men.”  God is a higher authority than any human authority.

“To be ready for every good work.”  As a Christian, you should be known for your good works.  Titus 3:8 “This is a faithful saying, and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable to men.”  There are many good works you can do.  Since the context of Titus 3:1-3 seems to be instruction for Christians in their community, there might be a community project that a Christian might lead or participate in. If it is a good work and needed in the community, you should be ready to provide whatever help or work is needed by your neighbors.

“To speak evil of no one.” There are many evil people in the world – people who will cheat you, steal from you, and say bad things about you.  They do many bad things.  They may be your neighbors, people in the government or even strangers.  But it is not your place to speak evil about them.  Referring to the tongue, in James 3:9-11 “With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so.”  When you gossip or speak evil of someone, your words reveal what is in your heart.  Jesus said in Matthew 12:34 “Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”  If you speak evil of someone, that implies that you have evil in your heart – perhaps hatred and the desire for vengeance.  If you cannot say anything good about someone, the best advice is to say nothing at all.

“Peaceable.”  Romans 12:18 “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.”  Matthew 5:9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”  As a Christian, you should be known as a peaceable individual and never a trouble maker.

“Gentle.”  Philippians 4:5 “Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.” To be gentle is to be kind and free from harshness, sternness or violence.  When you are gentle, others desire to be around you.  “Showing all humility to all men.”  Humility or meekness is an attitude of the heart that accepts what God allows to happen in your life and does not seek to be proud or arrogant.   These qualities are also described in Colossians 3:12 “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering.”

How are you to live in your community among your neighbors and co-workers?  You are to be a good neighbor and co-worker, respected by all.  You are to be a law-abiding citizen who is ready to do every good work.  You speak evil of no one; you are peaceable, gentle and show humility to all men.

Learning to Pray

One day, after the disciples saw Jesus praying to His Father, they asked Him to teach them to pray (Luke 11:1).  Jesus then gave what is commonly known as the Lord’s Prayer.  It should probably be called the Disciples Prayer since it was given to the disciples to teach them how to pray.  Here it is, as recorded in Matthew 6:9-13 “In this manner, therefore, pray:  Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name.  Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread.  And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.  And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.  Amen.”  I don’t believe that Jesus gave this prayer as something we should recite every time we pray, but instead it contains most of the elements of a complete prayer to God.  Let us consider these elements.

“Our Father in heaven.”  It is needful to start your prayer by giving the name of the One to whom you are addressing your pray.  While you could address it to Jehovah or one of the other names of God, “Father in heaven” is such a special title.  There is only one Father in heaven.  “Father” invokes in our minds the thoughts of the special relationship we have with God.  He has chosen to adopt us as His children.  His ears are open to the prayers of the children that He loves (1 Peter 3:12).

“Hallowed be Your name.”  Hallowed means to make or set aside as holy.  God is distinct and set apart from everything else in heaven or on earth; He is the ultimate power and authority.  To recognize His name as holy is a way of praising and worshipping God.  It is very good to praise and worship God in your prayers.  Hebrews 13:15 “Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.”

“Your kingdom come.”  I understand that God’s kingdom had not come to the earth at the time that Jesus spoke these words of the prayer.  However, God’s kingdom did come on the day of Pentecost after the death of Jesus and it is here today.  Even so, there is another manifestation of the kingdom that is yet to be revealed.  Peter stated in 2 Peter 1:11 “For so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”  Before the creation of the world, God had a plan for mankind and our redemption through Jesus Christ.  Our existence on this earth is not just about us; it is about God.  You and I should be interested in God’s plan and God’s kingdom.  “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  You know that God rules in heaven.  You should want God’s will to be done on earth as well.  These words should describe your desire to focus your attention on God and what He wants and what He plans and accomplishes rather than only upon yourself and your desires.

“Give us this day our daily bread.”  This part of the prayer is where you make your supplication to God for your needs.  He has the power to fulfill your needs; as your Father in heaven, He wants you to ask for your needs.  In the prayer that Jesus gave, the request for needs is one small part of the prayer.  My observation is that the prayers of many people are dominated by requests for what they perceive as their needs.  My encouragement to you is to have a more balanced prayer.

“And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”  It is very important that God forgives you of your shortcomings and sins.  God is only going to forgive you if you forgive others.  God wants you to confess your sins and humble yourself before Him.  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.”

