It is not the flip of a calendar page that makes things new. It is Jesus.
I wish you all good things in 2019.
In my post of May 28, 2014, I discussed I Peter 3:13-14, with the conclusion that we should not be afraid of those who would persecute us. I had said that persecution could take varied forms, from verbal to physical to deadly. Those are difficult things not to be afraid of. How can we do it? If we continue reading through I Peter 3:15, we will find the answer.
I Peter 3:15 starts with the instruction to set apart Christ as Lord. If we give Christ control of our hearts and lives, and we fear—reverence—Him, if we know that He has ultimate control over what happens in the world, if we know that nothing that happens to us is unknown to Him, then we will be much less likely to fear what man—humans—can do to us. If, however, we are more concerned about what people think, what they can and might do, if we don’t believe that God can keep us from ultimate harm, then we are likely to spend our lives living in fear.
As humans, it is only natural for fear to rise within us in certain circumstances, and sometimes fear is a very good thing; it keeps us from putting ourselves into unnecessary danger. But what is our first reaction when we feel fear? Do we become anxious, worrying about every negative possibility that may or may not ever occur? Or do we turn immediately to God to ask for help, protection, mercy, a way out? What Peter is saying here is very similar to the promise given by the Lord to Solomon in II Chronicles 7:14. If God’s people will be humble and turn to Him, something that the Israelites had real difficulty with, He would hear and answer their prayers, forgive them and heal their land. If we would humble ourselves and turn to God, something that we have real difficulty with, He will answer our prayers too. The answers might not always come in ways we expect, but we can be confident knowing that God cares for us, knows what we are going through, and wants only the best for us.
In my next post, I will look at the rest of the instructions in I Peter 3:15-16.
There are school children who are about to enjoy a four day weekend, and many of them have no idea why. A student once asked me, “What does Easter celebrate? Bunnies?” There was no knowledge of this country’s Christian heritage or traditions. And if someone asks you a similar question, and you try to explain Easter to them, what do you expect them to think? Jesus, the Son of God, came to Earth, lived for 33 years, and then was crucified. But He rose again. Why? So that we could live forever and never die. Really? Do you believe in little green men too?
In I Corinthians 1:18, the Apostle Paul reassures us that we are not crazy. He tells us that the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but is the power of God—life and hope—to those of us who believe and are being saved. In I Corinthians 1:19, Paul refers back to Isaiah 29:14, a passage that his wise listeners would be familiar with. Paul’s assertion that God’s wisdom went far beyond human wisdom and understanding was not new. (Isaiah 55:8-9)
Paul referred to the scribes, the Jews who were experts in Mosaic law, and the debaters or philosophers, the Greeks who were—and still are—regarded for their wisdom. These were the people who were considered the wisest by human standards, but they did not understand the ways of God. The Jews expected their long-awaited Messiah to be strong and heroic, not a small-town carpenter who would be executed in one of the most horrific ways possible. They wanted a sign to prove that Christ was indeed the one they were expecting, and crucifixion just didn’t seem to meet their preconceptions. The Gentiles, the Greeks, couldn’t get their minds around a god who would interact with humans and then allow himself to be crucified. That wasn’t the kind of god they were used to. (I Corinthians 1:20-25)
God requires us to have some faith. (Hebrews 11:6) We will probably never completely understand God or His ways, but the more we search for truth, the more we seek to understand Him, the more He will reveal to us through His Holy Spirit. (Deuteronomy 4:29, Jeremiah 29:12-13) Salvation—eternal life with God starting now—is not something that we can achieve through our own efforts. (Ephesians 2:9) Our wisdom, understanding and good works will all fall short, but the work of Christ—His sacrifice on the cross—is sufficient. It is a gift to us, and all we have to do is accept. God does not want any of us to perish. (John 3:16, II Peter 3:9, Matthew 18:14, John 10:28) Difficult to understand? In our own wisdom yes, but it is the perfect plan of God.
