Category Archives: By Dr. Paul Buono

The Love Quadrangle

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There is One God in three persons: The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They have loved one another from all of eternity.  But God wanted to bring you into this great relationship of love.  This is what I will call “the Love Quadrangle.”  You see, He wants to share His love with you and in order for Him to do that He has invited you into the love that is shared in the Godhead.  When we speak of this love, God longs for a fourth person to be part of it – you.  This is a picture of how God sees you and His desire for you to be in that intimate relationship with Him.

I have laid out 7 points to help you understand how this Love Quadrangle works:

  1. The Father Loves Those Who Love Jesus and believe He sent Him.

“Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” (John 14:21)

Since you believed in and received Jesus, you have since learned His commandments and do all you can to keep them, demonstrating that you truly love Jesus. And because of this, the Father and the Son love you and want to reveal their love to you.  In this Love Quadrangle: God loves those who love His Son.

Anyone who denies the Son doesn’t have the Father, either. But anyone who acknowledges the Son has the Father also. (1 John 2:23)    

“I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:26)

God’s ultimate purpose in this Love Quadrangle is that the world would know that He loves you just like He loves His Son.

“I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” (John 17:23)

This is speaking of the evidence of our love for Jesus. He showed Himself to us; He showed us who the Father is. We accepted and believed His words. We followed Him. We believed that God sent Him.

“I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word…For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.  (John 17:6, 8)

Whoever loves Jesus He will love also and manifest Himself to that person.

2. The Father knows He is loved by you when you love His Son.

“In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf;  for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.” (John 16:26-27)

Here is the second time Jesus says this: “The Father loves you because you have loved Me and believed He sent me”. It was an amazing thing to say: “The Father Himself loves you.” The beginning point of loving God is to love His Son. When we love the Son then we love the Father. We cannot love the Father unless we love the Son.

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.  If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” (John 14:6-7)

So then, what does it mean to love Jesus? How does that look?

3. The way you show that you love Jesus is by keeping His Commandments.

Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (John 14:23)

Jesus is saying, “I really will feel loved by you if you keep My word”. “In fact, my Father will then love you too. We will want to be with you, live with you, commune with you.” Here, God feels loved when we obey Him.“but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father”. (John 14:31)

Jesus teaches us this through His own life. When He obeyed His Father, then the world knew He loved the Father. He didn’t just go around saying, “I love God”. He showed everyone how real His love was. Love for God is only as real as our desire to obey Him. That’s how God feels loved.

So then, what does it mean to obey Him? What is His commandment?

4. This is His Commandment: To love one another in the same way as He has loved you.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” (John 15:12-14)

Now, in a most interesting turn, Jesus says that we show we love God when we love one another. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. (1 John 4:20-21)

No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. (1 John 4:12)

Not only will Jesus feel loved by me if I love my brother and sister, but He will also see me as His friend. When I love you, I love Him. When I love you, He calls me friend.“I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.  You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.  This is my command: Love each other.” (John 15:15-17)

Being called His “friend” is a term of intimacy. He let you into His private space, into His Love Quadrangle. He wants you to know His personal business. You’re not just a servant or an employee, you are a friend. How did you become His friend? It is because he feels loved by you when you keep His commandment.

What is His commandment? To love your brothers and sisters. When we love one another we build trust with God. When we love others it is like a deposit in the bank of trust and friendship with Him.

“If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.” (John 15:10)

“This is my command to you: Love one other.” (John 15:17)

So how do I love others? What does that look like?

5. How has Jesus loved you? He laid down His life for you. That is how you are to love others.

“Greater love has no one than this: that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

What does it mean to lay down your life for your friends? When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them.  “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am.  Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.” (John 13:12-14)

Washing someone’s feet in the days of Jesus was the job of a slave. The master of the house wouldn’t do that. It was very humbling. It was for the hired labor. Jesus was Lord of All and yet took the form of a slave in order to show us what love looks like in action.

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! (Phil. 2:6-8)

What was Jesus teaching us by washing His disciples’ feet? Put others first. Serve them. Sacrifice for them. Go out of your way to do kind acts for them. In this way, we lay down our lives for our friends and hence become friends of God.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or empty pride, but in humility consider others more important than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Phil. 2:3-4)

When we consider others more important than ourselves and show it with our actions, we are practicing the same kind of love that Jesus did.

6. Jesus feels loved by us when we desire to be with Him in Heaven some day

“Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” (John 17:24)

When we have our eyes and desires set on being with Him in His Father’s House, He feels loved by us. “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am”. (John 14:2-5)

“You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.” (John 14:28)

Jesus feels loved by us when we rejoice that He is with the Father but will one day come again for us. This is because when we honor the Father and desire His presence, we are truly showing love for Jesus

7. The Holy Spirit communicates God’s love to us

How does the Holy Spirit fit in the Love Quadrangle?

The Holy Spirit is the one who woos us to the love of Jesus, and makes the love of Christ real to us. He gives us revelation, understanding and wisdom and teaches us as a personal tutor would. Without the Holy Spirit, we could not understand or realize the reality and gravity of God’s love for us.

“But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, He shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” (John 14:26) 

One of the major reasons the Father sent the Holy Spirit to us was to constantly remind of us of Jesus’ love for us and how to show love to Jesus.

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you.  All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.” (John 16:13-15)

The Holy Spirit will take of what is Jesus’ and show it to us. He will take of His love and manifest it to us.  He is the messenger of God’s love, the One who makes it real and unforgettable to us.

And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans 5:5)

The Holy Spirit wants us to know what has been given to us. He makes it real. He brings us into and connects us with the love of Father and the Son in the Love Quadrangle.

