The Content of Our Loyalty

loyalty-definition

According to Wikipedia, loyalty is “devotion and faithfulness to a cause, country, group, or person.” Let’s break this definition down as we see it from a Christian point of view. On a secondary level, we may think of loyalty as it pertains to family, community, and country. For example, husbands and wives are to be loyal to their vows while children are to be loyal in obedience to their parents (Ephesians 5:22-6:1-4; 1 Peter 3:1-7). When it comes to community, members are to be loyal through high standards of conduct, respect, and service toward others (Titus 3:1-3; 1 Pet. 2:11-12). And in regard to country, citizens are to be loyal to the law of the land and in subjection to the governing authorities (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Pet. 2:13-17).

But there’s a higher level of even greater importance. Our primary loyalty—that is, our utmost “devotion and faithfulness” is based on the teachings of God’s Holy Word. In other words, the most significant purpose of our calling is to fulfill our responsibility and privilege as it pertains to Biblical instruction.

When we are loyal to our purpose as Kingdom Seekers (Matthew 6:33) we will experience the Good News of which the Bible speaks. For, the Good News includes the four features of devotion and faithfulness—namely, cause (seek first); country (Kingdom of God); group (Church); and person (Jesus Christ). All four of these features are inclusive as believers demonstrate loyalty. They are all necessary as well as rewarding.

When we are loyal to the cause of Christ we are seeking first the Kingdom of God. We will not be so apt to become disloyal if we remain loyal to that first cause. Moreover, seeking the Kingdom first is what provides the incentive for being loyal to the cause. This does not mean other causes pertaining to family, community, and country are not significant. On the contrary, it means that if we are seeking first the Kingdom of God we are more than fulfilling our devotion to these other causes.

As believers, our primary loyalty to country is the Kingdom of God. Here, I am referring to the future Kingdom when the earth will be restored and the curse of sin and death is removed forevermore (Acts 3:20-21; Revelation 21:3-5; 22:3-4). God’s Kingdom is territorial in that it will be established by his Son and it will cover the entire planet (Daniel 2:35, 44; Isaiah 11:9; Rev. 11:15; 19:11). Our citizenship is presently in heaven where Jesus our Lord and Savior is presently fulfilling his role as Mediator (1 Tim. 2:5; Philippians 3:20-21). When Jesus descends from heaven the faithful will meet him in the air: He will resurrect all the faithful to immortality and then instantly change the faithful who are living at that time from mortal to immortal (Acts 1:11; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18; 1 Corinthians 15:50-58). The everlasting Kingdom of God on earth, which we eagerly await, is the “better country”—the “heavenly one”that all those who died in faith expected to inherit, and which we look forward to inherit with them, when Jesus comes again: Hebrews 11:13-16.

Our loyalty is also to the group or community of believers in Christ as we prepare for our inheritance (Romans 8:16-17; Galatians 3:28-29; 6:1-2). The aim is to be part of a group or church in which each believer is loyal to the edification of the Body of Christ, serving one another, and living in unity of the faith (Eph. 4:12-15; Acts 20:32; Jude 20-21). Loyalty includes regular worship attendance with believers as well as encouraging one another (Eph. 5:19; Colossians 3:16; Hebrews 10:23-25; James 5:19-20); prayer for one another (James 5:16); consistent giving as good stewards of the Lord’s work (Mal. 3:10; Matt. 6:3-4; 1 Cor. 16:2); using our spiritual gifts for the work of the Lord (Romans 12: 3-9; Eph 4: 2-12; 1 Cor. 12: 1-31; 1 Peter 4: 10-11); and doing all we can do to reach, teach, and preach the Good News of Christ and his Kingdom, thus leading them into the Body of Christ (Matt. 28:19; Rom. 12:3-8; Jude 20-23).

Loyalty does not waiver even though it is tested sometimes. For example, enduring long-winded sermons may really test our loyalty to the pastor and listening to his message. (You’re probably sensing a joke right about now!) One Sunday, Mrs. Dunn decided to visit a new church. The sermon seemed to go on and on and a few people in the congregation fell asleep.

After the service, to be friendly, she approached a sleepy-looking gentleman, extended her hand, and said, “Hello—I’m Gladys Dunn.”

“You’re not the only one,” the man replied. “I’m glad it’s done, too!”

Our loyalty is intended to be long-lasting, and not with the intent of receiving worldly gain. A funny story is told of a wealthy old man who was very enthusiastic about his lovely young bride. But sometimes he wondered whether she might have just married him for his money. So, he asked, “If I lost all my money, would you still love me?”

She retorted, “Of course I would still love you. Don’t be silly. But I would miss you!”

