Archive for the ‘Encouragements’ Category:

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.

Known By The Fruit

Perhaps you have heard the expression of a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  This usually means a person that appears to fit in and be harmless but who is actually someone very different and dangerous.  As sheep are typically gentle and harmless, a wolf is greedy for food and will attack and harm the other sheep.  Jesus actually taught about this in Matthew 7:15-20 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.  You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles?  Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.  A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  Therefore by their fruits you will know them.” 

Jesus says to beware of false prophets because they are the wolves in sheep’s clothing.  False prophets claim to be bringing a message from God but in reality their message is not from God.  They know that they have not heard from God but they desire to deceive others.  Over the years, there have been prophets who have claimed that God or an angel spoke to them and gave them a revelation.  Beware if you encounter such a one.  It is also possible that you will encounter religious leaders who intentionally misinterpret or misapply the biblical scriptures and deceive others to follow them.  I do not think this applies to all individuals who have an incorrect understanding of the scriptures.  Jesus called the false prophets ravenous wolves.  That means that these individuals desire to deceive, cause harm and gain from their work.  Jesus said “Therefore by their fruits you will know them.” 

Jesus gave us an important principle.  “Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.  A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit … Therefore by their fruits you will know them.”  When you look at people who claim to be Christians, how can you tell if they are genuine or not?  You can tell by the fruit that they bear.  Genuine followers of Jesus will bear good fruit.  There are three kinds of fruit that I would like to address in this context. 

The first kind of fruit is good works.  There are many scriptures that teach us to have good works.  Here are a few. Colossians 1:10 “That you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” 1 Timothy 6:17-18 “Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy.  Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share.”  Examples of good works are given by Jesus in Matthew 25:31-36 as giving food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, clothes to the naked, and visiting the sick and those in prison.  James teaches us to help orphans and widows in their trouble (James 1:27).  Praying for those in need is a good work.  Telling others about Jesus is a good work.  There are many opportunities to do good works.  The genuine follower of Jesus will be rich in good works.  The false Christian will not be busy in good works.  Instead, he is selfish and spends much of his time for his pleasure.

The second kind of fruit is the words that come out of the mouth.  Jesus taught in Matthew 12:33-35 “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit.  Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.  A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things.”  The words that are spoken show what kind of heart that someone has.  If the words are critical, harsh, condemning, containing falsehoods, and expressing unrighteousness, that shows that the heart is not good.  If the words are truthful, kind, loving, caring, praising, and blessing, then the heart is good.

The third kind of fruit is the fruit of the Spirit.  Galatians 5:22-25 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.  And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.”  When one has the Holy Spirit of God living within him and leading him in his life, he demonstrates this fact by the fruit of the Spirit that he shows.  He is loving, joyful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle and he demonstrates self-control in his actions and peace with God and his fellow man.  You know the genuineness of a Christian by the fruit of the Spirit that he displays.  A false Christian is missing this fruit.

What kind of fruit do you bear?  Are you rich in good works?  What kind of words come out of your mouth?  Do you demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit in your life?  You can tell what kind of person someone else is by his fruit, but what does your fruit tell others about yourself?  Sometimes the fruit I bear demonstrates that I need to make some changes.  Matthew 7:3-5 “And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye?  Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

People are known by their fruit.  Before you are too critical of the fruit of others, evaluate the fruit in your life and make whatever corrections are necessary.

Give an Answer

Many of the people you meet in the world do not have faith in Jesus or, if they do, they have limited knowledge and understanding.  When they see you living a faithful Christian life, they may question you about your faith and hope.  Are you prepared to answer them as to why you live as you do?  Consider what the Apostle Peter wrote in 1 Peter 3:15 “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.”

You should not be ashamed of your belief in Jesus.  Some in the time of Jesus believed in Him, but only in secret.  John 12:42-43 “Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.”  When it comes to your faith and Christian life, you should be more concerned with what God thinks about you than what people in the world think about you.  Jesus said in Matthew 10:32-33 “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven.  But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.”  You certainly don’t want Jesus to deny you before the Father.   Be willing and eager to share your faith.

Peter said to “sanctify the Lord God in your hearts”.  You should have the faith that you have and be living your life as you do because you worship the Lord God from your heart.  Your life is different from those of the world, not because you are just trying to be different, but because you are seeking to serve your God.  Your actions and belief come from your heart.  People in the world should see the genuineness of your life which invites them to want to know why you have your faith.