“And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”  This is a request for God’s leading in your life.  You should want to be led by the Holy Spirit of God (Romans 8:14) because God alone knows what is best.  It is a request to be delivered from severe trials and protected against the evil forces that seek to overcome you.  God alone can lead you and protect you in your life.

“For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.”  I understand this to be another expression of praise and worship of God.  How great a God we serve!  It again puts the focus back on God and away from yourself.

“Amen.”  This seems to be a word that can be used in all languages.  It basically means “so let it be”.  It can mark the end of a prayer.  When you hear someone pray and you say amen, it is your way of expressing your agreement with their prayer (see 1 Corinthians 14:16).

Paul gave an exhortation about prayer in 1 Timothy 2:1 “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men.”  From this we learn that there can be other elements of prayer, to include intercessions (prays for someone else) and giving of thanks.

Learn from the Lord’s Prayer to address your prayers to your Father in heaven, to praise and worship God, and to desire that His will be done on the earth.  You can make your request for your needs to include asking for forgiveness, leading and deliverance from the evil one.  Learn to not only address your needs but also worship and praise God, your Father. m

The War Against the Soul

The Bible describes three elements of a living person – body, soul, and spirit.  We can easily recognize the body since it is the physical part of a person.  But the soul and spirit are more difficult to distinguish.  They are the invisible elements of a person and are much alike in their nature and activities.  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.”  This passage suggests that it is difficult to distinguish between the soul and spirit but that the word of God is able to divide them or distinguish between them.  The spirit is the life principle that God has given to man.  Genesis 2:7 “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.”  Without a spirit, a person is dead.  James 2:26 “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”  When a person has a spirit, as given by God, the soul is the resulting life constituted in the individual.  The body is the physical entity that is animated by the soul and the spirit. 

If someone is killed by another individual, the soul continues and is not killed.  Matthew 10:28 “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”  The soul is the part of you that can do evil and sin.  Romans 2:8-9 “But to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness — indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek.”  The soul is either lost or saved.  Matthew 16:26 “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”  1 Peter 1:9 “Receiving the end of your faith — the salvation of your souls.”

It is not my intent to give a complete description of the soul, but rather to indicate that your soul is the non-physical part of you that makes you who you are.  It is the part of you that either submits to God, obeys Him and is saved or that follows sin and will be lost.  Therefore, you will want to protect your soul so that your soul is saved and not lost.  Now consider what the apostle Peter wrote in 1 Peter 2:11-12 “Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.”  Here Peter tells us that there is a war against your very soul. 

It is fleshly lusts that war against your soul.  If you allow these lusts to take control of you, you will lose your soul.  Fleshly lusts are your strong desires for the things of the world.  1 John 2:15-17 “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world — the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life — is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.”  Worldly lusts would be the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.  Even though pride is not called a lust, I believe that the strong desire to be important or superior to others is pride and it is a lust.

Peter’s plea was that you would abstain from fleshly lusts since they war against your soul.  These lusts are contrary to God’s way and will draw you to the world rather than drawing you closer to God.  Galatians 5:16-17 “I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.” People of the world live their lives following their fleshly lusts and as a result produce the works of the flesh listed in 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.” Those who follow fleshly lusts practice the works of the flesh and do not inherit the kingdom of God; they lose their soul.

My encouragement to you is to abstain from fleshly lusts since they war against your soul.  The wonderful grace of God should teach you to deny your worldly lusts.  Titus 2:11-12 “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.”  Protect you soul from fleshly lusts by walking in the Spirit and being led by the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-18).

Trained by Grace

Our God is a gracious, loving God.  John 3:16-17 “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.  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”  God did not have to send His Son or save you, but He chose to do so.    His grace has appeared to all men.  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 see the grace, the unmerited favor that Jesus Christ and God the Father have for you, what does that teach you?  In other words, what should your response be?

First of all, you should see how much God loved you.  He sent His only, beloved Son to be your sin substitute.  Jesus loved you so much that He laid down His life for you.  John 15:13 “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.”  You weren’t even His friend; because of your sin, you were His enemy.  God’s love for you should generate in you love for Him.  1 John 4:19 “We love Him because He first loved us.”  When you love someone, you want to serve them and please them.  So when you see God’s love for your, you should love Him in return and desire to serve and please Him.

Besides loving you, why did God give you His grace?  He did so to “redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people (Titus 2:14).”  You were lost and sold to evil, sinful, lawless deeds.  Jesus paid the price to purchase or redeem you so that you would now belong to Him.  By being the sin offering and substitute for you, He purified you so that you are no longer polluted by your sin.  Isaiah 1:18 “’Come now, and let us reason together,’ says the Lord, “though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.’”  Since through God’s grace you are now purified, His grace should teach you to remain pure.  That means you should deny yourself “ungodliness and worldly lusts (Titus 2:12).”