We can only stay loyal to cause (seek first), country (the Kingdom of God), and group (the Church), as long as we are loyal to Jesus the Christ, and honor him as the Lord and Savior of our lives. He is the center of all our loyalty; the focal point of our devotion and faithfulness. He is the living content of our loyalty as his followers.

When we make the decision to accept Jesus in our lives, we are making a pledge of loyalty to him. Our loyalty is such that we die to sin so that Christ now lives in us by faith. Like the Apostle Paul, we can declare, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and delivered himself up for me,” (Gal. 2:20; see also Romans 6:1-11).

Total loyalty to Christ gives Kingdom Seekers the benefit of dealing with the problems dealt to us through sin. If we yield to sin, we are being disloyal; if we yield to God through his Son, we are being loyal. As Christ remains the content of our loyalty, we are sanctified (cleansed) and freed from sin and renewed with the hope of receiving eternal life when Jesus returns: “But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derived you benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life,” (Rom. 6:22).

We can be confident in our loyalty to God through Christ because he is faithful to his promises to us: “…for he who promised is faithful,” (Heb. 10:23). We can therefore trust God to supply us with our needs as we strive to be loyal to him. The content of our loyalty rests on the fact that we can rely on him to keep his Word and all that he will do when Jesus, his Son, fulfills his plan of salvation. Long ago, Moses assured God’s people, “Know therefore that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments,” (Deuteronomy 7:9).

When we pledge loyalty it all comes down to confessing, “I Am Yours.” Here’s Christian singing artist, Lauren Daigle: http://youtu.be/w9B-81mZV5E

Good News to YOU!
Pastor Michael

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The Pleasure of Pleasure

pleasure

According to medical studies, it is suggested that all cholesterol is not the same. An article in U. S. News & World Report reportedly said that there is “good cholesterol” and “bad cholesterol.” Good cholesterol consists of high-density lipoproteins or HDL’s. Bad cholesterol consists of low-density lipoproteins, or LDL’s. Bad cholesterol clogs arteries and leads to heart attacks. But good cholesterol is believed to prevent blockages as it is said to carry the cholesterol out of the coronary-artery walls. It is asserted that studies have shown as HDL levels rise, the rate of coronary heart disease falls.

Just as there is good and bad cholesterol, there is also good and bad pleasure. The Bible says that good pleasure is healthy when one submits to God and his Word. But bad pleasure is unhealthy when one disobeys God and His Word. (Citation: 750 Engaging Illustrations for Preachers, Teachers, and Writers by Craig Brian Larson)

We don’t have to read beyond the first three chapters of the Bible to know what happens when humanity chooses bad pleasure. When the woman looked at the forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden she just couldn’t resist the pleasure she thought she’d enjoy if she ate its fruit. “When the woman saw that the tree was good for food and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate…,” (Gen. 3:6a). Her husband also gave in to the temptation: “…and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate,” (Gen. 3:6b). Giving in to bad pleasure brought on the curse of sin ever since. We live in pain and suffering and death—all as a result of Adam and Eve who chose bad pleasure. “Therefore, just as through one man [Adam] sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned…” (Romans 5:12, New American Standard Version, NASB).

The irony of bad pleasure is that it seems good at the time. What looked and felt good for Adam and Eve turned out to be the worst thing they could ever do. But their desire was in direct opposition to God’s will so, therefore, they paid the ultimate penalty for their deed.

Lest we be too critical of the first human couple, we must confess that we’re in the same boat. More times than not we look at something we “just can’t resist” thinking it will give us great satisfaction and, instead, it ends up giving us great disappointment. Things like getting even, pursuing the latest trends, following the crowd, various addictions, and material gain might appear to set us on the road to happiness—and it might for awhile—but in the end only leads to a dead-end street of despair and ultimately destruction. Jesus put it this way: “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it. For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find,” (Matt. 7:13-14).

The popular thing that everyone else is doing—the broad way—is more likely to be the bad pleasure that leads to destruction, namely being sentenced to eternal death. In the parable of the Rich Fool, Jesus told the story of a rich, worldly person who put his personal security in all that he came to possess. So, he was going to live it up as he declared, “And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have many good laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink, and be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’” Jesus concludes, “So is the man who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God,” (Luke 12:16-21). See also 1 John 2:15-17; Galatians 5:19-21.

The Bible is quite clear about the foolishness of bad or worldly pleasure. Among other tragedies, it results in poverty (Proverbs 21:17), false security (Isa. 47:8-9), unproductiveness (Luke 8:14), and suffering (2 Peter 2:13). After looking back at all he had amassed by all of his wisdom , Solomon stated, “Thus, I considered all my activities which my hands had done and the labor which I had exerted, and behold all was vanity and striving after wind and there was no profit under the sun,” (Ecclesiastes 2:11).

