Believe (Reach)

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I like the term journey. God calls us on a journey to grow to maturity in Christ. Unfortunately, some believers chose to receive Christ as Savior, then only halfheartedly follow Him as Lord. Then, they wonder why the power and peace that God has promised is not manifest in their life. Perhaps it’s the unknowns of this spiritual journey that keep them from taking the next right step.

In Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, we read these words from Gandalf as he coaxes Frodo to go on a journey by borrowing these words from his Uncle Bilbo:

“It’s a dangerous business going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept up too.”

The truth is that life is a journey. We can either walk with Christ or on our own. We either follow in the Lord’s steps swept by His love and grace or take another path swept to places offering empty promises.

There’s no doubt that there is a uniqueness to each of our faith journeys. However, everyone’s walk with God ought to include at least four crucial steps. The first step is to BELIEVE. To begin a saving relationship with Jesus Christ, we must receive Him as our Lord and Savior. The second step is to learn what it means to BELONG. As we enter into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ, we now belong to God and His Church. The third step is to BECOME. To grow in our relationship with Christ, we need to discover what it means to mature in Him, becoming the person we have been created to be in Christ. The final step is BLESS. God calls us to partner with Him allowing His Spirit to use our blessings to bless others. In the journey, God calls us on with Him, we not only have this pathway, but believers are called to help others come to Christ and grow in Him as they REACHRAISE, and RELEASE others to fulfill their God-given destiny.

Let’s look at the first step on the journey. What does it mean to receive Christ as Lord and Savior (to believe)? Also, what is the believer’s part in this sacred work (to reach)? To answer these questions, let’s look at an encounter Jesus had with a man named Zacchaeus (see: Luke 19:1-10). Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector, despised by his fellow Jews for working for their Roman occupiers and making extra money by raising their taxes even higher than the Romans demanded and taking the extra for himself. He was a very wealthy man.

We discover that Zacchaeus deeply desires to see Jesus. So, he does two things very uncharacteristic for men of his day: he ran, and he climbed a tree. These were actions reserved mostly for children. I am reminded of Christ’s word that unless one becomes like a child, he cannot enter the kingdom of God (see: Lk 18:17).

Jesus invites Himself to Zacchaeus’ house. This excites Zacchaeus but causes the crowd to be outraged. How could Jesus go and fellowship with such a sinner? Somewhere in this interaction, Zacchaeus believes and accepts Christ as Lord and Savior. Aware of the crowd’s displeasure, Zacchaeus makes a commitment to give to the poor and give four times as much as he had stolen to the people in restitution. He is not saved by these actions but acts because he is saved. D.L. Moody is quoted as teaching that “restitution is good proof of a changed heart.” In the end, Jesus affirms that salvation has come to Zacchaeus. He also shares that His mission as Christ is to “seek and save the lost” (Lk 19:10).

What can we learn from this account about salvation (believing) and reaching others with the love and message of Christ? For starters, just like Zacchaeus, we are also sinful and need salvation in Christ (see: Rom 3:23 & 6:23). We are on equal footing before the cross. We also learn that God still rewards those who seek Him (see: Jer 29:13). Remember, we need to look no further than Christ for salvation. As we explore the account, we learn that Jesus desires to have a relationship with each of us, leading to salvation (see: 2 Peter 3:9). It is a staggering reality that the God of the universe desires to be in relationship with us. The account teaches us that in Christ, we can be made pure (see: 2 Cor 5:21). When we come to Christ for salvation, a great exchange takes place. Our sin is dealt with by Him, and His righteousness becomes ours. Lastly, we learn that when we come to Christ, His mission becomes ours (see: Jn 20:21). Christians, as partners with Christ, share His mission in seeing people reached by sharing His love and message in the hope that others too will believe.

