The world has been haunted by illusions ever since the serpent successfully tempted Eve in the garden. Appearances can be deceiving and often are. That first forbidden fruit did not deliver what was promised. Instead of fulfillment, it brought fear. God-likeness turned out to be a hoax. Liberation was a lie. Anyone who underestimates the salesmanship skills of Satan becomes deadly prey.
The deceiver made his way into a perfect environment and convinced a pair in paradise that they could do better. Isn’t that His way? The word of God informs us of the ways to live a blessed life, and the devil persuades people that they can improve on it. Whether it is economics, morality or priorities; he challenges the Lord’s principles. Much of our culture has swallowed the bait and bitten into the distortion.
“Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness…(Matthew 6:33).” Jesus spoke of a Father who knows our most basic needs and will provide them, and that disciples should order their lives accordingly. Do not pointlessly fret about physical necessities but seek the more eternal ones. Yet, we are taught from early childhood to prioritize differently. Satan has flipped the script, and the world has fallen right in line. It is, after all, his domain (1 John 5:19).
The ways of the world are incredibly appealing. They have an allure that is hard to resist. The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life generate an itch that they fail to scratch. They simply spread and infect other areas of our lives that will never be satisfied. Any fleshly contentment is only temporary. The word of God has warned us that there is but one way to a life that lasts (1 John 2:15-17). Misplaced pursuits are guaranteed to disappoint sooner or later.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart…(Matthew 22:36-37).” The devil, crafty fellow that he is, labels that as fanaticism. He does not mind if we play church on Sunday: just don’t get carried away with it. Monday through Saturday is his turf. Be sure to keep some distance between the sacred and the secular so that religion doesn’t influence the way we live or inform our decisions. God is okay as long as we keep Him in His place and don’t let Him out of the building.
The evidence is all around. The devil has done a masterful job of deception, and the fallout is clear to see. Violence plagues our culture. Immorality has virtually destroyed the home. The once-unthinkable has become common place. Sin parades through our streets. Our nation has joined the ranks of those who do not even know how to blush (Jeremiah 6:15). Our country needs Christians who behave like Christians now more than ever. Each of us has that opportunity and responsibility. Only one question remains: Will we?
The rumors were circulating, and He wanted to know what people were saying. What is the word on the street? Some speculated that He was the eccentric John the Baptist. After all, that fire-and-brimstone preacher had stirred up quite a ruckus. Then again, other folks pointed to a different prophet, maybe from long ago like Elijah or Jeremiah. There was plenty of chatter. There still is. There has never been a shortage of opinions about the self-proclaimed “Son of Man.” Most of them, both then and now, miss the mark.
Speculation had smothered revelation. The Father had made it clear to Peter. He got it straight from the source. This was no one less than the Christ, the Son of the living God. The old fisherman nailed it. All of the signs indicated that fact. A book full of prophecies had all pointed to the one born among the animals. Angels announced it before He was ever born. The shepherds knew what the scholars missed. This was the one they had been anticipating, and preconceptions blinded their eyes.
It is hard to imagine a more unlikely figure to figure it out. His background was in nets, boats and fish; hardly the scholastic credentials we might expect. He would stumble at times and waver at others. He was confident, but that was clearly misplaced. “I’ll never” turned into “I don’t know Him” at the challenge of a slave girl as he retreated into the darkness. Still, he had that critical information in his head, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” That was the foundation of a new culture, not Peter’s strength but the Lord’s true identity.
That would prove to be the foundation upon which He would build His special people, the church of Christ. It is His, bought and paid for by His extraordinarily pure and holy blood. It is not a secondary thought or a marginal issue. That is a human way of thinking built not on the rock but on popular opinion. Jesus loves His church and gave His life for Her (Ephesians 5:25). To minimize the significance of the church is to devalue the agony of the crucifixion and say it does not matter.
The day is coming in which the Son of God will present His church, not just any church, but His church holy and blameless. She will have no flaws or blemishes because she has been thoroughly washed and cleansed by the blood of the lamb. It will be an amazing day in which Christians will finally be home with their Father.
Jesus looked ahead that day as He talked with the apostles about the time when He would build His very special and unique church. There is no other. Peter understood how special the Lord was and still stumbled. The Son of God built His church anyway, and today we remember.
There can be no doubt that God wants to bless us. He immediately identified a deficiency in man and created woman. He placed them in paradise, and their disobedience cost them that ideal location. The Lord arranged to take care of that, as well. He foresaw every disastrous decision that His beloved creation would ever make and planned a solution for them all.
He summoned Abram from his home and family to an undesignated destination. With nothing more than a handful of promises, Abram went. The Creator promised to make this faithful man a great nation and name, to bless him and through him all the families of the earth would be blessed. It was an extraordinary plan that was unfolding through flawed humanity. It is an absolute certainty that almighty God has a great desire to bless us and has been working it out ever since the beginning.
The pilgrimage to blessings has taken the Lord’s people from flood to slavery, from unity to division, from obedience to rebellion, from lost to saved. Yet, in and through it all, the strategy of the Lord never failed. No human GPS could have ever anticipated the route through which He brought His people. He designed the journey with the destination predetermined. The Lord has total knowledge of what it is to be blessed and how to achieve it. We can be totally confident of that, even when we are totally befuddled about what’s going on. Rest assured; He isn’t.