Speaking of vanity, I found this funny tongue-in-cheek poem titled, “A Yuppies Prayer”:

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray my Cuisinart to keep,
I pray my stocks are on the rise,
And that my analyst is wise,
That all the wine I sip is white,
And that my hot tub’s watertight.
That racquetball won’t get too tough,
That all my sushi’s fresh enough.
I pray my iphone always works,
That my career won’t lose its perks.
My microwave won’t radiate,
My condo won’t depreciate.
I pray my health club doesn’t close,
And that my money market grows,
If I go broke before I wake,
I pray my Volvo they won’t take.

In contrast, the least popular thing that most people avoid—the narrow gate—is most likely the pleasure that is good for us since it leads to life, namely eternal life in the Kingdom of God. Take Moses, for example. The great Lawgiver of Israel who led Israel from bondage to freedom on their journey to the land of promise is credited with turning down “the pleasures of sin” in view of his faith in God: “By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God, than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin; considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward,” (Hebrews 11:24-26). Moses is listed among those who will inherit the Kingdom of God (Heb. 11:40).

When we live by faith we enjoy the good pleasures that brings greater, more lasting rewards than what bad or worldly pleasures will bring. Consider the following passages about the good pleasures God brings to our lives:

David declared, “To do thy pleasure, my God, I have delighted. And thy law is within my heart,” (Psalm 40:8, Young’s Literal Translation, YLT).

The Apostle Paul advised Timothy, “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy,” (1 Tim. 6:17).

The apostle said to the Ephesian Church, “He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention [literally, good pleasure] of His will….He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention [literally, good pleasure] which He purposed in Him,” (Eph. 1:5, 9). When we pleasure in doing God’s will, we bring pleasure to him, and this brings blessings to us as well as praise to him (Ezekiel 18:23).

Our good pleasure is to produce the good fruit of God’s Spirit with the expectation of inheriting eternal life and entering the Kingdom of God (Gal. 5:22-23). The Good News is that the real pleasure of pleasure is living the life God wants us to live and enjoying the many blessings that result: the joys and rewards of service, sacrifice, and sharing our hope with others.  These are the true pleasures that bringing lasting happiness.

Now, for your good pleasure, here is a Messianic worship song from Psalm 16:5-11 titled, “At Your Right Hand Are Pleasures Forevermore”: http://youtu.be/HP4MIzLmOGc

Good News to YOU!
Pastor Michael

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One Day At a Time

one-day-at-a-time.htm

Several years ago, Christian singer Fernando Ortega recorded, “This Good Day,” that included the following words:

(Chorus)
If the rain clouds come
Or the cold winds blow,
You’re the one who goes before me
And in my heart I know,

This good day.
It is a gift from you.
The world is turning in its place
Because you made it too.
I lift my voice
To sing a song of praise,
On this good day.

How refreshing to know that, just as the song says, each day is a gift from God for us to enjoy and use for his glory and praise. There is a verse in the Bible that speaks of this truth: “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it….” (Psalm 118:24). Whenever I read this verse, I think of the chorus, “This Is the Day,” http://youtu.be/cccJhMVFrLs

No matter what happened yesterday or what will take place tomorrow, God has given us this day to experience his love, joy, and peace because of his grace and favor upon. As Kingdom Seekers, all we have to do is trust him and obey him with all our desire and strength on this day as well as every day of our lives.

The reason the writer of this psalm could declare, “let us be glad and rejoice” is because the nation of Israel was going through a period of restoration and revival. The people had returned from captivity after 70 years of persecution and hardship. Now, they were able to inhabit their land once again and go about the business of rebuilding their homes and their lives. One of the first items of business, however, was to restore their beloved Temple which had been destroyed by the Babylonians who had conquered them. This Psalm reaches past their dark period to a future time of joy and blessings even to our day and beyond.

Psalm 118 is believed to have been sung by Jesus and his disciples before he went into the garden to pray. He knew that soon, he would be apprehended by the Jewish officials, put on trial, and then crucified. It is said that this psalm was probably used after the last Supper the night Jesus celebrated the Passover meal with his twelve disciples.

Someone wrote, “It is very touching to read into this psalm some of those thoughts which must have filled the heart of our blessed Savior, as he stood on the margin of the cold river. Verse 26 [Psalm 118] had been sung a few days before in chorus by the multitudes who attended the triumphant entry into Jerusalem,” for as Matthew 21:9 says, “The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’ ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ‘Hosanna in the highest!’