Paul spends much of Ephesians telling us how to live in a way that is pleasing to God. In Ephesians 4, he calls us to unity and holiness, and to the understanding that even though we are all different and have different purposes, we are all part of one body under Christ. Ephesians 5 continues the theme of holiness and living as children of light. In the last verses of Ephesians 5 (Ephesians 5:22-33) and the first verses of Ephesians 6, (Ephesians 6:1-9) Paul gives us advice for our family relationships, and for our work relationships. He also tells us what our attitude towards our jobs should be, including if we are the employer and not just the employee. But Paul knows that it is not as easy as all that! Paul understands very clearly that we are in a constant spiritual battle. Since creation, God has provided us with a choice, to choose Him or the world, and He has been very gentlemanly about letting us make that choice.(Revelation 3:20) Satan, on the other hand, is working very hard at winning us over to his side, and he will use any means available. (II Corinthians 11:14, I Peter 5:8) We need to realize that our struggles on this earth are not with things, or circumstances or with each other. They are all part of a battle in the spiritual realm. (Ephesians 6:12)
The good news is that we don’t have to fight this battle alone. Hallelujah! We can rely on the strength of God’s power and His armour. (Ephesians 6:10-18) Just as a Roman soldier was clothed in a suit of armour, we can be clothed with God’s spiritual armour. If we put on the full armour of God we will be able to stand against our enemy’s schemes and attacks, and to be left standing when all is said and done. What does God’s armour consist of?
1. The Belt of Truth: A Roman soldier used a belt to hold his garments together and to attach his armour. It made it easier for him to be able to move without tripping over his tunic. Wearing the belt of truth represents not only knowing and believing God’s truth, but also living a truthful life, thus allowing us easier movement without tripping over our words. Knowing and practicing the truth will give us protection against the father of lies. (John 8:44)
2. The Breastplate of Righteousness: We were declared righteous when we accepted Christ’s sacrifice as the substitution for our sins, (Romans 4:5, Romans 10:10) but again, Paul is referring here to the practical, daily actions of believers. We need to act in a way that no one can make an accusation against us, a way that protects our hearts.
3. Preparation That Comes From the Good News of Peace: You can be ready for whatever comes your way if you place your trust in the all-powerful God of peace. The Greek word translated as preparation here indicates to be on a firm footing. It refers to the stability that you get from the gospel of peace that allows you to stand steadfast in the face of battle.
4. The Shield of Faith: Roman soldiers had large shields that would interlock together so that they could advance with a wall of protection before them. They were coated in leather that was soaked in water so that flaming arrows would be extinguished. Satan is certainly attacking us with fiery arrows, and it is our faith that will protect us from them. Since we cannot know when or how these fiery arrows will come, constant faith is absolutely essential.
5. The Helmet of Salvation: The helmet of salvation is a gift from God that protects our heads and our minds. God does not require our faith to be blind. We are encouraged to question and to understand. We need to protect our minds from Satan’s schemes, by growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. (II Peter 3:18)
6. The Sword of the Spirit: The sword used by Roman soldiers was double-edged so that it could cut in both directions and sharp enough to pierce armour. But the Word of God is sharper than any double-edged sword, and able to judge the heart. (Hebrews 4:12) It is by being very familiar with the Word of God that we will be able to discern what is right and defend ourselves from Satan’s attacks. Satan also knows the Word of God, and he uses it to his advantage–not fully and out of context. (Matthew 4:5-7) If we are to defend ourselves as Jesus did, we must know the Word of God as Jesus did.
Add to all of these prayer for all the saints. If we are praying for each other, we will be alert to the needs and struggles of our fellow warriors. This is not a battle that we can fight ourselves. Remember that Paul’s words here come at the end of a passage about unity, and being one body. Working together as one body, with God’s strength, we can win the battle in the spiritual realm.
In last week’s post we learned about Gabriel’s visit to Zechariah. (Luke 1:5-25) Six months after Zechariah’s wife, Elizabeth, conceived the baby who would become the forerunner of Christ (Malachi 3:1), Gabriel visited a young girl named Mary. (Luke 1:26-38) We don’t know exactly how old Mary was, but we can be certain that she was very young. We know that she would have been at least 12 years old, the age at which a young woman could be betrothed, but probably not much older.
It was customary that a young woman would be promised in marriage after her twelfth birthday, according to an arrangement made between the bride’s father and a representative from the groom’s family. At the time of betrothal, a price for the bride would be agreed upon and paid, and the agreement would be binding from that point. The wedding ceremony would take place one year after the betrothal, and until then the bride would continue to live in her father’s household. During that time the bride would be expected to prove her virtue. If she did not remain pure until the wedding day (and afterwards for that matter) she would likely be stoned to death. (Deuteronomy 22:20,21) In any case, the only way to break the betrothal promise was through divorce. It was a much more committed stage in the marital relationship than engagements of today.
