Archive for the ‘Encouragements’ Category:

Those for the Lake of Fire

In the Revelation, He who sat on the throne spoke the following in Revelation 21:6-8 “And He said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts.  He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son.  But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.’”  It is also written in Revelation 22:14-15 “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.  But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie.”  There are two destinations and two end results.  For those who overcome and do His commandments, they shall be with God; they shall inherit all things, drink from the fountain of the water of life, have the right to the tree of life, and enter the gates into the city.  The others are outside the holy city or in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone.  Let us look at the characteristics of those who have their part in the lake of fire so that you can avoid being anything like them.

The cowardly.  Some translations use the word fearful.  These are those who will not stand up and confess their belief in Jesus because they are afraid of the consequences they might suffer.  In the early church, standing up for Christ might have caused one to be cast out of the synagogue, to forfeit his property, to be rejected by his family, or even to suffer death.  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.”  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.”  Don’t be cowardly about your belief.

The unbelieving.  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.”  Strengthen your faith.

The abominable.  These are those who do disgusting things.  They are described in Titus 1:15-16 “To the pure all things are pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; but even their mind and conscience are defiled.  They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work.” Ephesians 5:12 “For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret.”  Flee from disgusting works.

The murderers.  Murdering another person is universally acknowledged as evil.  But John wrote in 1 John 3:15 “Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.”  Chose love instead of hatred.

The sexually immoral.  This is any illicit sexual intercourse and can include homosexuality, living together without marriage and adultery.  Jesus said in Luke 16:18 “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced from her husband commits adultery.”  Matthew 5:27-28 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’  But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Viewing pornography would seem to be included in sexual immorality.  Flee sexual immorality.

The sorcerers.  This can include those who give spell-giving potions or who make appeals to the powers of demons.  I would include use of psychedelic drugs or visiting “witch doctors” in some cultures.  By extension, it could include seeking knowledge from any power other than God.  I would include fortune telling by using tarot cards, Ouija boards, palm reading, or even horoscopes.  Avoid any of these things that are not from God.

The idolaters.  This would be to worship anything other than God the Father, Yahweh.  Some Christian sects have images that they appear to worship.  But one can also worship themselves or the things of this world.  Covetousness is called idolatry in Colossians 3:5-6 “Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.  Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience.”  Do not love the things of this world, but instead love and worship God.

All liars or whoever loves and practices a lie.  Some seem to excuse a small, white lie.  Deceiving another is to lie.  It is not only to practice lying, but one can be guilty of loving a lie or deception.  Lies are included among the things that God hates.  Proverbs 6:16-19 “These six things the Lord hates, yes, seven are an abomination to Him:  a proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that are swift in running to evil, a false witness who speaks lies, and one who sows discord among brethren.”  God is about truth.  Love the truth and avoid all lies.

I encourage you to overcome so that you can be with God eternally.  I also encourage you to totally avoid being anything like those who have their part in the lake of fire: the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars.

The Wisdom From Above

We each should desire to be wise, because a truly wise person will be successful in how he lives his life and how he relates to other people; more importantly, he will be pleasing to God.  James teaches us to ask God for wisdom.  James 1:5  “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.”  God is the source of true wisdom. 

The wisdom of God is different from the wisdom of the world.  1 Corinthians 2:6-7 “However, we speak wisdom among those who are mature, yet not the wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing.  But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory.”  1 Corinthians 2:13 “These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual.”  A wise, godly person demonstrates that he is wise by his good conduct.  James 3:13 “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom.”

Let us first look at earthly wisdom.  James 3:14-16 “But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth.  This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic.  For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there.”  Earthly wisdom is about self.  It is characterized by envy and self-seeking or contentions and conflict.  Envy is the feeling of displeasure produced by witnessing or hearing of the advantage or prosperity of others.  This wisdom is about what pleases you and especially your senses and your pride.  It comes from the devil.  It results in confusion and every evil thing.  This is the way of most people in the world.

The wisdom from God is different.  James 3:17-18 “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.  Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”  Let us look at the characteristics of this wisdom.