It is an honor serving Christ with each of you. Let’s encourage one another to seek people with whom we can share the love and message of Christ. Let’s leave our turf and go to theirs in the hope that they too will come to know God and make Him known. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Prayer

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Prayer is one of those topics when mentioned in Christian circles is acknowledged as important, but often misunderstood. The most basic definition of prayer is “talking with God.” Prayer is not meant to be a monotonous monologue but a dynamic dialogue. Some mistake prayer for meditation, but prayer directly addresses God. In the Bible, we discover that prayer allows us to draw near to God (Psa 73:28), seek His favor (Ex 32:11), and pour out our souls to the Lord (1 Sam 1:15). Prayer is kneeling before the Father (Eph 3:14). Paul wrote that we are to worry about nothing and pray about everything (Phil 4:6-7).

In prayer, we praise God and thank Him and declare our love for Him. In prayer, we enjoy the presence of God. In prayer, we make requests of God and seek His guidance and wisdom. God finds joy in fellowshipping with us in prayer. I believe too often we can overcomplicate prayer and forget how simple prayer is meant to be.

Throughout the Bible, there are numerous examples of prayer and encouragement to pray (see: Lk 18:1; Rom 12:12; and Eph 6:18). In Jude, we are told that God’s people are to be people of prayer: “You, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God” (Jude 20-21). In Matthew 6:9-13, we find a passage where Jesus taught us how to pray.

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

James teaches us that “the prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with” (James 5:16). What kind of prayer is being encouraged in this verse? This verse is followed by an example of the sort of prayer encouraged.

“Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit” (James 5:17-18).

James is referring to 1 Kings 17:1, where Elijah told Ahab that there would be long-term drought. Elijah prayed, and there was a drought. This drought was divine punishment for Israel’s worship of the false god Baal. After three and a half years of drought, Elijah confronts the false prophets of Baal in a showdown on Mt. Carmel. Elijah told King Ahab that it was going to rain, Elijah prayed, and it rained (see: 1 Kings 18:16-45). In context, James draws us to the account from the Old Testament to emphasize the efficacy of prayer and the importance of the one praying desiring to live rightly with God. It’s not the forcefulness with which one prays that determines effectiveness. Instead, the prayer of one desiring to honor God is powerful and effective.

I believe that where there is no prayer, there is no power. Where there is little prayer, there is little power. Where there is some prayer, there is some power. But, where there is much prayer, there is much power. This drives me to honor God with my life and pray.

It is a joy to be in Christ with each of you. I do not know what you are trusting God for in prayer, but let me encourage you to continue to pray and trust God. His answers may not always come in our timing or in our way. However, they are always on time and exactly what we need. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

The New Year

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The New Year is a time where many people ask, “What is your resolution?” To be honest, I am not a big resolution person. It’s not that I’m against the idea. They have worked in many people’s lives. I guess when I look at the definition of a resolution, “a firm decision to do or not do something,” I make them often. For me, I struggle with the idea of a big New Year’s resolution out of mere tradition’s sake. I think such decisions ought to be prayerfully God directed and not flippantly made.

I do have a practice at the end of each year to do some self-reflection and evaluation. Sure, there are times I make the decision, and I guess, resolve to do certain things and not do others. But, several years ago, I began focusing on my being along with my doing. I believe what I do wells up from who I am, my being. So, I decide where the Lord is leading me in my becoming more like Christ and prayerfully decide how I ought to invest in my being and my doing.

Whether I am working on my doing or being, I have learned that it’s great to dream big, but it’s the small steps that often lead to big change and accomplishments. I can get so caught up in a dream that I forget it’s the little efforts that add up to make a dream a reality. Too often, dreams are not pursued due to the fear of taking the first step.

In Zechariah 4:10, we are told, “Do not despise the small beginnings.” The context of this verse is the growth of the reconstruction of the Temple that had begun under Zerubbabel. It would have been a challenge to those who had worked on it and saw it and believed it was a small thing. It wasn’t like it was back in the day. The steps taken seemed small and insignificant. However, truth be told, God’s work often starts out small and in an unobtrusive way, yet reaches a great and glorious conclusion.

Jesus spoke these words:

“The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches” (Matt 13:31-32).

Jesus is painting a picture of the small beginnings of the Christian movement in Palestine that would eventually bring about the global church comprised of people from every nation on earth. God’s work often appears insignificant at first but has far-reaching results.