The Holy Spirit wants to tell us all about the good things that God has given us. He wants to make known these things unto us, so that we can take advantage of them. This is how we know that we live in him and He in us: He has given us of his Spirit.  (1 John 4:13)

Conclusion: There is One God in three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And as much as they were content with one another and with the love relationship they had from eternity, they decided to add a fourth person into their circle to share and receive their love with. That person is you! They invited you, me and every other human being that desires to join them in the way they have required. There is no other creature in all of creation that has this privilege – it is the privilege of humans alone. The only way into this Love Quadrangle is through Jesus Christ Himself. He made the way possible through the greatest display of love in history – the Cross. The amazing thing is that the Father didn’t have to do this. Jesus didn’t have to do this. The Holy Spirit didn’t have to do this. It was their radical and amazing plan to display their love for you. God did it because He is Love and wanted to share Himself with you. What is our reasonable response? To say yes! But with that, our responsibility and privilege is to be like Him and display this type of extravagant love to others: A kind of love that knows no bounds. A love that begins and ends within the Love Quadrangle.

What About Innocent Children?

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What About Innocent Children?

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. (John 9:1-3)

We often wonder why certain children are born with birth defects or handicaps that affect their ability to live a normal life.  It seems unfair, we think, that some are born healthy and some not.  Does God do this? Why does He allow it? What purpose does it serve? What about children which seem not to even have the capacity to choose right and wrong because of brain damage? What about those that are born with gender issues and ambiguous reproductive organs? How can they be expected to do what God demands of them? These are all valid questions.

This issue becomes even more difficult when we are thinking through how someone is saved and if everyone has an equal chance to receive Christ.  The Bible teaches that God wants everyone to be saved (1 Tim 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9) and that salvation is available to everyone (2 Cor. 5:15).  But if someone is born with a mental defect that leaves them with an inability to reason very well or choose what is right, how would that line up with this doctrine of God’s free gift of salvation to all who call upon Him (Rom. 10:13)?  What if that person cannot make a faith choice because they can’t understand the Gospel due to that birth defect?

I want to start by saying that yes, God creates us in His image, we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139: 14), and He loves us all (John 3:16).  God is not partial.  He treats us all the same (Job 34:19).  However, the Bible is very clear that we live in a fallen world which is tainted by the effects of sin and death (Gen. 3:19).  And this sin problem will not be completely eradicated until there is no more curse and the old things have passed away.

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the former things have passed away.” 5And the One seated on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” Then He said, “Write this down, for these words are faithful and true.”  (Rev. 21:4-5)

This will happen when Christ comes again and restores this present creation to what He always desired it to be – free from sin and death and all it’s effect (Rom. 8:20-21).  That answers the general question we are posing.  People are born with diseases and defects because of the effects of sin.  The curse affects us all in one way or another.  But, that still leaves the lingering question of the seeming unfairness of it.  If God is sovereign and loves all of us, why would He allow certain innocent babies to be born with this defect and others not?

If evil had never entered the world through sin, then every single baby would be born healthy and live forever.  But evil did enter the world through sin.  So, God is just and allows the consequences of sin to occur.  We are all born in sin (Psalm 51:5).  However, His solution to fix this problem is to send His Son to die for us.  The true healing doesn’t happen here, it happens in the restored kingdom I mentioned earlier.

No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. (Rev. 22:3)

When someone that doesn’t have the cognitive ability to choose right from wrong (whether child or adult) acts out in evil or cannot understand the Gospel message because of that handicap, we can be assured that God will be just on the Day of Judgment.  We leave them in the hands of a just and loving creator.  We can trust that He will always do what is right and we will be blown away at the result.

Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. (Lam. 3:22)

We can also be sure that whatever God allows, He does so for His glory.  Once we start trying to figure out why God makes one person one way and another person another way we are infringing on territory that only belongs to God and wandering into an area that is far above our human ability to comprehend.

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! (Romans 11:33)

Remember Job? He was the most righteous man on the earth and it all seemed so unfair what happened to him.  But God never told him why.  It was way above his head.

Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm. He said:

“Who is this that obscures my plans
    with words without knowledge? (Job 38:2)

 

But then Job figured out that he was asking the wrong question.  “Why” is the wrong question.  God doesn’t often answer that question.  Instead, He shows us Himself.  He shows us “Who” is worthy to be trusted, in spite of the fact that we cannot understand.

Then Job replied to the Lord:

“I know that you can do all things;
    no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
    Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
    things too wonderful for me to know.

“You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak;
    I will question you,
    and you shall answer me.’
My ears had heard of you
    but now my eyes have seen you.
Therefore I despise myself
    and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:1-6)

 

When something bad happens to one person and not another, it often seems so random.  Does that mean that the person it happens to is a worse sinner than anyone else? Jesus answers that one too:

“…those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (Luke 13:4)

The child born with the birth defect is not being punished by God.  Jesus didn’t answer why the tower in Siloam fell on certain people and not on others.  But He did say it wasn’t because they were being punished for something.  So we shouldn’t think this way about innocent children born at a disadvantage.

I started this all with a passage from John 9:1-3.  How can a person born blind end up displaying the works of God in his life? Likewise, how can a child born with a horrible disability bring God glory? Maybe the child will bring a family together to care for him or bring out compassion in a bitter health care worker or teach mercy to one of her siblings.  Maybe a criminal will repent because of him.  Maybe God will heal him and bring glory that way.  Maybe that child will teach us how to love one another in a deeper way.  Maybe he will bring a community together to pray.  These are a few of millions of possibilities.  But whatever the reason, God is trustworthy.  I think that is my main point in all of this.  We may not understand the “why”, but we understand who does.  And that is enough.

