Altogether Forgiven Forever

prayer at cross

“…we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace” (Ephesians 1:7)

What word in any language could be more pleasing to someone guilty of sin than the word “forgiveness”? Is it truly possible that your sin can be altogether forgiven forever?

Forgiveness is the essential part of redemption (being freed from the consequences of sin). Paul used forgiveness in this verse in Ephesians as if it was everything that redemption is, since it is so prominent and important in redemption. In the Greek, the word translated ‘forgiveness’ here means the remission (release from the guilt or penalty of) of our transgressions (violations of a command or law), not merely passing over sin. It is the explanation of what it means to be redeemed. It includes not only deliverance from the penalty of sin, but also from its power to contaminate and conquer us. It is a proper satisfaction to a God who is just, which makes it possible for us to be reconciled (restored to friendship and harmony) to an offended God. When Jesus Christ shed His blood on the cross, that very moment remission of our sins became possible for us. He covered over all our sins—past, present, or future—with His precious blood, when He died in our place.

But redemption is not just forgiveness; it is the cause of forgiveness.

Therefore, forgiveness is the effect of it. It is not only the adequate fruit of redemption, but the primary and principal fruit upon which the other depends. But don’t suppose that this is the total benefit we receive from Christ’s death, or that this is all that redemption consists of. Yet it is the main (and probably the most) important one. Have you believed in what Jesus Christ did for you when He was crucified on the cross to pay for your sins? Then all your sins were forgiven at that very moment you did so, and forevermore—due to the pain and death His suffered there on your behalf, as your substitute. He forgave you everything, and He did it freely, fully, and for all time! O, how His free forgiveness displays the riches of His grace!

But this is not all—there is more! You also obtain the hope of heaven, along with many more benefits, including the influence of the Holy Spirit, and the grace of God to guide and support you in every trial. And when your time comes to die, then you will have peace, knowing your sins have been freely forgiven forever, and that nothing stands any longer between you and God.

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Fading Footprints

shoreline with footprints

Children like to play the game of following another child by trying to step in each of his footprints behind him. The child who follows will do his best to keep up, but he may let his attention get distracted while the leader keeps walking and gets too far ahead. Before long, the one following will lose sight of the leader and become lost. After making attempts for a while to find the missing track of footprints, he may stumble across a different set, mistakenly thinking that he has rediscovered the missing tracks instead. He will be likely to follow the new prints immediately, without stopping to consider that they may belong to someone else. Only after he has traveled quite some distance will he come to realize that they are not the right ones. By then he will be nowhere near where he began and will have also lost the leader altogether.

Apply this illustration to following in the steps of Christ. When we first give our lives over to Him, everything is so wonderful, and we are willing and eager to follow Him anywhere He wants to lead us. Our intentions start out good, but when following in His footsteps becomes more difficult and challenging later, we tend to lose our zeal. Then we are likely to become distracted and lose sight of where He is heading. Sometimes we rediscover His path and return to following Him again. Other times we become lost by wandering around in places where He did not go, hoping to find Him there. But all too often, we end up following the wrong footprints and are never able to find Him again.

multiple footprints in the sand

Jesus gave us an essential command that would help us keep our focus on Him and keep us following His steps. He told us to “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41). Our “flesh” (physical self) is prone to getting distracted from God and tends to wander and fall for almost any temptation that may come its way. So we can’t depend on our flesh to find the way; we need to keep our focus on Jesus, especially concerning His victory at the cross. If we get distracted, we have stopped watching where He is going, and we often fail to pray. Even if we regularly seek God for forgiveness for the sins we have committed, we are still not necessarily watching and praying. We need to continually look to Jesus and stay prepared for what is coming. Don’t lose sight of His footprints due to the distractions all around us. Immediately after a victorious moment, our adversary, the devil, likes to come to steal our victory away, along with our joy. He’ll try to use a time like this to bring a heavy dose of doubt and unbelief into our lives. We therefore need to continually watch concerning our victorious moments, while being sure to seek God in prayer at the same time.

footprints in sand along surf

Success in keeping up with the footsteps of Christ only comes from maintaining our desire to stay with Him. But, if we lose interest in His Word, or in the desire to communicate with Him in prayer, we make ourselves vulnerable to distractions instead of following Him. As a result, we won’t notice that His footprints are fading, and will either end up detached from Him, or following another set of footprints that are not His—thereby leading us farther away from Him.