This chapter also has prophetic implications for us. “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” is expected to be fulfilled when Jesus returns from heaven to save Israel, as well as give everlasting life to all the faithful in Christ. When Jesus looked over the city of Jerusalem and wept because his own people rejected his Word, he predicted to them, “For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,’”(Luke 19:41-44). Israel will not see and recognize Jesus as Messiah and King until the day he comes and sets his feet on the Mount of Olives as the prophets foretold. Jesus probably has the Prophet Isaiah’s writing in mind for it says in Isaiah 25:9, “In that day they will say, ‘Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the Lord, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.’” God will reveal himself to Israel and the entire world on the day his Messiah or Anointed One, Jesus, comes to save his people and rule the nations of the world.

This is the day in which we can rejoice, too, if we’ve accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of our lives. It’s what brings us hope and encouragement so that we don’t have to be plagued with worry or fear over what a day may bring forth, (Proverbs 27:1; Matt. 6:34). But we can only live one day at a time like another song says: http://youtu.be/fzU5jdbKOUk

Psalm 118 tells us that God is good; his mercy endures forever. This means everyday, day after day. When we’re faced with fears or we give in to temptations, and we do as it says—call upon the Lord—the Lord will answer our prayers.

Verse 6 claims, “The Lord is on my side.” It’s been said, “If you would have God on your side, you must take care to be on his side.” Let me ask you this: Are you on God’s side? Do you worship him regularly? Do you read his Word, pray consistently, and obey what he says? Are you seeking him with all your heart? If you answered “yes” to these questions, then you can rejoice because you are receiving power from a Higher Source than anyone else can provide for you. But if you’re not on God’s side, you are losing out on the blessings God wants to give you—blessings that lead to the abundant life in God’s Kingdom.

The people who rejected Jesus were not on God’s side. Verse 22 of Psalm 118 says, “The stone which the builders rejected has become the capstone [or, cornerstone]….” Jesus, the Stone (cp., Acts 4:11), came to save his people but they rejected him when they nailed him to the cross. But God took the Stone, raised him from death to immortality, and made him the Chief Cornerstone of the Church. Jesus is the Head of the Church as well as the primary support of our lives. We live each day to its fullest and rejoice in it when we build our lives upon him through faith and obedience.

There’s a saying that goes, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” Today, you can change your life around if you give your life to the Cornerstone. God provided his Son to make your day brighter even if darkness is all around. This is the day God has given as a gift you can use. But what you do with it is up to you. You can lay this gift aside by doing nothing with it. Or, you can exchange it for pleasure and desires that go against God’s will. Or, you can use the gift to its fullest by putting all your priorities into seeking first God’s kingdom and his righteousness for your life.

We know it takes a lot of patience to live one day at a time. But when we strive to live each day to it’s fullest we know that some things take time to develop. As they say, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Children often have a humorous way of illustrating this point.

One day a little boy was lying in front of the fireplace, scribbling on a piece of paper. Suddenly, he rushed into the kitchen with the paper and said, “Look, Mom, I’ve learned to write!”

“Well, what does it say?” his mother asked.

“I don’t know,” he said, “I haven’t learned to read yet.”

Then there was this determined daycare instructor who was trying to teach preschoolers the days of the week but without much success. After drilling them for several days, she asked again, “What day is today?”

As usual, no one knew. One youngster said, “Tuesday.” Another one said, “Monday.”

“No, no, no!” the teacher said. “It’s Thursday. Today is Thursday.”

At that, a little girl held up her hand and complained, “Teacher, every day you change the answer!”

As we take one day at a time, we can rejoice at the opportunities God gives us to enjoy his many blessings, and to prepare for his Kingdom. We live, we learn, we love, by using the day as God’s gift to us. This is the day the Lord has made for his glory and praise.
http://youtu.be/D7nZVtZFE0A

Good News to YOU!
Pastor Michael

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The Blessing of Confessing

confession

It’s easy to talk about the importance of confessing our faults but to actually do it takes a lot of courage let alone humility. When it actually comes down to the moment of making our confession, we are tempted to back out of it. It’s like this humorous illustration I found:

Several years ago the Peanuts comic strip had Lucy and Charlie Brown practicing football. Lucy would hold the ball for Charlie’s placekicking and then Charlie would kick the ball. But every time Lucy had ever held the ball for Charlie, he would approach the ball and kick with all his might. At the precise moment of the point of no return, Lucy would pick up the ball and Charlie would kick and his momentum unchecked by the ball, which was not there to kick, would cause him to fall flat on his back.

This strip opened with Lucy holding the ball, but Charlie Brown would not kick the ball. Lucy begged him to kick the ball. But Charlie Brown said, “Every time I try to kick the ball you remove it and I fall on my back.”

