Redeemed from Death

“I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death. O Death, I will be your plagues! O Grave, I will be your destruction! (Hosea 13:14)

This gem comes in the middle of a chapter speaking of the judgment coming on the nation of Israel.  Like an adulterous wife, the northern kingdom of Israel had turned her back on her husband (God) and sought many lovers (other gods).  Hard hearted and rebellious, the nation was heading straight into a disaster of their own making.

In the middle of all of God’s warnings, God continues to hint at His love for Israel with words like “ransom” and “redeem”.  God speaks of a future when He would conquer the power of the grave and death. Paul takes this verse and explains the ancient prophecy as being fulfilled when Jesus redeemed us by dying on a cross for our sins.  Paul goes on to say that when Jesus rose from the dead (1Cor. 15:55), He conquered death and hell.

Isn’t it amazing that God would offer these words of grace and hope to a people whose hearts were cold and hard?  That’s just who our God is.  Even while we were sinners, Christ died for us.  Are you struggling with guilt and condemnation from the sin in your life?  Turn to Him.  He is ready to forgive.  He is ready to give hope.

The Smart Thing

Those who are wise shall shine Like the brightness of the firmament, And those who turn many to righteousness Like the stars forever and ever. (Daniel 12:3)

At the end of his book, the prophet Daniel is describing the condition of those raised from the dead to eternal life.  In contrast to the unrighteous who will be raised to an eternal future of shame and contempt, the righteous will receive resurrected bodies, described in such “glowing” terms as “brightness” and “stars”.

The language Daniel uses follows the rules of Hebrew poetry, with parallel lines describing parallel thoughts.  In applying these rules, “brightness” is equivalent to “stars”, just as “wise” is equivalent to “those who turn many to righteousness”.

Did you know it’s a wise thing to be a positive influence on others?  Sometimes we would rather not speak up or risk causing conflict. Yet wisdom says we should say something.  Solomon said, “he who wins souls is wise.” (Proverbs 11:30)

You don’t have to be obnoxious when you share your faith. We need wisdom and grace when we talk about Jesus.  We are called to be salt and light in this dark world.  Give them a glimpse of Jesus in you. Help them find the One with the answers they need. His name is Jesus.  It’s the smart thing to do.

From One End to the Other

“But when the people of the land come before the Lord on the appointed feast days, whoever enters by way of the north gate to worship shall go out by way of the south gate; and whoever enters by way of the south gate shall go out by way of the north gate. He shall not return by way of the gate through which he came, but shall go out through the opposite gate. (Ezekiel 46:9)

Ezekiel wrote of a day in our future when there would once again be a Jewish Temple in Jerusalem.  Ezekiel goes into great detail as to the dimensions of the temple and the conduct of the priests. When Ezekiel mentions the practice of the common folk, he makes the point that the people were to enter the temple on one side and exit on the opposite side.  Worshippers didn’t just stick a foot into the temple courtyard and turn around.  They were to work their way from one end to another.

God doesn’t want you and me to be shallow believers who just dabble a little here and a little there when it comes to the things of God.  God wants us to fully experience all that He has for us.  He wants you to be fully immersed in His presence.  He wants you to learn the full counsel of God, the sweet as well as the difficult, and not just dabble in your favorite Bible verses.

From one end to the other.  The whole enchilada. No picking and choosing what you’ll believe, but believing the whole thing.

Over Under Sideways Down

This week’s Pastor to Person was written by Dan Looney.

Over Under Sideways Down is a song from the late 60’s that has been on my radar lately. This song is about worldly distractions and life’s choices. In this song, the singer is expressing distress and depression with it all.

I recently found myself in a similar place. My problem was not over under sideways or down…but with the “right” versus “left”. Last year, I became captivated with the election. The excitement was great in the beginning, but with all the social unrest, violence and unhappiness being expressed, I was becoming depressed and worried. The right versus left, liberal versus conservative…It was taking a toll on my happiness.

Seeking wise counsel is a tool all Christians need to use.  My wise counsel directed me to Philippians 4:8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 

Don’t worry about over under right or left. UP is our direction. Put your eyes on Jesus and the things of this world will fade.

Truth, Love and Dare?

This weeks Pastor to Person was written by Daniel Grant.

Be careful beloved, don’t receive and believe everything you hear. The second Epistle of John is a short, but sweet reminder of two very important things: “walk in the truth” and “love one another”. Be careful that you are, “persevering in” and “walking in” the truth. It is the truth that will guide us in bearing much fruit. These two things sound so easy and so simple, walk in the truth and love people, they are both very important and yet can be so very difficult!

Let’s be honest, loving people can be difficult and messy and downright hard work, but we are called and reminded to do it over and over again.  John is reminding the church and us, of this critical part of our DNA as Christians, that we are to be the ones who lavishly love.  John gives us two instructions concerning the truth. Walk in the truth AND be careful that you are NOT deceived.  Walking in the truth means saying hard things (lovingly), and being careful to receive and give Biblical counsel.  The warning is to walk in such a way as to NOT be deceived! Also, be very cautious of people that intentionally deceive.  Don’t be fooled, and refuse to partake in ANY falsehood.  Continue to love those that deceive, but be on your guard!  I dare you to practice those things!  May your joy in the Lord be beautifully FULL!!

