Putting God's Word into Practice…

Revelation 13 ~ Unholy Trinity

In the end, the Dragon, the Beast and the False Prophet will come on  the scene and deceive the world with their temporary power and counterfeit authority.  The “world” will be easily swayed by them and lured in to marvel and worship this false representation of the truly, divine Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit).

We are made to worship!  We can worship the One who is holy, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness; who sent His only Son to earth to live a selfless, humble life of serving all the way until He sacrificed His own life for the sins of mankind; who by the power of the Holy Spirit was raised back to life, ascended to heaven and now sends His own Spirit to dwell with and in His followers.  Or we can worship things that are blasphemous, haughty, and deceitful.

Why is it that most people love being under the authority of “false prophets,” but hate to submit to God’s authority?  Why is it that people will find themselves worshiping a dragon and beast and spitting on the Lamb?

These are going to be polarizing times.  It is only going to get harder to be a Christ-follower–captivity, martyrdom, starvation, nakedness, homelessness, etc…IS CHRIST ENOUGH?  WOULD MY FAITH BE STRONG ENOUGH TO ENDURE?

And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his hame and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in Heaven.  Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain. (5-8)

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James 1:9-18 Trials, Temptation and a Good God

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and He himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. (13-15)  

Temptation is not from God because temptation is not good. It has one path and leads only to death.  When we feel tempted, it is coming from our own desire and propensity to gratify self–whether it’s being tempted to become angry, to overeat, or to look at porn, etc.  Temptation is not a sin!  We are all tempted, because we are all human.  Temptation is one step away from sin.  The choice to pursue or flee temptation is ours.  Sin starts as a response to a thought–very small–then it grows and grows until it consumes us.

There are two quotes I think of when it comes to the path of sin and temptation:  

“Sin will always take you farther than you intend to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you thought you’d pay.”

“Don’t even taste what you don’t want to be hungry for!”

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him…Do not be deceived my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. (12, 16-17)

Trials are allowed by God to test our faith.  Trials lead to good things–wisdom, endurance, strength, life, and eternal reward.  All good things come from God.  He is steadfast and unchanging, and He wants to develop His character in us!  We need every good and perfect gift He gives to stand the test.  

I just finished reading The Hunger Games. (I’m always a few years behind.)  During the games, when there is a dire need, sponsors will pay to have gifts parachuted to the contestants for their aid and survival.  That is kind of how it works with our trials and God’s goodness.  He sees everything we are going through, and knows our every need.  Unlike The Hunger Games, we don’t have to earn the gifts, we just have to ask!

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! (Matthew 7:11)

How we view God impacts our perception of our trials.  When we believe that He is good, generous, impartial, and gracious, we can accept our trials as a gift perfectly suited to us to help us become more like Him. And we can know that every grace He gives us during trials–wisdom, patience, strength, etc…–is meant to help us endure.

God is good!  He doesn’t do anything that would lead us to sin or break faith, but He does allow things that build and strengthen our faith.

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James 1:2-8 ~ Trials

James doesn’t pull any punches or put forth any pleasantries in this letter, but proceeds right to the point with precious principles we need to put into practice!

Trials are inevitable, but they have great purpose!  God allows us to meet trials in life to test our faith and to produce endurance and character in our lives. However, it is our responsibility to remain in the trial until His work is complete and we have passed the test.  So often I try whatever it takes to get out of trials.  But just like any other test that we don’t pass in life, unfortunately we must keep re-taking it.  Trials continue to pop up until we have learned and grown the way God intended for us.

Trials give us an opportunity to ask for wisdom.  What a privilege!  We don’t have to go through trials with our limited insight and knowledge.  Trials are tools that point us to a wisdom unfathomably higher than our own!  Sadly, asking for God’s wisdom is sometimes our last resort.  When instead we should be asking Him at the onset: 1) What do you want to teach me or produce in me through this trial? 2) What will it take to pass this test?

God gives wisdom freely and generously–without reproach, reprimand, or rebuke–to all who ask in faith, believing they will receive it.