They went back and forth for the longest time and finally Lucy broke down in tears and admitted, “Charlie Brown I have been so terrible to you over the years, picking up the football like I have. I have played so many cruel tricks on you, but I’ve seen the error of my ways! I’ve seen the hurt look in your eyes when I’ve deceived you. I’ve been wrong, so wrong. Won’t you give a poor penitent girl another chance?”

Charlie Brown was moved by her display of grief and responded to her, “Of course, I’ll give you another chance.” He stepped back as she held the ball, and he ran. At the last moment, Lucy picked up the ball and Charlie Brown fell flat on his back.

Lucy’s last words were, “Recognizing your faults and actually changing your ways are two different things, Charlie Brown!” (contributed by Jeeva Sam, as cited in Sermon Central)

Lucy just couldn’t help herself. She confessed her past misdeeds. But she did not change her mischievous ways.

Lucy could not be trusted. And Charlie would probably think twice whenever she might admit something or make a promise. Sadly, Lucy missed the blessing of confessing when she deceived Charlie Brown.

Lest we should make the same mistake and miss the blessing of confessing, let’s look at the benefits of this important requirement for Christians. We understand that confession is an integral part being a kingdom seeker according to the scriptures. In Matthew 6:33, Jesus said, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things shall be added to you,” New American Standard Bible, NASB). In the process of seeking God’s kingdom we also seek God’s righteousness. Kingdom seekers want to pursue what is right and just. Why? Because the anxieties of life can weigh us down. “Therefore, do not be anxious for tomorrow,” Jesus said, “for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own,” (v. 34).

Confessing our anxieties will enable us to be better seekers of God’s kingdom and his righteousness (compare First Peter 5:6-7). That’s why Jesus said, “Stop being anxious for your life,” (v. 25), “do not be anxious” about basic necessities like food and clothing (v. 31), and “do not be anxious for tomorrow,” (v. 34). Confessing our worries will lift the burden we carry and put us in a position to overcome such difficulties as conflict, health problems, fear, and deception.

Confessing our faults or sins, such as worrying too much, is part of being a follower of Christ. In the King James Version, James 5:16 says, “Confess your faults one to another and pray for one another, that ye may be healed.” The New American Standard Bible reads, “Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another that you may be healed.” Some say that confession of our “sins” is to be to God whereas confession of our “faults” is to be to another person when appropriate. Either way, confession brings healing along with fervent, effectual prayer. It mends our broken relationship with God as well as with our fellow human beings. It also provides for a better community in which we can grow and prosper (James 4:1-10).

In the same vein, confessing sins will help to fulfill our need for forgiveness and cleansing. It’s when we deny ourselves the blessing of confessing that we block this need. Saying that one does not need to confess one’s sins is denial and denial leads to deception and deception leads to a refusal to accept the truth. For example, First John 1:8-10 says, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar and his word is not in us.”

Christians who are seriously seeking God’s kingdom and righteousness do not take confessing their sins lightly. We’re not really making a confession just to give an impression. Nor are we truly making a confession if it’s done in a half-hearted manner.

For instance, a man returned to his car in a parking lot and found a note under his windshield wiper. The note read as follows, “I just smashed into your car. The people who witnessed the collision are watching me. They probably think that I am writing down my name and address. I am not. They are wrong.” There was nothing more written on the note. (selected) An insincere confession is, in reality, no confession at all.

The greatest blessing of confessing starts with sincerely confessing Jesus in our lives. Let’s look at three essential confessions of a believer in Christ:

(1) Confessing Jesus as Lord is required for salvation: “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved,” (Romans 10:9). Note that this verse includes believing that God raised Jesus from the dead. The three ingredients of receiving Jesus as the living Lord and Savior—namely, faith, repentance, and baptism—is based on confessing with our mouth and believing in our heart: By faith we accept God’s gift of grace through Christ, (Eph. 2:8). We repent by recognizing the sin we’re in (Psa. 139:23, 24), regretting the sin we’re in (Psalm 51:17), and renouncing the sin we’re in (Isaiah 55:7). Then, we enter into Christ by being baptized by immersion in water which symbolizes that Christ died for our sins, was buried, and was raised by God to immortality (Romans 6:3-7).

Once one has accepted Jesus through faith, repentance, and baptism, one can experience God’s forgiveness as way to deal with one’s sins. As I pointed out earlier, when we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins according to First John 1:9. Thus, we are able to constructively deal with our sins by confessing them to God through his Son who acts as our Advocate with our heavenly father, (1 John 2:1-2).

(2) Another blessing is confessing Jesus as the Son of God for it enables God to abide in us. According to First John 4:15, “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.” Christianity is the only religion that teaches Jesus is God’s son and that he is Christ, “the anointed one,” or Messiah of God. There may be other religions that assert the existence of a higher being or beings but none of them confess that Jesus not only is Lord but God’s Son, as well. Therefore, since those from other religions do no confessing Jesus as the Son of God, they leave out the one, true Source for God to abide in them and they in God. But our confession that Jesus is the Son of God opens up the wonderful opportunity to abide in God and God to abide in us through love, confidence, and spiritual maturity (1 John 4:16-21).

