Most Christians are oh-so-familiar with Jesus’ familiar words about the first and second greatest commandments, a teaching that occurred during His final week in Jerusalem, just days before the crucifixion:
And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-31 ESV)
It is a beloved passage, one that many of us have taken very seriously. But how often have we considered Jesus’ new commandment, which was given a few days later on the eve of His crucifixion as He met in the upper room with the disciples?
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35 ESV)
As I read this passage a couple of weeks ago, late on the Thursday night before Good Friday, I was struck by how many times I’ve seen or heard it—probably hundreds over the years—but have not really pondered very deeply its significance. This new commandment far exceeds what He had spoken about previously! This commandment is to love as He loves, but how often do I/we fall terribly short of that goal? His perfect love is the mark for which we must aim and the Love Chapter, as it is often called, provides a good ‘recipe’ for love.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a ESV)
Did you get that? God’s model of love is patient and kind, never jealous or boastful or proud or rude, doesn’t keep track of the offenses of others, is not happy about the wrongs of others and is very happy when truth prevails. But that’s not all; love never gives up or loses faith in others, it is always hopeful and endures hardships, and it also lasts forever. I believe that this example is only reflective of where Jesus’ love for us begins, because He was also willing to suffer and die for our sins. Anticipating his death the following day, he went on to say:
Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13 ESV)
The thing is though, Jesus wasn’t just another everyday hero; you know, the kind we see on the news when a brave soldier saves others at the cost of his/her own life; or, as just happened this week, when a heroic lady at the Jewish synagogue shooting in Poway, CA threw herself into the line of fire, saving the life of her Rabbi and dying as a result. Yes, our everyday heroes do lay down their lives for their friends and that is a great love indeed, but Jesus took it a big step farther. When he willingly went to the cross, he took upon himself the punishment that was due to each of us for our sins; He died not to save our physical lives so we could thrive for a few more years on earth, but to make eternal life with God possible. Eternal life—that means unending life, living happily-ever-after forever and ever and ever—and that’s a whole lot more that anyone’s natural lifespan by a very long shot!
Considering Jesus’ new commandment to love as He had loved, I have to think that the love we think we have for others often leaves much to be desired. As we endeavor to become conformed to His image, we would do well to remember the last phrase of 1 Corinthians 13, …but the greatest of these is love. After all, this is how the world will recognize us as His disciples.
The old idiom that March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb didn’t quite hold true in the Midwest this year, as is well illustrated in a message from a friend in Minnesota in mid-April: “Today’s Spring blizzard is reminiscent of the delicious winter blizzards of my youth that caused school cancellations (public libraries are closed today because of storm—a small nod to the school closing ‘cheers’ of my childhood). The wind is angry, and pounds in bursts that nearly knock you over; snows whirl in madness; snow-downfall can be measured in inches per minute, and drifting creates splendid art forms that no human hand can rival; visibility is measured in feet, wind chill effect on temperature is surprising, and it’s all better looked at than felt! I suppose, all in all, it is an exciting farewell to winter.”
I’ve rarely experienced such a snow storm, but can clearly remember the historic Christmas flood of 1964. Today there are markings on trees and buildings of how high the water got, and it boggles the imagination. All roads into Humboldt County were cut off and the sky was full of helicopters doing all the things that helicopters do when there’s no other way in or out. We lived about half a mile from the Mad River, fortunately on the uphill side. This very angry river was often reduced to a trickle during the summer when it would only reach to our ankles as we waded across. But looking out over it that Christmas, all of the surrounding dairy and farmlands were totally under water for miles, with the tops of houses or barns peeking out of the water here and there.
The upside for us kids during what came to be known as a thousand-year flood, was that since there was no reception from any of the 3 incoming television networks (totally laughable now!), the local station played old movies nonstop. Since we couldn’t go outside in the rain and were on Christmas vacation anyway, Mom let us sit there and watch them for hours on end, an unheard-of treat. What else was she going to do in a house bursting at the seams with five bored kids in those day that were pre-computer, pre-smartphone and pre-electronic games? I loved it!!! Finally, when we could go back outside, there was a huge pond in the woods across from our house and someone built a raft that we paddled around for weeks, often falling off and getting soaked, but such fun!