First of all, this wisdom is pure.  It is not a mixture of earthly wisdom and godly wisdom.  It is not partly sensual and about self and partly what God desires.  It results from a wholehearted desire to do what pleases God.

It is peaceable.  Romans 12:18 “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.”  Psalms 34:14 “Depart from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” Since the wisdom from God is not about self, it seeks to avoid division, contentions and conflict and instead it pursues peace.

It is gentle.  Gentleness is tender and amiable; it is considerate and kindly in disposition as opposed to being hard or severe.  Jesus was gentle.  He described himself in Matthew 11:29 “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.”  The apostle Paul was gentle with the Thessalonians.  1 Thessalonians 2:7 “But we were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children.”  A nursing mother is usually gentle with her child.  God’s wisdom is gentle.

It is willing to yield.  It does not insist on having its way but submits to the desires and needs of others.  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.’”  God’s wisdom is willing to yield.

It is full of mercy.  Since God has been so merciful to us, we should show mercy to others.  Matthew 5:7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”  God’s wisdom is full of mercy.

It is full of good fruits.  Jesus taught that we should bear much fruit.  John 15:8 “By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.”  God’s wisdom is full of good fruits.

It is without partiality.  That means that it is not partial to the rich over the poor, to the old over the young, to the handsome over the plain, to the leader over the follower, or to the family member over those outside the family.  It treats all alike in love.  James 2:8-9 “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you do well; but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors.”

It is without hypocrisy.  A hypocrite is an actor.  He pretends that he is one way to win people’s favor, but in his heart he is not really that way.  Jesus was very critical of the Jewish leaders of His time because they were hypocrites.  But God’s wisdom is not hypocritical.

The differences between the selfish wisdom of the world and the wisdom that comes from above should be obvious to you.  I encourage you to desire the wisdom from above to direct you in how you live for Him.  Here is a portion of the prayer the apostle Paul had for the Colossians.  Colossians 1:9-10 “For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.”

Two Masters

Jesus taught us that we cannot serve two masters.  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.”  Mammon is understood to be riches or money.  You cannot serve God and also serve your desire for riches.  These two things are opposed to each other.  Either you will love God and not serve your desire for riches or you will love riches and not serve God.  You cannot love both and serve both.

With lots of money, you can buy or do whatever your fleshly nature desires.  The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.  1 Timothy 6:6-10 “Now godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.  And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content.  But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”  Here the apostle Paul teaches us to have godliness with contentment.  Whatever possessions we acquire in this life we will not be able to take them with us when we die.  You and I may never be rich, but we can desire to be rich.  That desire will lead one to be tempted to do things that are contrary to serving God.  One may be tempted to lie, cheat, or do something else that is dishonest or contrary to godly principles because of his desire to be rich.  He may be selfish and covetous of what others have.  One cannot serve God and riches.  The love of riches will cause one to stray from the faith.

A rich person is often proud because he sees himself as somehow better than those who have less.  He will usually trust in his riches to solve any problem that may come his way rather than trusting in God.  The apostle Paul taught Timothy in 1 Timothy 6:17 “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.”  Pride and lack of trust in God are additional reasons that one cannot serve both God and riches.

Covetousness is defined as the immoderate desire for the possession of something, especially for wealth.  To covet is to love riches.  Colossians 3:5-6 “Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.  Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience.”  Here, covetousness is called idolatry.  It is also called idolatry in Ephesians 5:5.  I understand these to say that the love for riches makes one an idolater; he worships riches rather than God.  One cannot worship or serve two masters.

Perhaps there are many things that one can love and serve besides God.  Love for riches is just one master contrary to loving and serving God.  You cannot serve yourself and serve God; God must come first.  Matthew 16:24-26 “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.  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?’”  For you and I to be true followers of Jesus, we must deny ourselves.  We cannot love the world and love God as well.  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.”  The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and pride are contrary to loving God.  You cannot have two masters.