You should dress differently than people of the world (1 Timothy 2:9).  You should avoid certain worldly activities (1 Peter 4:3-4).  Your speech should be different from those of the world (Titus 2:8).  You should be going about doing good (2 Thessalonians 3:13).  You put assembling with fellow Christians more important than other activities (Hebrews 10:35).  Why do you do these things?  You should be ready to give others a defense or an answer to their questions about you. Some Christians have grown up in the church so they have “inherited” their way of life; you should know the scriptural basis for your actions so you can tell others.  Some Christians are afraid to give an answer about their faith and life because they don’t feel that they know all of the scriptures and the answers to all of the questions.  You don’t have to have all of the answers – very few people do.  You just need to know why you believe as you do and have the hope that you have.  Being prepared to give an answer should strengthen your faith.

Why do you believe in Jesus?  Why do you believe in God?  I believe in God, first of all, because I see the wonderful design of the creation and I don’t believe that what we see today is the result of billions of years of evolution.  Romans 1:19-20 “Because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them.  For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.”  What are the reasons that you believe in God?  I believe in Jesus because I believe that there is enough evidence that He lived on the earth, He went about performing miracles, He was crucified and that He arose from the grave.  I also believe the word of God, the Bible, that tells me about God and about Jesus.  What are the reasons that you believe in Jesus?  What answer would you give?

What is your hope?  I believe that this earthly life is not all that there is.  I believe that there is a life after this life.  My hope is to receive eternal life with Jesus and God the Father.  Why do I have this hope?  I have this hope because Jesus arose from the dead.  1 Corinthians 15:19-20 “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.”  I have this hope because of the promises given in the Bible.  God has given me the gift of eternal life (Romans 6:23).  I live my life to please God.  If I am faithful until death, I believe I will receive the promises (Revelation 2:10).  What is your hope?  Why do you have hope?  What answer would you give?

When questioned about your faith and hope, you need to answer in “meekness and fear”.  You answer in meekness in that you are humble and not proud or haughty in the manner that you provide an answer.  The ones to whom you give an answer may come back to you in harshness, ridicule or persecution.   It is necessary that you have meekness and accept any unpleasant response without responding to them as they responded to you (1 Peter 3:9).  You answer in fear, not that you are fearful of those who question you, but you are respectful of them even if they have not earned your respect.

My encouragement to you is to be prepared.  “Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.”

Obedience

Obedience is to follow the commands or guidance of someone.  When you think of obedience, you likely think of children obeying their parents.  As a child begins to grow and develop, he doesn’t have the wisdom to see the dangers that must be avoided or to see the right things to be done.  He needs his parents to give him commands and guidance.  God wants children to obey their parents.  Colossians 3:20 “Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well pleasing to the Lord.”  Or maybe you think of a slave that must do what his master tells him to do or he will suffer severe consequences.  Or maybe you think of obeying the laws of the land such as the traffic laws; one who doesn’t obey the laws may be arrested and penalized.  But do you think of Jesus obeying God the Father?  Speaking of Jesus in Hebrews 5:7-9 “Who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered.  And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.”

Jesus had obviously been commanded by the Father to come to this earth and give His life for the sins of the whole world.  When the time came to complete the obedience of what he was commanded, Jesus did not want to go through with it.  He prayed earnestly in the garden of Gethsemane.  Matthew 26:39 “He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.”  Luke 22:44 “And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.”  I believe that Jesus saw in front of Him the physical torment He would suffer as well as having to take upon Himself the sins of the whole world.  He didn’t want to go through with what was before Him.  And yet, He did.  He obeyed His Father.  He learned obedience by the things which He suffered.  As a result, now He has been glorified.  Revelation 5:11-12 “Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice:  ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing!’”

Jesus gave us the greatest example of obedience to God the Father.  Just as Jesus obeyed, you and I must obey even when we would rather do otherwise. Abraham obeyed God even when he didn’t know where he was going.  Hebrews 11:8 “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.”  We may not fully understand or appreciate the commands and guidance we have from God.  But we must walk in faith and obey God as Abraham did.

We know that loving God is the greatest commandment (Mark 12:29-30).  Obeying God and keeping His commandments shows our love for Him.  1 John 5:2-3 “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments.  For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.”  Jesus said in John 15:9-10 “As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love.   If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.” John 14:15 “If you love Me, keep My commandments.”

Continually obeying God leads to righteousness. Romans 6:16-18 “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?  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.”

Disobedience to God results in everlasting destruction. 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9 “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.  These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.”  Romans 2:6-9 “Who ‘will render to each one according to his deeds’:  eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; 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.”

