Lucia's Blog: 2020-02-16
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Isaiah 55:8-9

Isaiah 55:8-9

Saturday, February 22, 2020

DEGRADED CHRISTIANITY

"Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven.  Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy by thy name, and by thy name cast out demons, and by thy name do many mighty works?  And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity."
Matthew 7:21-23


Much of what is called Christianity today is cheap and worldly, a degraded form that offends nobody, demands no sacrifice, and costs very little. For that reason, it has little value or influence because it has so little of the power of the Gospel that was preached by the apostles of Christ. We must be aware of and on guard against what is called Christianity in modern times. It accepts some forms of sin, refuses to conform to the divine pattern, demands limited obedience, and does not want to offend and correct the one who sins.

Often, I hear Christians complain about the one who is doing the correcting. They say he is not loving and accepting enough. When the fact is he does love them, but not their sin. Let's never forget that our Lord Jesus died to redeem us from eternal punishment. This is how He has shown His love for us. Let's be very careful not to invent another God, an idol of our own. One that is just merciful, but not just!

Lest we forget, it is our God who dictates how we ought to conduct our lives, even though it might offend. Lest we forget, materialism and earthly treasures are not what ought to motivate us, even though it might offend us to hear it. Lest we forget, it is the love of Christ that ought to drive us, even though it might offend us. Lest we forget, we must teach our children the Word of God, even though it might offend them. We, as godly parents, desire to see them walking in His pathways and not the pathways of Satan. Lest we forget, one must be faithfully committed to his family, loving his spouse and the children that God has trusted him to love and protect, even though it might offend them. Lest we forget, we must condemn sin and love righteousness, even though it might offend.

Thus, we must carefully determine what it is that we take in and what we shut out of our lives. We must carefully examine what we participate in and what we will not. We can say yes or no to all the lust and the pleasures of this life. We must choose to be holy and hate sin! Lest we forget, one must walk the path of righteousness, the path less traveled, the unpopular path, even though it might offend.


CONCLUSION:

With all this in mind, let us not be concerned about "offending" this world. Remember that the earth and the works that are therein shall be burned up.

"But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. 11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!” (2 Peter 3:10-12). 

Let us never forget that being a faithful follower of Christ is going to bring us ridicule, scorn, opposition, and persecution. Unfortunately, this is the reward that faithful Christians get from the world.

Therefore, let us search our hearts and meditate on Jesus' words and let us not be shamed by Him on that final day of judgment.
"Not every one that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven...And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you; depart from me, ye that work iniquity" (Matthew 7:21-23). 

Our primary goal must be that of being worthy to be called "good and faithful servant" by our Master.
"His Lord said unto him, well done, thou good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things; enter thou into the joy of thy Lord" (Matthew 25:21).

May our Lord help us to be good and faithful servants who would be worthy to enter into His joy.


Luci


Thursday, February 20, 2020

HOW DO WE FIND GOD?

"Seek the Lord while He may be found; Call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the Lord, and He will have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon. ´For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,' declares the Lord. 'For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts. 'For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there without watering the earth and making it bear and sprout, and furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.'" 
Isaiah 55:6-11


Our God teaches us something about the nature of His Word by using an illustration of how the rain brings a good harvest.  Farmers know very well that their crops need the nourishing rain if they are going to survive and thrive. With this illustration, God is showing us the need to listen to His Word that we may grow and bear good fruit. God wants us to thirst for the living water, which is His Word that makes us bear righteous fruit.  Let us explore what this figure implies about the Word of God.

His Word sanctifies us and makes us pure. As essential as light is for abundant life, so is the Word of God in our lives. Our God wants us to walk in the light of His Word. "Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path" (Psalm 119:105). This is why He sent His only begotten Son so that He might bring light and new life to us. God provides everything that we need through His everlasting Word to feed us with righteousness, but we must allow His righteous Word to speak to us and guide us.  When we humbly seek Him and surrender to His will, we will find favor in His sight. God is Holy and demands that we be holy. God's ways and thoughts are not like ours. Thus we must learn to be like Him to be partakers of His divine nature.  

So my question is, how can we find God?  By simply seeking God's invitation diligently without resisting it and by wanting to know God and do His will.

Let us consider some thoughts about God's pardon and favor toward us when we are seeking Him:
  1. God offers us salvation by inviting us to come and partake of His gift at no cost to us since His Son has already paid the ransom for us.  This free gift is called Grace.  Jesus already purchased us by His blood.  Jesus said, "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day" (John 6:44).  Notice that this invitation of pardon that the Father is offering to us is through His everlasting Word.  The only way His Grace can reach us is if we accept His invitation, His free gift, which is offered to us through the Gospel. 
  2. God's pardon, Grace, carries conditions that we must meet. These conditions are vital to obtaining such Grace or pardon.  Consider these conditions:
    • Hear the GospelActs 11:14; James 1:21;I Cor. 1:18-21; 15:2; 2 Timothy 3:15; 2 Peter 2:20
    • Believe the GospelRomans 1:16; Mark 16:15-16; Romans 10:9-10; Acts 16:31; Ephesians 2:8-9
    • Repent of sinsActs 5:31; 2 Cor. 7:10
    • Confess Jesus as LordRomans 10:9-10
    • Be baptized for the forgiveness of sinsMark 16:15,16; I Peter 3:21; Romans 6:3 and Acts 2:38
    • Live a faithful life unto deathMatthew 10:22; Acts 2:47; Eph.1:13; 5:23,25; 2 Thess. 2:10,13; Heb. 10:39; I Cor. 1:21; 15:2ff; I Tim. 4:16; Tit. 3:5; Mark 8:35; Luke 9:24; 8:11-12; Romans 2:5-8; Rev. 2:10; 21:7, 8; 22:12.