We are taught that there are other things that are contrary to each other.  2 Corinthians 6:14-16 “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?  And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said:  ‘I will dwell in them and walk among them.  I will be their God, and they shall be My people.’”  Righteousness and lawlessness are contrary to each other.  We are to be slaves of righteousness not lawlessness.  Romans 6:18-19 “And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.  I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness.”  We should cleanse ourselves from all uncleanness and lawlessness because as Christians we are to be slaves of righteousness.  We cannot have fellowship with light and darkness at the same time; they cannot exist together.  We cannot have two masters.

My encouragement to you is to have God as your only master that you love and serve.  You cannot love and serve two masters.

The Paradise of God

The expression “Paradise of God” is found in Revelation 2:7 “To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.”  Each one of us should want to overcome by faith so that we can live in God’s Paradise.  1 John 5:4-5 “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world — our faith.  Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”

What do we know about God’s paradise?  The writings of John in the Revelation give us a description.  Revelation 21:2-8 “And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God.  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.’  Then He who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’ And He said to me, ‘Write, for these words are true and faithful.’ And He said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts.  He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son.  But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.’”

The first thing that I understand is that we will be with God and He will dwell with us.  There will be no distance from God.  We will be with the almighty Creator of the universe.  We will see His face.  We will be His people, His children.  He loves us and will take care of us.  He will wipe away every tear from our eyes.  I understand that to imply that He will comfort us.  There will be no cause for crying or having sorrow.  In this life we may cry or have sorrow because of loss of loved ones, because of disappointments, because of injustices or wrongs we have received from others or because of pain that we endure in our physical bodies.  In the paradise of God, all of our needs will be met.  The unrighteous individuals have been removed and put into the lake which burns with fire and brimstone.  There will be no more losing of loved ones to death because there will be no death.  We will not suffer in our bodies since there will be no more pain.

More description is given in Revelation 22:1-5 “And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb.  In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.  And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him.  They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads.  There shall be no night there: They need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light. And they shall reign forever and ever.”

In the Paradise of God, there are two things described which give us life.  First is the pure river of water of life.  It is clear as crystal and proceeds from the throne of God and of the Lamb.  The implication is that we can freely drink of this river and live forever.  Then there is the tree of life which bears twelve fruits.  The implication again is that we may freely eat the fruit of the tree and life and live forever.  The leaves of this tree are for healing; whatever problems there may be, we will be healed with the leaves from the tree of life.

There will be no more curse.  You may remember that Adam and Eve were cursed in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:16-19).  The woman was cursed to bring forth children in pain and to be submissive to her husband.  The man was cursed to toil to earn a living.  The ground would bring forth thorns and thistles; man would die and return to the ground.  All of these curses are gone.

In the paradise of God, we will be serving God.  I don’t know what that means.  But I am confident that I will want to do whatever He asks me to do.  There will never be night there; there will be no need for a lamp or of the sun in the sky.  God will give us light.  We shall reign forever and ever.  There will be no end to our reign.  To reign implies exercising authority over others.  Perhaps we will reign over those who are outside of the paradise of God.  Here is a description of those who are outside.  Revelation 22:15 “But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie.”

God will make everything new.  This includes new heavens and a new earth.  Isaiah 65:17 “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former shall not be remembered or come to mind.”  We won’t remember the old things.   Revelation 21:1 “Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea.”  2 Peter 3:10-13 “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.   Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat?  Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”

My encouragement is that of the apostle Peter.  What manner of person ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God?  Anticipate the coming of the paradise of God.

By Faith

We believe in God because we see the world and the universe He has created.  But by itself, that belief does an individual very little good.  James 2:19 “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe — and tremble!”  It is understood that the demons are not saved.  In the same way, if you simply believe in God, you are no better than the demons.  Instead, you need faith.  Ephesians 2:8 “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.”  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 words belief and faith are sometimes used interchangeably.  Belief is accepting something to be true.  But James teaches us that faith that is alive goes beyond simple belief to include works or actions that demonstrate one’s faith.

