Count it All Joy…

The book of James, Chapter 1:2-4 says “My brothers, count it all joy when you fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith works patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that you may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.

What in the world is James talking about? This doesn’t sound like something human nature is even capable of. No one enjoys going through adversity. It is not an idea that makes sense. Even Jesus, on the night He was betrayed, prayed that the coming adversity would pass from Him.

But He eventually submitted His own desire to the plan of God. How did He do this? Some of you will say, well He was God. That is true, but He laid down His position in Heaven and came to earth as a baby, just like us. He was tempted in all thing like we are. How could He represent the human race if He did not experience our sufferings and temptations? He had to be made like us and experience what we experience.

Let’s start with the premise that God does not tell us to do something that we can’t do. He is not unjust. If you read the Old Testament, you will come across His instructions to “Be holy as I am holy.” Leviticus 19:2. I have lately been re-reading parts of the Old Testament and I am struck by the similar instructions given to Old Testament saints who did not have the benefit of the indwelling Holy Spirit as we have in the New Covenant. I see God saying the same thing time after time to them as He does to us who live on this side of the cross. How can one say, “Be holy as I am holy” to those without the Spirit of God?

Because everything is BY FAITH. Abraham was justified BY FAITH. Hebrews 11:33-38 talks about a group of people “Who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, waxed mighty in war, turned to flight armies of aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection. And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yes, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented;…”

God is not unjust nor unfair. We can do as He has asked us to do. We can’t do it without Him, though. In ourselves, we cannot “Be holy, as I am holy.” We must have Him. But we can do what He wants us to do.

God’s divine power “has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that has called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given to us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these you might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.2 Peter 1:3-4 

Stories of the Old Testament saints who did great things for God are cause for encouragement. Look at Noah. By faith, he built the ark. For 100 years, he was building while the rest of the population most likely mocked him as the earth had not seen rain before. Abraham left his homeland by faith and did not know where he was going. Sarah by faith conceived a child according to God’s promise even though she was very old. Look at Moses, challenging the ruling powers of the day to set his people free. Look at Joseph, unfairly cast out by his brothers and then taken into slavery and eventually prison in a strange country. In the end, he was made a ruler and saved his people from starvation. Look at Jeremiah, a prophet obedient to God, but disliked by his own people who tried to kill him. Do we experience adversity like this? Yes, some do.

There is great persecution of saints in other countries, persecution we have not experienced here in America. But what will we do if it comes to our shores? Some are already experiencing great trials from the court system. Bakers are being sued and fined large sums of money because they won’t participate in ungodly ceremonies. Parents are seeing their children ripped away from them because they will not bow to the LGBTQ agenda. There are more.

I believe we must change our perspective on trials and difficulties. Joy is not a normal reaction to adversity. It must be a supernatural one with an eye to the future. Sometimes I whine during trials. Sometimes I get mad. Perhaps instead of calling them trials, we should call them opportunities. Do we WANT to let the trying of our faith work patience? Will we let patience have her perfect work, that we may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing? Do we want these things? Do we really TRUST the infinite God who knows all things and who loves us? Do we trust that He really loves us? Are we interested in advancing the Kingdom of God in this world?

The bible says in Hebrews 12:1-2  “Therefore seeing we also are surrounded with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which does so easily ensnare us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith; WHO FOR THE JOY THAT WAS SET BEFORE HIM endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (emphasis mine)

What was the joy set before Him? I believe the Holy Spirit reminded Him of the promises and showed Him the future…all the people throughout the coming ages who would be saved, who would escape the hell that the devil had unleashed upon the whole world. If your family was at risk, wouldn’t you die to save them? Your children?

That is where our attention must lie when we are faced with trials. We must see the future. Even if the future is “that I may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” Even if the promise is “that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in me.” Romans 8:18. The Scriptures give me great hope when I go through things. My trials are small compared to what some people experience. I find that my mind is being renewed to think like God thinks and I am learning discipline, endurance, patience, perseverance. Am I committed to God’s purposes in my life no matter where it may lead me? That is a question I believe we must all ask ourselves.

Hebrews 12:3 says “Consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.…”

Yes, Friends, God is good. He is very, very good.

Prayer: Thank You, Jesus, for Your great sacrifice and promise that we can obtain Your nature. Help us to submit and to know You better during the trials of life. I surrender to Your design for my life today.