(3) Confessing Jesus before others brings a heavenly blessing. Jesus declared, “And I say to you, everyone who confesses me before men, the Son of man shall confess him also before the angels of God,” (Luke 12:8). We have nothing to be ashamed of when we confess Jesus as our Lord and Savior and our hope in him before others who do not know him. In fact, it is an honor knowing that Jesus is also confessing us before the Father’s heavenly host. What a sharp contrast for those who deny Jesus before others: “But he who denies me before men shall be denied before the angels of God,” (Luke 12:9).

Indeed, confessing is a blessing in so many wonderful ways as we have seen from God’s Word. It is not only a responsibility, it is a privilege. We cannot afford to dismiss it or deny it. As the late Dr. Alva Huffer wrote, “Daily examination of one’s thoughts, words, and actions, and the confession of sin to God are necessary for all Christians. As a merchant, at the end of the day, checks the condition of his business, believers need daily to examine their lives in the light of God’s standards for mankind,” (see Psalm 139:23-24). (Systematic Theology)

Here are the Cathedrals in a live performance singing, “Search Me, O God“:
http://youtu.be/9Kuo3lg-LBU

Good News to YOU!
Pastor Michael

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Will & Grace

God's Will and Grace

When you saw the title of this post you may have been thinking it has to do with the names of two people. Not really. Coincidentally, this is the title of an old TV sitcom but it is definitely not what I am referring to, either. Rather, it’s about something much more relevant than that: God’s will and grace.

I was sitting in a restaurant recently and noticed this sign on the wall which read, “The will of God will never take you where the grace of God will not protect you.” This saying led me to think about the will of God and his marvelous grace.

When we seek the will of God, we often don’t know what God is going to do to reveal it to us. But however he does it, we must trust that his grace is there to provide for our needs.

When Andy Griffith (June 1, 1926 — July 3, 2012), star of the classic television program that bore his name, was in his fifties he and his wife, Cindi, faced some serious situations that eventually led them to experience God’s wonderful grace. In November, 1996, Guideposts published an article he wrote in which he told how he had battled a mysterious illness from which he was fighting to recover. The couple were also facing a financial setback that led them to be virtually broke. Due to his age, it was becoming more and more difficult to find work in Hollywood.

So, he and Cindi decided that things might work out better if they moved from their Los Angeles home back to Andy’s home state of North Carolina. But since the real estate market was down at the time, they couldn’t get a decent offer on their house. A whole year went by. Andy recalled, “I was getting physically stronger, but I was so depressed. We couldn’t sell the house—I didn’t know what to do.”

Andy said, “Then Cindi came up with an off-the-wall idea. ‘Maybe it’s a good idea that we couldn’t sell the house,’ she said. ‘Maybe it was God showing us grace. If we moved to North Carolina now, you might indeed never work again. What we need to do is stay here and stoke the fire.'”

And that’s what they did. Day after day they went together to the office of the talent agency that represented Andy. They sat in the lobby, talked with agents, went with them to lunch. Eventually the work started coming in: four TV movies that year, including the pilot of Matlock, a show that ended up running for nine years.

When facing difficulties, it’s often difficult to understand the will of God. We naturally wonder why we’re going through them and how we’re going to deal with them. But in the process of our struggles, we’re moved to examine the circumstances we’re in and rely on God’s grace to carry us through them. We must be confident that as it paid off for Andy and Cindi, it will pay off for us, too.

In Titus 2:11-14, the Apostle Paul wrote,

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds, (New American Standard Bible, NASB).

In these verses you find the will of God for Christian living. He tells us how not to live as well as how we ought to live as followers of Christ. This presents a challenge that requires obedience, discipline, trust and especially, hope. Hope is the driving force that keeps up looking up and beyond the present to the glorious future promises to all those anticipating the Lord’s glorious return. All of this is possible not because of anything special or outstanding about us but because “the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men [and, of course, women]….”

The struggles that you and I go through would be impossible to face, and even overcome if it were not for God’s grace. But it takes God’s will to experience it. In Romans 12:1-3, notice Paul’s connection between “the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God” and “the grace” God has given for him to encourage his fellow believers:

Therefore I urge you, brothers, on account of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God. For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but think of yourself with sober judgment, according to the measure of faith God has given you.… (Berean Study Bible, BSB).