So when Gabriel visited Mary before her wedding day and told her that she was going to give birth to a son, she would very possibly have been under the age of 13, and would have, as Luke tells us, never been intimate with a man. (Luke 1:34) Naturally she would wonder how what Gabriel was predicting could happen. Although she had been frightened when the angel first appeared, she had recovered enough by this point to ask. Note that, unlike Zechariah, she did not doubt that it could happen or would happen; she was just curious about how. So Gabriel told her that the baby would be conceived by the Holy Spirit.
Now remember, Luke was writing this account after Christ had completed His ministry on Earth. It is very likely that Luke got this information from Mary herself, but he was writing to people who needed to be convinced that what they had been taught was true. And immaculate conception was out of the ordinary; it has never happened before or since. So, although Mary hadn’t asked for a sign, as Zechariah had, Gabriel gave her one, and Luke recorded it for his readers. Gabriel told Mary that her relative Elizabeth had conceived in her old age even though she had been barren. (Luke 1:36) If God could create life in someone who was too old, certainly He could create life in someone who was too young. After all, nothing is impossible with God. (Luke 1:37)
Imagine all the things that may have been going through Mary’s mind. Her people had been expecting the Messiah for centuries, but they didn’t know when He would appear, or how, and it had been four hundred years since a prophet had spoken. Now an angel (an angel!) has appeared to her, to tell her that she would be used by God to bring the Messiah into the world. Why would God choose her? I believe that God chose her because she was devoted, available and willing. Her response to Gabriel: Yes. I am here to do what God wants. Let it happen as God wishes it to. (my paraphrase of Luke 1:38) Mary knew that becoming pregnant before her wedding day was going to create problems for her with her people, but she trusted God, and God used her to bring Jesus to Earth to be the Saviour for all of us.
I like Doctor Luke. He was not only educated, but rather academic in personality. I can relate to that. He was not an eyewitness to the birth or ministry of Jesus, but he wanted to understand and report his findings to others, so he did a research project. That’s what I do here, on a smaller scale, every week. Critics may say that because Luke didn’t know Jesus, his report is not reliable. However, he spoke with the people who did know Him after all of the events of Jesus’ life on Earth took place, so he had a different perspective on the whole matter. And he was evidently meticulous and methodical in his work. He wanted to pass on to Theophilus, and to anyone else who would read his document, a detailed and chronologically organized report, so that he and they may know that the things they had been taught were true. (Luke 1:1-4)
This chronology begins, not with Jesus, but with Zechariah and Elizabeth (Luke 1:5-25), the couple who would become the parents of John the Baptizer.
One day, Zechariah, a priest, was chosen by lot to burn incense in the holy place inside the temple. This was not a place with public access. Only priests who were chosen, and when they were chosen, could enter. Because of the number of priests and the schedule that was followed for serving in the temple, it was unlikely that a priest would have this privilege more than once in a lifetime. Theoretically, if it is a lottery, anyone has the chance to win, but if you believe that God is in control of the universe, you know that He makes the choice. (Proverbs 16:33) This day He chose Zechariah because He had a message for him. God sent His angel Gabriel to give him the news that Elizabeth would have a son. Zechariah had trouble believing this because physically they were well past the point of childbearing. Zechariah should have known better because, after all, he would have been well acquainted with how God had provided a child for Sarah, (Genesis 11:30, Genesis 17:19, Genesis 17:21, Genesis 21:2) Rebekah (Genesis 25:21) Rachel (Genesis 29:31, Genesis 30:22) Manoah’s wife--the mother of Samson (Judges 13:2-3) and Hannah--the mother of Samuel. (I Samuel 1:2, I Samuel 1:20) Don’t be too hard on Zechariah though. Can you imagine how his mind must have been swimming with all that had happened that day? Nevertheless, Gabriel took away Zechariah’s ability to speak. This served not only as a punishment for his lack of faith, but also as the sign he had asked for in Luke 1:18. Surely it would remind him that God was all-powerful.
Zechariah, like Elizabeth, would have felt the disgrace of childlessness. It would have been a well-known fact to the people around him. So when he didn’t come out of the temple in a reasonable amount of time, there was quite possibly speculation that God had struck him down for his sin. Perhaps this is why Luke takes pains to assure us that both Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous in the sight of God. (Luke 1:6) But the people weren’t aware of all that at the time. They only knew that Zechariah was a long time coming back. What were they to do? Having permission to enter the inner sanctum of the temple was not a common thing. They couldn’t just go in and check on him. I can just imagine what the chatter was like after they finished their prayers and they were still waiting. When he did emerge, though, and couldn’t speak, the people started to realize that something pretty spectacular must have happened. I wonder how much they understood from the signs that Zechariah gave them.