As Christians, I think we all want to obey God and receive His promises.  True obedience requires humility and submission.  James 4:6-7 “But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’  Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”  If you are self-willed and proud, you will do what you want to do.  But if you are humble and submit to God in obedience, he gives you His Grace.  My encouragement to you is to obey God in all things.  Be like Jesus who said to God “not as I will, but as You will.”

Two Roads

Jesus said that there is a choice of one of two roads in life.  Here is what He said.  Matthew 7:13-14 “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it.  Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.”  God does not automatically set you on one road or the other from birth.  Instead, later in life you make the choice between the roads as to which one you will follow.  Which road of life will you choose?

The first road has a wide gate to enter in.  The way is broad and it leads to destruction.  Many choose this road.  The second road has a narrow gate to enter in.  The way is difficult and it leads to everlasting life.  Only a few find this road.  Jesus didn’t go into a long discussion to describe these two roads, but I think we can give a fairly accurate description of each.

Let us first address the destinations.  The narrow gate and difficult way leads to life – eternal life with God the Father and Jesus Christ and access to the tree of life.  Revelation  22:14 “Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city.”  The wide gate and broad way leads to destruction – the lake of fire “which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” (Revelation 21:8) Since there are only two destinations, I hope you already know which one you will choose.

Not only are there two roads, but each road has a gate.  The wide gate and broad way have no entrance criteria.  Anything goes.  You can do whatever you desire.  The broad way is for those who seek after the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16).  You can seek after money and make money your God.  You can seek for pleasure and whatever feels good.  You can believe whatever you want to believe.  You can believe in false doctrines or false religions or you can believe in no god at all and believe that you came to existence through evolution. You can go after what you think is best for you.  Proverbs 14:12 “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” About this way, Jesus said “there are many who go in by it,” meaning that most people go in through the wide gate and follow the broad way.   But this way leads to destruction.

The narrow gate does have entrance criteria.  The first criterion is 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.”  The apostle Paul taught repentance.  Acts 26:20b “That they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance.”  He also taught confession that Jesus is Lord.  Roman 10:9-10 “That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” The next criteria are given in John 3:5-7 “Jesus answered, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.   That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.  Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’’”  Faith in God, repentance in a turning from the actions of the broad way, confession of Jesus as Lord, and being born of water and the Spirit are entrance criteria for the narrow gate.

After one has entered through the narrow gate, Jesus also said that the way to life is difficult.  It requires self-denial and taking up your cross.  Luke 9:23-24 “Then He said to them all, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.  For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.’”  It is the way of righteousness.  The way may be difficult, but the result is eternal life.

The two roads of life are very different.  Perhaps someone would want to mix the two but that doesn’t work. Matthew 6:24 “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”  It doesn’t work to be unequally yoked with someone going down the broad way.  2 Corinthians 6:14-15 “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?  And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever?”  Although those going down the narrow way and those going down the broad way are both living in the world, the two ways are separate and very different.

For each one of us, there is a choice of one of two roads in life.  My encouragement to you is to choose the road with the narrow gate.  Even though the way is difficult, it leads to life.

A Good Life

Do you want to live long and have a good life?  As Christians we have a hope of eternal life with Jesus and God the Father.  But still we cling to this life because it is what we have and what we know.  While here, it is natural to make our lives reasonably pleasant; we don’t intentionally want to make our lives difficult or short.  The apostle Peter quoted Psalm 34:12-16 in giving us a prescription for what we should do to have a good life. 1 Peter 3:10-12 “For ‘He who would love life and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips from speaking deceit.  Let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it.  For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayers; but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.’”  Let us analyze what Peter and the psalmist prescribed for a good life on this earth.

“Let him refrain his tongue from evil.”  The first element of the prescription is to watch your tongue.  You can spew out evil, hateful words, curses, and vulgar language.  You can gossip, slander, and speak evil of your fellow Christian, neighbor or those in authority.  Such a way of living will bring great trouble in your life and all those you come in contact with.  James 3:5-6 “Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things.  See how great a forest a little fire kindles!  And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell.”  If you go about speaking evil, you will set fires everywhere you go.  There will be no peace.  On the other hand, you can refrain your tongue from evil.  Colossians 4:6 “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.”  A gracious tongue is a big step towards having peace and goodness in your life.

“Let him refrain … his lips from speaking deceit.”  The second element of the prescription is to stop speaking deceitfully.  Deceit is to cause someone to accept as true or valid what is false or invalid.  It is being dishonest.  It is telling lies.  It is being hypocritical.  If you deceive others or tell lies, you only bring trouble into your life.  When the truth is discovered, you lose the respect and trust of others.  Always speaking the truth leads to a good life.