How much do we really want to be with Him? So much that we make sure we will follow close enough to Him that His footprints are never out of sight? Are we continuing to watch and pray so that we will not get distracted or be led away to follow the wrong set of prints? Does our focus continue to be on Christ and Him crucified, or has it turned to some distraction we have encountered along the way?

Breadcrumbs or Sawdust?

cut tree with sawdust

“What are you doing?”

“Feeding the ducks.”

“Hey, I thought ducks ate crumbled bread. That looks like sawdust.”

“It is! I figured it’s much cheaper and they don’t really know the difference.”

“But ducks don’t benefit from eating sawdust.”

“I know that, but they’re just a bunch of wild ducks, not pets. Look, some are eating it! I told you they wouldn’t know the difference.”

“Well, they still aren’t getting any nourishment from it.”

“As long as they’re fed and happy, it doesn’t matter what they eat. Besides, this is so much easier to obtain and distribute. It won’t get moldy or stale like real bread, and it lasts practically forever.”

“Except when it burns.”

“OK, but it still works for me. If they’re satisfied, that’s all that counts.”

“But they’re not satisfied. Look at the ones who ate the fresh whole wheat bread I tossed to them earlier. They look full. They’re grooming themselves and have no more interest in eating bread. Your group is still begging for more food. I don’t see any satisfaction yet.”

“That is because yours are just full prematurely. I’m sure they’ll be desperate for more shortly. I’ll just open another bag of sawdust and distribute it here and… Hey! Where are you going?”

“It’s been several hours since I left and you are still feeding those ducks?”

“They’re not just the same ones I fed earlier; a lot of new ones just arrived.”

“Well, it appears that the flock I fed is now on the other side of the lake asleep and contented. These don’t look contented.”

“True, but mine are with me and yours left. What kind of loyalty is that?”

“Um—does that include yours who are now looking kind of sickly?”

“What? Oh, I hadn’t even bothered to notice. They’ll be better later. They probably just ate too much too fast, that’s all.”

“No, I think it’s more of a case of eating too much of the wrong thing.”

“I know—I’ll just mix some breadcrumbs with the sawdust and give it to the rest. Maybe they won’t feel as bad as the others.”

“You know, this whole episode got me thinking while I was away earlier—about how many Christians are being fed like these ducks.”

“Stop right there! Did you just call me a duck?”

“No, I’m saying many are eating like your ducks. Here, give them the rest of my bread and come with me.”

“Wow! They really have to work on your bread, but they gulp mine down like it’s their last meal.”

“Exactly! When we feed on “ground-up wood pulp,” we think we’re getting lots to eat real quickly, yet we never feel satisfied and complete. Sure, we may feel ‘full,’ especially after we drink something and all that pulp swells up inside us. But it will either make us sick or long for more.”

“I’ve noticed the same thing almost every time I eat at a fast-food place. The food usually tastes great and I feel full briefly, but never fully satisfied. I end up eating more later—like ice cream or a milkshake.”

“When we feast on Christ through His Word, the Bible, it’s like that fresh whole wheat that you fed the ducks a few moments ago. They really had to work on it, but it made them full and satisfied.”

duck running towards food

“You’re right! Look at the ones who ate the bread you gave me. They cleaned up all of it and didn’t even touch the sawdust!”

“Jesus said in John 6:51, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” When we eat this Living Bread, we become satisfied and won’t grow hungry. Jesus confirmed this in John 6:35 when He said, “…I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.” His Bread is not fast-food.”

“That explains why I feel empty inside a few days after my pastor’s message at church. I thought I did something wrong, or didn’t pay enough attention during the service.”

“Now you’re starting to see my point. You’re feeding on sawdust, not breadcrumbs, or bread itself. Sadly, many pastors and church leaders distribute sawdust—possibly because they’re feeding on it themselves as well.”

“But the pastor says things so well and makes many great points. He always makes me feel good after his message. How could he be feeding me sawdust?”