I wonder too, if Elizabeth had trouble figuring it all out after Zechariah came home. Luke doesn’t tell us about their interaction, but we do know that Zechariah couldn’t speak until eight days after the baby was born (Luke 1:59-64), and we know that it was “after some time” (Luke 1:24) that Elizabeth became pregnant. Was that enough time for the people to have moved past this unusual episode on to something else? Was it enough time for Zechariah and Elizabeth to begin to doubt again? We don’t know for sure. Once Elizabeth did conceive, she kept herself in seclusion for five months. I know women today who have had trouble conceiving, and even if they haven’t, they often wait three months before sharing the news. Perhaps, Elizabeth wanted to keep it quiet until she was sure. Perhaps she just wanted to be careful. We don’t have all the details, but of this we can be certain: God had not forgotten His promises to the people of Israel (Malachi 3:1, Malachi 4:5-6, Luke 1:13-16), and He had the power to fulfill them. He still does.
Have you ever been stranded on a lake? My husband and I were staying at a cottage beside a fairly large lake in Northern Ontario one weekend. Saturday was a beautiful day, so we took out the little motorboat for a tour around the lake. While we were out on the water, a pretty brisk wind came up; it was strong enough that we could not steer the boat back to the bay where our cottage was. We didn’t have any control over the direction of the boat at all. That experience helps me to imagine what the disciples must have felt like out on the water in Matthew 14:22-24.
Just before this passage, Jesus had fed the five thousand. Afterward, He sent His disciples ahead of him while he dispersed the crowds, and Jesus went up the mountain by Himself to pray. The disciples got into the boat, and by evening the wind had kicked up, and they were far out into the lake. Matthew 14:25 starts off with the phrase, “As the night was ending”. Many translations mention that it was the fourth watch of the night, which means that it was between 3:00 and 6:00 in the morning. So the disciples had been fighting the wind all night long, after a pretty busy day. Since the wind was against them, they would have been rowing. (Matthew 14:24) I’m sure I would have been physically and emotionally exhausted by this point, and they probably were too.
Then Jesus came walking up to them on the water. That might have been a little bit surprising to them, don’t you think? It’s an unusual situation, they are tired, and they are scared by what they see. The only logical explanation they can come up with is that it is a ghost or an apparition. Jesus spoke to them immediately to calm their fears. They knew by His voice who it was. So, Peter, who was known to be a little bit impulsive, says, “Lord, if it is you, order me to come to you on the water.” (Matthew 14:28) This construction in the original language is known as a first class conditional sentence. That means that although it is translated with the word “if”, Peter had no doubt that it was the Lord. Jesus then tells Peter to come to Him on the water, and Peter gets out of the boat. As long as Peter is focused on Jesus, he doesn’t have any trouble walking on the stormy sea. (Matthew 14:29) But when he changes his focus from his miracle-working Lord to the circumstances around him, he begins to sink. He cries, “Lord save me”, (Matthew 14:30) and Jesus immediately does. But as He does, He says, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31)
Many people consider Christ’s words to be a rebuke, but I don’t believe that He was being harsh with Peter. After all, Peter had enough faith to actually get out of the boat. He was way ahead of all the others on board that night. But it wasn’t enough faith to keep him from sinking. Realistically, Peter was probably a good swimmer since he was a fisherman and spent his time on the water. But he let fear and doubt overcome his own abilities and his faith in God. As long as he was focused on Jesus, he had no fear of his surroundings. Our faith isn’t always strong either, but we can learn a lesson from Peter. Focus on Christ’s power and not the difficult circumstances that you are in. Call on Jesus to save you and to calm the storms in your life as He did for Peter. (Matthew 14:32) Faith can overcome your fears.
I wrote last week that our hardships serve a purpose and that God can bring good from our suffering. I wrote that God wants us to focus on what matters for eternity. Did I really believe that when I wrote it? This week has certainly tested that. Someone I’ve known for most of my life, and all of his, was killed in a car crash on Friday night. It all happened in an instant. No one had a chance to say good-bye. No one had a chance to resolve differences. No one had a last chance to say I love you. We are never guaranteed those opportunities. We are not promised tomorrow.