As we head into a new year, whether you call it a resolution or a commitment, whether it’s something to do or not do, or about your being – who you are in Christ, remember it’s all about the next step. Dare to prayerfully dream. I believe God wants to do more in and through us than any of us truly can imagine. But don’t shy away from asking God to clarify for you the next step He is calling you to take. It might seem small and even insignificant, but it could be the beginning of something quite remarkable.

It’s a joy to enter into a new year with each of you in our Lord’s service. It is my prayer that each of us finds ourselves closer to Christ and more committed than ever to journey with Him to make Him known. Remember, each step matters, no matter how big or small it may appear. After all, Jesus said His church began like the smallest of seeds, but oh how it’s grown. What is true of His Kingdom is also true of our lives as well. Pray, obey, and take the next step. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Wonderful Encounter

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In the Christmas movie classic, It’s A Wonderful Life, we discover the story of a man named George Bailey. Now George had great plans for his life, but they are sidelined by some events out of his control. He decides, out of love, to remain in his hometown of Bedford Falls. Due to an uncle’s mistake, George finds himself in a difficult situation. In fact, he sees the situation as hopeless and comes to believe that his life has been a waste. George even considers that all would be better had he never been born. It is here in the story where an angel, hoping to earn his wings, is sent from above to show George what a wonderful life he actually has and how he has made other’s lives better through his loving sacrifices. The climax of the story comes when George realizes what a wonderful life He has, is willing to face whatever he must due to a mistake that was not his own. It is here that the love of others, many of the people whom he had helped, lovingly sacrifice to come to his aid. Love leads us to do some wild things to be with those we love.

When my son, Jake, was around 10, we went as a family to one of the largest Malls in the world, Mall of America. Right in the center of the mall is an actual amusement park. I am not a huge mall person, but it is quite a place. We had decided to spend a little time in the park. Jake wanted to go on one of the roller coasters. I am not a big fan of heights and, therefore, not a big fan of rollercoasters, especially with aggressive drops. This rollercoaster he wanted to go on was all about an aggressive drop. My wife, Krista, graciously volunteered to take him on the ride. I was very appreciative. Then, Jake said, “Dad, there is enough space for three people to sit together on the ride, will you go with me!” I think he realized my hesitation, so he added, “please!” Let me make this clear, I had no desire to go on the rollercoaster. But, I did desire to be with my son. So, truly out of love, I did something I feel was a little crazy and went on the rollercoaster. Did I enjoy the rollercoaster? Absolutely not! Did I enjoy being with Jake? Absolutely! Love leads us to do some wild things to be with those we love.

Matthew writes, “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way… (Matt 1:18).” Matthew and Luke give us the most complete description of the account. Let me summarize the account for us. About 2000 years ago, God sent an angel to Israel, to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to Joseph, a carpenter. The angel told Mary that by the power of the Holy Spirit, she would conceive and give birth to the Messiah, the very Son of God. When Joseph learned that Mary was pregnant, an angel instructed him to marry her. Joseph took her to Bethlehem to register for a census. While there, Mary gave birth to Jesus. She laid him in a manger because there was no room at the inn. Shepherds visited Jesus in Bethlehem. Later, wise men brought gifts to Jesus.

Matthew informs us: “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’” (which means, God with us).  This is the first of many references in Matthew to the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, of which there are hundreds about Jesus Christ that He fulfilled perfectly. We are told that the child Mary, conceived and birthed, is “Immanuel,” which means “God with us.” The same God who had revealed Himself in the history of Israel was at work in Jesus. This particular prophecy that was fulfilled is found in the Old Testament book of Isaiah, chapter 7, verse 14. It was written several hundred years before the birth of Christ. Among other things, the prophecy foreshadowed the saving work and presence of God in the person of Jesus, and His presence is still with us (see: Matt 28:20). Here is the simple truth: Christmas, the celebration of Christ, is a celebration of our God loving us so much that He did something wild to be with us.

That first Christmas was all about the culmination of God’s wild plan to be with us. God loves us so much that He came and died for us. He died for our sins on a cross and was resurrected for our salvation.  Christmas, Christ’s coming to Earth, born in a stable, is all about God’s love for us. Do I think Jesus enjoyed being born in a stable? No! Do I think He enjoyed the cross? Absolutely not! Do I believe He enjoys being with us? Absolutely!