“The fact that you feel good about yourself afterwards is proof enough that you are feeding on sawdust. When we take in God’s Word, we should discover that we are nothing and Christ is everything. We should always see the need to grow and never be content with where we are spiritually. The Apostle Paul never minced words when he spoke or wrote to the churches. He always uplifted Jesus Christ, never himself or others. In First Corinthians 1:23-24 he wrote, “…we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.” If what you’re hearing or reading doesn’t point to Jesus Christ, you might as well be feeding on sawdust.”

“That’s pretty strong. I have noticed that my pastor really likes to tell compelling stories, show videos, sing, and so on. In many services, he never reads from or even mentions the Bible. Come to think of it, quite a few people I talked to at church don’t really know much of what the Bible says or means. I’m beginning to sense that I’m receiving sawdust more and more even as I speak.”

“Sadly, so many enjoy sawdust instead of bread, since it’s so easy to eat. They enjoy and feast on the speaker’s words, not God’s Word. Yet they don’t realize that sawdust has no nutrition. The result is that they’re spiritually wasting away. Even though they drink fluids which make them feel full from the swelling wood, they are still dying from spiritual malnutrition.”

“So how can I get free from eating sawdust and increase my intake of bread?”

open bible

“The best way is to start reading the Bible for yourself, not just material about the Bible. Spend more time before God in prayer, and ask Him to reveal His Word to you as you read. The more time you spend with Him and His Word, the more you feed on the True Bread—not sawdust. Ask Him to show you how to get more of His Bread and be able to pass it on to others. If He shows you that the place where you’re meeting feeds you sawdust and not even breadcrumbs from the Bread of Life, then ask Him to lead you to one who proclaims words like these of Paul: “For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). Most importantly, seek God for wisdom and discernment as to what is and what is not sawdust before you partake of any more.”

“That’s just what I’m going to do as soon as I get home. No wonder I feel weak and incomplete spiritually—I’ve been feasting on sawdust all this time! Hey, look at those ducks that ate the real bread you gave me. They’re as contented as the ones you fed earlier! But those other ducks I fed sawdust to look awful! I better get them some real bread, quick!”

“Now you’ve got it. That’s why we need to feast on the True Bread, not sawdust, for our own spiritual well-being.”

Candied Liver and Glazed Brussels Sprouts or Sugarcoating the Truth

cooked calf's liverbrussels sprouts

I told you how much I love bread in a previous entry. It doesn’t matter whether it’s fresh baked white bread, Italian, rye, sourdough, or naan—I’ll eat it! Flavor it, toast it, grill it with butter—I’ll be right there, big plate in hand, ready and waiting! This time I want to mention a couple of foods I don’t love—beef liver and brussels sprouts. Fry the liver, grill it, braise it, or smother it—it will still retain that flavor I’ve never loved. The bitter taste of brussels sprouts strikes a bad chord in me as well. But I don’t absolutely despise either one. Both are very nutritious and I’m certainly not against anyone else eating them. In fact, if you coat or infuse them with a very sweet sauce, I just might enjoy them as much as I do ground beef and green beans. Yes, their nutritional value would be greatly affected, and they’d likely be more detrimental to my health than in their original form. But here’s my theory—if the foods we like the least were covered with enough sweetener, most of us would eat them without hesitating. Coat some chipped wood liberally with a really sweet sauce or maybe rich milk chocolate—how many would readily devour it like candy? Now don’t feel insulted. I just want to point out how inclined we are to desire something just because it’s sugarcoated, whether it’s good or bad for us!

The reality of sin and truth fall into this category of being unpalatable too. Both have been, and still are, a problem to everyone on Earth. We don’t like to be told the truth about sin. We don’t want to be told it’s wrong, or that there will be eternal punishment if we don’t repent of it. But we don’t want to experience the ugly side of sin either.

Sin in its full glory is very enjoyable for the sinner. When we live in sin, life appears good and pleasurable. As long as we stay within our own sin-laden circles and don’t anger or upset others living in their sin, life functions pretty smoothly. The problem is that we slowly become desensitized to the sin that we’re actively involved in and begin to crave more. Our conscience warns us not to partake of any sin, but Satan is prepared for this. He’ll make sin even more appetizing by masking its putridness and the parts we don’t love with something else very appealing. He may redefine or sugarcoat it. Then it no longer seems questionable or repulsive to us. As a result, we embed ourselves even deeper and become thoroughly surrounded with sin. But it does not stop there. We soon tire of this sin too, and begin to desire some even deeper sin than this. Engaging in sin puts us on a slippery slope to destruction. Once we are on it, we can no longer leave it in our own strength and ability.