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Loving the Invisible God

“To know, know, know him, is to love, love, love him…” Remember that old song? It’s a 1958 single by the Teddy Bears. It wasn’t written about God, but I like to use it about God.

We humans are very tied to our natural world, what we can see, touch, smell and hear. We very much depend on the concrete things in life. Invisible things are too intangible for most humans. The debate about the existence of God has been going on since the beginning of time, and it continues to this day. Many cannot fathom an invisible God they cannot see, touch, smell and hear, a God outside of their natural senses.

So just how do we go about knowing and loving an invisible God? Well, He did leave us a Book about Himself. That Book is the Bible. If you say you don’t believe or trust the Bible, I’m not sure what’s left, except that you could still have a personal encounter with Him. The Bible is the history of God. I challenge anyone who says they don’t believe the Bible to actually read the whole thing through, read all the prophecies that came to pass hundreds of years after they were uttered, and then say the Bible can’t be true. The Bible actually confirms itself, by recording prophecies uttered by men of faith that were eventually seen coming to pass in the natural world. These fulfilled prophecies were also recorded.

I, and many other believers, can tell you plenty of stories about our own encounters with God, such as the time I prayed for green peppers, a fan, and a depiction of a panda eating bamboo to create a sweatshirt for my niece. Those were three quickly answered prayers that my Father did for me. The panda story is especially poignant and made me cry, because the whole incident was proof of an invisible God who cares about every little thing about us. I cried because it was proof of His love for my little niece and His care about what she desired.

For Christmas one year, my 9 or 10 year old niece requested a sweatshirt with a panda eating bamboo on it. She was very specific, which I knew would make my task more difficult. The morning I left home to travel one hour to shop, I asked God to help make my quest profitable, as my time was limited. I assumed I would visit fabric shops and (keeping my fingers crossed), maybe, possibly encounter some fabric with pandas on it, even though I could not recall ever seeing one before. I went to the first shop, which happened to be a place where I had taught classes; I knew the people there. I asked about fabric with pandas on it. No one thought there was any in the shop. However, a worker pointed out a sample quilt hanging in the shop that had embroidered animals on it. Guess what? There was a panda eating bamboo on it! I inquired about who had made the quilt. Turns out, a friend of mine had made it. Easy peasy. I contacted her, asked if she would make me an embroidered patch of the panda eating bamboo and I would pay her. She agreed and promptly made it. I only had to order the sweatshirt, get the patch and sew it to the front of Katelyn’s shirt in time for Christmas. That is how God works.

Another story: At the end of “fan” season, one summer, the little fan in my room went ka-put. Bad time to have a fan go out. I use a fan year round in my room at night to block outdoor noises. I asked God for a fan, knowing it might be tough finding one because summer was over. We visited a different Walmart than we usually do one day,  and I began to search for a fan. I happened to look down an aisle that looked like it might not be the one, but I turned and went that way anyway. There were two fans, just two, and I got one. Without stressing. That’s the beauty of it. Just tell Him what you need and go on living…He can get it to you. God is for us!

I have lots of personal stories like that in my almost 35 years of walking with God. He is REAL! He is personal. YOU can know Him! He loves to prove Himself to you.

“To know, know, know Him is to love, love, love Him…and I do.”

Let’s pray: Dear Jesus, I want to know You like that. I want to experience You in my life. I want to see You prove Yourself. I accept Your sacrifice of Jesus as payment for my sins and I now wish to walk in Your light. I want to have fellowship with You and get to know You better.

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Who was Rahab?

I have been writing a lot here lately about the righteousness imputed to us by God and His generous grace. Something came up recently in a conversation about Rahab and I had to go and re-read her story. Her life is a great example of the great forgiveness and redemption plan of our God.

Rahab was a harlot in Jericho. Jericho was the first city conquered by the Israelites when they came out of the wilderness and began to inherit the Promised Land. It was the first battle in that land of the second generation Israelites who were the children of the group that came out of Egypt, the group that grumbled and complained against God, the group that committed idolatry and lusted. Many of that group died, not receiving God’s promises. Let us not be like them.