The Teacher

But the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him. (1 John 2:27)

Beloved, when you opened your heart to Jesus Christ, God came to dwell inside of you through the person of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is that “anointing” that teaches us.

The Bible says that there is a place for “teachers” in the church (Eph. 4:11), and we are to “teach one another” (Col. 3:16), but don’t forget that God wants to and is able to teach you all by Himself.

Often God chooses to teach us through our personal reading and study of the Bible. The Scriptures are God’s main tool to help us grow (2Ti. 3:16-17).  The Holy Spirit helps us to understand God’s Word in a way an unbeliever is unequipped for (1Cor. 2:14).

Sometimes God teaches us throughout the day, as the Holy Spirit brings certain Scriptures to mind.  Jesus said the Spirit would “remind” us of what He has already taught us (John 14:26).

Sometimes the Holy Spirit will put a “check” in our hearts when we hear someone teaching something that seems a little bit off.  Pay attention to those “checks” and dig into the Word to see for yourself.

Let God teach you.

Healthy Response

What do you do when you feel threatened, questioned, or challenged as a believer?  Peter tells us, But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; (1 Peter 3:15).  Peter’s response deals with three issues.

First, who is most important to you?  Are you concerned about what the other person might think?  Is their threatening tone or hard questions distracting you from the fact that Jesus ought to be Lord over your heart? Your response should start with a check of your heart. Make sure the One you’re aiming to please is Jesus, not the other person.

Second, speak up.  Be ready to share why you are a believer.  If you haven’t thought about it lately, it’s not a bad exercise to conduct.  There are intelligent reasons for being a Christian.  Despite what you read in the press, being a Christian doesn’t mean you’re an idiot.

Third, watch your attitude.  Some folks love to debate.  In fact, they enjoy devouring anyone who crosses their path.  The problem with an unloving attitude is that while you may win the battle of the argument, you will lose the war over the heart.  Responding with “meekness and fear” speaks of respect for the other person. Respond in love, not anger. Are you ready?

Sacrifice of Praise

Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. (Hebrews 13:15)

A sacrifice is a gift we bring to God. As Christians, one of the greatest gifts we can give God is our praise.  Our praise might be with words expressing thanks.  When we add music to the mix, we sometimes call this “worship”.  As a worship leader, I often notice that some folks are regularly late to church, some even arriving after the music is over.  Is that because they have nothing to “give” to God?  Some might think the music only serves the purpose of entertaining or “warming up” congregation for the message. It’s not a performance friends. Our music is meant to be a gift of love to our great king, presented by all gathered believers.  Our songs of love, devotion, and dedication are intended to help us give our hearts to God.

A sacrifice also involves a cost. If it were easy to give this gift, it wouldn’t be called a “sacrifice”. One of the hardest times to give God praise is when we’re struggling the most.  Yet it’s this act of faith that is most precious to God.

Don’t skip the music beloved.  Come and participate whether you feel like it or not.  Help us present to God the sacrifice of praise. Help us give our great God the honor He is due.

Forever Priest

Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. (Hebrews 7:25)

A priest is a person who stands between God and man.  At times he will speak to people on behalf of God, and at times he will speak to God on behalf of people.  We call that latter part intercession.  While the Bible teaches that all believers are “priests”, we often look to older brothers (pastors) who will help us on our way in life.

One of the problems with priests is their lack of longevity.  Priests die. There may be a pastor in your life that you appreciate and look to from time to time, but that pastor is a simple human being just like you.  One day he will be gone.  Many of us looked to Pastor Chuck Smith for guidance, but a few years ago, Chuck passed away, and we can no longer lean on him. Some of you look to me for encouragement, but one day I too will be gone.

Jesus is a different kind of priest.  Jesus is a forever priest.  Even after He ascended to heaven, He never stopped being a priest. He is still at work praying for us. It’s good to have people in your life to help you along the way, but beloved, don’t neglect the One who will never leave you.  Be sure your dependence is upon Him.  He is always there for you.  He’s praying for you.

Love that Refreshes

For we have great joy and consolation in your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed by you, brother. (Philemon 7)

As Paul thought about his buddy Philemon from Colosse, he found himself grinning. What was it about Philemon that brought Paul joy?  It was Philemon’s love for others.  The Greek word translated “love” (agape – “a-GAH-pay”) is an unconditional love that is demonstrated by action.  It’s about making a choice to value another person and then doing something about it.

Philemon’s “love” was special to Paul because the hearts of those in Colosse were “refreshed” by him.  The word translated “hearts” has to do with the seat of a person’s emotions. The word translated “refreshed” speaks of a person being allowed to pause from their labor and given a chance to recover and rest.

While we all have “needs”, there are some folks that are nothing but “needy”.  Even when their life is going relatively well, they focus only on themselves and how they can get the attention of others. They are a drain on the emotions of others.

Philemon didn’t drain others, he refreshed them.  He focused on encouraging others more than on his own needs. People were built up rather than depleted. Hanging out with Philemon was like being on an emotional “retreat”. May your love refresh those around you.