  1. God moves in a mysterious way
    His wonders to perform;
    He plants His footsteps in the sea
    And rides upon the storm.
  2. Deep in unfathomable mines
    Of never failing skill
    He treasures up His bright designs
    And works His sov’reign will.
  3. Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
    The clouds ye so much dread
    Are big with mercy and shall break
    In blessings on your head.
  4. Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
    But trust Him for His grace;
    Behind a frowning providence
    He hides a smiling face.
  5. His purposes will ripen fast,
    Unfolding every hour;
    The bud may have a bitter taste,
    But sweet will be the flow’r.
  6. Blind unbelief is sure to err
    And scan His work in vain;
    God is His own interpreter,
    And He will make it plain.

William Cowper – “God Moves in Mysterious Ways”
 

What is a True Believer?

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What is a True Believer?

There is a stunning turn of events in John 6:61-66.  Many of the so called “disciples” that followed Jesus left Him and never followed Him again:

Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit[e] and life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”

66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

Notice how they were called “disciples” in verse 61, but then we find that they didn’t really believe.  When it came time to really pick up their cross and follow Him, they instead “turned back and no longer followed Him.”  They were offended at some things Jesus said about Himself.  They couldn’t understand the spiritual meaning.  The real problem though, was that they were not true believers.  Jesus previously spoke of this in the Parable of the Sower.

Some just didn’t understand the Word from the beginning:

When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path.” (Matthew 13:19)

Some receive it with joy but they only follow Jesus for a short time:

The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.” (Matthew 13:20-21)

Some hear the Word but their lives never change:

The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.” (Matthew 13:22)

Some hear the Word and understand it, they follow Jesus to the end:

But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” (Matthew 13:33)

Paul was concerned that some of the “believers” in the Corinthian church were not true believers.  He reiterated the gospel message to them and challenged them to examine themselves to see if they were in the faith.

Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. (1 Cor. 15:1-2)

Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test? (2 Cor. 13:5)

Paul also tells us that there are those that profess to be true believers but their actions say something totally different.  Neither are they true believers.

They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good. (Titus 1:16)

having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people. (2 Tim. 3:5)

John reminded us that if someone is not a true believer they will not stay with Christ.  They will leave Him and not come back to Him.  This shows that they never really were a true believer.

They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us. (1 John 2:19)

And Peter tells us that someone who is not a true believer will return to the world and turn from following Jesus as their Lord and Master and never come back to Him.

If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. 21 It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. 22 Of them the proverbs are true: “A dog returns to its vomit,” and, “A sow that is washed returns to her wallowing in the mud.” (2 Peter 2:20-22)

Jesus Himself taught us that being a true believer involves a great cost. The reason many stopped following Jesus (such as in the John 6) was that they didn’t count the cost of being a true believer.

“Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him,30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’” (Luke 14:27-30)

What then is a true believer and the signs of a true believer?

We can see in our main passage in John 6 a sharp differentiation between those that were false believers and those that were true believers.  The false believers were offended by Jesus’ teaching and couldn’t accept it.  They stopped following Him and never returned.  They could not accept or understand His words.  On the other hand, the true believers were compelled to stay and to continue following Him because they knew in their hearts that He was the only way to God and eternal life as we see in verses 67 and 68:

67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.

68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.

They came to “believe and know.” This was a permanent change in their hearts and there was no going back.  They had found the pearl of great price and treasure hidden in the field (Matt. 13:44-46). Where could they go? What could be better? That is the experience of a true believer.  There is nothing that would or could persuade them otherwise.  They were sold out to the idea.  Their hearts were won over by His love.  Yes, Peter would turn away from Jesus later on and deny he knew Him (John 18:15-27).  But this was only because he was afraid of the people that arrested Jesus, not because he couldn’t believe or accept the Lord’s words.  In it he learned how very dependant he really was on Jesus.  He wept in remorse over his denial of the Lord.  His faith did not fail him in the end because it was a true faith (Luke 22:32).  If he wasn’t a true believer, he would have not have had a godly sorrow that leads to repentance (2 Cor. 7:10), it would have only been a worldly sorrow it would have only led to death.  When the Lord confronted Him he returned and showed that he was a true believer.  He then went on to do even greater things for the Lord.  We do stumble at times as true believers because of our lack of faith and frailty, but because we have a true faith in Him, we get up, learn from our mistakes and sins, and go on to maturity.  We have a godly sorrow that leads to repentance.  I mean, where can we go, He has the words of eternal life? What else could be better? We’ve found the priceless pearl and the field of infinite treasure.  So is it thought, believed, and acted upon in the heart and life of the true believer.

 

 

Healing the Inner Man

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Healing the Inner Man

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. (Psalm 147:3)

If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.(John 8:36)

Healing of the heart or soul (inner man) comes through relationship with our Heavenly Father through His Son Jesus Christ.  Once we are saved we go on a journey of learning how to abide in Christ and how to live as Sons of God.  We learn how God sees us and thinks of us and we fall more in love with Him.  We see that He is our perfect Father and unlike our earthly parents or authority figures He would never abuse us or harm us.  We learn to trust Him because He is always faithful.  This is a learning process that comes through studying the Word of God to understand who God is and His great love for us.  Healing comes to our souls as we step out in faith and forgive those who have offended us, pray for those who have used us, and ask God to keep changing our hearts.  When we are tempted we choose God’s way because we love Him and are so thankful to Him.