I had already picked this week’s verse (Psalm 121:1-2) before I finished last week’s post. Last week was about suffering and hardships. This week I would talk about looking to God to be the source of our help, trusting Him to be our provider and protector. The only thing is that as I look back now, last week’s hardships seem so minimal, while this week life itself seems so fragile.
Psalm 121 talks about our Creator not allowing our foot to slip, not allowing the sun to harm us by day or the moon to harm us by night. The Lord will protect us from all harm. He will protect our life. He will protect us in all we do now and forevermore. (Psalm 121:3, 6, 7, 8). The Lord never goes off duty; He does not slumber or sleep. (Psalm 121:4) How do we reconcile that with all the tragedy in the world? With the fact that a life can be taken in an instant?
I believe two things are true. First I believe that if we specifically ask for protection of our physical bodies in the circumstances we face day by day, God will protect us, unless His larger purpose will be served by allowing our suffering. Secondly, I believe that the protection which is promised in this Psalm is the protection of our souls. Everything about our life on this earth is temporary. What matters for eternity is the condition of our soul. Turn to God and trust Him to protect that for eternity. Since we are not promised tomorrow, please take time to consider this today.
Today's post was written by Ann Mainse.
Confessions of a Weary Soul
Don’t you love it when God proves that He definitely has your number? Over the last few days, I’ve been feeling tired… worn out. Not just physically, but mentally, emotionally. If I’m to be totally honest (not a new thing, I promise!), I think sometimes I grow weary in well-doing. I know the verse in Galatians 6:9 that tells me not to, but sometimes I can’t help it. Have you ever been there? Maybe you’re there now. You’re doing all the right things, with all of your might… and you’re tired. Drained. It’s like you’re running on a treadmill (very good for you) and your energy level is depleting fast (not so good). You know you’re getting close to the end of your reserve, but the treadmill isn’t slowing down. What do you do? Well, if you’re me, you read what God has put right in front of you (like I said, He has my number). Have a look at where I found myself reading today…
Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to Me. Get away with Me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with Me and work with Me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with Me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. ~ Matthew 11:28-30 (MSG)
Learn to live freely and lightly. You’re smiling, aren’t you? I know I am (I think HE is too). Why is it so easy to get caught up in doing for God and forget that He’d much rather we focus on being with Him? Learning from Him. Living in Him. Why is it so hard to remember that we’re not called to observe a religion but to enjoy a relationship? We just need to come.
Oh, we know that our life is in God's hands. Jesus has our heart. God's Spirit is our fuel. But, sometimes life gets so busy that we forget to top up the tank… to stay plugged into our Source. We forget to listen to His voice. Life gets busy. And busy is not always good.
One of my favourite authors, Jill Briscoe, put it beautifully in her book, The Deep Place Where Nobody Goes: Conversations With God on the Steps of My Soul. Let’s join her for a moment on the steps…
I ran to the Deep Place where nobody goes, and found Him waiting there.
“Where have you been?” He asked me.
“I’ve been in the shallow place where everyone lives,” I replied. I knew He knew. He just wanted me to admit I’d been too busy being busy.
“I’m running out…” I began.
“Of course,” He said. “I haven’t seen you in a while.”
He sat down on the steps of my soul and smiled at me. Angels sang; a shaft of light chased away the shadows and brightened my daily day. I smiled back.
“I’m such a fool…”
“Shhh,” He said, putting His finger on my lips.
He touched my hurried heart. Startled, it took a deep breath and skidded to a near stop. My spirit nestled into nearness in the Deep Place where nobody goes.
My soul spoke, then: He answered with words beyond music. Where on Earth had I been?
Good question (for all of us). How long has it been since we’ve sat quietly with Him? Allowed Him to speak into the deepest place in us? No iPhone. No daytimer. No meals, or laundry or wonderfully needy children. Just Jesus and you.
Where have you been? He asks. The invitation is clear. Your loving Source is near. Hear Him say it again.
Come to Me…
You can see more blog posts from Ann Mainse at crossroads360.com/blog. Crossroads360.com is a multi-channel service providing entertaining, informative and transformative content. In addition to blogs, there are episodes of past television shows as well as exclusive web content. Their channels include KidsSpace, God Stories, Music, Explore Faith, Nostalgia, Everyday Life and News.