It was pretty exciting to be in the midst of this big, terrible storm, but I had little comprehension of the impact of grief and despair it was having on many other people because we were safe and warm, and I had not yet experienced anything so tragic in my own life.
I still have some local newspapers that my mom saved, and looking through them on occasion reminds me of the widespread devastation. By the end of January 1965, about 200,000 square miles had been affected in parts of Oregon, Idaho, California, Washington and Nevada, 47 people had died, and thousands were left homeless. In our area near the mouth of the Mad River, the river not only met the ocean but also reached over to join with Humboldt Bay, causing a whole peninsula to become an island. Hundreds of dead cattle floated out to sea along with innumerable logs and stacks of lumber from the many sawmills the area, and the beaches were left with piles of wood and trash where the mighty waves of the Pacific deposited much of that which was lost. Aside from the physical and emotional trauma that cannot be measured, the price tag of about $540 million would equate to around $3.9 billion now.
Today, if one is traveling through the scenic Avenue of the Giants a stop at the Immortal Tree will show the incredible contrast of a gorgeous little creek flowing behind the tree and a high-water marker on the front—mind boggling!
Perhaps my youthful lack of sensitivity to the vast reaches of destruction all around me are representative of the ‘it-can’t-hurt-me’ philosophy of so many today in regard to what the Day of the Lord will look like when Jesus returns:
Behold, the day of the Lord comes,
cruel, with wrath and fierce anger,
to make the land a desolation
and to destroy its sinners from it. (Isaiah 13:9)
For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. (1 Thessalonians 5:2-3)
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. (2 Peter 3:10)
The great day of the Lord is near,
near and hastening fast;
the sound of the day of the Lord is bitter;
the mighty man cries aloud there.
A day of wrath is that day,
a day of distress and anguish,
a day of ruin and devastation,
a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and thick darkness,
a day of trumpet blast and battle cry
against the fortified cities
and against the lofty battlements.
I will bring distress on mankind,
so that they shall walk like the blind,
because they have sinned against the Lord;
their blood shall be poured out like dust,
and their flesh like dung. (Zephaniah 1:14-18)
I pray that many will choose the safety that will belong to those who have chosen Jesus, for we will not have to endure His holy outpouring of judgment against His enemies that far, far exceeds anything as small as an April blizzard or a thousand-year flood.
...so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 1:7-8
For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thessalonians 5:9)
For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. (John 6:40)
Born and raised in Humboldt County in the midst of the majestic redwoods of Northern CA, and living in the desert of South Orange County, I have a lifetime of roots planted throughout our wonderful state; and I have faith that God will bring it back to Him. About 17 years ago, He had me highlight every road on a CA map that I had traveled, assured me that this was my ‘promised land’, and He was on the move.
Why is our state so ‘blue’? Why do we have such unrighteous leadership? It’s simple, really; once we stand up for God and begin to move in faith, we will be a threat to the enemy’s influence on the rest of the nation and the world. The battle here isn’t between liberals and conservatives; it’s Christians against that which is unseen. Ephesians 6:12:
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
CA has been home to some of the biggest moves of God in history, not the least of which was Azusa Street and the Jesus Movement. So think about that for a moment: Azusa Street was birthed in Los Angeles, and the Jesus People came straight out of Haight Ashbury in San Francisco. See any parallels between that and the two biggest bastions of liberalism in the state today?
So what happened? Compromise! The church got all happy and full of God, but quickly turned away and compromised with the world, choosing to please man instead of God.
So what’s needed? Repentance! And not just on the part of the ‘sinners’ either, because many in the Church are right there at the top of that list. The Church Body in CA must repent of aligning with the world, of accepting such abominations into our fellowships as homosexuality, abortion, and co-habitation outside of marriage. The Church Body must repent of a multitude of sins that seem OK because ‘everybody else does it’; from the big ones just mentioned right down to the ‘little ones of ‘stretching the truth’ for personal gain, pride, self-sufficiency, and the list goes on. When the Church in CA repents, the spiritual earthquake that will occur will cause any physical earthquake we might experience here to pale in comparison!