Meanwhile, sin takes its toll on us. Its byproducts, like disease, uncontrollable rage, or ultimately death, begin to surface. Sin always ultimately breaks down and destroys and is never of any benefit to us. It keeps us in bondage and brings us no real hope. It not only harms us individually, but also affects everything and everyone around us. The whole world is falling apart more each and every day because of sin. Divorces, wars, famines, health epidemics, poverty, greed, destruction of life and property, abuse of innocent children, etc.—all are derived from sin. But Satan will cover up and shift the blame for the problem to something completely the opposite of sin. He’ll sugarcoat the issue, thereby making it more palatable. He baits us with hopes and promises that will either partially or never come true, and keeps us locked in sin.

On the other hand, when we are steeped in sin, we don’t want to hear the truth. We don’t want to be told that sin is wrong and or that punishment will someday follow. We don’t want to know how ugly sin is, and that we have been deceived into believing that it is good. We don’t want to be robbed of the pleasure sin provides—even if it is destroying us.

two sugar donuts

Satan is happy to oblige us, once again. He’ll gladly sugarcoat the truth by disguising the painful or undesired areas that the truth discloses just as much as He sugarcoats sin. He’ll encourage us to pass by a church, or to give our Bible to a thrift shop. He’ll make sure we’re too tired or preoccupied to pray, or to even watch a religious program on TV. Of course, if we feel better by going to a church, then Satan will make sure we go to one with a real ‘sweet’ message. The pastor there won’t want to offend or drive anyone away. He’ll deliver (‘preach’ is too harsh a word) an inspiring message after some modern songs, all of which leave people feeling good about themselves when they leave. But when we are living in sin, the truth hurts. It quickly snaps us out of our sin-induced pleasure, so naturally, it is painful and undesirable. It convicts us and leaves us feeling awful.

How ironic—truth, the very thing that gives us freedom and victory over sin, is what we despise most.

The Bible says “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). Why hide what the truth reveals when it is so beneficial to us? And why do those who proclaim the truth make us feel so uncomfortable when it’s presented to us? Can’t we just accept the truth and go about our lives? The answer is that truth is not a concept, ideology, or philosophy. Truth is a person, and His name is Jesus Christ. He declared, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6 emphasis mine). When we hate hearing the truth, we actually hate or reject Christ and what He has done for us on the cross, because He is the Truth. He brings out in us the sin we’d rather not know about or let go of.

Jesus and sin don’t mix. We either live in sin and die eternally lost in perpetual judgment, or we completely yield ourselves to Jesus and live forever with Him with real joy and peace in Heaven. Disguising the truth and what it reveals by sugarcoating it is like a sick person who hates the taste or after-effects of the medicine given to cure him. Many prefer to thoroughly dilute medicine with something more enjoyable, instead of just taking it the way it is. The end result is better tasting—but completely ineffectual. Ultimately they consider the medicine useless and continue to be sick, hoping for a better cure while slowly dying each day.

This is the reason Jesus willingly came to Earth to offer His life as a sacrifice for us by dying on the cross. He knew that we could never be free from the bondage of sin by our own ability. He knew that without divine intervention, sin would destroy everything in time and life would cease to exist. God did not create this universe as one solitary act with everything in it designed to die off and never continue. He wants us to be with Him now and forever. That is the reason He sent His sinless Son to fulfill all of the laws or demands He set forth, since we could not fulfill them on our own because of sin. Now He wants us to come to Him and willingly love and obey Him. When we insist on living our lives without Him, we are living in sin, and are disobedient to Him and His Word, the Bible.

candy coated donuts

The inevitable is only delayed when we constantly refuse to know the truth because we have sugarcoated it or covered it up. The more we live for the pleasures of sin and fall for the ‘sweetness’ we are offered, the deeper we go in sin—until we die for all eternity, separated from the only cure. The Bible says, “…it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). After we die, there is no hope any longer. We don’t get another chance. There will be no more sugarcoating sin or anything else then, because we will have reached the bottom of that slippery slope—the point of no return. Here the real ugliness of sin rears its head and won’t let us go. The pain and repulsiveness of the truth no longer matter either, since it can no longer help us.