Healing principles:

  1. Repent of your sins – be open with the Father about what you feel and struggle with and cry out to Him for help – be humble – HEBREWS 5:7-9
  2. Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another so you may be healed – let the Spirit of God show you what to pray for each other – JAMES 5:13-18
  3. Forgive those who have hurt you and bless them – LUKE 6:27-31
  4. Obey God no matter how you feel – let the fruit of the Spirit come forth daily – GALATIANS 5:22-24
  5. Practice the spiritual disciplines daily: prayer, confession, fasting, worship/praise – stay connected to Jesus (abide in Him) – JOHN 15:5-10
  6. Walk in the Spirit – rely on the Holy Spirit to lead you in everything – ROMANS 8:5-6
  7. Serve God, help the needy, focus on helping others not yourself! The less you focus on “self” the more free you will be – ISA. 58:6-14

REFERENCES:

O LORD my God, I cried out to You, And You healed me. (Psalm 30:2)

He sent forth his word and healed them; he rescued them from the grave. (Psalm 107:20)

Bless the LORD, O my soul, And forget not all His benefits:
Who forgives all your iniquities, Who heals all your diseases,
Who redeems your life from destruction,
Who crowns you with loving kindness and tender mercies,
Who satisfies your mouth with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. (Psalm 103:2-5)

For I will restore health to you And heal you of your wounds,’ says the LORD, ‘ Because they called you an outcast saying: ” This is Zion; No one seeks her.”‘ (Jer. 30:17)

But to you who fear My name The Sun of Righteousness shall arise With healing in His wings; And you shall go out And grow fat like stall-fed calves. (Malachi 4:2)

For I am the LORD who heals you.” (Exodus 15:26)

Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed. (Isa. 53:4-5)

Then your light shall break forth like the morning, Your healing shall spring forth speedily, And your righteousness shall go before you; The glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.(Isa. 58:8)

 

 

Keys to Effective Prayer

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Keys to Effective Prayer

  1. Answered prayer is strongly tied to our daily relationship with and obedience to the Lord

If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.”  (John 15:7)

And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight. 23 And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment. (1 John 3:22-23)

God loves to answer prayer because we are living in a way that is pleasing to Him.  By staying close to Him and waiting upon Him to hear Him and do His will, we will be in a great place to pray as He wants us to and be in line with His desires.

  1. God hears us and answers us when we pray according to His will

Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him. (1 John 5:14-15)

We know His will from the Word of God and from that close and personal relationship we have with Him.

the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangersI am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. (John 10:2-5, 14)

God may answer us “GO, SLOW, GROW, or NO”

GO – Yes, it is time

SLOW – Your own the right track but keep praying and waiting on My perfect timing

GROW – I have so much to give you and use you for but you aren’t ready yet, you need to keep learning and growing so I can get you that place where I can entrust you with this.

NO – I have something better for you

  1. Persevere in prayer because there is resistance to God’s will

 Then he said to me, “Do not fear, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand, and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard; and I have come because of your words. 13 But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days; and behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left alone there with the kings of Persia.” (Daniel 10:12-14)

Though I do not fear God nor regard man, yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.’” (Luke 18:4-5)

Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.” (Matt. 7:7)

Sometimes the delay in answered prayer is because there is a battle going on in the heavenlies and your prayers are the weapon that will bring the breakthrough.  But keep pressing in until you see the answer from Him.

  1. Always pray with faith

“Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”  (Mark 11:24)

Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them.” (Mark 11:23)

Faith is not a force.  Faith is only as good as the source you are connecting it to.  When you have faith in God to do great things you are believing in the One who is almighty and all loving.

 

 

 

What is the Internal Call?

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WHAT IS THE INTERNAL CALL?

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day… My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.” (John 6:44; 10:27-28)

Effective calling can be defined as the act of God the Father that operates in the context of the Gospel proclamation in which He calls people to Himself for salvationEffective calling is referred to as internal calling. The Gospel call is offered to all people—even to those who do not desire the Gospel.  Sometimes, the Gospel call is referred to as external calling or general calling.  Since the Gospel call is the vehicle used in Gospel proclamation and is intended to be preached to all, it can operate as an effective call or general call to the sinner.

The elements of the Gospel call, which invites sinners to embrace the message, involves the explanation of the facts concerning salvation.  The facts concerning salvation indicates that all of mankind have sinned (Rom. 3:23), the penalty of sin is death (Rom. 6:23), and Jesus Christ died to pay the penalty of sin (Rom. 5:8).  Another element is the invitation to respond to Christ via repentance and faith (Matt. 11:28-30; Matt. 11:28; John 1:11-12); and thirdly a promise of forgiveness and eternal life (John 3:16; Acts 3:19; cf. 2:38; John 6:37). [https://veritasdomain.wordpress.com/2013/05/25/doctrine-of-salvation-divine-god/]

The Lord will lead us to Himself if we desire to come to Him. Everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him will be saved (John 6:40). If we acknowledge God through General Revelation (cf. Psalm 19:1-2; Romans 1:20) then our hearts are open to respond favorably to the Gospel message (the external or general calling) when it is presented to us. He sees that willingness and desire in our hearts and will guide us to His Son if we would just reach out to Him because He is not far from any of us (Acts 17:27). And He wants to be found (Jeremiah 29:13). He makes Himself available, reachable, and findable to all who desire to find Him.

What the internal calling means is that only those the Father draws can come to Christ (John 6:44). Jesus will lose none of those the Father gives to Him (John 6:39). When someone cries out to God and asks Him to reveal Himself, He will teach them how to get to Him and be reconciled to Him (Matthew 7:11). Whoever learns from the Father comes to Him (John 6:45). What we need is a teachable, open heart to believe the gospel message (Matthew 13:8). And if we want more light and knowledge of the truth then He will “order our steps” and “draw us” to His Son (John 3:21). The internal calling is set into motion once He sees our desire to know who the true God really is. He will then bring us the right persons and put us in the right situations to where we can hear the gospel and of course we will then respond to it because it is what we were truly seeking. Our hearts were ready to receive the seed of the gospel and begin bearing fruit for Christ. This comes from the wooing of the Spirit and the drawing of the Father because we said yes to Him and were willing to hear, understand and repent. In this situation, our hearts are convinced that we are sinners and need God’s help. We seek God’s help. He draws us. We respond to His internal calling because He is basically giving us over to what we truly desire. This isn’t to say that there is not a battle waging for souls and the destiny of souls (2 Cor. 4:4-5). Unbelievers are in spiritual blindness. However, the battle is for truth. Blindness speaks of not being able to see the truth (1 John 1:5-7). So, when someone takes a step towards God and realizes they need Him and want to find Him, it is then by His power alone that the blindness can be broken. God accomplishes this through the internal calling. He works in our hearts to show us the truth, opens our eyes and hearts to it, and makes us into a new creation when we answer the gospel call.