James 2:14-26 “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?  If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?  Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.  But someone will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’ Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.  You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe — and tremble!  But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?   Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar?  Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect?  And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ And he was called the friend of God.  You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.  Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way?  For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”

In this passage, James uses several examples to demonstrate that faith needs accompanying actions.  His first example is of a brother or sister needing clothes and food and you tell them to be warmed and filled but you don’t take the action to give them what they need; without action by you, they have no clothing or food.  His next example is of Abraham who was tested by God and told to offer his son as a sacrifice (Hebrews 11:17-19). Abraham demonstrated his faith by obeying and offering his son as a sacrifice – until the angel stopped him.  James’ third example is of Rahab the harlot in the city of Jericho who received the Israelite spies, hid them, and helped them escape because she had faith that God was going to deliver the city of Jericho into the hands of the Israelites; her actions demonstrated her faith (Joshua 2:1-21).

What do you believe?  You believe in God the Father.  You believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God.  You believe that God has made many precious promises.  You believe in eternal life.  There are probably many things that you believe.  But simply accepting these to be true in belief does you very little good.  Your belief must become living faith in that your actions and the way you live your life demonstrates your faith.  When you have living faith, everything changes; it changes the way you conduct your life.  Here is the apostle Paul’s prayer for the Colossians.  Colossians 1:9-13 “For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy; giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light.”   Because of our faith, through God we seek to know His will; we seek to walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him; we become fruitful in every good work; we are strengthened by His power and depend upon Him; we are patient and longsuffering with joy; we give many thanks to the Father who has qualified us to receive our inheritance.

Our actions demonstrate our faith.  Our faith and our actions should be consistent with each other.  If you believe that God hears and answers prayer, then you will be praying in faith that God hears and will answer your prayer (1 John 5:14-15).  If you believe that sins such as sexual immorality, lying, and selfish ambition are contrary to God’s will, then in faith you will purify your life (1 John 3:2-3).  If you believe that all things work together for good to those who love God, then you will in faith accept that what comes into your life God will work it for your good (Romans 8:28).  If you believe that God truly loves and cares for you, in faith you will discard worry (Matthew 6:34).  If you believe there is an eternal home prepared for you, then rather than live for this life, in faith you will live for the life to come.  2 Corinthians 5:6-8 “So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord.  For we walk by faith, not by sight.  We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.” You will walk by faith.

If our faith and our actions are not consistent with each other, then there is reason to question our faith.  My encouragement to you is to evaluate your works or actions and make your actions consistent with your faith.

Joy for a Repentant Sinner

During the time of Jesus, publicans or tax collectors were servants of the Roman government who collected taxes from the people.  Sometimes, the tax collectors used extortion and extracted excess taxes to enrich themselves.  They were regarded as traitors and apostates because they had frequent interaction with the gentile Romans and were tools of their oppression.  They were categorized along with other sinners such as adulterers, liars, and thieves.  Speaking of Jesus, in Luke 15:1-2 “Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him.  And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, ‘This Man receives sinners and eats with them.’”  In response to these religious leaders, Jesus gave three parables.

The first parable is of the hundred sheep.  Luke 15:4-7 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it?  And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.  And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’  I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.”  The message is clear:  there is joy in heaven over one sinner who repents.

The second parable is of the lost coin.  Luke 15:8-10 “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it?  And when she has found it, she calls her friends and neighbors together, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which I lost!’  Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”  Again, the message is clear:  there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.

The third parable is of the lost son.  Luke 15:11-32 “Then He said: ‘A certain man had two sons.  And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’ So he divided to them his livelihood.  And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living.  But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want.  Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.  And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything.   But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!  I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.’  And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.  And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet.  And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry.  Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing.  So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant.  And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.’  But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him.  So he answered and said to his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends.  But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.’  And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours.  It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.'”

This parable shows us the great love and mercy of our heavenly Father.  It should encourage any who have given themselves to sin that the Father will welcome them back if they have a humble, penitent heart.  But I believe that the main message of this last parable is that there should be great joy among us when a sinner repents and comes back to the Father.  The religious leaders, the scribes and the Pharisees, were self-righteous.  As a result, they distanced themselves from the tax collectors and sinners.  They put little or no effort into encouraging them to repent.  That was not the attitude of Jesus.  Luke 5:31-32 “Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.’”  The religious leaders were like the older son in the parable.  They were angry that Jesus associated with the sinners and encouraged them to repent and then accepted them.