Not only is Christmas about God’s love that led Him to do a wild thing to be with us, but it also is an example of how we are to “love one another.” If you want to know how to love one another, look at the love that sent Jesus to Earth to live a life of love, and pay the price for all our sins.  It’s all about love. Love that says I will do wild things to be with you. The gift of a wonderful life God gives us draws us to Him, and as we grow in Him, we can do nothing less than make Him and His love known! We have been offered such a wonderful life in Christ due to God’s wonderful love for us. This is certainly something worth celebrating, it is worth keeping Christmas.

It is a privilege to serve Christ with each of you. As we keep Christmas, let’s celebrate the gift of our wonderful life found in Christ due to His wonderful love for each of us. Let’s also follow His example and share His love with others in wild ways. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Wonderful Joy

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There are a couple of clips from the Christmas classic, It’s A Wonderful Life that reminds me of the importance of choosing joy. In the first, we find a man named George overwhelmed and in desperation. He’s contemplating ending it all until an angel comes to save him from making a terrible choice. In the movie, George’s guardian angel shows him what life would be like if he had never been born. In the second clip, we find George in the same circumstances but joyfully celebrating. What has made the difference? In the latter clip, George chooses joy! Joy is not determined by our circumstances. Wonderful joy comes when empowered by God, we choose it.

We discover a terrific example of this in the Christmas account. In Luke’s Gospel, chapter one, Mary is told that she will give birth to the messiah. How many of us would be filled with questions upon hearing such news? She was too. She is told that the God of the impossible will do this great work in her. Mary is faced with a choice. How will she choose to respond to this news? How will she choose to react to this circumstance in which she finds herself? Mary declares: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38). This is quite a response. This is tremendous faith in such a circumstance. Mary’s humble willingness to choose to trust God is a model of trust for all of us. Mary’s trust in God fills her with joy. Further, in the account, we discover that Mary is filled with joy, along with her relative Elizabeth, as they acknowledge the amazing workings of the Lord. Mary chose joy.

How do we choose joy? We choose joy by trusting when we are tempted to doubt. Feed your faith and doubt will starve to death. We find this exhortation in the book of Isaiah: “Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock” (Isa 26:4). This verse declares that God is a rock.  The image of a rock is a common metaphor for God in biblical poetry. Here, the picture is of God’s trustworthiness. Trusting is what a believer does because of their faith in God. What does such trust look like? It looks like Mary declaring she was the Lord’s servant, believing God is true to His Word, and yielding to Him. We choose joy by asking God to give us the strength to trust Him in all circumstances. After all, this is the victorious life we are offered in Christ…trusting God no matter our circumstances.

There is another choice we make in choosing joy. We choose joy by celebrating when we are tempted to fear. Over and over again in the Bible, we are told not to fear. Fear is an uneasiness of mind, upon the thought of a future where God is not present and working for our good.  In other words, fear believes evil will prevail. Paul teaches us in Romans: “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28). God causes “all things” to work for the spiritual “good” and ultimate salvation of those who respond to Him in love. Nothing can hurt God’s people so deeply that He cannot turn it around for their good. God does not want to scare us into faith. He draws near to us and calls us to “Cast our cares upon Him as He cares for us” (see: Psa 55:22). We can celebrate when we are tempted to fear by realizing that God’s power and love are greater than whatever we are tempted to fear.

We can choose joy! We choose joy by trusting when we are tempted to doubt and celebrating when we are tempted to fear. After all, Jesus says to us: “In this world you will experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world” (Jn 16:33b). God wants us to know that He’s going to take care of us no matter what happens. No matter what you go through, you can whisper this simple truth: “Jesus is with me.” Think about it. Christ is with you in your greatest victories and in your most humiliating defeats. Jesus is with you at all times and in all things. May these words, recorded in 1 Peter, rings true in your heart: “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (1 Peter 1:8). We find wonderful joy in Christ!