 

God Offers Salvation to Everyone

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In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. (John 1:4)

Some teach that God arbitrarily chooses who will go to heaven and who will go to hell before they are born and predestines them to be either saved or lost.  But that is not what Jesus teaches us.  In the Parable of the Sower (Matt. 13:18-23) we see that Jesus, who is the Sower, spreads the seed (the Gospel message) without it being aimed at specific persons.  The seed is scattered to the wind and has the capability to land where it may.   In other words, the seed goes everywhere and the Sower wants it to plant wherever it will take, meaning it is intended for any heart that will receive it.  We may ask, did God then make some hearts receptive and some unreceptive? What makes the soil good or bad?  Are people predisposed to accept or reject the Gospel? Jesus makes it clear that the reason people don’t accept the Gospel message isn’t because they can’t, but because they won’t.  In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:

“‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
15 For this people’s heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.’” (Matt. 13:14-15)

Here, Jesus quotes from Isaiah 6:9-10 to tell us that His will is for people to see and hear the truth and understand it and be saved, but many have “closed their eyes” to it.  Whether it is because of loving wealth more than God or letting the worries of the world choke out the truth or deciding that they want to turn to other methods of solace and hope, they have closed their eyes.  They refused to listen.  It wasn’t that God blinded them or closed their ears.  They chose to reject the seed of the Gospel.  They closed their hearts.

Sin affects us all and becomes a hindrance to us coming to God because our natural inclination is to live for self and let our sinful nature rule us.

For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written:

“None is righteous, no, not one;
11     no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.” (Romans 3:11-12)

We all are in the same boat.  We are all on equal footing.  God is no respecter of persons nor does He show favoritism (Romans 2:11).  We all are born in sin and begin with a sinful nature to deal with.

For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
and justified when you judge.
Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me. (Psalm 51:3-5)

But we can’t pass the blame to God, the devil, or even to the curse for our rebellion.  If we reject God, it is our fault alone.  Adam and Eve disobeyed God by their own free choice.  If that weren’t the case then God would not have been just in punishing them for their sin and pronouncing a curse upon them and the earth.  We can’t blame our parents or how God made our personalities or what environment we grew up in or what conditions we were predisposed to.  Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed the serpent but God said in essence, “take responsibility for your own actions!” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” (Genesis 3:13).  We are made in God’s image so we have the intellect and volition to reason and evaluate and then make a choice.  We are without excuse.  God said, “This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live” (Deut. 30:19).  Joshua said, “But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve… But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”” (Joshua 24:15 ).

We think we can blame God for our decisions or be without culpability because He created us, but He says to us, “But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” (Romans 9:15). We think we can blame our parents but God says, ““Yet you ask, ‘Why does the son not share the guilt of his father?’ Since the son has done what is just and right and has been careful to keep all my decrees, he will surely live.  The one who sins is the one who will die.”  (Ezekiel 18:19-20). We think we can blame the curse but God says, “This only have I found: God created mankind upright, but they have gone in search of many schemes.” (Eccl. 7:29).  God created us with the ability to do good but we then go and find our own trouble.  We need no help with that one! We can’t blame the fact that we are spiritually blind before we find God because the blinders get taken away only when we willfully choose to believe the Gospel.  When and how is our spiritual blindness cured? What has to happen? The veil over our spiritual eyes and mind has to be removed because the god of this age has blinded us (2 Cor. 4:4).  But God has given us a way of escape.  “But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away” (2 Cor. 3:16). We come to the Lord and then the veil is taken away.  Our action of belief in Christ removes the blinders.

We choose our attitude and whether we want to humble ourselves or remain full of ourselves.  So, we can’t blame the fact that the whole world is under the sway of the evil one (1 John 5:19).  God has revealed Himself to every human being and those that choose to reject Him will have no excuse.  For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse (Romans 1:20). Can we stand before God and tell Him that we couldn’t choose Him? Can we blame Him for our unbelief or blindness or say to Him that He prevented us from believing? Of course not.  In Acts 17:26-28, Paul tells us that the reason God made human beings is so they would inhabit the earth and reach out and find Him.  God wants us to find Him.  He has made Himself near to us so we can reach out to Him.  He desires a relationship with everyone if they are willing. He has made Himself reachable and accessible to everyone who desires Him.

From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’  As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

He is near to all who call upon Him.  Whoever calls upon Him will be saved (Romans 10:13).  We are all God’s offspring! Would God willfully cast off His own offspring, the crown jewel of His creation, people made in His image that reflect His glory (1 Cor. 11:7)?  God tells us clearly what His desire is for every human being.

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)

This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim. 2:3, 4)

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. (2 Cor. 5:14-15)

That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe. (1 Tim. 4:10)

So then, if God doesn’t choose certain people to go to hell or keep them forcefully in darkness, why do they end up in hell? Paul explains the reason in Romans 1.