When two Israelite spies showed up in Jericho, sent by Joshua, the new leader after Moses died, Rahab the harlot sheltered them. She hid them from the authorities who came looking for them. She lied for them and helped them escape. Why did she do this for strangers? Because she had heard of the Israelites, and she knew that their God was real and that He was with them. She had faith. She told those two spies that everyone in Jericho was deathly afraid of the Israelites. She knew the city of Jericho was in trouble and she asked the spies to have regard for her and save her family from destruction, which they granted. Her house was on the wall around Jericho and the spies told her to make sure she had a red rope tied in the window. This is a picture similar to the Israelites posting blood on their door posts when the last plague swept over Egypt. It was a symbol of their reliance on the blood of the Lamb (Jesus), for their protection. The spies promised her all would be well as long as her whole family was in her house and that red rope was seen in her window. She and they would be safe.

Rahab and her family were saved in Jericho and she went on to marry an Israelite man and become the mother of Salmon, who was the father of Boaz, who married Ruth, the Moabitess (another outsider grafted into Israel) and eventually wind up as an ancestor to Jesus Christ, God’s Son. What an awesome picture of grace and redemption, that a heathen girl in a heathen city marked for destruction was brought into the lineage of Jesus. It just goes to show that God is no respecter of persons indeed! Ruth the Moabitess, also was grafted into the lineage of Jesus, by her allegiance to Naomi after the loss of her husband, who was Naomi’s son. Moab was the lowest of the low as far as sinfulness was concerned.

Rahab is also mentioned in the “Hall of Faith” chapter, Hebrews 11. God loves us, folks! He takes the lowliest of people and lifts them up to become something they never dreamed of becoming. Rahab did not miss her opportunity to become more than she was.

May we never forget God’s heart for the lowly and outcast of our society. Jesus touched and healed lepers, who were outcasts. He allowed a harlot to anoint His feet with an expensive perfume that took a year’s wages to purchase. Where she came up with that amount of money is beyond me. Would you save a year’s wages? And if you did, would you spend it all on a perfume and then spill that perfume over a man? It was an extravagant action.

But that harlot was in love with the Man who had forgiven her of her sins and brought her into right relationship with God. Jesus said this about her, that he who is forgiven much, loves much. Have you been forgiven much? If so, do you love much? One can’t help but love much when they fully realize what they have been forgiven for and saved from, and the fact that God let His Son die a cruel death on the cross so that WE could be saved and set free from the devil’s dominion. What a Savior we have! What amazing grace!

“…Jesus….who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2. The joy set before Him was OUR FREEDOM!

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Sin Consciousness

As humans, we find it so easy to find fault with other people. We are always, in our own presumptive minds, and thinking ourselves so wise, able to see what THEY need to change, but ourselves….well, not so much. You may not be guilty of this, but I certainly am.

After my “come to Jesus” moment,  I remember a time of being so overwhelmed with my own sinfulness, that I came to realize something. When I am looking at other people’s sins all the time, I never see my own! But when God shows me MY sin, I am consumed…I am undone. I can no longer see my neighbor’s sins. Somehow they just fade away….they are no longer important as I mourn for my own ugliness before God.

As long as we are focused on what is wrong with the other guy, we cannot see ourselves, nor can we change. I have witnessed those who cry and cry over their sin, get up and do it again…then blame it on their wife. This person cannot get well because he cannot ever see himself and what is wrong with him. And so, the sin of Adam as he blamed the helpmeet that God had given him perpetuates.

It recently occurred to me that sin consciousness is displayed not only in my own life if I dwell on what is wrong with me, rather than what God says about me, but it also manifests in being critical of others about their faults. It is still sin consciousness, but just about others’ sins! It’s still wrong!

We do an injustice to Jesus and His all-cleansing sacrifice if we do not come to a place of FAITH in what He did for us. He lifted us out of sin, erased it forever and cleansed us from it, so that we could become new creations and walk in newness of life. We do injustice to Him when we continue to condemn ourselves and others, thereby keeping ourselves in the domain of darkness and refusing the joy He died to give us. The bible says saved people have the mind of Christ, (I Cor. 2:16) but often we don’t display this.

In my own life, when I still struggled with sin habits, I found that if I meditated and prayed scriptures out loud about the goodness of God, the righteousness He had given to me and the benefits of salvation, that in time, those habits and sins that so easily beset me, began to fall away. They didn’t fall off while I concentrated on them, and condemned myself every week at church. They fell off when I spoke the word of God about who I now was because of His great love and sacrifice. It changed my thinking. THAT, my friends is victory! He lifted us up out of lies and condemnation. We don’t have to stay there!