It is my privilege to bask in Christ’s joy with each of you. Let’s encourage one another to choose joy. Let’s decide to trust and celebrate rather than give in to doubts and fear. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Wonderful Hope

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There is a clip in the Christmas movie classic: It’s A Wonderful Life where George Bailey, the main character, is frustrated with life. He is thinking about unmet expectations, challenges he’s faced, and various other disappointments in his life. Then, his wife shares she is pregnant, and he is filled with hope, the fire stokes once again in his gut.

As Christians, we understand that hope is a faith-driven view and anticipation of the future, based on the conviction that God is God is in control and true to His promises. You see, the object of hope is crucial. The object of hope cannot be human effort or worldly resources. No resources less than God is adequate to meet human needs. Hope’s object is not seen. As believers, we have not seen God or eternal life, but have hope as the result of our faith and God’s love for us. Hope is placed in God through the gospel, which promises eternal life and future rewards. It flourishes with patience, endurance, and tenacity.

Faith and hope are distinct yet related, as seen in Hebrews: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb 11:1). The relationship between faith and hope can be illustrated in the joy a child feels when his father tells him they are going to an amusement park tomorrow. The child believes that he will go to the amusement park, based on his father’s word—that is faith. At the same time, that belief within the child kindles an irrepressible joy—that is hope. The child’s natural trust in his father’s promise is the faith; the child’s squeals of delight and jumping in place are the expressions of hope.

Christians are people of faith and hope. When we look at the Christmas account, we discover that preparation is a statement of faith and the fruit of hope. Every detail of the Christmas account tells us that Mary and Joseph endured more of their fair share of trials as they waited for the arrival of Jesus. But they had hope! We read: “In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth” (Lk 1:39-40). Mary responds to the angelic message of being pregnant by going and staying with her relative Elizabeth until just before the birth of Jesus. This was a three to five-day journey.  Given the immense social pressures and stigma that Mary was about to endure as an unwed mother, she sought comfort in Elizabeth, who would believe the divine nature of her conception. We discover that Elizabeth and Mary, filled with hope, celebrate what God was doing.

Joseph refused to reject Mary based on an angelic dream. We read: “When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus” (Matt 1:14-25). Joseph refuses to allow the social norms of the day to keep him from being obedient to God’s will. It went against common sense, for we read earlier in the account: “Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly” (Matt 1:19). This would have seemed in Joseph’s day like a merciful thing to do. But, Joseph now filled with hope and being directed by God in a dream of the nature of Mary’s pregnancy, and the Lord’s calling on him chooses to trust in God in the face of public ridicule and private gossip.

Think about all the buzz in town. We can imagine the neighbor’s gossip about the scandalous events of Mary’s pregnancy. But, Mary and Joseph had hope so they prepared and endured it all to be on a much greater mission than any carpenter’s family could imagine. Whenever we’re on mission with God like Joseph and Marry were as they waited for the birth of Jesus, we too filled with hope prepare.

What a wonderful hope we have in Christ that moves us to prepare for God’s working in and through our lives. Our Lord has come and proclaimed that He has a marvelous plan for your life. He has provided a way through Christ to walk with Him and spend eternity with Him in paradise. He desires to fill you with His Spirit to guide you, empower you, fill you with joy, freedom, and peace. God calls each of us to place our faith in Christ for salvation and that our belief in Him will kindle an irresistible joy – that is hope and that this hope will lead you to prepare for what the Lord desires to do in and through you. I ask, “the God of great hope fill you up with joy, fill you up with peace, so that your believing lives, filled with the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit, will brim over with hope” (Rom 15:13)!

It is a tremendous blessing to share this wonderful hope in Christ with each of you. Let’s encourage one another to be people of faith and hope. As people of hope, let’s prepare for all the Lord is going to do in and through us. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Wonderful Faithfulness

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There are a couple of clips in the Christmas movie classic: It’s A Wonderful Life that has always moved me. In the first clip, we find George Bailey and a young lady, Mary, walking home from a graduation celebration. They both make a wish, but Mary refuses to share her wish with George. Now fast-forward several years, and we find George and Mary married, and she shares, with her new husband, that their marriage was what she had wished for years earlier. Now our wishes may not always turn out as we desire, but God is always working. As Mary had to wait to see, we as believers in Christ often need to wait as well. The big difference is that God may not make every one of our wishes come true, but He is always true to His promises.