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness… For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened… Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts… Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. (Rom. 1:18, 21, 26, 28)

We choose to suppress the truth.  We choose not to glorify Him.  We do not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of Him.  God reveals Himself to the whole world.  God loves everyone in the world (John 3:16).  Everyone knows there is a God.  So, people who choose to be wicked and reject the truth about God have rejected God’s love and His extended hand to save them from their sin through Christ.  Their hearts get hardened by their own choices and since God is just, He gives them over to what they want.  He doesn’t force them to be good or to accept His love.  He gives light to the whole world, but many reject the light because they love the darkness too much.  That is their choice.

“This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.” (John 3:19)

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

So, back to the Parable of the Sower.  What makes the soil good? What determines whether a heart will receive it? Free will.  “Whoever has ears, let them hear” (Matt. 13:9).  We choose which god to serve.  Will it be mammon or Yahweh? Will it be darkness or light? No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (Matt. 6:24).  You will hate one and love the other.  But we choose what to love and what to hate.  And God has given us the ability to do this otherwise we would not be accountable for our own actions.

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ (Matt. 25:41-43)

Does God want everyone to be saved? Let’s look at Jesus’ teachings on the Kingdom of God.  He wants His Kingdom to leaven the whole world (Matt. 13:33).   God didn’t send His Son to condemn the world but to save it (John 3:17).  In the Wedding Feast parable the ones He chose (Israel) rejected Him so He gives the invitation to anyone on the streets who wants to come in.  Whoever accepts the invitation can come to His feast.

“So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ 10 So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests” (Matt. 22:9-10).

Now, who then are the ones that get rejected from coming to the banquet? Those that don’t want to come.  Those that have other priorities.  Those that make excuses.

Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ “But they all alike began to make excuses…”Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full.  I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.‘ ” (Luke 14:16, 17, 23, 24)

But Jesus gives the invitation to everyone to begin with:

Let anyone who desires drink freely from the water of life. (Rev. 22:17)

On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” (John 5:37-38)

Did Jesus ever reject someone that asked for healing or deliverance or to have one of their family members healed? No, rather. Jesus said, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10) AND “the one who comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37).

But let’s go back for a moment to my opening statement.  There are those that teach that God chooses certain people to be His children and rejects the rest.  But many of the Scriptures they use to “prove” their point do not really mean what they are purported to mean.  Yes, it’s true that only those God draws can come.  Only those appointed to eternal life can enter.  Only those called, elected, and predestined from the foundation of the world are His.  It’s all through God’s foreknowledge.  The rest are hardened.  Yes, this is all true.  But these passages are not there to make us believe that God randomly or arbitrarily creates some people to be saved and others to be damned.  God sees all of time at one moment.  He is outside the realm of time and space.  So, before you are born He sees your life all at once.  He writes all of your days in His book before you have lived one (Psalm 139:16).  This kind of language simply tells us that God sees everything in all of eternity ahead of time. He doesn’t figure it out later.  He isn’t surprised when you make a choice to believe one day.  But He does not force anyone into believing.  That’s the difference.  Just because God knows that you will freely choose Him one day doesn’t mean that He forces you to choose Him.  God is love and love doesn’t manipulate.  God wants us to freely choose to love Him.

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” (Matt. 23:37)

He looks up the corridor of time and in His foreknowledge knows that you will freely choose Him and because He knows that in advance He already calls you elect and chosen.  He didn’t force you to choose Him.  There is no favoritism with God, so He doesn’t give you a special path or inclination to choose Him and not do the same for every other human being.

What shall we conclude then? Do we have any advantage? Not at all! For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin.(Romans 3:9)

In 1 Peter 1: 1, 2 we hear about God’s “foreknowledge”.  Those that are saved are chosen according to God’s foreknowledge.

To God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood

Let’s look at how Vine’s Expository Dictionary defines the word “Foreknowledge”:

“a foreknowledge” (akin to A.), is used only of Divine “foreknowledge,”  Acts 2:23 ;  1 Peter 1:2 . “Foreknowledge” is one aspect of omniscience; it is implied in God’s warnings, promises and predictions. See  Acts 15:18 . God’s “foreknowledge” involves His electing grace, but this does not preclude human will. He “foreknows” the exercise of faith which brings salvation. (www.studylight.org)

In other words, God’s foreknowledge indeed speaks of God electing and predestining certain people to be saved, but His choice of who will be saved involves human decision to believe.  God chooses us but in order for us to be chosen we must freely choose Him as well.  A good example of Jesus’ foreknowledge is in John 6:64: “Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him.

Some of us may seemingly be at a disadvantage in coming to God because of where we live or the pagan religion we grew up in or who our parents are or a medical condition we have or because we are poor and don’t have access to a Bible.  Those are real disadvantages.  But in many cases, they turn out to be advantages.  Many people that are handicapped or poor or sick or oppressed are the very type of people that know they need a Savior and will cry out to God.  God is smarted than us all!

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.  But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are,  so that no one may boast before him. (1 Cor. 1:26-29)

Another chapter used by those that believe God arbitrarily chooses some people for heaven and some people for hell is Romans 9.  Yes, at first glance Paul seems to be telling us that God does indeed choose certain people to be good and certain people to be evil.  It is definitely focused on God’s sovereignty.  But let’s not forget that we can never separate God’s sovereignty from man’s responsibility.  God is sovereign and He initiates, but man has free will and must respond.  God chooses us AND we choose Him.  You can’t take one of those truths away.  We are made in God’s image so we have free will like He does and we are created to freely love or freely hate, freely accept or freely reject.  Just look at the marriage covenant.  Which, by the way, God uses as a picture of Christ and the church (Eph. 5:32).  The two people freely choose one another. The man initiates, but the woman can reject or accept his marriage proposal.  This is the same concept when it comes to God’s covenant of salvation to human beings.  One initiates but the other rejects or accepts the invitation.