There is good news though! Jesus is fully able to pull us up from that slippery slope before we reach the bottom—if we will just cry out to Him and let Him. There is no depth of sin He cannot bring us out of. Throughout history, man has always been the one who left God. But (contrary to what we may have been told) God has never left us. No matter how sinful we may be, God is always ready to forgive our sin and allow us to be His children, if we ask Him to. We need to stop sweetening or covering up what the truth reveals in us and allow it to free us from the bondage of sin instead. We need to seek forgiveness from God for our sinful ways and repent of them. Then we can accept Jesus into our heart. When we feed on what has been heavily sweetened, it will only leave us dissatisfied in the end, longing for even more sweetening. But if we feed on the whole Truth, Jesus Christ and His Word, we will find complete satisfaction.

For more information on how to know God click here.

Floating or Sinking?

boat in water

Have you ever watched an object float on the water? All it will do is float along and it won’t sink—unless water is allowed to come inside. It doesn’t matter whether it is a huge ship on the ocean carrying hundreds of containers of cargo, or just a plastic bottle cap on top of a puddle—both float on the water. Yet, when water gets an opportunity to come inside, both will stop floating and sink to the bottom, either slowly or very quickly, depending on how much water has been allowed in.

If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you are like a ship floating in the ‘sea of humanity’. You have a responsibility to maintain your buoyancy in order to stay afloat. You can’t allow your exterior to deteriorate or corrode. If you do, holes will develop, or you may become structurally unstable and your ‘hull’ (a boat’s outer covering) will weaken and collapse or burst, allowing the water of godless humanity to enter in. This will cause you to sink. When you are floating in this ‘sea,’ you are in the world of the ungodly, but when you allow the water of this ‘sea’ to enter your ‘ship,’ you become full of this world of the ungodly. Then you will be liable to sink. Jesus told us to “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world” (1 John 2:15, 16). The more of the corrupt system of this world you allow into your heart, the more your ‘ship’ fills with water and starts to sink. A sunken ship seldom has value to anyone.

sinking sailboat

The ways that the ‘water’ of this ungodly world can come into you are not always obvious, since Satan, the prince of this world, usually operates in subtle ways. One of the simplest ways he likes to use is to get you to decrease your desire to pray, to the point where you eventually stop praying altogether. Satan likes to use this method, since prayer is your communication with God and it is where He aligns you with His will. Regular communication is essential for a lasting bond to develop, whether in a marriage relationship, or just between two close friends, but especially in your relationship with your heavenly Father.

Satan absolutely hates it when you diligently continue to pray to God with all your heart.

Satan also likes to discourage you from reading the Bible each day, or, better yet, he tries to bring you to the point where you stop reading it altogether. The Bible is God’s standard for your life. It shows why we are all sinners in His sight, how you can obtain His mercy, how you can be redeemed from the bondage of sin, and that forgiveness for your sins is available because of His Son’s sacrifice of His own life on the Cross on your behalf. It also tells you how to live a righteous life that is pleasing to God by coming to Him through His Son (and only through His Son). It shows us the consequences of our past, and the future of everyone who does not believe in and obey God by accepting His Son and the ultimate sacrifice He made on their behalf into their heart.

Satan likes to lure you away with the things you used to do in your ungodly past. He might also try to distract you with things that, while not outwardly sinful, will still succeed in removing your focus from Jesus. Whenever Satan can get you to focus on yourself and not Jesus, then those holes start rapidly appearing in your ‘ship’s’ hull and let water rush inside. He may even get you to become so focused on what you want, and not what God wants, that you will actually start letting in water on your own, without the need for any holes or corrosion at all! God does not want you to ever lower yourself down to the world’s standards. He wants the world to come up to the standard you are to be following, which is Jesus Christ.

cross

The best way to be in this world of ungodliness, and not become full of it, is to put Jesus Christ at the center of your faith. Stop trying to operate your ‘ship’ by yourself and place it in His hands instead. Then you will no longer give Satan the freedom to force ungodly water inside as a result. If you take your focus off of Christ and all that He accomplished for you on the Cross, you will create openings that give Satan the legal right to work in your life. In other words, the ‘water’ of the world begins entering inside you. You can’t freely mingle with the sinful world as a child of God and still walk away afterward unaffected by it. Jesus told us to Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41 emphasis mine). Fill your ship with God’s word instead. Keep your ‘hull’ strong by prayer, and you will be able to keep the ‘water’ of the world from causing you to sink, through Jesus Christ!