We who live in CA can choose to focus on all of the evil that surrounds us, or we can shift our gaze a bit and focus on God, which will make all the difference in the world. We need to dive deep into Lamentations 3 and let God show us His way. He is our Hope. The thing is though, we must clean our own house before we can revolutionize our state. Lamentations 3:40-45:
Let us lift up our hearts and hands
to God in heaven:
“We have transgressed and rebelled,
and you have not forgiven.
“You have wrapped yourself with anger and pursued us,
killing without pity;
you have wrapped yourself with a cloud
so that no prayer can pass through.
You have made us scum and garbage
among the peoples.
I’ve often written about fear, but it seems to be on the Lord’s mind this morning so here we go again. If a lesson can be repeated over and over in the Bible, I guess it’s not redundant if I do the same.
As anyone who has paid attention to the news lately will know, fear is rampant throughout the world. The latest international incident motivating fear was the attacks against women that occurred in Germany and throughout a number of other European countries on New Years Eve. Nationally, it’s the story of a police officer in Philadelphia whose assailant walked right up to the window of the patrol car and blasted away, critically wounding him. As I watched a news program last night, I lost count of the number of times someone said, “I’m afraid,” “Should we be afraid?” or “You/we should be afraid.” But I’m here to say, NO, we shouldn’t.
Fear is NOT God’s plan for His people, as He made clear to me once again this morning. Currently, I’m reading in Genesis, Isaiah, and Matthew, which obviously covers a pretty broad span of time, yet God’s message never changes, so just from my devotional time this morning without considering the hundreds of other biblical references to ‘fear’ or ‘afraid’ (do a word search, and you’ll be reading for hours!):
And the Lord appeared to him the same night and said, “I am the God of Abraham your father. Fear not, for I am with you and will bless you and multiply your offspring for my servant Abraham’s sake.” Genesis 26:24
For the Lord spoke thus to me with his strong hand upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying: 12 “Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. 13 But the Lord of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. Isaiah 8:11-13
Fear not, for you will not be ashamed;
be not confounded, for you will not be disgraced. Isaiah 54:4a
But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” Matthew 14:27
Jesus is the antidote for our hopelessness and fears, whether they are phony or based on very real threats, such as the terrorism that is rampant throughout our world. Fear not, for I am with you says the Lord!
On December 31, 2015, New Year’s Eve, I awoke from a vivid dream in which I’d been surrounded by others at the sort of conference center that one might find in a nice hotel. A pianist was playing nice background music from the lobby, catching my attention as she began to play a familiar tune. As I began to sing, many others joined in:
God bless America, land that I love
Stand behind her and guide her
Through the night with a light from above
From the mountains, to the prairies
To the oceans white with foam
God bless America
My home sweet home
I’d sung the words as a heartfelt prayer, with my eyes closed. When I opened them there was a nice looking man standing next to me who I believe was the Lord, and He encouraged me to keep on singing. Today, as I welcomed 2016 during my quiet time, He directed me to Psalm 100 and Psalm 101:1:
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!
Serve the Lord with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!
Know that the Lord, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!
For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.
I will sing of steadfast love and justice;
to you, O Lord, I will make music.
May 2016 be a year in which we, His people, seek Him above all else and joyfully sing His praises, for:
If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14
May God bless all who read this, whether you are in America or in any other nation on earth, for He is there. May 2016 be a year in which you encounter Him and His sufficiency, His grace, and His mercy in every aspect of your life.
The day was moving on, and looking at the time I was a bit startled to see that it was 12:12 on 12/12. Asking myself, “If this was a dream, what would it mean?” I began to ponder, and wrote in my journal:
12 means divine government as well as fullness, so perhaps 12:12 on 12/12 is God’s way of emphasizing His plans and purposes for this time, doubling and re-doubling the 12s. Also, 4 can mean God’s creative works or seasons, and there are 4 seasons, so 4 12s could mean a fullness of seasons. Could this be about the fullness of time, as when Jesus first came?