“Let him turn away from evil and do good.”  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.”  Each of these evil actions results in bad consequences.  Life is not good and your days are unpleasant when actions of evil abound.  God is opposed to these actions, not because he wants to deprive you, but because evilness does not lead to a good life and God wants what is good for you.  Instead, when you are righteous, when you do good works towards others, when your life is filled with love, then life is good.

“Let him seek peace and pursue it.”  The opposite of peace is strife.  If you want to love life and see good days, you don’t want strife.  To avoid strife, you have to make an effort to pursue peace.  Rather than insisting on your way, in humility submit to the will of others.  Learn to take it when someone does wrong to you and do not return evil for evil or take vengeance.  Be a peacemaker.  Romans 12:18 “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.”

“For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous.”  What a wonderful assurance this gives!  When you are a righteous Christian, God has His eyes on you.  That means He is looking after you.  He will give you strength (Philippians 4:13); He will give you direction (Rom 8:14); He will give His blessings.  That doesn’t mean you have no trials in your life, but it means that the God of the universe is on your side.  You want to love life and see good days?  Have God on your side.  “And His ears are open to their prayers.”  He is listening to all of your prayers.  That doesn’t mean that He gives you everything you ask for, when you ask for it.  But we know that God promises to give good things to His righteous people who ask Him (Matthew 7:11). 

There is no assurance that God will listen to a sinner’s prayer.  We only know that He listens to the prayers of the righteous.  “But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”  That means that He opposes those who do evil.  What actions He chooses to use against those who do evil is up to Him.  We can be assured that those who do evil will not see good days when God has His face against them.

Since I assume you want to love life and see good days, my encouragement to you is taken from what the apostle Peter wrote.  Refrain your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit.  Turn away from evil and do good.  Seek peace and pursue it.

Suffering

We might wish that there would never be suffering in our lives.  We might desire that everyone would like us and treat us with respect and never harm us, that we would never be ill or have pain or lose a loved one, and that there would be no accidents or bad consequences for our actions.  But when we think about it, we realize that this is all unreasonable.  We each suffer in different ways and at various times. 

Sometimes we suffer because of bad decisions or sins we have committed.  If you are reckless in your behavior, you may have an accident and get hurt.  If you unwisely borrow money, you may be burdened with debt.  If you break the law, you may be arrested and suffer whatever penalty the authorities give to you.  If you suffer for bad decisions or sins, you need to accept the consequences with patience and learn from your mistakes.  But if you suffer for doing good and take it patiently, this is pleasing to God.  1 Peter 2:19-21 “For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully.  For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God.  For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps.”

Christ suffered much.  He tried to prepare His disciples that He would suffer many things.  Matthew 16:21 “From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.”  If Jesus suffered, it shouldn’t surprise us if we suffer.  Hebrews 2:9-10 “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone.  For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.”  Hebrews 5:7-9 “Who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered.  And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.”  If Jesus learned obedience by the things which He suffered, it shouldn’t surprise us if we must learn obedience to God through our suffering.

There are other things we learn through suffering.  The first is patience and perseverance.  Job suffered the loss of his children and the loss of all of his possessions; then he was smitten with painful boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head (Job 1 and 2).  Throughout all his suffering, he did not sin.  James 5:10-11 “My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience.  Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord — that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful.”  We learn patience and perseverance through our suffering.

When we have suffered, we are able to empathize with others who are suffering like we have suffered.  If you have bad headaches, you can empathize with someone who also has headaches.  If you have lost a child, you can comfort another parent who has lost a child.  If you suffer persecution, you can empathize with others who are persecuted.  When you see someone suffering, it is a time to minister to them.  1 Corinthians 12:25-26 “That there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another.  And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.”

When you suffer, it is a time to draw closer to God and spend time with Him in prayer.   James 5:13 “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms.” When you suffer, you can share with God your suffering, plead with Him for relief, and receive His peace.  Philippians 4:6-7 “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”

You may suffer because you are a Christian.  If so, that is a time to rejoice.  Matthew 5:10-12 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.  Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”  Rejoice if you suffer for your faith.

There are many ways that you and I may suffer today.  Suffering has a place in each of our lives.  We can learn obedience to God in our suffering.  We can learn patience and perseverance.  We are able to empathize with others who suffer as we have suffered.  Suffering can draw you closer to God.  If you suffer as a Christian, rejoice because your reward is great.  

Finally, suffering can make us desire our eternal home.  Revelation 21:4 “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” When we reach our eternal home, there will be no more suffering.