His Grace will be secured when we meet all of His conditions or requirements.  Thanks be to God for His indescribable Grace!

God calls us through His everlasting Word to a cleansing of our mind and heart.  What that means is that we must be willing to put away all sin, turning our hearts to Him.   His Word is alive and can penetrate the soul and the spirit, changing our way of thinking and the intentions of our hearts into righteousness.  The Word can cleanse the hearts of all men, bringing them into newness of life, but man must humbly accept the remedy for the illness of the heart called sin.

God's ways and thoughts are not like ours, although we are made in His image.  If we have been forgiven and have received pardon and Grace, our hope must be to become like Him, holy.  To know Him and be like Him, we must allow the Word to restore our souls to its rightful state.  God's Word endlessly transforms us.  God's everlasting Word does not return to Him void.  His Word regenerates us according to the character of God.  Our transformation or the renewing of our mind and soul is like a metamorphosis.  His Word gives us excellence.  And this excellency of His Holy Word is seen in us as we abide in it and obey it.

The Word of God offers us many benefits such a peace, freedom, trust, purity, love, joy, and hope. But we must love it and let it bear good fruit in our hearts.  If we use God's Word, according to His will, it can prosper us and make us rich.  God's Word will not return to Him void.


CONCLUSION:

Let us show a heart that diligently seeks after God.  God is near to those who are seeking Him from their heart.  He will not let them down.  Let us take advantage of God's invitation and take freely from the river of the water of life.  Let us eat freely of the tree of life which is offered to those who want to wash their robes and enter the gates of the city, the heavenly Jerusalem, His church.  
"Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him; they will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. And there will no longer be any night; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them; and they will reign forever and ever."  Revelation 22:1-5
The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost.  Revelation 22:17
"I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost.  He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son."  Revelation 21:6-7

May the Lord help us to faithfully present His Holy Word to this lost and dying world that they may know the peace and freedom that we have come to know through that Everlasting Word.

Luci



Wednesday, February 19, 2020

"COUNT IT ALL JOY"

"Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing."
James 1:2-4


The winds of difficulty and suffering often threaten and render us weak.  Such winds are usually cold and merciless, knocking us down. When they blow into our lives, they carry us away with a storm of questions, doubts, fears, discouragement, and disillusionment.  At that moment, we must realize that we need the strength of God, secure and unmovable, to keep us from being swept away.  One of the most troublesome areas in our walk with the Lord is life's trials and tribulations. In Acts 14:22, Paul states:
“Strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”

Let’s consider God’s point of view when He sees us suffering and how He expects us to respond:


I.   THE BLESSINGS OF SUFFERING AND PAIN:
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us... 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (Romans 8:18, 22).

Pain is usually defined as “unpleasantness.” Just as physical pain is an early warning system to the brain, so it is a warning system to our souls. Pain reminds us that something is wrong. But pain itself, the hurt of pain, is a blessing. There are so many lessons we can learn from suffering.  It is vital to experience pain that we may learn the blessings that spring out of it.  So often, we miss out on such blessings because we do not learn the spiritual lessons it can bring us. Sadly pain drives many away from their faith. Pain causes many to blame God for allowing misery. On the other hand, it turns others to God alone.

Many times when pain strikes us, we get upset, angry, and frustrated.  Most of us have been there! But it is faith in God that always brings us back to the fact that He is still in control, that He holds the future and that we must trust in Him.  He has many times brought me down from the clouds with trying times. I have learned to trust Him.  Prayer, God's Word, and singing songs of praise can help us find our way back to hope and faith even when we cannot see a way out.  In all these, we must learn to see God's beauty.  We must thank Him for being faithful and lifting us up when we are struggling.  We must be determined to see the good in it and the blessings God is bestowing upon us through pain and suffering.  He shows us over and over how much He is mindful of us.  So we must purpose in our heart to keep our eyes open to see the blessings He is providing for us.  So we must choose to put on our blessing spectacles that we may see His hand and mindfulness in our troubled times.

Consider the following ways in which pain or suffering help our Christian walk with our Lord and Savior:
    • It draws us closer to Christ:
When one experiences pain, whether it is inflicted or afflicted, we are forced to choose whether we are going to run away so the pain will subside or cling to Jesus tightly.  It is so much easier to run away from pain.  But we must choose to hang tightly to God and draw all the strength we need from Him to face our suffering.  Whatever pain we go through, it is very present.  Pain is good for us Christians because the more we learn how to draw strength from our Lord Jesus Christ, the higher our tolerance for pain and its challenges.  YES, this is where we can be blessed, learning tolerance under any circumstance.
    • It helps us focus on what is truly important:
Pain and suffering teach us that although we experience them at many different levels, our Lord is giving us a tremendous opportunity to recommit ourselves to our walk with Him and to know the value of such a walk.  There is victory in all this.  It boils down to our perspective.  The choice is ours as to whether we are going to allow ourselves to refocus on what is truly important, the healing. It is then that we must remember that this world with all its suffering and ugliness is not our home. We are pilgrims and sojourners. We await something better, heaven (I Peter 2:11; Hebrews 13:14). The Word of God is crystal clear on this. We long for our home in heaven and the new body that will never have to suffer or die again. Such beautiful and comforting promises!!