Proverbs 2:6-7 says, “For the LORD GIVES WISDOM; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; HE STORES UP SOUND WISDOM for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk in integrity.”  Prior to these promises we see our role in gaining His wisdom:  Make your ear attentive to wisdom and incline your heart to understanding; call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, seek it like silver and search for it as for a hidden treasure…  Do we value God’s wisdom enough to seek it like that?

How often do we receive godly wisdom for our trials and think with our human minds, “That won’t work.” Then we proceed to use our own “wisdom.”  God calls that being double-minded and unstable.  One could also call it disrespectful!

When we were in Sarasota a few weeks ago I got a flat tire.  I prayed that God would show me who could help and walked into a Walgreens.  I remember looking at the people in there and wondering who was capable of changing a flat. I specifically remember looking intently at one gentleman in the photo department and thinking, “Definitely not that guy, but maybe he’ll know someone.” I didn’t ask.  An hour passed, and I found myself back in the Walgreens trying to get cooled off when an associate asked if I needed anything.  I told her my story and she called someone on the phone.  Guess who showed up to change my flat tire??  The gentleman from the photo department, who happened to be the store manager.  My trial could have been greatly abbreviated if I had not been doubtful, and just asked for help. It’s the same with God’s wisdom.  He has all the tools, knowledge and ability stored up for us, we just need to ask without doubting that His ways are best and that He can handle our trials.

Because trials are an occasion for growth in endurance and wisdom, they are also an opportunity for joy!  Just like Jesus’ example in Hebrews 12:2 where we learn that He faced His suffering with joy because He knew that the outcome was more wondrous than the pain.  Let’s not waste our trials, but celebrate them.  The Lord is able to bring beauty out of our various tests and trials.

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Hebrews 12:3-4 Consider Him!

Consider Him who endured from sinners such hostility against Himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. (12:3)

Consider: to think carefully about; to look attentively at; to think about and be drawn towards; reflect on, mull over, meditate on, examine

Jesus is our greatest motivation for running the race with endurance.  Meditating on Him protects us from growing faint and weary. In our spiritual life, maybe the reason we feel faint and weary is because we are fixing our eyes on people and problems instead of on the power of Jesus to overcome them!

In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. (12:4)

“Struggle against sin” can be understood in two ways: our own personal battles against sin when we often give up or give in too easily, and our struggle against the sin of others that cause hardship, persecution and/or affliction in our own life.

Have I resisted sin to the point of death?  The truth is when it comes to my struggle against sin, I don’t fight hard enough.  I’m not willing to sacrifice for victory.  When I’m faced with hardship, betrayal, pain, affliction and persecution at the hands of others, am I willing to forgive and die for these people’s sins?

Jesus was willing…CONSIDER HIM!!  

  1. He washed Judas’ feet knowing that he would betray Him that night.
  2. He wept over Jerusalem for their inability to accept Him as their Savior and Peace.
  3. He kept Peter in the “inner circle” knowing he would betray Him that night.
  4. He healed the ear of His arrestor.
  5. He asked for forgiveness for His prosecutors and executioners.

Jesus constantly and humbly offered forgiveness, grace, mercy, service, and sacrifice to His enemies.  Considering Him empowers us to endure.  Also, recognizing that WE ARE THE SINNERS who were hostile to Him, and that we have received His grace and forgiveness should free our hearts up to endure the sin of others.

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Hebrews 12:1-2 Life is a Race

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

The race of life is set before each man, the finish line is death, and none know how close the finish line is for them!  The good news for those of us who trust in Jesus as our Savior and Lord have a cheering section along the way!

This past year about four weeks before a half-marathon I was registered to run, I tore my calf muscle and needed six weeks of physical therapy.  This left me on the sidelines of the race to encourage other runners. Since I had done the race before, I knew what was encouraging to hear along the way.  If I could read the runner’s name on their bib, I’d say, “Kerri, you look great!  Don’t quit!” or “Tom, you are amazing!” This is how I picture the spiritual race of life with Moses, Abraham, Joseph, King David, Samson, etc…shouting to us, “Keep going!  You can do it!”  And God the Father and Jesus at the finish line saying, “Here she comes!”