So, let’s look at the amazing truths here in Romans 9.  Paul is in anguish.  The Israelites, his countrymen, were God’s chosen people who God invited to be His through covenant promise.  But they stumbled over the truth of the Gospel (Rom. 9:30-32).  But let’s not misunderstand. Yes, God called Israel His people but ultimately He wasn’t talking about a physical nation of people but a group of people that would believe His message.  God’s promise was only for those who had faith in Him, whether Jew or Gentile.  Jacob represents those people of promise that will have faith and Esau represents those that will persist in unbelief.  God chose Jacob to be the firstborn.  God has the right to choose some people to be firstborn, last born, born into a rich family, born into a poor family, of large stature or small stature.  He’s sovereign.  He makes the rules.  He orchestrated things, not us.  On the other hand, we all have free will in how we live.  He didn’t force Esau to later reject his birthright.  Just because God elected Jacob and rejected Esau before either had done anything good or bad doesn’t mean that as was stated earlier that God didn’t know what kind of person each would be.  In fact, Hebrews 12:16-17 tells us that Esau made the evil choices and couldn’t repent because of what he had done.  God certainly knew the kind of person Esau would choose to be so He chose Jacob over him, knowing that Jacob would respond to God’s mercy.  God called Pharaoh for His own purposes also.  But that doesn’t mean Pharaoh didn’t have a choice to let God’s people go. Whatever call we have or whatever situation we find ourselves in it is a test to see how we will respond.  We can choose to serve God or serve ourselves.  Yes, God has mercy on whomever He wants.  But He tells us that He wants to have mercy on everyone!

 

For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all. (Romans 11:32).

 

The Lord is good to all; He has mercy on all he has made. (Psalm 145:9)

 

He decides who to harden, but He’s chosen to harden those who reject Him as we discussed earlier in Romans 1.  Yes, There are objects of wrath prepared for destruction, but the reason they are objects of wrath is because they refused to believe (John 3:36).  And yes, there are objects of mercy that God prepared beforehand for His glory, but the reason they are objects of mercy is because they believe the Gospel message,

 

As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:11-13)

 

In John 6:44 Jesus said, “”No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them.”  How does the Father determine who to give to Jesus? Jesus goes on to tell us that “It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me” (John 6:45).  In Romans 1 Paul tells us that what is evident of God is obvious.  If we respond to the light He has given us through creation and our conscience then we will desire to learn more about God and from God and He will give us special revelation of how to have a relationship with Him.  This is the Gospel message.  This is the good soil that receives the seed of the gospel because it is open to hearing it and then learning from the Father (understanding it) and then coming to Christ and bearing fruit for Him.  Yes, they can’t come unless the Father draws them.  We can’t reach God without His grace.  The Law came through Moses but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  Being drawn by the Father speaks of His free gift of grace. Without God’s grace being available to access we would never be able to come to Jesus.  How is God’s grace accessed? Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand (Romans 5:1-2).  Grace is accessed through faith.  But again, we couldn’t even have faith or be able to believe unless God gave us free will.  We have free will, but that is something God gave to us.  For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not? 91 Cor. 4:7).  Everything we have that is good comes from God.  So we can never take credit, all we can do is be thankful and receive His free gift.  If Abraham was saved by works he would have something to boast about.  But not before God!  He believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.  He wasn’t forced to believe no coerced.  God initiated a covenant with him and he accepted it. He agreed to do his part which is simply to believe and obey.  And every human being has also been offered a covenant by God.  He initiated it.  He draws us in.  His grace is available to us all.  Where sin abounds grace abounds all the more.  The question is – will we accept the free gift of His grace and entering into covenant with Him?  What is our part?

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. 11 As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” (Romans 10:9-11)

New Wine Requires New Wineskins

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33 They said to him, “John’s disciples often fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours go on eating and drinking.”

34 Jesus answered, “Can you make the friends of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? 35 But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; in those days they will fast.”

36 He told them this parable: “No one tears a piece out of a new garment to patch an old one. Otherwise, they will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old.

37 And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. 38 No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. 39 And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, ‘The old is better.’” (Luke 5:33-38)

The Pharisees were stuck in the old and could not envision the new. Under the Law (the Old Covenant), you would bring a sacrificial animal to the priest so you would have a temporary covering or patching up of your sins. But you remained conscious of your sinfulness and knew you would have to bring another animal again in order to patch things up with God. That was the pattern. This would happen over and over and over again.

The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. 2 Otherwise, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. 3 But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins. 4 It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. (Heb. 10:1-3)

Jesus didn’t come to patch or cover something up. He didn’t come to fix the old, He came to bring in the new. He didn’t come to alter you or repair you, He came to totally transform you. The High Priest would come every year on the Day of Atonement to stand in the gap for us. But, Jesus is the eternal High Priest who brought eternal forgiveness, peace, and life to those who receive Him.

Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. 14 For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. (Heb. 10:11-14)

This parable speaks of how people resist the new. We don’t like to change. We get stuck in our old routine and habits. The Israelites were set free from their bondage in Egypt and yet while God was leading them in the wilderness towards a new, wonderful, promise land they wanted to go back to the old, even though it truly was bondage. So then, the disciples of John and the disciples of the Pharisees could not understand why Jesus did things differently than they did. Why the change? Why the new way? There is nothing wrong with fasting. Fasting is good. But they were asking the wrong question. Jesus wasn’t coming to approve of our practices and put His stamp of approval on our works or ways, He came to bring in a new order of things. Without His perfect and eternal sacrifice, there would be no new and living way.

Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. (Heb. 10:19-23)

The focus must not be on what works we can do to patch things up with God, it must be on the One who can make all things new. We can’t get right with God by our good works. The old wineskins speak then of how we attempted to get right with God through our own works (under the Law). The first covenant was good but we did not remain faithful to God. That is why there had to be new wineskins (a new covenant) and new wine (an actual filling of our vessels with the Holy Spirit). The guilt is with us. We were trying to pour new wine into old wineskins. We are trying to do it without Jesus! So God had mercy on us.

For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. 8 But God found fault with the people and said:

“The days are coming, declares the Lord,
when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
and with the people of Judah.
9 It will not be like the covenant
I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they did not remain faithful to my covenant,
and I turned away from them,
declares the Lord.
10 This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel
after that time, declares the Lord.
I will put my laws in their minds
and write them on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people. (Heb. 8:7-10).

So now, we are new wineskins (the very temples of God), filled with new wine (the very Spirit of God). And this was all done by the sacrifice of Jesus. This is how we can serve God acceptably and know that we are truly transformed!

You can’t put new wine into old wineskins!

Christmas Letter 2016

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Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

What would it be like to “never walk in darkness”? That would mean we could see everything clearly and never stumble in our lives. If you turn on a lamp there is nothing darkness can do to stop that light from shining. It shines IN the darkness and THROUGH the darkness. Darkness cannot overcome the light. On the other hand, there is only one thing can overcome the darkness and that is light. If you are in a dark room and turn on a lamp, you have just quenched the darkness. Light overcomes the darkness.

I think one of my favorite parts of Christmas is seeing all the beautiful lights hung on the trees and houses. Plug it in and turn it on, wow. Why is that? How can light touch our emotions like that? There is something that happens in our hearts when light shines out of darkness. That got me thinking. The Bible says that our hearts have darkness in them. Our natural inclination is to be selfish and want our own way. We are all sinners who need some light to quench our darkness. We need spiritual light to shine in the darkness of our hearts. We need it, so how do we get it? God took care of that. That’s what Christmas is all about.

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. (2 Cor. 4:6)

Well, “come on Paul”, you might say. “How can Christmas be about light in our hearts?” It is! Because Christmas is Jesus’ birthday. And when Jesus was born, Light came into the world, Light shined out of the darkness, Light overcame the darkness. I think God made Christmas lights that way. Rather, He made US that way. When the lights turn on we feel something that is not of this world, we feel something that words can’t express. That’s Jesus speaking to us. That’s Jesus getting our attention. What is He saying? “Follow Me. I know the way out of the darkness. I know the way to heal your pain. I know the way to set you free. Don’t look back, don’t go back to the darkness, just Follow Me. I know the way to forgiveness, the way to peace, the way to heaven.” After all, if Jesus knew the way from Heaven down to a manger then He certainly knows how to get back home. That’s what I mean by light. He knows the way back home! He can get YOU back home.

Have you ever been up in the mountains where everything is dark and misty? How did you get to your destination? One answer. Headlights. Bright lights. They showed the way. Without the lights you could never get home. Without Jesus, the Light of the World, you will never get through the darkness and never find your way back home to heaven.

Don’t believe me? No problem, no hurt feelings. Then just listen to what Jesus Himself said about such things:

Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.

Got it? Jesus is the Way. Jesus was born because we needed some light to shine into our darkness. If you follow Jesus you will find your way and you will leave the darkness in your rear view mirror.

In Him was life, and the life was the light of men…That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world (John 1:4, 9)

Count Your Blessing

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Oh, give thanks to the LORD!
Call upon His name;
Make known His deeds among the peoples!
2 Sing to Him, sing psalms to Him;
Talk of all His wondrous works!
3 Glory in His holy name;
Let the hearts of those rejoice who seek the LORD! (Psalm 105:1-3)

Are you thankful to God…I mean every day? Not just when things are going well or that there are no difficulties in your life…but every day.

You might be thinking, “How can I be thankful to God every day when there are some days I am sick or there is a struggle in my family or I have financial problems or there is so much chaos around the world?”

Let’s start with this then….everyday “Get down on your knees and thank God you’re still on your feet.”

Notice that the writer of Psalm 105 was David. He did not have an easy life. He wasn’t wealthy, he had a lot of enemies he was always running from, he was a shepherd – one of the lowliest positions there was. Often times he was lonely and hurting. But David didn’t sit around and complain…

He counted his blessing. I didn’t say blessings, I said blessing. You see, if you have God in your life, that is the only blessing you will ever need. God was enough for David. God was bigger than David’s pain, bigger than his problems, bigger than his loneliness. David didn’t have much money, he didn’t have fame, he didn’t have an easy life…but to David God was bigger than all of that. God was everything he needed.

“We tend to forget that happiness doesn’t come as a result of getting something we don’t have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have.” ~ Frederick Keonig

What do YOU have? Do you have God? Then you have everything. Because when we die we can’t take anything with us – our money, our car, our job, our house…that will all be left behind. Those are temporary blessings. The one blessing that is eternal is God Himself.

So, David says, “call upon His name.” Everyday, no matter what, pray to Him and thank Him. Let everyone around you know that the reason you can be so calm and joyful in every circumstance is because God is so good to you. Sing to Him. Talk about all the good things He has done in your life. Think about Him. Everyday, count your blessing. God will never leave you. Others might. God will never hurt you. Others might. He is always there, ready to answer your prayer, ready to comfort you, ready to break into your day.

Are you waiting to be happy someday when you get the perfect job or perfect wife or husband or perfect car or perfect house or have perfect health? You will never be happy. God is the only One who can satisfy, the only One who can fill that hole in your heart. God is the only One we can constantly thank no matter what because He created us and He loves us unconditionally.

Seeking God, living for God, and Thanking God – that is true happiness.

Count your blessing!