Sometimes, when my heart has struggled with a bad attitude about someone, I simply said, God, I know your desire is that I love this person, so I CHOOSE to do that. And my heart would change. The Holy Spirit did that when I surrendered to His desires. I am really not able to change my heart or my feelings on my own. The Holy Spirit lives in me and when I make that decision, when I admit I am wrong or I need to change, He does the rest! But if we refuse to renounce the attitude or make excuses, like saying “I can’t help feeling like this,” we are trapped there. We cannot change.

The good news is, with God, you never really fail the tests of life. You just get to keep taking them over again until you pass! And I’m praying you all will pass!!! As we actually take on and display the image of God, our lives just get better and better! We have more peace, more joy, more contentment, no matter what is going on our lives. It is truly Heaven on earth!

Pray this with me: Dear Jesus, I want to experience everything you died to give me. Give me eyes to see You in all things in life. I will study Your word to get to know who You are. Thank You for Your great love for me.

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But I still sin!

If your sin bothers you, you have come to the right place! The true believer is grieved by their sin, and looking for a way out!

In some Christian circles, it is still fashionable to say, “I’m just a sinner, saved by grace.” Personally, I think that may just be a religious statement meant to sound humble. Sounds good, but is it true?

If you are truly the saved, I maintain it is not true. It was true maybe at one time, but if you are now the righteousness of God in Christ, how can it still be true? We are no longer sin-ners. Do we sin? Yes, we do, but we are not sin-ners. What that means is, we no longer PRACTICE sin. At least, that’s what the word of God says. Will you argue with that? The bible says we are the righteousness of God  in Christ. 2 Cor. 5:21 “For He has made Him, who knew no sin, to be sin for us; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.”

Let’s break it down a little. The righteous (if you are truly saved) are no longer looking to find a way to sin. In fact, the righteous are looking to find a way OUT of sin. The righteous no longer WANT to sin. They stay as far away from sinning as they can! They struggle against sin. They cry about it. It upsets the righteous when they sin. That’s because they love God and want to please Him. There is a Holy Spirit on the inside of them who lovingly convicts them when they sin. They can’t be happy about sinning!

Unsaved people don’t behave that way. Some are looking to do more evil. That is the difference. Which one are you? Does your sin grieve you? That’s a good thing if it does. If it doesn’t grieve you, you should pray.

“For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins.” Hebrews 10:4 “But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God…For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.” Hebrews 10:12-14.

That last part is perhaps one of the most hope-filled passages in the bible. That’s Jesus!

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How does God present me faultless?

A scripture that always befuddled me several years ago was Jude 1:24. “Now unto Him who is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy,..”  I had so much sin consciousness then. How was it possible for God to present me faultless? I am not without fault. I sin…sometimes a lot. I’m not talking about smoking, or drinking or cussing. I’m talking about attitude sins, how I treat others. I miss the mark all the time. How is it possible for God to present me faultless?

Because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is how. Because I have faith in His sacrifice that washed my sins away and made me a new creation, God treats me as if I have never sinned. That’s great news! Hebrews 10:14 is stated a bit differently in different translations, but essentially says this… “For by one offering He has perfected forever them that are sanctified” or those that are “being sanctified.” Our acceptance of His death on the cross means we are “perfected forever” just as this scripture says. This is a positional perfection, meaning God treats us as if we never sinned. Hebrews 12:23 speaks of “the spirits of just men made perfect.” We who are saved are in that number.

It’s grace, pure grace. The Holy Spirit inside of me lets me know when He is displeased with something I have done, but I still belong to God. He still loves me and does not cast me aside. I know there are times the Holy Spirit has been pretty upset with me, and I’m upset with me too!! Righteousness, perfection, faultless…all is available on the basis of grace alone. I didn’t do anything to earn it. I can’t possibly be good enough to earn it.

I love something I heard Pastor Joseph Prince say a few weeks ago. He is a wonderful teacher on grace. He said, “You can’t lose your salvation, because you didn’t do anything to get it.” What an amazing statement! But it’s true.

So now when I read Jude 1:24, I say thank You Jesus, You are able to present me faultless! What a blessing! I, who am not really faultless…I stand on what He did for me, nothing else. And God counts me as perfect, based on the one offering that Jesus made. He has forever perfected me.

We are to “work out our salvation in fear and trembling” (not fear, as in scared, but as in reverence and sobriety). We are in school, the school of the Holy Spirit. Our spirits have been made perfect in salvation; now we are to learn to listen to the Holy Spirit and to follow Him into the destiny that God has planned for us from the foundation of the world. We are under God’s grace…it’s like an eternal second chance! When you mess up, you always get a do-over!