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son. Galatians 4:7
As we look toward the fullness of time for Jesus’ return, what shall we see in terms of divine government? Scripture is clear about the difficulties of end times, the terror of the Day of the Lord, and the implementation of Jesus divine government throughout the earth; but what does that look like for us now? Much has been prophesied in recent days about the dual escalation of righteousness and evil, and we long for the tremendous outpouring of His Spirit that has been promised, but when will it appear?
And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh. Acts 2:17
As I finished writing the questions above, I immediately heard the incredible voice of Neil Diamond crying out, “I am, I said!” That’s all—just those words and not the rest of the song, the lyrics of which portray a sorrowful, hopeless, lonely plea for meaning or relevance. I knew immediately that God was emphasizing His truth, telling me to heed what He said:
God said to Moses, “I AM who I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.” Exodus 3:14
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty… Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades…Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star…Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! Revelation 1:8,17,18; 22:12-13,16,20
Simply from a logical perspective, God’s fullness of time for Jesus’ second coming is closer than ever before; but given the signs of the times of which He warned in Matthew 24, I believe His return is imminent, probably within the lifetime of many who are alive today. The hourglass of time is quickly running out, and it is more important than ever to realize that and decide for Christ:
Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. 2 Corinthians 6:2
Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served…and serve the LORD. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve…But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD. Joshua 24:14-15
I am honored to introduce “SING!” by my friend, Paul Knight, who is a music producer in London, England. As a vocal coach for over thirty years and, as a consultant, senior lecturer and vocal coach, he knows exactly how singers should be keeping their voice in perfect condition. This is a tool I wish I’d had in days gone by when I sang with a Sweet Adelines Chorus, as we warmed up to practice or perform. Whether one is an amateur or professional, this is a wonderful resource. Below are some scriptures about singing to the Lord, some of Paul’s insights about singing, and a description of the product as well as links:
Sing for joy in the LORD, O you righteous ones;
Sing to the LORD a new song; Sing to the LORD, all the earth. Sing to the LORD, bless His name; Proclaim good tidings of His salvation from day to day.
Sing praises to the LORD, who dwells in Zion; Declare among the peoples His deeds.
I will sing to the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have my being.
I will sing of the lovingkindness of the LORD forever; To all generations I will make known Your faithfulness with my mouth.
And they sang the song of Moses, the bond-servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, “Great and marvelous are Your works, O Lord God, the Almighty; Righteous and true are Your ways, King of the nations! “Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy; For ALL THE NATIONS WILL COME AND WORSHIP BEFORE YOU, FOR YOUR RIGHTEOUS ACTS HAVE BEEN REVEALED.”
Singing is an important part of our identity. Without it we are not complete. The scriptures tell us to sing to the Lord – because He loves the sound of our voices. After all – He created them!
As we sing, we change atmospheres. The singers were sent out first into battle. Singing is for everyone. Not for a few special people. It releases the ‘feel good’ chemicals. It necessitates deeper breathing which is a stress reducer. Singing gets more oxygen into the blood for better circulation. The benefits are amazing – and God knew that. It soothes you and elevates your spirit.
The elation may come from endorphins, a hormone released by singing, which is associated with feelings of pleasure. Or it might be from oxytocin, another hormone released during singing, which has been found to alleviate anxiety and stress. Oxytocin also enhances feelings of trust and bonding, which may explain why still more studies have found that singing lessens feelings of depression and loneliness. Singing is cheaper than therapy, healthier than drinking, and certainly more fun than working out. It is the one thing in life where feeling better is pretty much guaranteed. Even if you walked into rehearsal exhausted and depressed, by the end of the night you’ll walk out high as a kite on endorphins and good will.
So how many of us are ashamed of our singing voice? Or have been told to be quiet, or to sit at the back and mime? All clever attacks on the voice, which diminish us from being fully who we are.