Without suffering, who would want to leave this our temporary tabernacle? Who would desire heaven as our eternal home? Therefore, we must prepare ourselves to go there. Yes, suffering keeps this world from becoming too attractive to us.
    • It strengthens our character:
Our faith is always stretched to the limits. So what do you do when troubles, trials, and tribulations come your way? Consider James' exhortation:
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:2-3).
It is so much easier when one is in pain and suffering to give up and run away.  Losing our faith is easy.  But it is here that we have to rely on our Lord Jesus to carry us through our clouds and challenges.  It is here that our character is strengthened.
    • It deepens our Faith:
When we find ourselves amid any kind of pain, it is then that we must force ourselves to open our Bibles, sing songs of praise, and pray fervently.  It is in doing all these that we find rest for our souls, and we start trusting God, trusting in His promises that He will be with us and that He will provide for our needs.  It is here that we need to believe in Him and go back to Him.  To wait on Him. This is an excellent gain, great victory.  It is the highest prize.
    • It purifies us:
“Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction” (Isaiah 48:10).
“And I will put this third into the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested. They will call upon my name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘They are my people’; and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God’” (Zechariah 13:9).
“He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord” (Malachi 3:3).

We are all aware of Job's fiery trials and that he was put through the fire of such trials but remained faithful, trusting, and hoping in God.  He humbly recognized and accepted that all of his trials had a purpose.  Job did not give up even when his wife rejected him, and his friends discouraged him. He did not give up even in the greatest weaknesses!  He knew well this furnace of affliction would be good for him.  He was aware that he was going to be refined as pure gold after he had been tested and tried by the fire.   We need to have Job's attitude of heart.  
"But He knows the way I take; when He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold"  (Job 23:10).  

Like Job, we all go through our valleys of trials, tears, sorrows, and afflictions.  We must trust in God and the beautiful work our God is doing in us.  It is all for our good!!

God has told us that He will take us through the fire so that we might be refined like silver.  He does this to purify us like gold!  He, being the Creator of these precious metals, knows well that such metals must be heated to very high temperatures before they can be molded and shaped.  He also knows that the heart of man is stubborn and hard to change. Yet, as a loving Father, He desires to guide us through that fire so that we may be modified.  In like manner, the goldsmith or silversmith never leaves his crucible once it is on fire. Our loving God sits as a refiner and purifier of silver. Remember that our God has His eye on us and will keep watching over us until He sees His image in us (Romans 8:29; 1 Peter 1:6-7). Thank God for the furnace!
    • It teaches us compassion:
Is it not something that the people who have suffered the most are usually the most compassionate ones?  The more struggles, sufferings, and challenges a person has had to endure, the more efficient they become in being compassionate toward others.  The more they uplift, encourage and help those who are struggling.  They seem to have a heart for others and feel their pain.
    • It makes us supportive:
Pain teaches us to support those who need relief from their pain and suffering. Compassion is the fruit of pain, and it is manifested when we lift up and help those in pain.
    • It gives us understanding:
It is a fact that no one can understand pain better than someone who has already been through it. Understanding is such a great blessing to those who struggle with either chronic illness, invisible illness, or any other source of pain, spiritual or emotional.  This understanding of those who are struggling with pain is priceless.
    • It makes us good servants:
Pain teaches us to be more compassionate, supportive, and understanding in helping others bear their pain.  Those who have gone through pain have learned to be hospitable and attentive servants even when they are in pain.  They bestow blessings upon others who are suffering and struggling with life's toil, difficulties, and storms.
    • It helps us to be more sympathetic toward others:
Pain and suffering teach us to say the right words in a spirit of sympathy, which is so necessary for those who are struggling and suffering because of pain. It is when we've been through pain and suffering that we can sympathize and understand others' hurts. When one has experienced pain, it makes him more likely to “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). Moreover, it enables us better to comfort others when they are suffering. Personally, I did not know this until I experienced the loss of a loved one, my mother.
    • It teaches us empathy:
Empathy is a more robust support than sympathy.  It is a blessing to have someone who has been through the exact struggle you have been through, who can share with you and help you to understand. It is more than a blessing.  It is a blessing to be a blessing to others.  To return blessings for blessings.
    • It teaches us to appreciate and be more grateful:
Pain and suffering teach us to appreciate the little things.  There is so much joy in seeing God's beauty amid our suffering.  It is this appreciation for God's beauty that gives us hope and more hope.  We are learning to be grateful to God and grateful to others for their help in getting us through the tough times.  We learn the depths of sorrow.  Managing to be grateful helps us to find joy even during much pain and suffering.
    • Pain teaches us to be warriors:  
It deepens our faith and strengthens our character.  It draws us closer to God with hope and joy.  Pain teaches us perseverance, tolerance, and longsuffering, which are necessary to the victory of our walk as Christians.
    • It helps to appreciate and pay more attention to what really matters: 
I have learned some good lessons through pain and failure. Isn't it something, that so many times we don’t learn the value of something until we lose it! “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.” Suffering helps us change our ways. It gets our attention like nothing else! (Psalm 119:71). “Blows that wound cleanse away evil; strokes make clean the innermost parts” (Proverbs 20:30).