Waiting can be so difficult. I don’t think our culture makes waiting any easier. We live in a time of fast food. We have an abundance of information assessable in the palm of our hands with our smartphones. We can connect and interact with people in record speed through technology. We seem to be able to get almost anything we want when we want it, and if we don’t, we get a bit frustrated. Patients may be a virtue, but it is often absent from a culture so accustomed to getting what we want when we want it.

Yes, Waiting can be so difficult. It can even be more difficult to wait when what we are waiting for is so close to our hearts. Like waiting for the baby to be born that we have dreamed of holding in our arms. Or waiting for a relationship to be mended or a wayward child to come home. Or waiting for God to bring a spiritual breakthrough. Yet, David writes: “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord” (Ps 27:14)!

Waiting is nothing new for God’s people. For centuries God’s people had waited for the coming of the Messiah (the Anointed One) to come and save them. Almost a millennium and a half before the arrival of the Messiah, God began to give His people an enormous amount of specific information about the Messiah and His coming. The prophecies about the Messiah were not a bunch of scattered predictions randomly placed throughout the Old Testament, but they form a unified promise-plan of God, where each promise is interrelated and connected into a grand series comprising one continuous plan of God.

In the Gospel of Matthew, written to Jews to point them to Christ their long-awaited Messiah, we read:

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us)” (Matt 1:18-23).

Jesus Christ perfectly fulfilled every single one of the prophecies in the Old Testament. The odds of someone doing that who was not the Messiah are beyond the laws of probability and virtually incalculable. In other words, it is impossible. Here’s the point. God is faithful, His faithfulness is seen in the birth of Jesus, the Messiah.

Since God is faithful, and we are His children, we are also expected to be faithful. Faithfulness is literally a hallmark of the Christian life. When we look at the birth of Jesus, we understand that His birth is an example of God’s faithfulness to us and that Mary and Joseph exemplify true faithfulness to God. Think about it. When the angel Gabriel tells Mary she is going to give birth to the Messiah, she responds: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38). God is faithful to provide the Messiah, and Mary is faithful in delivering Him. When Joseph is told of Mary being pregnant, he seeks to divorce her quietly to protect her, but God speaks to him in a dream. Joseph is told that “Mary will bear a son, and he is to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” How did Joseph respond? When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took Mary as his wife (see: Matt 1:24). God is faithful in providing salvation, and Joseph is faithful in marrying Mary. Joseph and Mary were entrusted by God with the responsibility and blessing of overseeing the childhood of God’s own Son and were faithful in doing so.

God’s promises are true but answered in His way and timing. For hundreds of years, God’s people waited for the Messiah’s birth. For nearly 2,000 years, the church has been awaiting the return of Christ. Each and every one of us is waiting for something. But we can have faith. We need to learn to trustingly wait. God is faithful, and since He is faithful, we, His children, are called to be faithful, and such faithfulness often means trustingly waiting. Perhaps, you are struggling with a lack of faith. Remember, honesty is the first step in the right direction. Be encouraged. God will give you all that you need to learn to trust Him and, yes, to trustingly wait.

It is my honor to experience life in Christ with each of you. Let us remind one another of God’s faithfulness. Let us encourage each other to be faithful to Him0, especially as we trustingly wait. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Gratitude

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We discover in the New Testament Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi. It is a friendly letter written from Paul to a church he deeply loved. Some have called Philippians Paul’s most upbeat letter mentioning joy and rejoicing sixteen times. This is fascinating, considering that Paul is writing from prison. Paul challenges Christian’s, while he is in chains, to: “rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil 4:4). The whole of the letter could be summed up that when we live in the joy of the Lord, “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:7).

Specifically, Paul writes:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:6-7).

Paul writes to prevent the believer from worry because he does not want them to suffer the negative consequences of worrying. Perhaps, he is reflecting on Jesus’ own counsel (see: Matt 6:25-34). The source of worrying comes from doubting God’s ability to help. Think of it this way. When we worry, we perceive a future without God present and working. Instead, Paul counsels us to tell God our needs.