Colossians 3:16: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
Ephesians 5:18-19: “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart…”
We are commanded to sing. When we sing – we are obeying God. We dig deeply in to the Word of God. It dwells in us richly. We build up others, and we glorify God. It couldn’t be better.
Sing! is a series of exercises which is used by singers of all abilities. The exercises build confidence, strength, and explain clearly how to connect to your voice and let it soar.
It comes complete with a download card so you can have all the exercises on your ipad, computer or phone. Each exercise is exampled by two professional West End singers, Michael Rouse and Lizzie Dean. These exercises have been compiled by Paul Knight who has over thirty years experience of releasing voices, specifically the voices of those who believe they cannot sing.
These exercises are gentle, but help place the voice where it should be, and build gradually into a complete workout for the voice and the engine room of the diaphragm.
Each exercise is clearly explained and demonstrated.
Each exercise covers all ranges.
Remember it is good for you to be heard…..Sing!
As we approach Christmas, many of us reach out to others a bit more than usual, perhaps re-connecting with people we haven’t been in touch with lately; perhaps finding ways to help those who are less fortunate; perhaps greeting total strangers with a, “Merry Christmas.” Also, as one year concludes and a new one approaches, we often find ourselves in a self-evaluation mode. We examine what have we accomplished as well as what should we do differently next year, and such a process is scriptural:
Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified. 2 Corinthians 13:5
I’d like to do a bit of both in this post that doubles as an announcement to the Standing In Faith group on LinkedIn and an invitation to join us, offering first a quick review of our group, and then sharing with old friends and new, the message of hope the Lord has given me.
The Standing In Faith discussion group began as a leap of faith on my part in March 2011. New to LinkedIn and not a big fan of social media, it was quite a surprise when the Lord impressed me to form the group, and from the very beginning He has had full ownership. This is not my group—it is His, and I’m simply His group manager. There have been several times that I’ve wanted to shut it down because it seemed as if it was going nowhere and accomplishing nothing, but His permission for that to happen was never given. Now, in retrospect, I am in awe of what He is doing, and I’m well aware that He is accomplishing His work through the group in ways that I will never be aware of this side of eternity, which is very exciting. Our growth during 2015 has been astounding, and there are new members every day from nations around the world. This is an international outreach such as I never could’ve imagined, and I welcome all of our new members and pray that the fellowship we have here will bless and encourage you in your Christian walk.
From the beginning, the Lord designed Standing In Faith around the passion He has given me for the Body of Christ to live by faith and to operate in unity, and our stated purpose is, “To encourage Christians to live by faith and not by sight, building each another up in the unity of faith that we share in Christ Jesus.”
With that purpose in mind, there are a couple of things about this group that may differ from other groups; things that don’t make us any better or worse, but just different. First is that the Lord has led me to accept everyone who requests membership without any pre-screening, just as He is willing to accept all who come to Him. Second, while we often discuss our differences of opinion, we do not enter into divisive debates or arguments, and no comments are allowed that denigrate the person or faith of another. This can pose a huge dilemma for me as the “referee”, and I must rely strictly on the Lord’s leadership regarding which discussions and comments to allow and which ones to deny, so I would appreciate your prayers for His wisdom in this regard, as well as your understanding and forgiveness if I make a mistake in judgment. I do not agree with everything that is posted here, nor will you, but instead of taking offense and arguing with every statement, please respond from a spirit of love that displays the grace and mercy of the Lord. We are not all “on the same page” doctrinally, but instead of allowing the enemy to separate us as has been done for centuries, we consciously choose to set our differences aside and focus on Jesus in the unity of the Holy Spirit.
As you may be aware, LinkedIn has recently re-designed much in regard to groups, and both the appearance and the function has been affected. Visually, it is easier to quickly scan through discussions, but it is also harder to get the full impact of a discussion without choosing the option for “more” in order to read the entire text of the comments. I would encourage everyone to dig deeper into the “more” of our discussions to get the full benefit of what each person has to say. Also, the space allotted for text has been diminished, so it is more important than ever to try to make a point succinctly.