II.   GOD'S PROVISION IN OUR SUFFERINGS:
“2 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (1 Peter 4:12-14).
  • Dark Valleys:
Our Father in heaven knows well when we are going to need His strength and provision. He will supply the strength we so desperately need, just in time. David acknowledged that though he walked through the valley of the shadow of death, he will fear no evil (Psalm 23:4). He knew what it was like to be in the dark valley of mourning. For many of us, the darkest valley of all is the one we dread the most to cross. David describes this valley as one of deep darkness. It speaks of our dark experiences in life.

In Psalm 23, David speaks of his world as not being ideal, but rather one full of dark valleys (verse 4); with the presence of evil enemies (verse 5). David did not feel safe in this environment. He feels marred spiritually scarred and in danger. And although he had struggled through many difficulties, he still remained faithful and confident that God was going to be with him in the many shadows of darkness. David applied the Word of God in his own life. Did you know the words “The LORD is my Shepherd were spoken by Jacob first? Toward the end of his life, Jacob gives his patriarchal blessing to Joseph's sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, saying:
“The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked,  the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day, 16 the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the boys; and in them let my name be carried on, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth” (Genesis 48:15-16).

Indeed, Jacob was a man who walked through many dark valleys, both morally, spiritually, emotionally, and physically. He was brought up in a family where there was favoritism (Isaac loved Esau and Rebekah loved Jacob more Genesis 25:28). He likewise had plotted with his mother to cheat his foolish brother Esau of his birthright (Genesis 25:29-34). He deceived his father (Genesis 27). In a similar twist, he found himself betrayed by his uncle, Laban. He found himself married to the wrong woman, Leah, rather than Rachel, the one he loved (Genesis 29:15-30). David had known fear and loneliness, but God's grace met him at Jabbok, where he wrestled with Him and whom God fashioned and modeled into a great man, a prince (Gen. 32:22-32; Hos. 12:4).

Though God had fashioned Jacob into a great man when He was broken, Jacob still made mistakes later in his life. Mistakes he apparently imitated from his own parents: “ Now Israel (Jacob) loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors” (Genesis 37:3).

Jacob had struggled with God and with men (Genesis 32:28). But toward the end of his life, Jacob could look back and rejoice that His Jehovah God had been his Shepherd, seeking him like a lost sheep, rescuing him, healing him and providing for him. This is beautiful beyond words!!

Like Jacob, David shared the same experiences. He too wandered in the darkness. He also discovered that “the LORD is my Shepherd, I shall not be in want.” And that His God had been with him and was still with him. David acknowledged that God shepherded him through the darkest valleys of his life with His presence and strength and that all was sufficient to keep him strong and firm. God's presence and power can free us from our fears: “for you are with me;  your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Such precious words of comfort! Our Shepherd uses the staff of His hand to work with us His sheep. He directs, retrieves, and disciplines us. His rod or cudgel hangs from His belt and is ready to defend us when the enemy attacks. We, the sheep, look on these things to remind ourselves that the Shepherd will protect us well.

David experienced God's presence in his life as He shepherded, protected, and saved him. Yet David's view of God cannot compare with the revelation of the Lord as our Shepherd:
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11).
“20 Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, 21 equip you with everything good that you may do his will,working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ,to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen” (Hebrews 13:20-21).
For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 7:17).

III.   GOD'S PROMISES WILL SUSTAIN US:
    God’s children live by the promises He has made to us.  Promises that will sustain us when life does not make sense.  We have the assurance of  His presence.  God has never promised us a life free of problems or a bed of roses.  But He did promise us that He will be with us His children (Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 13:5; Psalm 46:5-7). God was with David in the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23). He was with the three Hebrew men in the fiery furnace (Daniel 3) and with Daniel in the lion’s den (Daniel 6).  God sent an angel to the garden to strengthen Jesus (Luke 22:43). God is not a disinterested spectator in our lives. He is neither distant nor disengaged. He does care (1 Peter 5:7). Even when we are afraid, through faith, we can sing, “What a fellowship, what a joy divine, safe and secure from all alarms.” 

    Our God in His infinite loving kindness has given us the assurance of His peace (John 14:27; 16:33; 20:19-21; Ephesians 2:12-14; 1 Peter 5:14).  The assurance of  His providence (Romans 8:28).   So rather than asking, “Where is God?” or “Why me?” why not ask, “What can I learn from this?” and “Who can I help because of this?” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). Life’s problems and sufferings are not easy, but they qualify us to serve in ways we never could otherwise.   