Our Little Bebop

We carefully backed our camper van in among the trees of our new campsite, which was elevated on a ridge about four feet beside a lake. The local ducks and geese soon found us. After welcoming us to ‘their’ lake, they told us they were ‘starving.’ Squirrels quickly descended from the live oaks draped with Spanish moss shading our lot.

One seemed to live in the tree beside our van, because he came several times every day to request a handout. We handed out saltine crackers, having nothing else a squirrel might desire.

He’d hold them in his front paws like a pizza box, and then spin them around from corner to corner, nibbling as he turned. We named him Chester.

The ducks and geese received carrot and potato peels. They gladly gobbled them up, being the freeloaders that they are, and immediately asked for more. After receiving the same thing morning after morning, they soon tired of the peels and demanded ‘real’ food. Chester continued coming down and asking for another saltine. Then he’d run back up the tree, returning two seconds later to ask for one more. How could he eat a cracker in less than two seconds? One day we spotted him stashing the latest cracker on a high limb before he ran back down. We also noticed that he was gaining quite a bit of weight. His name was soon changed to Chesterina, because ‘she’ was heavy with child(ren)!

We put our slow cooker right outside our van at night, so our food would be done cooking when we got up the next day (and to keep it from heating up our van as we slept!)

Another ‘woodland creature’ appeared not long after we started using it—a little calico cat with no tail. She was smaller than the average cat and did not have enough to eat or a home.

She was afraid of people, and would very cautiously approach our campsite hoping for a handout. But she’d run off out of sight if we approached her to offer something. We began leaving a bit of food for her on a picnic table at another site. Then we’d leave and watch and wait. She came around when the coast was clear to claim her handout. But the irresistible smell of cooked meat in our slow cooker every morning began drawing her a little closer to our van every day. One morning we found her hiding under our van, hoping something might fall out of the slow cooker and become hers!

The weeks went by, and she played in the leaves and caught lizards to eat because she couldn’t find anything else. Her generic name around the park was “Bobtail.” A large male calico cat, who was more adept at getting handouts, started coming around our site—drawn by the odor coming from the slow cooker. He would intimidate Bobtail and push her aside to claim whatever we might be offering that day for himself. She was too small and timid to fight back. So she would back off and let him have whatever he wanted. Hence, her lizard diet.

My husband noticed her dilemma. He would yell at the male calico to leave when he saw him coming around and would chase him away if he wouldn’t go. After a few days, Bobtail caught on that she now had a knight in shining armor who would defend her! She was really warming up to us and becoming less timid all the time.

One day she stood between my husband’s legs as he was threatening the male cat, and did the cat version of sticking her tongue out at him, saying, “So there! You heard him! Now don’t come back!” Then he ran off.

After a month or two, we moved from the tiny lot beside the lake to a larger site within the park. Before long, a little calico bobtailed cat came timidly creeping up to our patio! We introduced her to the novelty of dry cat food and put some out for her regularly. She decided that she didn’t need to be afraid of us anymore. We wanted to give her a name that was not so generic, but similar to the one she already knew, so we settled on “Bebop.” Since she had never lived with people, everything we did for her was a new treat. Sometimes we’d pour some liquid from a can of tuna into her water. She’d gingerly walk over and try it, then say, “Wow! They even have flavored water here!” What a delight she was!

Once Bebop began to know and trust my husband, she relied on him to protect her. When she stood between my husband’s legs, she had faith in him that he would look out for her.

She only weighed nine pounds, but the bigger cat would turn and run off. He was not afraid of her—he was afraid of what my husband might do to him if he hurt or mistreated her! She was no longer timid and afraid around that cat, because she knew that her ‘knight’ would take up her cause and defend her! She stood up to her bully (as long as he was there over her), although there was no way she could protect her little self on her own if the bigger cat came after her.

cross at sunset

Paul writes that we are to “…be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil (Ephesians 6:10-11).” (Notice that we are to put on God’s armor, not our own.)