So our lives are a race, we have a cheering section, there is a finish line, but how should we run until we arrive there?

  1. Unencumbered!  Lay aside EVERY weight and sin which clings so closely!  Sin, burdens, bad habits, earthly ambition, material possession accumulation, unhealthy relationships…anything that slows us down must go!  Just like the abandoned clothes one sees along a race path!
  2. With endurance.  I was shocked to find the definition of endurance being:  power of enduring unpleasant and difficult process or situation without giving way; capacity to withstand wear and tear.  Some synonyms are stamina, fortitude, tenacity, perseverance, and determination.  Life–our race–is not always easy or pleasant.  I’ve often thought of endurance as going the distance, but it is so much more.  It is pushing through obstacles, hardships, opposition just like the cloud of witnesses who surrounds us did–by faith!  Strong faith is the fuel of endurance!
  3. With our eyes fixed on Jesus!  Jesus endured; He finished strong!  He laid aside anything that would have stopped Him from fulfilling His purpose for His earthly life.  He starts and perfects our faith.  Jesus gives us the fuel to endure.  When we take our eyes off Jesus we become lazy, complacent, comfortable, and easily swayed and knocked down by life.
  4. With joy.  Jesus endured with joy because he knew what His pain was accomplishing–namely, the salvation of the world!  We also have hope for the other side of the finish line.  The promise of seeing Jesus face-to-face and to paraphrase Dr. Joe Stowell, “Seeing His nail-scarred hands reach out to welcome us home.”

How am I running?  What’s holding me back from giving my all in the race?  On what are my eyes fixed?  What is the reading of my faith and joy gauges?

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Hebrews 10:35-11:2, 11:6 ~ The Overwhelming Value of Faith

I started reading Hebrews 11 last Wednesday and haven’t gotten past verse 2 and 6.  For nearly six days I have been meditating on the word, “FAITH!”–specifically saving faith, unwavering faith, persevering faith, commendable faith and rewarded faith.  Circumstances have arisen over the past week that have made me feel hopeless and in effect lessened my faith in God’s power to save.  That backed me up into Hebrews 10 where two phrases caught my attention, “Do not throw away your confidence,” and “For you have need of endurance.”  God reminded me that faith does not build endurance, but the testing of our faith builds endurance (James 1:3).  He also reminded me of Hebrews 7:25 that says, “Jesus is able to save completely those who draw near to God through Him.”  Faith enables ALL to draw near to God.  In seemingly hopeless circumstances, faith is the key that unlocks the rewards and promises of God.  I need to pray for more faith for myself, and more faith for others–unshakeable, unwavering, persevering faith!

Hebrews 10:38-11:2.  “But my righteous ones shall LIVE BY FAITH, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.”  But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who HAVE FAITH and preserve their souls.  Now FAITH is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen, For by FAITH, the people of old received their commendation.”

Faith is necessary for salvation (For by grace you have been saved through faith…Ephesians 2:8), but it is also the foundation for our daily actions as believers in Jesus Christ.  Faith-based living proves that Jesus has changed our lives!  Lord, I know that You gave me the gift of faith to believe in Jesus as my Savior.  Am I daily walking in that faith?  What things other than faith do I use to make decisions?  Give me pure faith, great faith in Your character, Your promises and Your abilities.

Faith is defined in 11:1 as unwavering confidence that Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice on our behalf is our only hope for salvation and that those who believe inherit heaven and the presence of God as their eternal reward.  It is a steadfast conviction and assurance even though–especially because–it cannot be seen!

Faith is rewarded with God’s pleasure and His commendation (admiration, recognition, appreciation).  Lord, does my faith bring you pleasure?  Is my faith commendable in your sight?  I want to be someone who does not shrink back, but presses on!

Hebrews 11:6.  And WITHOUT FAITH it is impossible to please God, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him.