    CONCLUSION:

    Times of crisis prove our friendship with God and declare the authenticity of our faith. Do we love God because He provides gifts? Do we love those gifts more than we love the Giver? This was the accusation Satan made against Job (Job 1:8-12; cf. 1 Peter 1:6-9). All the things we cling to in this world will eventually disappear.  But the One, who gives them all to us, is the One that will ultimately remain. 

    We must learn to seek strength, peace, and rest in Him and His promises.  Even as our souls are wrestling with pain and hurt deep inside.  Our merciful God is the only One who can meet our deepest needs.  In His Word, He has taught us through His promises to trust Him.  He will nurture us if we trust Him through each of life’s trials.  He is our place of shelter and safety.  He will carry us with loving and tender care in our times of fear and sorrow. I assure you of that!  (Psalm 46).  Our God shelters us like the wings of care and protection of a protective mother bird.  In our times of trouble and sorrow, our merciful and loving God spreads His wings to guard His children so that no harm will overtake them (Psalm 57:1; 91:4; 91:10; Matthew 23:37). 

    As children of God, we must sink the teeth of our faith into God's faithfulness when we are undergoing trials, pain, and suffering. He is utterly faithful to His promises (Hebrews 6:17-20). Our hope, even amid intense suffering, is in our Lord’s ceaseless loving kindness. In His never-failing ways, there is new compassion. 

    We have a cloud of witnesses who had to endure a tsunami of insults, hardships, sufferings, persecutions, and calamities (distresses, difficulties, troubles) and yet remained faithful and rejoiced while they suffered. We have the example of the apostles who had to suffer significantly but were thrilled that they were able to suffer for doing what was right! They were thrilled to be able to endure hardship for the cause of Christ. What an example of true faith and love for the Lord! An excellent attitude to have and worthy of our imitation. True faith does not cower in fear or fall apart when challenged and attacked. It maintains a joyful attitude and continues doing what is right and good regardless of our circumstances. It requires a pleasant disposition. Suffering and pain did not deter them. They continued sharing the Gospel of Christ both publicly and privately.

    When life is difficult and filled with pain, let us resolve in our heart not to quit or go any other way than God's ways. Even when it hurts deeply. Can your faith remain steadfast and unyielding? What better way to refresh our frame of mind or attitude and strength than to go to Gethsemane and Calvary, as portrayed in Matthew 26 & 27? Those events unfolded almost 2,000 years ago. Our Lord and Savior suffered enormously and voluntarily on our behalf. He agonized in the garden as His hour was approaching. Not wanting to die but knowing it was His Father's will for mankind to be redeemed by His shed blood at Calvary. Therefore, let us strengthen our weak hearts and run with endurance the race that is set before us.
    “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, 2 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” (Hebrews 12:1-2). 

    May we find hope, joy, and healing in Him alone. May we turn our afflictions into mercies, and darkness into light. May we all come to our place of refuge, strength, and defense, in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. And may we find contentment and joy, acting out our faith in all the pains and sufferings that Jesus our Lord suffered.

    Luci

    Sunday, February 16, 2020

    HOPE AND THE HEAVENLY REUNION!

    “The Lord himself will descend from Heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.  Therefore encourage one another with these words.”
    1 Thessalonians 4:16-18



    Our hands grow weak when our hope of Heaven grows dim. How do you envision Heaven? Is it really worth the demanding regeneration that Jesus requires? Is it really worth it all?

    Almost everyone believes in Heaven, and I would imagine we all believe in it.  Christ's faithful saints, long to go to that place someday.  Indeed, Heaven is the reward of the faithful.  The eternal destiny of the righteous.  Heaven is God's abode.  It is the perfect dwelling of things eternal where God dwells and all other heavenly beings.  The place where the saints go to be with God (Revelation 21:3).  What an amazing blessing it is for God's faithful and righteous ones, His saints, to receive Heaven as their final reward and to be in His presence throughout all eternity!  It is too much for me to fathom!!  And though no one has ever seen God's face (John 1:8), in Heaven, we will not only see His face, but God will dwell among us.  Angels also dwell in Heaven (Rev. 4:4, 6; 5:6).  Only the saved among men will be in Heaven. Thus, Heaven will be the future dwelling or abode of the resurrected saints.  This abode of the saved or disembodied spirits is different from "Abraham's bosom" (Luke 16:22) or Paradise (Luke 23:43).  


    I.   OUR HOPE:
    "So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, 18 so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. 19 We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek" (Hebrews 6:17-20).

    Christian's definition of hope is far superior to that of the world.  A Christian knows that his hope is based on solid, concrete evidence because it is grounded in the Word of God, and we know that God cannot lie (Heb 6:18; Num 23:19). The Christian has a faith that is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb 11:1).  It is the hope of faith that will not be shaken or moved by circumstances or what the eyes see because an unseen God is seen in His faithfulness.  

    In Romans 8:24-25, Paul tells us that "For in hope were we saved: but hope that is seen is not hope: for who hopeth for that which he seeth?  But if we hope for that which we see not, then do we with patience wait for it."  

    “And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:5).

    • The Hope of Resurrection of The Dead:
    "The hope and resurrection of the dead" (Acts 23:6).  
    "So also is the resurrection of the dead.  It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption:  it is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power:  it is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body"  (1 Cor. 15:42-43).  

