Archive for the ‘Encouragements’ Category:

He Cares For You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nothing Hidden

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

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

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

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

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

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

Depart From Iniquity

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

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

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

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

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

A Rest

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do Not Harden Your Heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Birth of Jesus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.