There is absolutely nothing we can do to please God except have faith!  As written above, only faith allows us to draw near to God.   Faith that says, “You are real God and I want to know you!”  That faith will always be rewarded because anyone who seeks God is rewarded!  Some rewards of seeking God by faith are:

  • Those who seek Him, find Him (Deuteronomy 4:29, Jeremiah 29:13)
  • Those who seek Him have the sins that separate them from Him forgiven (2 Chronicles 7:14)
  • Those who seek Him, find everlasting joy (Psalm 22:26)
  • Those who seek Him are made righteous and clean (Hosea 10:12)

That is good news!  God allows us to draw near to Him.  He wants us to seek Him.  He wants us to put our faith in Him.  He wants to reward us.  What a mighty, good God!  However, sometimes we put up road blocks to faith and seeking:  pride, self-sufficiency, self-reliance, self-righteousness, fear, near-sighted focus, and unbelief.  Lord, what is standing in the way of great faith in You?  Am I relying on myself instead of putting full confidence in You?  Am I afraid of the changes that come to my life if I live by faith?  Is my vision too short-sighted–my eyes not fixed on the reward?  Lord, I want my life to be characterized by great faith.  I want to draw near to You.  I want the hope that I have in you to be a conviction so strong that it brings great boldness to my spirit.  I want to amaze You with my faith.  Lord, give me more faith!

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Hebrews 10:19-39 ~ No Wavering

With Good Friday and Easter behind us, it could be easy to lose sight of what we just celebrated.  We rejoiced in Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf, His victory over sin and death, but Monday we return to “normal” life. I’m thankful that I find myself in Hebrews this morning reading anew these truths.

There is only one way into the presence of God, one way to experience His glory and that is through the torn flesh and shed blood of Jesus Christ–He alone opens the way and gives us confidence before the Father.  We must be unwavering in this belief and also strengthening each other in regard to the faithfulness of God and the purpose He set for us of loving and doing good to others through unity and community.

Many people may have gone to church yesterday and heard the truth of Jesus Christ, and sadly many may have walked away deliberately continuing in the sin of unbelief!  Anyone who daily rejects the truth of Jesus Christ as the only Savior forfeits the mercy of God.  They die to experience His judgment, fury and vengeance.  This is truth!  God in His mercy gives us day after day to chose to believe; but our lives will end, we will face God, and give an account for how we handled the truth.  There is only One way to the Father (belief) and there is only one way away from the Father (rejection). Rejection in essence is trampling the truth of Jesus, treating the shedding of His blood with contempt, and insulting/outraging the Holy Spirit.  Verse 31 says, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of THE LIVING GOD!”  Oh how my heart breaks over those who refuse to believe the truth.  

Even on Good Friday as I was driving around, I was moved to tears by the sheer volume of people who were out and about and how few were probably considering the truth that Jesus shed His holy blood, taking the punishment for our sins–substituting His life for ours on that cross.

If I stopped reading this chapter at verse 31, it would leave my spirit crushed, but thankfully the next paragraph starts with the word, “BUT!”  Those who hear the truth and believe in Jesus are changed!  They are given endurance in suffering, compassion towards others and joy in unfair circumstances.  They have a great hope and confidence in God’s mercy and His abiding promise to live with Him forever in fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11).  They are not “repaid” (30) with judgment, fury, and vengeance, BUT are”rewarded” (35) with salvation and eternal life!  All this is possible through unwavering faith!  Faith makes all the difference–it is the bedrock of endurance and perseverance.  It is the one thing that pleases the Lord. While unbelief leads to destruction, the path of faith leads to life.

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2 Thessalonians 3 ~ BUT the Lord is Faithful!

2 Thessalonians 3:3,5 “But the Lord is faithful.  He will establish you and guard you against the evil one…May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.”

In His faithfulness, the Lord grounds us, guards us, and guides us.  

Grounds Us.  Evil is all around us.  We have an Enemy that wants to flatten us and render us useless in our labor for the Lord.  When I think of being established my the Lord, I think of a stately, deeply rooted tree.  It cannot be easily knocked down.  Ephesians 6:10-11 says, “Finally brothers, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.  Put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.”  When God establishes us, He makes us strong and sturdy–able to stand firm come what may.