    We have this assured hope (confidence) since Jesus was raised.  Therefore, we know that:
      •  “The Lord himself will descend from Heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.  Therefore encourage one another with these words” (1 Thess 4:16-18).  
      • We know that Christ "was buried; and that he hath been raised on the third day according to the scriptures"  (1 Cor 15:4) and "in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep"  (1 Cor 15:20).  So let us encourage one another with this hope of assurance (confidence)!
    "Yea, we are found false witnesses of God; because we witnessed of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead are not raised"  (1 Corinthians 15:15).
    "The wicked is driven away in his wickedness: but the righteous hath hope in his death"  (Proverbs 14:32).

    • The Hope of Eternal Life in Heaven:  
    Peter encouraged those who were suffering persecution saying,
    “According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time”  (1 Pet 1:3-5).  

    • Jesus Christ is Our Hope:  
    Our hope is not in mankind, circumstances, or in any other thing but “we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe” (1 Tim 4:10) because “Christ Jesus, who is our hope” (1 Tim 1:1; 2 Cor. 1:20).  Our Lord Jesus Christ is God's guarantee that His promises will be kept.  Peter spoke of this faith by quoting David in Acts 2:26
    My heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; my flesh also will dwell in hope.” 

    That is exactly why Paul told the Roman Christians to “rejoice in hope of the glory of God (Rom. 5:2) and desired that the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope”  (Rom. 15:13).

    Therefore, in the resurrection
    1. The just shall live again and have eternal life (John 11:15; John 6:40).
    2. We will be raised up by God's power (1 Corinthians 6:14; Romans 8:11).
    3. All of us will be changed from corruptible to incorruptible (1 Cor. 15:51-54).
    4. So shall we (those who died in Christ) ever be with the Lord  (1 Thess. 4:17)
    5. We all will appear before the Supreme Judge of all to be judged according to our deeds  (2 Corinthians 5:9; Philippians 3:20-21).
    6. The just will be repaid (Luke 14:14).
    7. There will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust (Acts 24:15).
    8. We will be free from pain (Revelation 21:4).
    9. We will rest from our labors  (Revelation 14:13).
    10. We will drink of the water of life (Revelation 21:6).
    11. We will eat of the tree of life  (Revelation 22:2).


    • What is God's Definition of Death and the Afterlife?
    Is death the worst tragedy one can experience?  Our culture answers this question with "me" centered answers But do those answers come from God or our culture?  Our culture shouts, "That is a lot of junk!  We have had all religious matters figured out for generations!"  Really?!  Our culture is confused or unsure about what comes after death.  And though they might not like it or accept it, it is a certainty that death is coming to all, and that is a fact of life.  No one lives forever!  You see, death is terrifying for those who do not know Godfor they do not know what lies beyond this life.  Sadly they are not ready to face it!  Our Philosophers or religious leaders love to speculate, saying that we cease to exist when we die or that we will be reincarnated.  Do they have any proof?  Not at all!

    But God tells us in His Word what follows after death.  "And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment"  (Hebrews 9:27).  And though Jesus may come before we die, we will be raised from the dead when He returns. We are going to face God and be judged for the lives we have lived, good or bad.  There won't be any escape.  For God will hold every one of us accountable for whether or not we have accomplished the purpose for which He created us (John 5:28,29; Ecclesiastes 12:14; 2 Corinthians 5:10).

    At judgment,
      1. The righteous will inherit the kingdom prepared for them by God (Matthew 25:31-46 ). This is eternal life (v. 46). 
      2. The wicked will go into eternal fire (v. 41). This is eternal punishment (v. 46).  

    So, what determines the reward we receive? Our works. We receive wrath if we work evil and do not obey the Truth. We receive eternal life if we continue doing good works. Our eternal destiny depends on how we accomplish our Maker's purpose.  In Acts 17:30-31, we find the answer to what will happen to us after we cease to live on this earth.  Jesus will judge our lives (1 Cor. 15).  There will not be any reincarnation, but instead, we all will be raised and judged.  The Bible is the proof for mankind that it is from God.  It establishes the resurrection of Jesus, His ascension, His miracles, and the fulfilled prophecies of Scripture.  Since the Bible is God's will for us, we can rest assured of life's origin, purpose, and destiny after life on this earth.  


    II.  WHO WILL BE IN HEAVEN?

    Take notice that Heaven is prepared only for the saved ones where they will dwell in their resurrected bodies.  Our salvation is laid up for us in Heaven (Col. 1:5; 1 Pet. 1:4).  The names of God's faithful and righteous ones are written in Heaven (Luke 10:20).  Heaven is God's building for us (2 Cor. 5:1). Our reward and treasures are in Heaven, (Matt. 5:12; 6:20; 19:21).  Sinners (those who die in their sins) are excluded from entering the gates of Heaven.
    "8 But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death"  (Rev. 21:8, 27).

    God is portrayed as the "God of heaven" (2 Chronicles 36:23; Neh. 1:4-5).  Thus Heaven is described as God's abode or dwelling (Isa. 57:15; 63:15; Matt. 6:9-10).  Heaven is the reward of the faithful.  It is where the righteous are accepted to dwell eternally in God's abode.  God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are the occupants of Heaven (2 Chron. 36:23; John 1:32; 3:13; 31; 6:33, 38, 42, 51, 58).  