Paul could speak from his own personal experience concerning God’s grace. Paul recounted the many times God graciously provided for his needs after suffering persecution for his witness of Christ: 2 Corinthians 11:23-29. And he was humble enough to admit, “For I am least of the apostles, who am not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them. Yet not I, but the grace of God with me,” (1 Cor. 15:9-10, NASB).

Paul was able to endure his trials and sufferings because he learned to accept them through God’s grace. Look at his testimony on the way he dealt with his “thorn in the flesh”:

Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Cor. 12:7-10).

We don’t know exactly what Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was. There are a list of theories: stammering speech, arthritis, malaria, bad eyesight or some other physical illness or malignity. But whatever it was, the apostle learned to rely on “the power of Christ” to give him strength to deal with it. God’s will is that we accept his grace to give us strength even when we are weak.

We can depend on God and the power we receive through his Son knowing that in the end, all things will turn out for the best as we place our hope in him (Romans 8:28).

Here’s Matthew West singing, “Grace Wins”: http://youtu.be/9JXl1czvh7g

Good News to YOU!
Pastor Michael

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Turning Liabilities Into Assets

liabilities_assetsA thirty-eight-year old scrubwoman would go to the movies and sigh, “If only I had her looks.” She would listen to a singer and moan, “If only I had her voice.” Then one day someone gave her a copy of a book, The Magic of Believing. She stopped comparing herself with actresses and singers. She stopped crying about what she didn’t have and started concentrating on what she did have. She took inventory of herself and remembered that in high school she had a reputation for being the funniest girl around. She began to turn her liabilities into assets. The time came when Phyllis Diller made over $1 million in one year. She wasn’t good-looking and she had a scratchy voice, but she could make people laugh. (Illustrations Unlimited)

One thing about the Good News of salvation in Christ Jesus is that believing makes all the difference between success and failure as we get ready for the Kingdom. We can’t “mature to the full measure of the stature of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13, Berean Study Bible, BSB) if we compare ourselves to others and wish we have what they have. Instead, if we take inventory of what we already have, and take advantage of it, we will be able to turn our liabilities into assets just like Phyllis Diller.

Believing is the key. If we believe that God has given us a gift that we can use for serving him then we will experience spiritual growth and the blessings that come from it. In Ephesians 4, the Apostle Paul lists some examples of spiritual gifts such as apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. The purpose of these gifts was for equipping the church “for works of service, to the building up of the body of Christ…” (v. 12).

God has given every believer a gift by the Power that is received through Christ. It might be one of the gifts Paul lists in Ephesians 4, or it might be one or more of the other gifts he lists elsewhere, such as Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthains 12:4-11. The Bible says there are a diversity of gifts but the same Spirit given to each believer to use as God has given. One’s responsibility and privilege as a believers is to seek the gift God has uniquely given so as to contribute to the work one has been called to do.

All too often we might dwell on what we can’t do rather than what we can do. For example, you might not be able to work miracles, or possess gifts of healing or perform other such signs. But what about the things you CAN do? It might help if you ask someone close to you what they see in you that you can’t see. They will probably be able to tell you something positive about yourself that you never thought you were good at doing. Maybe it’s helping others or giving generously to those in need, or providing encouragement, or giving good advice, or having the ability to teach or speak, and the like. It might even be the ability to make others laugh. Whatever special gift God has given to you, it is an asset that will bring glory to him while building up the body of Christ.

Our gifts are assets that need developing. One of Ripley’s “Believe It or Not” items pictured a plain bar of iron worth $5. The same bar of iron if made into horse shoes would be worth $10. If it were made into needles, it would be worth $5,000. If it were made into balance springs for find Swiss watches, it would be worth $500,000. The raw material is not as important as how it’s developed. God says we have spiritual gifts, but their worth to him will be dependent on how we develop them. (ibid)

This illustration reminds me of Paul’s reminder to his young colleague, Timothy, to “kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you…” (2 Tim. 1:6). Rekindle the gift. Keep using and developing that asset until it becomes fruitful in abundance for the work of the Lord. Others will receive a blessing for it.

When Jesus told the Parable of the Talents (or Minas), he was teaching how important it is to use the “talent” God has given to us as we anticipate the coming Kingdom. No matter how much he’s given, we are to put it to use and not bury it like one of the servants foolishly did. It’s not what we don’t have, but what we do have by God’s grace that counts. But if we don’t invest in the assets God has freely given, then we will lose our place in God’s Kingdom. (See Matthew 25:14-30.)

God does not want us to be afraid to use our gifts for Paul said to Timothy, “God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline,” (2 Tim. 1:7). He’s given everyone the power, love, and discipline to use those assets through the Power that dwells in us: “Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure [good deposit] which has been entrusted to you,” (2 Tim. 1:14).