Previously, the group was open and a request to join received automatic approval, but now every membership request comes to me first. As mentioned before, none are turned away, but any member’s contributions may still be designated for pre-approval if they are deemed to be divisive or off the topic of faith in Jesus; and any individual may be completely banned from the group at my discretion (this has only happened with 3 people whose obvious intent was disruption and destruction). Also, please be aware that with this new system, for reasons I certainly do not understand, LinkedIn is flagging as inappropriate many entries that are fully acceptable, so please be patient if your submission doesn’t appear immediately. I try to turn everything around within 24 hours or sooner, but occasionally that isn’t possible.
Please review the group rules since there have been a few changes to remain in alignment with LinkedIn’s way of doing things. Also, please remember that we do not focus on personal agendas, make political statements, or doctrinal positions; but we discuss the traditional Christian values of the majority. That said, it is difficult to completely avoid the political arena since it has such a huge impact on our lives, but our goal is to approach any such discussions with the intent of illuminating God’s truth and not man’s opinion.
Enough review, and on to our Hope! This morning, the Lord highlighted some phrases to me from Hebrews 3 that are relevant to Standing In Faith.
Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession…[who] is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope…Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.
Our “today” is a day in which hearts have become hard throughout the world. Jesus warnings of end times events are occurring right before our eyes. His words (Matthew 24:4-14) resonate with what we see and hear daily:
“See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains. Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”
We are not to despair! Buried in a passage where many accentuate the negative, is one of the most promising phrases in scripture. “See that you are not alarmed,” isn’t just an impossible suggestion, for Jesus would never have advised something we cannot accomplish. In Him we have hope, He is our strength and our refuge, and we need not fear:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! 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. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 1:3-7
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Psalms 46:1
At Christmas we often hear people saying that Jesus is the reason for the season, and that’s true; but I’d take it a bit farther to declare that Jesus is the reason for every season in our lives. Our very existence here on earth is designed to bring honor and glory to Him, and the fact that we are here “today” is by His design, and He has a purpose for each of our lives.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. Psalms 139:16
So what does this have to do with Standing In Faith? Go back to the Hebrews passage from which the Lord spoke to me today, for this is the re-affirmation of our purpose:
But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.
May our Lord be with you all, may He bless and keep you throughout this and every season, and may He make you a blessing to others as you all are to me. Merry Christmas to all, along with my prayers and best wishes that in the year to come each person will find their strength in Him and will learn to stand in faith as never before. My prayer for each of us is from Hebrews 4:
Let us therefore strive to enter that rest…Let us hold fast our confession…Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Have you watched the news today? Undoubtedly, there’s a report of a new terrorist act somewhere in the world. Last week it was in Paris. This week, nations are on edge as threats abound and warnings are issued here, there, and everywhere. Surely we are experiencing the terrible times of which Jesus spoke when lawlessness increases and the love of many grows cold, the end times when betrayal and hatred run rampant in our streets. All around, His words come to life before our very eyes:
You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. You will be hated by all for my name’s sake…And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Luke 21:16-17,25-26
Sounds pretty bad, huh? And, of course, it is! But it’s not the end of the world quite yet, and we must not focus on the abounding terror but on the One who is ultimately going to bring it all to an end on the Day of the Lord. He has not left us un-prepared or without hope, and He is sufficient in even the most desperate of times. But what does that look like? There’s a perfect example in the story of Esther, the Jewish woman who became Queen of Persia, which is, interestingly, the region we know as Iran. It’s also interesting to note that those Persians of long-ago were just as violent and cruel as are the radical jihadists of today.
In summary, in his hatred of the Jews, Haman initiated a plan to have them all wiped from the face of the earth and the king approved it for Haman was a highly favored and trusted official. Esther 4:3-17:
And in every province, wherever the king’s command and his decree reached, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting and weeping and lamenting, and many of them lay in sackcloth and ashes.