The believer is to pray with an attitude of worship to the Lord. Practically when we begin to worry, we need to find time to worship God. It’s important to be reminded of and affirm the Lord’s greatness. We need to proclaim God’s limitless power and love. God is big enough to deal with our problems, and He cares enough to do so.

Not only do we come to the Lord with an attitude of worship, but we do so openly sharing our needs. If we truly believe God cares and desires for us to present our needs to Him, we will do so with spiritual intensity, praying as Jesus did, “God’s will be done” (Matt 26:39). We can pray such a prayer when we believe God is capable and willing to act lovingly and faultlessly for His glory, our blessing, and the benefit of others.

Not only do we come to the Lord with an attitude of worship, openly sharing our needs, but also with thanksgiving. We are to thank God for past blessings. When we look at how the Lord has worked in the past, with thankfulness, we are empowered by the Spirit to face the future with thankful anticipation. We can pray, believing God is on the scene while walking confidently into God’s preferred future for us.

Such prayer and thankfulness open the floodgates for God’s peace to wash over us. The Lord’s peace will “guard our hearts and our minds.” Paul is borrowing from a military term presenting the picture of a squad of soldiers guarding a town. We are to understand that God’s peace will stand guard over our hearts and minds.

For years I looked to Philippians 4:6-7 to find peace, and one day the word thanksgiving just jumped out at me. I had read and recited it before, but I received this passage with a heightened understanding of the importance of thanksgiving. God’s peace and joy are ignited in the heart of a believer who is quick to recognize God’s workings (past, present, and future) with thankfulness. God’s desire for each of us is to be filled with His joy and peace. This becomes a reality, in part, as we rejoice in the Lord, with thankfulness, for who He is, as well as what He has done and is doing.

It is my privilege to rejoice in the Lord with each of you. Let us encourage one another to pray with an attitude of worship, openly sharing our needs with thanksgiving. Genuine prayer with thanksgiving lead to peace and joy filling and flowing from our lives. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Joyful Endurance

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First Peter, a letter written by the Apostle Paul nearly 2,000 years ago, was written to churches not very different from our very own. The churches Peter wrote were facing persecution. As followers of Christ, we are called to live out our faith in a world that often does not understand us and sometimes is quite antagonistic. Every believer who is walking with Jesus faces a certain amount of persecution. We may face it at school or at our workplace. We may face it as we meet with others in our neighborhoods and out in our community. We may even face it in our very homes.

We live in a world that is not our home, but desperately needs God’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven. Therefore, Peter does not want us to be surprised by opposition but see it as an opportunity to live out our faith showing the difference life in Christ makes. There was persecution of the church during the time of Peter, and there is in our time as well. In fact, Open Doors USA reports that each month throughout the world: “322 Christians are killed for their faith; 214 churches and church properties are destroyed; 722 forms of violence are committed against Christians (such as beatings, abductions, rapes, arrests, and forced marriage).” These stats are staggering. The Good News is that God is still in control.

Peter ends his letter, where he began, encouraging believers to endure suffering with Christlike faith. The believer is to be identified in Christ and represent Christ in all circumstances. There is no greater apologetic to the world than for the believer to display the love of God while sharing His message of hope and salvation. Therefore, Peter teaches how the Christian can have joyful endurance by standing firm by the power of Christ in all circumstances and at all times.

Peter explains in 1 Peter 4:12-19 that believers need to be aware that trials will come and that they are used by God to purify our faith. Interestingly, it is Peter who writes these words. On one occasion Peter told Jesus to avoid the suffering of the cross (see: Mark 8:32-33). Think about it. Once, it seemed strange to Peter that Jesus should think of suffering. Now Peter thinks it odd that He could have imagined anything else. How then does a Christian who believes God is faithful and absolutely trustworthy handle trials and persecution with joyful endurance? Believers experience joyful endurance in all circumstances by understanding trials refines us while committing themselves to trust God.

Peter in 1 Peter 5:6-7 describes what this practically looks like in the life of a believer. Peter explains that joyful endurance in all circumstances for the believes comes as they humble themselves, are alert, resist the enemy, and submit to Christ, trusting He is able to meet their needs. In truth, believers experiencing joyful endurance, living in hope in a world not their home, will have the peace of Christ rule in their lives.

