The Dead on the Seashore

Exodus 14:30-31 (NKJV)

There are some things we must see if we are to believe the Lord completely and follow those He has given as our leaders.  Though “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7), there are still some things the Lord must show us so that we will follow Him faithfully and without question.  The Israelites were privileged to see one of these things that caused them to believe God and His messenger, Moses.

“So the Lord saved Israel that day out of the hand of the Egptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore.”  Obviously this was a gruesome sight.  Thousands of Egyptian soldiers, drowned by the coming together of the Red Sea, now washed up on shore in full view of the Israelites.  Surley they would never forget this moment and this sight.  God had delivered on His promise to bring His people out of bondage and make His Name great.

Though we may cringe at the image before our minds, there was a definite reason for God causing it to happen.  He was not just trying to make the Israelites sick with the sight of all these dead soldiers.  He had a much greater purpose for this, and Israel discovered it immediately.

“Thus israel saw the great work which the Lord had done in Egypt; so the people feared the Lord, and believed the Lord and His servant Moses” (emphasis mine).  God’s main purpose for showing Israel this gruesome sight was so that they would fear Him and believe Him and His servant Moses.  The fear came easily as they saw the power of God over life and death.  Believing Him and Moses was a little more difficult, but God had told Israel through Moses that He would do to their enemies exactly what they now were seeing.

The Lord had totally destroyed their taskmasters to the point where “not so much as one of them remained” (v. 28b).  Never again would Egypt cause God’s people to be subservient as long as they feared and believed God.  Their hopes now lay in the promise of God, a promise of a land that would be their own, filled with the blessings of the Almighty.

It doesn’t happen frequently, but from time to time God allows us to see something that causes our faith to grow exponentially.  When He defeates our enemies before our eyes, when He heals miraculously one who has a debilitating or life-threatening illness, when He provides abundantly for us in our darkest hour, we see it and our faith grows.  The difficult part is walking by faith when we don’t see the miracles.  That, however, is what we are called to do.

When you are privileged to view the miraculous, let it cause you to fear and believe the Lord.  Thank Him for this great privilege.  Then walk on in faith, knowing He is there even when you can’t see Him.  That is true faith.

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Yesterday

Job 29:2-6 (NKJV)

In our walk with Christ, we are prone to constantly look back to the better times, the times when we knew the presence of God more real than now.  When this happens, we need to ask ourselves how we got to where we are.  Jesus did not walk away from us; we have walked away from Him.

In the midst of the worst trial of his life, Job looked back to yesterday and wished for the good times to return.  “Oh, that I were as in months past, as in the days when God watched over me.”  In all his great loss, Job could no longer see or feel the presence of God.  He began to feel as if God no longer was watching over him.  It wasn’t true, but trials can make us believe many falsehoods.

Job remembered “when His lamp shone upon my head, and when by His light I walked through darkness.”  Now he felt like he was walking through darkness without the light of God to direct him.  There are times as believers when it seems the lamp of God has gone out, and we have no direction through the difficulties.  This is again a lie from the devil, for God is always present and willing to guide us through every circumstance.

Job looked back to his younger years, “just as I was in the days of my prime, when the friendly counsel of God was over my tent.”  Those younger years seemed so much better, didn’t they?  We were filled with vigor and willing to take on any challenge that came our way.  Then the years began to grow on us, sapping us of our exuberance and reminding us that we are mere mortals.

Now Job felt that God was gone.  In days gone by, “when the Almighty was yet with me,” he felt nothing could go wrong.  Those were the days “when my children were around me; when my steps were bathed with cream, and the rock poured out rivers of oil for me!”  Yes, those were days of abundant blessing.  But now it was all over.

What happened to make Job feel this way?  Did God just decide He was tired of blessing Job?  No!  The Lord had allowed trials to come into Job’s life to prove his character.  This was not the end for Job, but a new beginning.  Once this trial was over, Job would arise stronger in faith than ever before.

If you’re looking back to yesterday and remembering God’s blessings, that’s good.  But don’t get stuck there!  Look forward to the promise of God.  He is still there, still working in your life.  This trial you’re facing right now is not the end.  It’s the start of a new beginning!  Walk on with Jesus, knowing He is doing something in you far greater than you can imagine.  Your blessing is just on the other side of the valley of the shadow of death.

Fire and Salt

Mark 9:49-50 (NKJV)

In the Old Testament sacrifices, two things were necessary to make any offering acceptable to God.  These two things, according to the Levitical law, were fire and salt.  The offering was to be roasted in fire, and then it was to be seasoned with salt.  These two things were symbols of the covenant between the one who offered the sacrfice and God (Lev. 2:11, 13).

The Lord Jesus took this symbolism and applied it to His disciples.  The fire was a picture of the hardships and trials that each of us must face as His followers.  The salt is a preservative, but also acts to make the life of the believer more “flavorful.”  As each believer faces the fires of trial, they are made acceptable to God and humbled to receive His glory.