When Esther’s young women and her eunuchs came and told her, the queen was deeply distressed. She sent garments to clothe Mordecai, so that he might take off his sackcloth, but he would not accept them. Then Esther called for Hathach, one of the king’s eunuchs, who had been appointed to attend her, and ordered him to go to Mordecai to learn what this was and why it was. Hathach went out to Mordecai in the open square of the city in front of the king’s gate, and Mordecai told him all that had happened to him, and the exact sum of money that Haman had promised to pay into the king’s treasuries for the destruction of the Jews. Mordecai also gave him a copy of the written decree issued in Susa for their destruction, that he might show it to Esther and explain it to her and command her to go to the king to beg his favor and plead with him on behalf of her people. And Hathach went and told Esther what Mordecai had said. Then Esther spoke to Hathach and commanded him to go to Mordecai and say, “All the king’s servants and the people of the king’s provinces know that if any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called, there is but one law—to be put to death, except the one to whom the king holds out the golden scepter so that he may live. But as for me, I have not been called to come in to the king these thirty days.”
And they told Mordecai what Esther had said. Then Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, “Do not think to yourself that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai, “Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.” Mordecai then went away and did everything as Esther had ordered him.
Can there be any doubt that Mordecai, Esther and the entire Jewish people were in mortal danger? Can there be any doubt that the terror they faced was very much like that which is seen today? I don’t think so.
So, what was their reaction? It was one we should model as we enter into mourning, prayer and fasting, and seeking the Lord for His sufficiency in our own time of trouble. We do have hope, for just look at how our amazing God stepped in when His servants humbled themselves and took a stand for righteousness, regardless of the potential consequences.
Previously, Mordecai had learned of a plot to kill the king and had saved his life. His action had been recorded but has seemingly escaped the memory of the king. Meanwhile, Haman had come to hate Mordecai more than any other Jew and even the sight of him made him very angry so he built a gallows on which to hang Mordecai, but on the very night before he approached the king about it, God intervened (Esther 6:1-11).
On that night the king could not sleep. And he gave orders to bring the book of memorable deeds, the chronicles, and they were read before the king. And it was found written how Mordecai had told about Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king’s eunuchs, who guarded the threshold, and who had sought to lay hands on King Ahasuerus. And the king said, “What honor or distinction has been bestowed on Mordecai for this?” The king’s young men who attended him said, “Nothing has been done for him.” And the king said, “Who is in the court?” Now Haman had just entered the outer court of the king’s palace to speak to the king about having Mordecai hanged on the gallows[i] that he had prepared for him. And the king’s young men told him, “Haman is there, standing in the court.” And the king said, “Let him come in.” So Haman came in, and the king said to him, “What should be done to the man whom the king delights to honor?” And Haman said to himself, “Whom would the king delight to honor more than me?” And Haman said to the king, “For the man whom the king delights to honor, let royal robes be brought, which the king has worn, and the horse that the king has ridden, and on whose head a royal crown is set. And let the robes and the horse be handed over to one of the king’s most noble officials. Let them dress the man whom the king delights to honor, and let them lead him on the horse through the square of the city, proclaiming before him: ‘Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delights to honor.’” Then the king said to Haman, “Hurry; take the robes and the horse, as you have said, and do so to Mordecai the Jew, who sits at the king’s gate. Leave out nothing that you have mentioned.” So Haman took the robes and the horse, and he dressed Mordecai and led him through the square of the city, proclaiming before him, “Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delights to honor.”
Talk about God’s perfect timing! And what delicious irony, as the bad guy had to parade the good guy through the streets of the city proclaiming the king’s favor over his enemy; favor he thought should have been his.
Long story short…well, not really very long because Esther is only ten chapters…not only did Mordecai and Esther survive, but so did all of the Jewish people. And even more, the king granted permission for them to avenge themselves against their enemies and 75,000 unrighteous haters of God’s people were destroyed.
Our King is coming, and His arrival is imminent. Nobody can say exactly when that will be, but it is certain that all of the signs of the end of which Jesus warned are manifesting now. Let’s not allow our hearts to fail us from fear, but let’s rise up and stand in faith in our God. He is always sufficient and His timing is always absolutely perfect.