    In Romans 2:5-8, 10, we read that God will give eternal life only  "to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life."  But to "those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury (hell).  You see, God will render each one of us an entrance into either Heaven or hell according to our works or deeds.  He will give eternal life (Heaven) only to those who do the will of God and persevere in faith and faithful service. Faith is not complete without active, good, and righteous works.  We are justified by works and not by faith alone. "For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead"  (James 2:18-26).  Modern Protestants err by making a distinction between "the faith that saves" (without obedience or "works") and the faith that obeys the Lord Jesus.  But such theology is pure folly. The Bible does not speak that way!

    The Bible stresses the need to persevere (doing good works as a result of our active faith, James 2:18) and finish well to receive our crown of life (Heaven), Revelations 2:10.  Paul explicitly states that those who do not obey the Gospel of Christ will suffer punishment, eternal destruction, and the wrath of God "when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus"  (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9).  

    To persevere implies a habitual conduct worthy of the Gospel of Christ, a firm and steady faith (steadfast faith), instead of serving God from time to time when it is convenient, along with an endless number of excuses. They put worldly matters in first place, before God and His Kingdom of righteousness.  In Matthew 10:22, Jesus declared, "and you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved."  You see, only those (the redeemed by the blood of Christ) who endure, walking in righteousness, holiness, and without blemish will be saved.  For Christians to receive eternal life, Heaven as their reward (the crown of life and glory), they must be faithful unto death.  There is no room here for lukewarmness or cowardice. We must be courageous and completely faithful to the Lord until the end of our lives.  

    In Hebrews 12:1-2 we have been admonished to "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."  It is crucial that we, Christians, finish the race well with endurance, putting away all sin and lawlessness to save our souls and receive our reward, which is Heaven.  

    Sadly, many begin the "race" as champions, but soon get tired. They become distracted, discouraged, and stop running.  They don't continue the race to the end so that they might receive the prize (Heaven).  God will render to each one according to his works.  The word "works" includes all aspects of our life, not only our deeds but also our words, thoughts, and such.  "When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory"  (Colossians 3:4).  It means that we (the faithful ones)  will be in the presence of our Glorious God and we will be like Christ, His Son.  We will receive "immortality" because our resurrected body will not be subject to corruption anymore. Those "who in well-doing seek glory" are those who persevere in doing those righteous or good works that glorify God. Moreover, those who have died to sin (they have been buried with Him and raised from the dead with Him by baptism), walking in newness of life, crucifying the old self so that sin no longer reigns in them, but only righteousness. Only they will receive eternal life, Heaven as their reward. Therefore, if sin reigns in us and not righteousness, Heaven will not be our reward but eternal punishment, hell.


    III.   WHAT IS HEAVEN LIKE?

    Both Heaven and hell are described in terms that are easy for men to understand.  The Bible describes Heaven as a place of eternal bliss.  It uses metaphors to describe this place.  Let us think about some figures that the Bible uses to describe Heaven.
    1. Participation in the wedding feast where the bride of Christ is the church (Matt. 22:1-14; 25:10; Eph. 5:22-23).
    2. The joys of the Lord (Matt. 25:21, 23).  Heaven will surely be the "joys of our Lord." Therefore, He is patiently inviting all to share these joys with Him.
    3. The Lord's Kingdom as our inheritance (Matt. 25:34; cf. Acts 20:32; Eph. 1:11, 14; 1 Pet. 1:4-5).  Inheriting the Lord's kingdom implies possessing it as our permanent possession.  God's kingdom will endure forever, and He will reign forever as well in His Kingdom.
    4. Everlasting life (Matt. 25:46; 7:14; 19:29).  Spiritual life rather than spiritual death (the second death).
    5. Sitting with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Matt. 8:11) and being invited to sit at the King's table and having table fellowship with the Lord in the Kingdom of Heaven in terms of a great Messianic banquet.
    6. It is where Christ will confess us before His Father (Matt. 10:32).  He will confess His fellowship and friendship with those who are His faithful children.
    7. It is our final reward (Matt. 5:12; 10:42; 1 Cor. 3:14; Col. 2:18; 3:24; Heb. 11:26).  This is where the faithful will be rewarded graciously for serving God with all of our love, strength, mind, and heart. 
    8. Everlasting habitations (Luke 16:9).  And though the Bible describes our earthly bodies as "tabernacles" (2 Cor. 5:1), which will be destroyed by fire, those who are the faithful will receive a building not made with hands (an incorruptible body) that will dwell in eternal habitations.
    9. A home (Eccl. 12:5) where we will dwell with God the Father, our Elder Brother, our Lord and Savior, and all those faithful ones who have gone before us, forever in sweet fellowship. The word "home" is one of the most precious words in any language.  We long to be at "home" with our heavenly Father and all His faithful children. Such a precious hope!
    10. It is where we will be reunited with our loved ones.  It will be the renewal association with those saints who have gone before us.  Many of us have experienced the sorrow over the passing of our loved ones.  It is so comforting to have this promise!!  I can't stop weeping!
    11. It is the New Jerusalem (Rev. 3:12; 2:12; 21:2, 10).  It is the home of our King of kings and Lord of lords.
    12. It is the Holy City (Rev. 21:22; 22:19) where spiritual sacrifices are offered.
    13. It is a place where there will be no sin or lawlessness (Rev. 21:8, 27).
    14. A place where all of our troubles and the cares of life will end.
    15. A place of eternal rest (Rev. 14:13) where all of our labors and trials will be over.
    16. A place of perfect safety and protection, where the gates never close (Rev. 21:15).
    17. A place where God will tabernacle among men (Rev. 21:3).
    18. Paradise (Rev. 2:7) as the Garden of Eden that man lost because of sin but will regain through Christ.
    19. The water of life and the tree of life (Rev. 21:6; 22:1; 1:17; Rev. 2:7; 22:2. 14).
    20. Finally, a place of eternal life (Mark 10:30; John 3:15-16; Rom. 2:7).  It will be an eternal spiritual fellowship that will never end.