Jesus says here, “For everyone will be seasoned with fire, and every sacrifice will be seasoned with salt.”  There are no exceptions; we must all experience the fiery trials of life if we are to be pleasing to God.  We must all also “be seasoned with salt,” preserved and made tasteful for His purposes.

When John the Baptist preached, he made it clear that Jesus was the One who would bapitze us “with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matt. 3:11).  The Holy Spirit, of course, would prove that we belong to Him, and would strengthen and preserve us through the trials of life as we follow our Lord.

“Salt” by itself “is good, but if the salt loses its flavor, how will you season it?”  Once salt has lost its saltiness, it is useless.  It can no longer preserve, and its taste is gone.  This speaks of our lives as believers.  If we are to remain useful to God, and tasteful to others, we must allow our relationship with God to flourish.  This relationship is established and maintained through the covenant He has made with us through Jesus Christ.  He is the One who preserves and makes us tasteful to others as they see His life displayed in us.

This is why Jesus ends this discourse in the way He does.  “Have salt in yourselves, and have peace with one another.”  Live out your relationship with Christ, displaying the life of Christ in yourself, and you will then “have peace with one another.”  We already have peace with God through Jesus (Rom. 5:1), so as we live the life of Christ in us, we will have peace with others.

Fire and salt.  Simple, everyday elements that Jesus uses to make us acceptable to God and peacable to others.  Have they done their work in your life?  Are you becoming more acceptable to God through the fires of trial?  Is the salt of the covenant, your relationship with God through Jesus Christ, making you to be at peace with others?  Let the fire of God burn away all your impurities.  Let the salt of His covenant make you into a peaceful and peacable person.  Then He can use you greatly in His service.

The Triumph of Faith

Romans 5:1-5 (NKJV)

As Christians, the most powerful possession we have is faith.  This faith is not something we are born with or have earned; it is a gift from God (Eph. 2:8).  And this faith, given to us by God through Christ, is not only necessary but powerful enough to bring us from death to life and to face all the challenges of life.

The faith we have been given first gives us peace with God.  “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  We who were once enemies of God because of our sinful nature have now been made friends with Him.  The condition we were once in has been dramatically changed.  We have been “justified,” made right in His sight, and the record of our sin against God has been erased.

This same faith also provides us with open access to God and His grace.  “Through whom (Jesus) also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”  The Lord Jesus uses the conduit of faith to provide us with access to the grace of God whenever we need it.  And it is this same grace that causes us to stand strong and steadfast, rejoicing in the hope that we will one day dwell in the presence of God in all His glory.

“And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.”  We can go from faith to faith through all the trials of life, knowing that God is using them to produce in us that which is well-pleasing to Him.  Perseverance, character, and hope are developed in us as we, by faith, glory in the tribulations we face.

“Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”  The hope of glory that we receive by faith through trials is not a false hope.  We know it to be genuine because we have exprienced, and keep experiencing, the love of God being poured out in our hearts.  His loves is so real to us because the Holy Spirit within us constantly makes it so.  The giving of the Holy Spirit to us also convinces us of God’s great love for us.

All these things together show us the triumph of faith in our lives.  Without faith in God through Christ, we have nothing.  But with a simple childlike faith in Him, we have all that we need to live victoriously and have the assurance of future glory.  Do you have this kind of faith, the faith that provides all you need for this life and the next?  Have you trusted in God through Jesus Christ?  With this faith, victory is ours.  Faith triumphs over all trials, fear, and discouragements in life.  Walk powerfully in faith, and the hope of eternal life is yours forever.

More Than Love

Malachi 1:2-3 (ESV)

From our childhood we are told that God loves us.  If you were to ask a drunk lying in the street if he knows that God loves him, he would most likely say, “Yes,” and then take another drink.  It’s an established fact from Scripture, Creation, and society that God loves us.  But this love of God is much more than a mushy sentamentalism.

Through the prophet Malachi, God told the people of Israel, “I have loved you.”  They questioned His love for them because He had brought destruction on their nation.  If God loved them so much, why were they experiencing such great loss and humility?  They did not understand what God’s love truly was.  That is why they asked, “How have you loved us?”

The Lord then clarified to them what He meant by “love.”  “Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?  Yet I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated.”  Those are strong words.  I thought God loved everyone, yet here He clearly states that He hated Esau.  How are we to make sense of this?

To begin with, let’s look at the two men in question.  Jacob (Israel) was chosen by God to have the promise of the Messiah descend through his family line.  It started with Abraham, then went through his son Isaac, and now on through Isaac’s son, Jacob (Gen. 12:1-3; 26:3-5; 35:11-12).  Jacob would be renamed “Israel” after he wrestled with the angel of the Lord one night (Gen. 32:28).  Esau was not chosen by God for this distinction, but God did bless him with much.  The difference between the two was God’s electing choice.  And both men represent the nations and peoples which would descend from them.

Now let’s look deeper at the words “loved” and “hated.”  Obviously there is more than “love” and “hate” implied here in the traditional sense.  When God said that He “loved” Jacob, He meant that He had chosen him and put His favor on him.  The reverse was true of Esau.  God didn’t hate Esau in the sense of despising him, but simply chose not to put His favor on him.  So now we understand that “love” is much more than love as we know it today.  It’s a covenant word, implying choice and favor bestowed freely upon one who is not worthy of it.  We call it grace.