Dear Jesus, You are the God of second chances…and third…and fourth, and so on. Thank you for Your great sacrifice made to lift me out of a life of sin. I want to be worthy of that great love. I love You and adore You.


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Knowing God’s Ways

The first generation of Israelites who came out of Egypt were familiar with God’s acts. He did miraculous signs among them. When Moses was pleading with Pharaoh to let them go from Egypt, they saw 10 different plagues come on  Egypt. Water turned into blood, the land was covered with frogs, then gnats; livestock died, boils showed up on the people, an unusual hailstorm destroyed the food, locusts covered the land, an unusual darkness came and finally, the firstborn of the Egyptians died, while Israel’s was spared. Many of these could be attributed to natural disasters, rather than God’s power, but they were the ways that God dealt with Pharaoh for his rebellion. Read Exodus 7-10.

The miracles of God were seen at the parting of the Red Sea for the Israelites to cross over on DRY GROUND, while the Egyptians were destroyed when they tried to do it. Ex. 14. Three days in, they came to a place in the wilderness where the water they found was bitter. Ex. 15. Moses threw a log into it and it became sweet. In Exodus 17, there was no water, and God provided it from a rock. Realize we are talking about satisfying the thirst of a few million people!

Hebrews 3:10, quoting Psalm 95:10, says that the Israelites did not know His ways. They knew His acts, they were used to the supernatural, but they did not know His ways. They continued to grumble and complain and commit other sins. Their hearts did not change! I Corinthians 10:1 says God was not pleased with most of them and they were struck down in the wilderness.

God’s acts are wonderful indeed to see and experience. He fed them from heaven. Every day, manna fell from the sky and they gathered it up and ate.  We are talking about a major amount of food and water here. There were 3 million people in their number. Their clothes and shoes didn’t wear out. The people came to rely on supernatural acts to save them from certain disaster.

When they came to Mt. Sinai and Moses went up the mountain to receive the law on stone tablets, the people were so afraid of the noise coming from the mountain that they asked Moses to hear God for them. They didn’t want to deal with Him themselves. (The priesthood mentality was born.) God intended for all of them to  have relationship with Him, but they didn’t want to do that. Are we like that?

What does it mean to know His ways? I believe it means to have such a love relationship with God, that you would never want to do anything to offend Him. As we come to know Him, we change into His image. He is a holy God. Changing is not only for our benefit, to keep us from evil and keep us safe, but also to display to the world that there really IS a God! And He is good! Knowing God’s ways means knowing and developing His attributes, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness. I Cor. 14. He IS all of these things. We are to partake of His actual character. It is possible. 2 Peter chapter 1 says “His divine power has given us all things pertaining to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him,” and that by the exceedingly great and precious promises, we might be partakers of the divine nature having escaped the evil that is in the world through lust.

God was not pleased with most of that first generation of the Israelites. They lusted, they complained, they were idolaters, and they committed immorality. Their faith did not grow. And they suffered the consequences. Their bodies fell in the wilderness. Do we lust? Do we complain? Do we commit immorality? Are we idolaters? If the answer to any of these is yes, do we think we can escape the consequences? We shouldn’t, because “these things happened to them as an example FOR US on whom the end of the ages have come.” I Corinthians 10:6-11. It is important to know His ways in THIS life! God doesn’t grumble or complain. He is always positive.

Even though His acts convey His love, for many of the Israelites, they were unable to see it. It did not touch their hearts and so they died prematurely. I have been known to sit and cry when I hear testimonies of people being healed of incredible life-destroying diseases and disabilities. That’s because I am so greatly touched by that manifestation of God’s great love for people. It’s personal! Let’s be sure we recognize His love for us and respond accordingly, looking to walk always in His ways. Let us TRUST that insanely great love He has for us. That love let His own Son Jesus die a very cruel death on a cross to pay for ALL of our sins, forever. No one else has ever done that.

Pray: Oh God, our finite minds have trouble grasping the eternal, wonderfully immense love that You have for us. Enlarge our understanding through prayer and reading Your Word. Teach us to wait and watch for your intervention in our lives each day, to comprehend and celebrate everything that You do for us. Deliver us from every attitude that displeases You. We want to live our lives in Your kingdom and bring You glory.

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