Ungodliness is anything that is contrary to the characteristics, thoughts and actions that God desires.  Worldly lusts are your strong desires for the things of the world – strong desires for things such as sensual pleasures, possessions, and pride. (See 1 John 2:15-16).  Matthew 16:24 “Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.’” God’s grace should teach you to deny yourself ungodliness and worldly lusts.

God’s grace should teach you to live soberly.  This means you should be of sound mind, self-controlled and temperate in your actions.  The opposite of sober might be wild, uncontrolled, or intoxicated.  The world often exhibits wild behavior by wasting money, engaging in wild parties, sexual immorality, pleasure seeking, recreational drugs, and drunkenness.  God’s grace should teach you to live soberly.

God’s grace should teach you to live righteously.  That means you should have right thoughts and actions.  You should keep his commands.  God gave you righteousness because of your faith in Him and Jesus Christ, but you also have a responsibility to practice righteousness.  1 John 3:7 “Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous.”  God’s grace should teach you to live righteously.

God’s grace should teach you to live godly in this present age.  That means you should be God-fearing and devoted to God and His will.  You should be holy – set apart from the world and dedicated to God.  People in the world are typically self-seeking and walk according to the flesh.  In contrast, God’s grace should teach you to live godly.

Not only did He purify you to be one of His own special people, but He also wants you to be zealous for good works (Titus 2:14).  Not just pure, but also zealous – exhibiting enthusiasm and strong passion for good works.  Some people seem to be content to attend the church assemblies every week.  While that is good and important, zealous for good works should go far beyond the assembly to a daily life dedicated to serving God and your fellow man, just as Jesus went about doing good.

My encouragement to you is to be trained by the grace and love of God to love God, deny yourself ungodliness and worldly lusts, and live soberly, righteously and godly in this present age, being zealous for good works as you look for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.

Hypocrisy

Most of us have seen movies in theaters or on television.  We have seen plays enacted by school children or professionals.  Plays were common even in biblical times.  An actor portrays a character by speaking his words, expressing his emotion, and doing his actions.  A good actor makes us believe that he is that character.  But we know that the actor is not really that character, but merely playing a part.  And such is a hypocrite.  He is an actor who makes us believe that he is a true Christian.  God condemns the hypocrite.  Let us look at some examples in scripture of hypocritical actions.

The first example is in praying.  Matthew 6:5 “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.”  These individuals did not genuinely desire to communicate with God.  Since most people see praying as a righteous action, they wanted to be seen as righteous, pious individuals.  They acted the part of a righteous person so that others would respect and praise them as righteous.  But Jesus said in verse 6 “But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.”  Don’t pray just to receive the praise of men; instead, pray privately to your heavenly Father.  God wants to hear your sincere prayer.

The second example is in fasting.  Matthew 6:16 “Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.”  Fasting is to voluntarily deny yourself food when you are hungry.  It is an act of self-discipline and can direct your hunger toward God and draw you closer to God as you deny yourself the needs of the body.  Such fasting is generally seen as a righteous action.  But the hypocrites were fasting, not to draw closer to God, but to be seen as righteous so that others would respect and praise them.  Jesus says in verses 17 and 18 “But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.”  Don’t fast just to receive the praise of men; instead, fast without making it obvious that you are fasting.  God wants you to draw near to Him in fasting.

The third example is in doing charitable deeds.  Matthew 6:1 “Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven.”  Voluntarily helping someone in need is generally seen as a good, righteous deed.  People will respect and praise you for your generosity.  But the hypocrites were doing their charitable deeds, not because they cared for the one in need, but so that others would respect and praise them.  Jesus continues in verses 3-4 “But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.”  Don’t do your good deeds to receive the praise of men.  It shouldn’t matter to you if others know what you do or not.  God wants you to help others because you have compassion and love for them.

We have other examples in the scriptures of hypocrisy.  Some came to Jesus and pretended to want to know the truth but in reality they wanted to trap Him and condemn Him in what He said (Mark 12:13-15).  Then there is the case of the speck or plank in the eye (Matthew 7:4-5) where one tries to help someone with a small problem when they themselves have a big problem.  Even the apostle Peter was hypocritical when he freely associated with the Gentiles until fellow Jews came on the scene and then he disassociated himself from the Gentiles to appear to the Jews that he was a righteous Jew (Galatians 2:11-13).