This same covenant love is bestowed freely on everyone whom God has chosen to salvation.  The choice came long before time, but it continues throughout eternity.  Though there are many who despise this doctrine, it is clearly taught throughout the Word of God.  Since it is an unmistakable reality, we must put aside our personal biases and accept it as we do all other doctrines of the Bible.

God has displayed much more than love through the sacrifice of His Son (John 3:16).  He has shown His election of a people who will show forth the praises of His glorious grace (Eph. 1:4-6).  Let’s accept it and get busy praising Him for it.  That’s why we were created in the first place!

It’s Not for You to Know

Acts 1:6-8 (NKJV)

Little children are inquisitive by nature.  They want to know all they can about everything.  Their little hands are constantly picking up things so they can investigate and learn all about them.  This is a normal way of learning for a child, along with asking many questions.

Though we can be like this with the things of God, there are some things in the kingdom of God that we are not to know.  This is what the Disciples discovered moments before Jesus’ Ascension.  The restoration of the kingdom of Israel was on their minds as Jesus was preparing to depart.  The timing of the restoration, though, was not for them to know.  Instead, Jesus gave them something greater to ponder and to do.

“Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, ‘Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom of Israel?'”  The prevailing teaching of the day was that the kingdom would be restored when Messiah came.  The view of the Messiah was one of a conquering King, not a humble servant.  Since it was clear that Jesus was now going away, their concern was obvious.  They thought that He had to finish the task of restoring the kingdom of Israel before His departure.

Jesus’ answer must have been shocking to them.  “And He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority.'”  There are some things, no matter how important we think they are, that are not for us to know.  This information was only for the Father to know.

To change their focus, Jesus gave them new information that did not pertain to the kingdom of Israel.  This was to be even greater news, and would involve a new mission that would ultimately bring about a greater kingdom than Israel ever was.  “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Instead of the restoration of the kindgom of Israel, Jesus told them that God was fulfilling His promise shortly to send the Holy Spirit.  Once this happened, they would be used to establish a much greater kingdom; the kingdom of God.  This kingdom would cover the whole earth, not just one isolated area.

Yes, there are some things that are not for us to know.  What God does make known to us is usually greater.  Along with the knowledge He gives is a new purpose filled with His power and authority.  It is not important for us just to know things, but to do them.  Too many times we are like Peter with his concern about how Jesus would use John (John 21:20-22).  We want to know all that God knows or is doing, but it’s not for us to know.  If Jesus wants John to remain until He comes, so what?  “What is that to you?  You follow Me” (John 21:22).  Our focus is to follow Jesus and do what He says.

As Jesus gives us light and understanding by the Holy Spirit, we are to take that knowledge and use it to advance His kingdom.  As we do this, He will save souls through our witness and bring great glory to Himself.  If something is for us to know, He will tell us.  If not, take what you have recieved already and use it in His service.

The Art of Imitation

1 Corinthians 11:1 (NKJV)

It is said that “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”  To imitate someone you admire is to try to live and act like them.  Imitation is good if the person you are imitating is worthy of it and causes you to live a holy life.  Otherwise, imitation is evil, no matter how sincere it may be.

The apostle Paul told the church at Corinth, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.”  Was Paul being too bold in this command?  Was he suggesting that he was perfect, and that he was worthy of imitation?  Not at all!  He was trying to imitate Christ, the only One who is worthy of our imitation.  What does the imitation of Christ look like?  How is it lived out on a daily basis?

For the answers to these questions, let’s back up a few verses.  Paul says in 10:31, “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”  Everything that Jesus did was for this purpose.  If we do all to the glory of God, we are definitely imitating Christ.

How else do we live out this art of imitation?  “Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God” (v. 32).  In other words, live in such a way that you strive to offend no one with your actions and words.  Of course, if you are imitating Christ, you will offend some.  The message of the Cross is still offensive to many today (1 Cor. 1:23; Gal. 5:11).

One other thing we can do to imitate Christ as Paul did is to try to “please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved” (v. 33).  Does this mean we are supposed to bow to everyone else’s will, to do whatever they want to please them?  Obviously not.  If we did we would not be imitating Christ or Paul.  What we are to do is to put others first in order to show them the love of Christ so “that they may be saved.”  This is the way that Jesus lived, shown clearly by His laying down His life for sinners.

When we look at the life of Paul after his conversion, we see him living out this art of imitation.  All that he did was to be more like Christ.  He even lost his life as a martyr in service to Jesus.  That’s definitely an act of imitation!

Are we imitating Christ?  Are we daily living for the glory of God, seeking not to offend others, but putting them first so that they might see the love of Christ in us?  This is our high and holy calling as we follow Jesus (Phil. 3:14).  It will not be easy, but the rewards far outweigh the difficulties and losses.  Let’s imitate Paul, whose only desire was “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Phil. 3:10-11).