Peter encourages believers to place their hope in Christ at all times in all circumstances. Christians are going to experience trials, persecution, and attacks from the enemy, but they can stand firm in Christ. As the believer trusts in the Lord, He will give him everything needed to walk with Him in joyful endurance.

It is my privilege to walk with Christ with each of you. I pray that we will walk with joyful endurance in the living hope we have in Christ. What a blessing to have such hope in a world not our home. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Servant Leadership

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First Peter is written to the early church that has been scattered throughout the Roman Empire. The church is growing and experiencing persecution of various kinds. Peter encourages them that God is still in control and that suffering for the sake of Christ is noble and good. Life may have its difficulties, but God is always good, and for Christians, there’s a much better day ahead in paradise. Christians live with a living hope in a world, not our home and we do so asking and participating in “God’s kingdom coming and His will being done on earth as it is in heaven.”

In First Peter 4:7-11 and 5:1-5, Peter describes what it means to follow and lead in humility by following the example of Jesus Christ. What we are talking about here is servant leadership. This leads us to a crucial question. What does servant leadership look like? Peter begins, in verse 7, declaring that Christ is going to return and we need to be ready. The believer needs to be prayerful. In fact, if we really believe that we live in the last days, it is all the more appropriate that we give ourselves to prayer.

Then, Peter, in verses 8-9, teaches that Christians need to love like Jesus. Christian love means that we treat others the way God treats us. For instance, God forgives us, and we need to forgive one another. Where love abounds forgiveness flourishes. Peter writes that Christian love is, among other things, forgiving. Christian love also displays hospitality. Christian love involves faithfulness, commitment, and an act of the will. It is distinguished from the other types of love by its lofty moral nature and strong character. Paul describes Christian love beautifully in First Corinthians 13.

Peter addresses our service to one another. He teaches that every Christian receives a spiritual gift from God and that every gift is important. These gifts are given to those in the church to fulfill God’s mission to know Him and make Him known. Even the smallest gift or part is important in Christ’s body, His church. I heard the story of a man rebuilding an engine for his lawnmower. When he finished, he had one small part left over. He carefully started the engine, and it ran like new. He proceeded to mow his lawn. After he was finished, he went to turn the mower off, and it wouldn’t stop! Here’s the point: Even the smallest piece is an important part of Christ’s church. These gifts are graces given to us by God. The simple truth is that the grace of God is wasted when it only comes to us and not moved on from us to others. In our service to others, God receives the glory. After all, God is the only one that is all-powerful and deserving of ultimate glory.

The first five verses of First Peter chapter five continues the theme of servant leadership by addressing church leaders. Church leaders or under-shepherds should be living patterns or models of the “Chief Shepherd,” Jesus Christ. The church leader must be a person who walks with God and who is growing in Him. This is true for each and every believer. Peter makes this point by encouraging the Christ-follower to “clothe” themselves with humility. What does the clothing of humility look like? Humility is willing to perform the lowest and littlest service for Jesus’ sake. Humility is conscious of our inability to do anything with eternal value apart from God. Humility is willing to serve without recognition. Humility is not self-deprecating, but self-forgetting, being truly others-centered instead of self-centered. The 19th-century British preacher, Charles Spurgeon, once said: “If you are willing to be nothing, God will make something of you.”

To sum up Peter’s teaching on servant leadership and to answer what servant leadership looks like I would say: “Servant leadership looks like a believer who is serious about their relationship with God, prayerful, and selflessly sharing God’s love with others in tangible ways.” We live in a world filled with trials and hardships, yet, as believers, we have a living hope in Jesus Christ and the promise of an eternal inheritance. What the church needs today, as it did in Peter’s day, are those who are willing to take the position of a servant…the church needs servant leaders.

It’s a privilege to journey with Christ, along with each of you. Let us encourage one another to follow the Lord’s example and be servant leaders. We all have a part to play as part of Christ’s body, His church. Let us surrender ourselves to Him, experiencing His love, as we allow Him to use us to share His love with others. Soli Deo Gloria (to God alone be the glory)!