Guards us. How does God guard us against evil?  In Psalm 91:11 it says that God sends His angels to guard us.  2 Timothy 1:14 tells us that the Holy Spirit is our guard.  God’s surpassing peace guards our hearts and minds too (Philippians 4:7).  With godly wisdom He guards our mouths and our paths according to many verses in Proverbs.  To be guarded from evil, we must be surrounded by our guards.  When we walk in obedience to God, we are right in the center of His protection, even in the midst of persecution and affliction.

Guides Us.  The Christians in Thessolonica were under persecution and suffering.  They needed reminded that God loved them.  Their suffering didn’t mean that God had abandoned them or that He was displeased with them.  He loved them in the midst of their adverse circumstances!  They also needed to remember the example of Christ’s endurance in suffering even to the point of death.  They needed to remember the eternal victory He claimed over death and draw from His power for endurance in their affliction.

Because I know God loves me and what my Savior endured, I can stand firm!  The Lord is faithful!  He is my strength.

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Romans 15:1-13 Unity

In the first 7 verses, those who consider themselves strong in faith are commended to bear with those who are weak in faith, to build them up, and to welcome everyone as Christ welcomed us.  How did Christ welcome me?  Fully, unconditionally, lovingly, and patiently.

God gave us the Scripture to instruct us, and to give us endurance and encouragement–because God is the God of all endurance and encouragement.  Endurance and encouragement are required to build unity-not just any unity-but unity in Christ so that God receives glory.  Endurance and encouragement tears down walls built by legalism and liberties by keeping us focused on God and His mercy.

Christ was sent as a servant to Jews in order to show God’s truthfulness, to confirm the promises that were made to the Jewish patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and David), and to allow the Gentiles to give glory to God for His mercy.  God’s mercy through Jesus unites all who believe in hope. Because He kept His promise to send a Savior, we can trust all His promises!

In summary, God gives us endurance and encouragement to believe and have hope–all strength and weakness fall away uniting us under His mercy.  This causes God’s people to unite in singing, praising, extolling, rejoicing and glorifying Him.  When that is our focus, we will be filled with all joy and peace and will have more and more hope.  We will bear with others, serve others, build others up, and we will welcome them because we want them to see God’s glory and experience God’s mercy just as Jesus came to serve us and display His Father’s mercy and unite us under it.

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Luke 21 ~ Hope in Jesus

Hope in Jesus’ intimate knowledge of you. Luke 21:1-9:  When Jesus saw the people giving their offerings at the temple, He knew who was giving out of their abundance and who was giving out of their poverty.  The actual offerings and the earthly things they buy and the buildings they help beautify will all be destroyed someday.  The heart of the giver is what is important to Jesus.  God knows not only what we give, but the circumstances out of which we give.

Hope in Jesus’ wisdom. Luke 21:10-19.  Verse 14 starts with, “Settle it therefore in your minds,” not to do it your way!  I love that.  We have to decide before situations even arise that we will do things God’s way and we will trust Him to do what is best for His Name.  Jesus promised His disciples that when they were on the defensive about Him that He would give them a mouth and wisdom which none of their adversaries would be able to withstand or contradict.  After all that took place in chapter 20, how could you not want to claim that promise?  But as we know with Jesus; speaking in wisdom and silencing enemies came with a price.  People hated Him and His followers and will hate us when we allow the Holy Spirit to speak wisdom that silences.  Verse 19 is the link between persecution/suffering for Jesus and preparing to see Him in His glory.  It says, “By your ENDURANCE, you will gain your lives.”  

Hope in Jesus’ return. Luke 21:20-32, 34-38.  Jesus is coming back “with power and great glory.”  Jesus said, “Straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”  He’s saying remain hopeful and confident.  In verses 34-36 He instructed, “Watch yourselves,” “Don’t let your hearts be weighed down with…the cares of this life,” and “Stay awake at all times, praying…”  Will you be ready when Jesus comes in power and glory?  Are you watching for Him?  Do you live like He is coming back any moment?  Those are the questions I’m asking myself today.

Hope in Jesus’ words.  Luke 21:33 says, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”  Jesus’ words remain forever.  They are the best words to place our hope in, the best words to live according to, and the best words to share with others.  But we have to know them!  That’s why getting into God’s Word, meditating on it, studying it, living it, and memorizing it are so important.

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