The shared eternity of the Father and Son bear witness to the deep desire that God has to bless us. It tore apart the inseparable so that the curse of sin could be erased. God the Son stepped down from heaven to take on the burden of guilty humanity. An insurmountable debt was owed and He paid it, although He had no part in it. The innocent intentionally suffering for the guilty makes no earthly sense. Wrestling with that notion brings us in touch with the grace through which we are blessed.
We sing of His “Amazing Grace.” Without it, we would be eternally lost with no chance of redemption and reconciliation. That one astonishing characteristic of God makes His stockpile blessings possible. We blew our credentials to claim worthiness at the first sin. We can stake no claim of deserving what only the Lord can give. No, it is a gift of His grace from beginning to end. Just saying it has a sense of redundancy. His gift is a gift, so powerful is His desire to bless us.
We can be positively certain of it. Our Creator wants to bless us, is able to bless us and has told us how to be blessed. We have all of the information we need to have the life that only He can make possible, and it is a sure guide into a perfect eternity.
Saturday brings us to one of our nation’s most cherished days when we celebrate our independence. Flags will fly and grills will cook as we share a time of remembrance with family and friends. America shed the shackles that controlled them for liberty. Freedom is a great blessing, one that was gained through the cost of many lives. One life, in particular, secured an even greater freedom.
We will never fully appreciate the tremendous price that the Son of God paid until we recognize the true brutality of sin. It is casually dismissed in our culture, and that attitude can easily seep into the Lord’s church. The gravity of it has been lost. Morality has been downgraded to a personal choice. Life is cheap and disposable. The repetitive drum beat of history goes on (Judges 21:25).
Sin enslaves (John 8:34). The devil is so clever that he convinces us that we are doing “our own thing.” We aren’t. We become prisoners of war and subject to Satan’s whims (2 Timothy 2:26). We become so entrapped in his web of deception that we can’t even recognize that we are being manipulated to do his work. Wickedness and worldliness drive our thoughts and desires. They grow and dominate. Ultimately, they destroy. The slavery is horrible. The end is worse.
Jesus came to set us free. We must not miss the eternal significance of His mission. Death loomed from the very beginning. He was sent to die. It is a remarkable thought. An eternity of perfect harmony between Father and Son ripped apart by sin. We chose to sin, and He chose to suffer. He gave His life for the rebellious, for those who did not care, for those who rejected Him and for the few who accepted Him.
How much does the God of heaven love His creation? Oh, we know the verses and the story, but has it really touched our heart in a transforming way? The comprehension of His indescribable kindness leads to a radical change in thought and lifestyle (Romans 2:4). He gave His Son in a dramatic demonstration of His love and patiently waited for the change that is inevitable when we see it clearly. Imagine how He must feel when people live as if it does not matter to them.
Jesus came to His own people, and they rejected Him. The religious authorities fought against Him. The lost and hurting embraced Him. He turned the world upside down, or perhaps He turned it right-side up. One thing is certain: He changed it. He opened up the possibility of freedom through history’s most sacrificial life. Saturday marks another day of celebrating our nation’s independence. It is a special time for all of us to enjoy, but Sunday surpasses it. Every week, we come together with the simple elements of unleavened bread and grape juice to remember the greatest freedom of all.
I have tackled the task of learning Spanish. Up till now, my expertise has been limited to “taco,” “burrito,” and “refried beans;” but now I want to expand my skills to teach the word of God to those who speak in a language different from my own. It has given me a whole new appreciation for the “old dogs and new tricks” adage. Speaking in tongues would sure be handy right now.
This effort might fail, but I am giving it a shot. They seem to be simply words, but they pack a powerful punch. Whatever the language, they have the capacity to build up or tear down. Christians use words in different ways. We are surrounded by a world that is crude, at best. Profanity flies at the drop of a hat. Obscenities flood the internet. People adjust their vocabulary according to the audience. Apparently, they forget that the Lord’s ears are always open (Psalm 139:4).
He is a God who is aware. He is not deaf. He heard the cries of the Israelites when they were in bondage. He hears our prayers. We are comforted by that thought, but He does not suddenly lose His ability to hear when we speak out in anger. That may not by very comfortable for us. He is listening when we launch a verbal assault or tell that shady joke. Jesus put our conversation in its proper place (Matthew 12:35-37). It is very serious to Him.
Words. We string them together to form sentences that communicate ideas, thoughts that originate deep within us. We should never take that lightly. God doesn’t. He has much to say about how we speak, especially those who have been adopted into His family. An integral aspect of Christian character is honesty. As Paul instructed the Ephesians to put on the new man, His first lesson was about truthful speech (Eph. 4:25). It is not an “oh-by-the-way” but leads the list. The devil hatches a brood of liars (John 8:44). God’s children are not like that. Dishonesty is never a family trait.
Most everyone we meet is bearing some kind of private burden. The last thing they need is for us to drag them further down with discouraging words. We speak words of grace. They comfort and encourage. Our audience may only be one struggling soul (Don’t forget God is listening, too!), and they may be totally unworthy of kind words but isn’t that what grace is all about; receiving what is undeserved?
Rather than joining the chorus of the ungrateful, we should express thanksgiving. It is the perfect substitute for the coarseness that is so common (Ephesians 5:4). The word of God reminds us that we should always be thankful (Eph. 5:20). Imagine how life would be if everyone spoke only gracious words of encouragement and gratitude. They won’t, but we can and should in every language. We must. Muchas gracias.