The hypocrite wants to be seen as righteous so that others will respect and praise him.  Matthew 23:5-7 “But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments.  They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi.’”  Matthew 23:25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence.”  Matthew 23:27-28 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.  Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”  What a description of hypocrisy!  Outwardly they appeared beautiful but inwardly they were full of rottenness. 

How might you be a hypocrite?  You might follow some of the examples of hypocrites given above.  You might do righteous actions but you do them partly because you want to appear righteous before others.  You might go to the church assembly and appear righteous when you don’t really want to be there to encourage your fellow Christian or worship God.  You might pretend to love others when you don’t really love them.  Romans 12:9 “Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good.”  You might say and do good things when around fellow Christians, but when you are with people of the world, you talk and act just like they do.  You might live a secret sin life.  You criticize others but do the same things yourself.

My encouragement to you is to stop being a hypocrite.  When you find hypocrisy in your life, confess it to God and repent.  Be a genuine follower of Jesus inside and out.  Let your righteous words and deeds come from your heart.

Sacrifices

Under the Old Testament, God chose Aaron and his descendants to be the priests.  These men were set apart to the Lord and were washed with water, anointed with special oil, and wore special priestly garments.  Their responsibility was to serve God and the Israelite people.  One of their duties was to offer up to God the required animal sacrifices to include bulls, rams and goats and the grain offerings.  The first account we have of sacrifices was when Cain and Abel, the sons of Adam, offered sacrifices to the Lord (Genesis 4:3-4).  From the time of Cain and Abel until Aaron, people had offered animal sacrifices to the Lord.  Under the Law given through Moses, many sacrifices were prescribed to be offered to the Lord through the priests.  The priests were the class of people who had been set apart to offer sacrifices to God and be a mediatory agent between God and the people.

In some Christian denominations today, there is a certain class of individuals designated as priests.  These individuals are often expected to make intercession and requests to God for other Christians who are not priests.  But there is no instruction in the New Testament for making an office of a priest or a priestly class of individuals.  All of us as Christians are priests.  1 Peter 2:9-10 “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.”  Each one of us has the privilege of going directly to God the Father through Jesus Christ as our mediator.  Each one of us can pray to God.  Each one of us can offer spiritual sacrifices to God.  1 Peter 2:5 “You also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

What is a sacrifice?  It is taking something that you have and that you value and giving it away for a good purpose.  Parents frequently sacrifice for their children; the parents may go without eating so that their children can have food or the parents may go without something they want or need so that their children can have what they want or need. A sacrifice in the Old Testament would be when an Israelite would take an animal from his livestock, give it to the priest who would then slay it, place it on the altar and burn it up as a sacrifice to the Lord.  The purpose for such a sacrifice might be because of some sin committed or to thank the Lord for His blessings or to fulfill a vow.    Today, a person might take something he possesses and values, such as a car, and voluntarily give it for the Lord’s work; that would be a sacrifice. 

The greatest sacrifice given was that of Jesus Christ.  God sent His Son into the world.  Jesus came to the earth, gave us the words of God, and then willing gave Himself to be taken and crucified for the sins of the world.  That is why He is called the Lamb of God.  Just as lambs were offered as sin offerings under the Law given through Moses, Jesus was offered as the sin offering for the New Covenant.  Ephesians 5:2 “And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.”  Jesus sacrificed Himself as a sin offering to God for you and me.

God is your Lord who watches over you and blesses you.  Sacrificing something to God is a way of worshipping Him.  Since you are a priest to God, what are some of the spiritual sacrifices that you are to offer to Him?  Let us begin in Hebrews 13:15-16 “Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.  But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.”  When you praise and thank God from your heart, that is a sacrifice that you give Him.  When you do good and share with others, that is a sacrifice that pleases God.  Matthew 16:24-25 “Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.  For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.’”  When you deny yourself the works of the flesh because you have faith and love for God, you are sacrificing yourself and worshipping God.  The apostle Paul exhorts you in Romans 12:1 “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.”  When you give your whole body to please God as a living sacrifice to Him, this is the way you are to worship God.

You are a priest to God who is meant to offer up acceptable spiritual sacrifices to Him.  Praise and thank God; do the good that He asks you to do; deny yourself; present your body as a living sacrifice to Him.  Worship God with your spiritual sacrifices to Him. W