Just like Susan Kay Wyatts sings, “We All Have Gifts to Share,” http://youtu.be/G8vfPPfQ0bo

Good News to YOU!
Pastor Michael

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The Christian Experience

the Christian ExperienceHave you had a fresh Christian experience lately? Or, is your Christian life the same as it was from the day you accepted Christ into your life? For some, it wasn’t that long ago when your new life in Christ started. For others, it was so long ago that it may not seem as new as it once did. In fact, it might even be a little stale.

British evangelist, A. Lindsay Glegg, once shared a story told of an old man who had a wonderful experience twenty-five years earlier, so wonderful that he wrote it all down and called it his “Blessed Experience.” When people visited him he often would bring it out and read it through to them.
One night when a friend called in he said to his wife, “My dear, just run upstairs and bring down my ‘Blessed Experience’ from the drawer in the bedroom.”
She went up upstairs to get it and, on returning, she said, “I am sorry, but the mice have been in the drawer, and have eaten up your ‘Blessed Experience’!”
And a good thing, too! If you had a blessing twenty-five years ago, and have not had one since, you had better forget it and get an up-to-date experience. (citation: Gospel Herald)

They say that experience is the best teacher. And that is true to a large degree. But I say that if a follower of Christ has only one experience, then one hasn’t learned much. For each day that a Christian faces ought to include a fresh experience of grace and knowledge in the Lord.

The Apostle Peter urged the church to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ….” The aim for experiencing growth in the grace and knowledge of Jesus is so that we can bring him glory: “…To him be glory both now and forever. Amen!” (2 Peter 3:18, New International Version, NIV)

Our own “blessed experience” is not so much on the experience as it is on the Person who provides that experience, Jesus Christ. Peter Taylor Forsyth is quoted, “We need an experience of Christ in which we think everything about the Christ and not about the experience.”

A good question one should regularly ask is, “What experience have I had today as a believer in which I can give praise to my Lord?”  That might be a tough one to answer. We routinely go through our daily activities with a lot of things on our minds: “Did I finish all my work I planned to do today? Did I miss any e-mails or phone calls? Are all my bills paid up? Did I feed the cat or dog? What’s on tomorrow’s agenda?” And on and on it goes. By the end of another busy day we might simply be too tired to think about any Christian experience for which we could praise the Lord.

It might be difficult to even think you’ve had a Christian experience that is worth recognizing. You might have the notion that it was not earth shattering enough. No revelations took place. No miracles were witnessed. The heavens didn’t open and angels didn’t appear. But our Christian experience doesn’t always have to be that dramatic.

Elijah once learned that his experience with the Almighty didn’t have to be that way. As this great and powerful prophet was going through a rough time, he was feeling sorry for himself for what he was experiencing in his stand for God. He felt all alone. He thought that he was the only prophet left alive who hadn’t been put to death by wicked Jezebel. So, he went to a cave to get away from it all. That’s when the word of the Lord came to him and told him to go outside and stand on the mountain of Horeb.

The Lord then sent a mighty strong wind that shook the mountain and shattered the rocks, but God was not in the wind. Next, the Lord sent a mighty earthquake but he was not found there, either. After the earthquake there was a devastating fire, but the Lord was not found there, as well. After the fire there appeared a still, small voice or gentle blowing.  The Bible then says,

When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. And behold, a voice came to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Then he said, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.” But God revealed to Elijah that he was not the only prophet left alive serving him. There remained 7,000 more faithful prophets who had not bowed to the idol Baal.  (1 Kings 19:9-18, New American Standard Bible, NASB)

Elijah’s experience with God was not in the great and mighty things but in that still small voice, that gentle blowing of God’s peaceful presence. And how reassuring for us to know that God doesn’t always demonstrate his greatness in dramatic ways like wind, earthquake, and fire. That still small voice will leave us experiencing peace of mind that nothing and no one else can give except through our Lord Jesus and power in his name.
This is the kind of peace that the Apostle Paul described in Philippians 4:4-7,

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

When you experience God’s inner peace, you know you’ve had a blessed experience. When you’ve had an answer to prayer, you know you’ve had a blessed experience. When you think of something—anything—for which you are thankful that day, you know you’ve had a blessed experience. In reality, there’s not a day that passes that you haven’t experienced the Lord in one way or another. This is the Christian experience that comes through the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And it’s a blessing that doesn’t come every twenty-five years. It’s time to get an “up-to-date experience.” Speaking of which, what’s been your experience, lately?

Like Matt Redman sings, there are at least 10,000 Reasons to Bless the Lord for experiencing him each day:
https://youtu.be/DXDGE_lRI0E?list=_slz9ENukYOgO0EqgISkjyP3VVf4

Good News to YOU!
Pastor Michael

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