It is possible for you to associate with sinners today and to be influenced to join in their sinful practices.  1 Corinthians 15:33 “Do not be deceived: ‘Evil company corrupts good habits.’”  It is also possible to be like Jesus – to associate with sinners and to cause them to repent.  You must decide which you can do. 

My encouragement to you is to genuinely rejoice when a sinner repents.  Remember that there is joy in heaven over one sinner who repents.

Rejoice In The Lord

Your life and mine are filled with many trials.  We may have financial problems with paying for the things that we need.  We may have health problems from pain to serious disease to chronic illness.  We may have conflicts with family members or co-workers or neighbors.  We may have loss of loved ones.  We may receive persecution for our faith in Jesus.  We may have loss of property due to robbery or being deceived by some scam.  You may have problems other than the ones I have listed.  The list of problems and trials in life can be long.  These trials can cause us to be sad and depressed and unhappy.  Whatever your problems and trials may be, there is still reason to rejoice.  The apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 4:4 “Rejoice in the Lord always.  Again I will say, rejoice!”  To rejoice is to be very happy, to be delighted, to feel joy.  Regardless of all that is happening in your life, I want to encourage you to rejoice in the Lord.  We can do so because we have an awesome God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.   Below are multiple scriptures that describe our Lord and give us reason to rejoice in Him.

He is the great creator and we should praise Him for the beauty and wonder of all His creation.  Revelation 4:11 “You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created.”  Psalms 95:1-7 “Oh come, let us sing to the Lord!  Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation.  Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving; let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms.  For the Lord is the great God, and the great King above all gods.  In His hand are the deep places of the earth; the heights of the hills are His also.  The sea is His, for He made it; and His hands formed the dry land.  Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.  For He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture, and the sheep of His hand.”

He has given us all spiritual blessings.  Ephesians 1:3-8 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence.” 1 Peter 5:10-11 “But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you.  To Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” Isaiah 61:10 “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”

Psalms 103:1-14 “Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name!  Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits:  who forgives all your iniquities, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from destruction, who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies, who satisfies your mouth with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.   The Lord executes righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed.  He made known His ways to Moses, His acts to the children of Israel.  The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy.   He will not always strive with us, nor will He keep His anger forever.  He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities.  For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.  As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him.  For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust.”

He has adopted us as His children; He loves us. 1 John 3:1-2 “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him.  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.” He cares for us.  1 Peter 5:6-7 “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.”  

He has an inheritance prepared for us.  Ephesians 1:18-19 “The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power.” 1 Peter 1:3-6 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.  In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials.”

You may have problems and trials in your life that sometimes weigh you down.  But my encouragement to you is to take time frequently to rejoice in the Lord.

Prejudice and Partiality

James 2:1-9 “My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality.  For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, ‘You sit here in a good place,’ and say to the poor man, ‘You stand there,’ or, ‘Sit here at my footstool,’ have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?  Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?  But you have dishonored the poor man. Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts?  Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called?  If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you do well; but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors.”

“My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality.”  Prejudice is a judgment or opinion formed beforehand or without knowledge of the facts.  Because of prejudice, one individual is valued more than another.  The prejudice is often because of some physical characteristic that can be observed.  In the world it is common to see prejudice because of race, skin color, hair color, physical height, physical strength, influence, who one’s parents were, national origin, wealth, and other characteristics.  The prejudice leads to treating one individual better than another or, as James describes it, with partiality.

In the passage above, the partiality was shown because of wealth.  The poor man was in filthy clothes perhaps because he did not have other clothes to wear and his only clothes had become filthy.  The rich man displayed his wealth with fine apparel and gold rings.  Today, a rich man might show his wealth with fine apparel and expensive jewelry and with other possessions such as an expensive new car, a fancy cell phone, and a luxurious house that he lives in.  The common prejudice is that if a person is wealthy and successful in life, he is somehow better than the poor man. 

“Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?”  Matthew 19:23-24 “Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.  And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.’”  Jesus went on to explain that it is not impossible for a rich man to be saved.  The problem is that the rich man usually trusts in his riches.  He does not need to trust and depend upon God because he has his riches to help him in the problems of life.  The poor man does not have riches to depend upon, so his faith and trust are in God.  It can be observed that there are more poor who are rich in faith and therefore heirs of God’s kingdom.

Prejudice leads to partiality.  One individual is treated differently than the other individual.  In the passage above, the rich man was told to sit in a good place while the poor man was told to stand or sit at the footstool.  We can show partiality in numerous ways.  We can greet and welcome one and not another.  We can give our time to the one we prefer and ignore the one we do not.  We can treat one as righteous and another as unrighteous.  We can share the gospel with one and not with the other.  Our partiality is given because of our prejudice.

God does not show partiality.  He does not see as man sees.  The prophet Samuel was told to go to Bethlehem and anoint the next king of Israel from the sons of Jesse.  Samuel looked over the sons of Jesse and saw the oldest son Eliab.   1 Samuel 16:6-7 “So it was, when they came, that he looked at Eliab and said, ‘Surely the Lord’s anointed is before Him!’  But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.’”  We should be glad that the Lord looks on the heart of an individual and not on his outward appearance.  Peter was sent by the Lord to Cornelius, the gentile, to preach the gospel. Acts 10:34-35 “Then Peter opened his mouth and said: ‘In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality.  But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.’”  God does not show partiality.   Speaking about God, the apostle Paul wrote in Romans 2:6-11 “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; but glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.  For there is no partiality with God.” Job 34:19 “Yet He is not partial to princes, nor does He regard the rich more than the poor; for they are all the work of His hands.”  God is not prejudiced and does not show partiality.  Neither should you or I. 

“If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you do well; but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors.”  The apostle Paul was giving instructions to Timothy.  1 Timothy 5:21 “I charge you before God and the Lord Jesus Christ and the elect angels that you observe these things without prejudice, doing nothing with partiality.”  My encouragement to you is the same.  That you seek to live without prejudice and do nothing with partiality.

Persistence in Prayer

Most people want to believe that there is someone greater than themselves who will help them in their time of need.  Jesus taught us to pray to our Father in heaven.  Perhaps you have prayed to God for things and He has answered your prayers and given you what you desired.  But it may seem that much of the time, when you pray, you don’t see a positive answer to your prayers.  You wonder why God does not answer your prayer.

God may not answer your prayer if He knows that it isn’t best for you to receive what you ask.  The apostle Paul had a situation in his life where God did not give him what he asked.  Paul had previously received great revelations from God, but then he was given a “thorn in the flesh”.  2 Corinthians 12:7-10 “And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.  Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me.  And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  It is supposed that the “thorn in the flesh” was some physical disability that Paul had.  God did not take it away because He wanted Paul to learn to depend upon Him.  It was not best for Paul to receive what he requested.  God may want you to go through trials to make you into a more mature Christian or to test your faith.  You should not doubt God’s wisdom whether He gives you what you ask for or He does not. 

You should also make sure that your prayer is a proper request to God.  Here is what James taught in James 4:3 “You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.”  I suppose that many prayers are selfish requests that God is not interested in fulfilling.  In general, I doubt that God is interested in having your sports team win or blessing you with some possession beyond your need.  I believe that God is interested in the furtherance of His kingdom and receiving glory.  But that still leaves many things in your life that you do not know if God would be willing to answer or not.  And so you ask for those things.  You pray and you may not receive what you request.  The problem still exists.  The need is still there.  So what do you do?  Do you quit asking God for what you desire, and assume that God will not answer your prayer?