    IV.   THE BEAUTY OF HEAVEN AND THE DESTINY OF ALL MEN:

    In Revelation 20-22John received a clear revelation of God's Final Judgment and man's ultimate destiny.  God has not told us the time of the end, but God has indeed shown us through His revealed Word that when that time comes, there will be two classes of men meeting their destiny:  The redeemed and unredeemed (Rev. 20:11-15; 21:8; 27; 22:15).  John saw the dead, small and great, standing before the throne of God in Heaven, waiting for God to execute His sentence.  The term "small and great" does not necessarily mean a particular group of people, but rather the dead in general.  God will weigh us in His scales of judgment according to our works or deeds, which are recorded in God's books.  His books contain a record of all that men have done in the flesh, and His "book of life" is a register of those who are redeemed.  No one will escape God's Judgment!

    If any man's name is not found in the "book of life," his "book of works" will condemn and doom him to the lake of fire.  On the other hand, if any man's name is found in the "book of life," he will be safe from God's Judgment (condemnation).  He will be with the great body of the redeemed.  

    Revelation 21-22:5 speaks of the destiny of the redeemed. They will inherit the new Heaven as their abode with God throughout all eternity.  He will have perfect fellowship with them, and there will be no more separation because in this new Heaven and earth, "the sea is no more."  John describes for us the perfect description of a beautiful city where God's redeemed will dwell with Him in perfect fellowship.  This amazing city is a symbolic picture of a city with walls of jasper placed on foundations of sapphire, chalcedony, emerald, sardonyx, beryl, topaz, amethyst, etc.  Each of its twelve gates is a huge pearl where its streets are made of pure gold.  In that beautiful heavenly city, there is no need of any lamp since their Light is the Lamb.  There is no temple either.  The temple was where sacrifice and intercession were made for sin.  This temple is not needed anymore in the New Jerusalem since there is no more sin to be atoned and because those who are the redeemed are in the presence of God.  People of all nations inhabit this glorious city.  

    The Garden spoken of in Revelation 22:1-5 symbolizes the destiny of the redeemed.  It is indeed a beautiful Garden with a river of crystal water, which is the water of life that emerges from the throne of God and of the Lamb.  On each side of this river grows the tree of life which bears its fruit twelve months out of the year.  Three things are essential to sustain life:  food, water, and healthThis picture symbolizes all that is needed to sustain eternal life in man.  In this Garden, men shall serve God forever.  There will be no barriers, obstacles or impediments in Heaven, and His servants shall serve Him.  

    Another beautiful thought is found in the expression, "They shall see His face."  Don't we all have this longing?!!  I do!!  When this earth is passed, and we all find ourselves in the presence of our Redeemer-God, then we will all look at the face of our Lord and serve Him forever, for all eternity. What greater joy could any human being ask for?!  Could there be a better and longing than for eternal life with our Redeemer?!  Could there be a better or more perfect place of fellowship, protection, provisions, and service to our God?!  What a terrible contrast between the destiny of the wicked and the destiny of the redeemed!


    CONCLUSION:

    Since we will be judged according to what we have done, as to whether or not we have accomplished our Maker's purpose, humanity must hear the good news, the Gospel Message.  The good news that Jesus came and died to forgive our sins (1 John 1:8,10, Romans 5:6-10; 6:23; John 3:16).  Thus, we must start telling and teaching everyone about our Savior and His plan of redemption.

    God has promised victory over death, the resurrection from the dead.  He will resurrect us the same way He did our Lord and Savior. 
    "This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses." Acts 2:32 
    "But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive."  I Corinthians 15:20-22  
    "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures."   I Corinthians 15:3-4 
    "For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality.  But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, 'Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.'" I Corinthians 15:53-57  

    Although our path to Glory is not easy, Heaven will surely be worth it all!!  It is worth being exiled from home, family, and friends. It’s worth the loneliness, the pain, the suffering, and the high cost we have been called to pay.  Heaven is worth all the pain that comes our way!  It’s worth the hatred and persecution. It’s worth all of our sorrows and attacks. Heaven is surely worth it all!!

    May we all conquer so that we may receive our inheritance and be with God forever in Heaven.  May our names be written in the Lamb's book of life. May we all be encouraged by the hope that is set before us, which we have as an anchor of the soul.


    Luci