Jesus taught us to be persistent in prayer with a couple of stories.  The first is in  Luke 11:5-11 “And He said to them, ‘Which of you shall have a friend, and go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has come to me on his journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within and say, ‘Do not trouble me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give to you’?  I say to you, though he will not rise and give to him because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will rise and give him as many as he needs.  So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.”  The next story is in Luke 18:1-8 “Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart, saying: ‘There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God nor regard man.  Now there was a widow in that city; and she came to him, saying, ‘Get justice for me from my adversary.’  And he would not for a while; but afterward he said within himself, ‘Though I do not fear God nor regard man, yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.’  Then the Lord said, ‘Hear what the unjust judge said.  And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them?  I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?’”  Jesus taught us to pray and not lose heart.  Don’t give up asking God.  Continue to pray.

Consider the following examples in the Bible of persistent prayer.  The first is when King Herod put Peter in prison with the possible intent of putting him to death.  Acts 12:5 “Peter was therefore kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church.”  As a result of the constant prayer by the church, God miraculously freed Peter from the prison.  The second example is when Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane before His crucifixion.   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.”  As a result of His earnest prayer, He was strengthened but He still suffered the death on the cross.  The third example is the request for prayer by the apostle Paul.  Romans 15:30-32 “Now I beg you, brethren, through the Lord Jesus Christ, and through the love of the Spirit, that you strive together with me in prayers to God for me, that I may be delivered from those in Judea who do not believe, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, that I may come to you with joy by the will of God, and may be refreshed together with you.”  He wanted the church in Rome to strive together with him in prayer that he would be delivered from the unbelieving Jews.  That part of the prayer was not answered because the unbelieving Jews caused him to be imprisoned and sent to Rome.  But part of his prayer was answered in that he came to the brethren in Rome.  From these examples we learn that sometimes God answers persistent prayers and sometimes He does not.

Whenever you see a great need in your life, I encourage you to fervently and persistently pray to God to grant your request.

Guard Against Unbelief

The Old Testament tells us about God and His plan for mankind.  It also describes the people of old with their successes and failures and how God dealt with them.  We can learn a lot from reading and studying the Old Testament.  From those who walked in faith, we can learn how we should walk.  From those who did not live as they should, we can receive warnings that apply to our lives today.  Consider this exhortation from Jude in Jude 5-7 “But I want to remind you, though you once knew this, that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe.  And the angels who did not keep their proper domain, but left their own abode, He has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day; as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities around them in a similar manner to these, having given themselves over to sexual immorality and gone after strange flesh, are set forth as an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.”  The examples Jude gives us are of angels who left the right way and of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah with their sexual immorality who suffered the vengeance of God.  He also reminds us of the Israelites who were saved out of Egypt but later the whole generation was destroyed because of their unbelief; they did not enter the promise land.  We need to learn from these examples.

A similar warning is given in 1 Corinthians 10:1-13 “Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ.  But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.  Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted.  And do not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.’  Nor let us commit sexual immorality, as some of them did, and in one day twenty-three thousand fell; nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed by serpents; nor complain, as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer.  Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.  Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.  No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.”  From the example of the Israelites, we learn that they initially were saved by Moses and were baptized in the cloud and in the sea.  But we also learn from them not to lust after evil things or become idolaters.  We learn that we must avoid sexual immorality.  We also learn not to complain against God.  Those who did these things were destroyed by the Lord.  The admonition is to let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.  But the encouragement also is to remind us that God will provide a way of escape from any temptation.

We have another similar warning given in 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.”

From this last passage of scripture, we learn a number of things.  We must not harden our hearts and be rebellious before God.  We must not test and try the Lord.  The result was that the Israelites did not enter into His rest.  I need to exhort you and you need to exhort me not to have an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God.  Sin is deceitful so that we can harden our hearts and think that it is no problem to continue in our sin.  Instead, we need to repent and determine in our hearts to completely follow the will of God.  We need to be steadfast to the end.  When we continue to sin and do not obey, we may say that we believe, but our actions demonstrate that we don’t really believe.  We are not living by faith.  The Israelites who fell in the wilderness did not enter the Promised Land because of unbelief.  You and I will not enter our eternal home if we also have unbelief.

My encouragement to you is to strengthen your faith.  Learn from the bad example of the Israelites who fell in the wilderness because of unbelief.  Do not be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.  Be steadfast to the end.