Being “strong in the Lord” means that we believe that God is our source of strength, and then rely on Him and the promises He has made to us so we can stand against the devil’s attacks.

It does not mean being strong in our own self, but only through the One in whom our real strength lies (literally, “Be strengthened with power.”) Apart from Him we can do nothing. By having faith in Him, we can “…do all things through Christ which strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).

“…in the power of His might” refers to …the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power” (Ephesians 1:19). Your own strength is really weakness when battling the devil, but the strength of Jesus Christ’s power is almighty.

To the devil, we are timid little nine pound nothings. He is not afraid of us in the least.

But when we put on the armor of God and stand up to him relying on God’s strength, he runs off! He knows he cannot take on God and win! Bebop would say, “I can do all things through my hero who looks out for me!” And I say to you, “Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might!

The Wrong Piece

colored puzzle pieces

It is annoying, downright annoying, when assembling a jigsaw puzzle, to find that a piece is in the wrong place. One part of the piece that connected to the other pieces fits correctly. And it seemed to match the corresponding picture. Yet when you try to connect the other pieces to it, they just will not fit. You analyze the region around the problem area, and the picture the puzzle is cut from, and then go back to the offending pieces. You begin to grow frustrated with what should be working out just fine. The other pieces connect to each other without any problem. Why can’t they connect to this piece? They fit all of the other pieces around this problem piece. You eventually succumb to brute force. With the bottom of a heavyweight cup, you pound the offending areas into place. Problem solved! you gleefully think to yourself. But, wait, now the result doesn’t match the rest of the bigger picture! After some careful inspection, you realize that you were wrong and that one problem piece did not belong there all along. With a little more searching in the vast pile of untouched pieces, you find one you had overlooked. Then, much to your delight, it all works out fine (until it happens all over again in a different place).

How often in your life’s puzzle does a particular piece not quite fit right? No matter what you do, there ends up being a portion that won’t connect to the other pieces. So you analyze your life thus far, and conclude that everything seems right. Well, maybe, not one hundred percent. Actually, it is more like eighty percent—although it really could be only sixty-five percent complete—but it is getting better all the time, you tell yourself. Yet, in reality, your life never will be complete. Why? Because you are trying to solve it all yourself and make everything fit your way.

God did not design you to solve the puzzle of your life by yourself. He did not create you to be self-sufficient and completely independent. He wants you to be dependent on Him for everything. God is not a crutch for the weak and ignorant.

“For by thee I have run through a troop: by my God have I leaped over a wall. As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the Lord is tried: he is a buckler to all them that trust in him. For who is God, save the Lord? and who is a rock, save our God? God is my strength and power: and he maketh my way perfect…Thou hast also given me the shield of thy salvation: and thy gentleness hath made me great” (2 Samuel 22:30-36).

When you start trying to solve all of your problems by yourself, you are working in your own fallible strength. You begin putting wrong pieces in place thinking that you doing the right thing and conclude that the correct pieces you inserted earlier are now wrong. You continue this cycle over and over until you reach a point where you are weary in your own strength and give up. You might also reach a point where you have become so accustomed to having the wrong pieces in place that you begin forcefully trying to make the surrounding pieces fit too, only to find that now none of it looks right. It is then that you go for help outside of your self. Yet you find that the problems are still not solved; instead, they are just adjusted so that they appear to be solved, leaving you with hidden pain.

So what is the solution? How can anyone get the ‘wrong’ pieces to fit in to the right places? Where do you go for help when all of the ‘help’ is struggling with wrong pieces in their own lives (and many times not even aware of it)? Who can take away the pain, both inward and outward, that these wrong pieces are causing in your life?

The answer is very simple—it is Jesus Christ. When you turn all of the issues, pain, and problems over to Him, and let Him take care of them, you will find that the pieces will start to fit correctly again. But if you take over your own life again, and return to assembling your puzzle by yourself, or you become proud of the picture formed by your life’s puzzle, that is when you will find those wrong pieces reappearing. It is only when you surrender your ‘puzzle’ over to Jesus, and let Him do the assembling, that the pieces will fit where they belong each and every time. Jesus loves you more than you could ever know. He wants to assemble your life’s puzzle correctly. But it will only happen when you let Him. You need to “Draw nigh [near] to God, and he will draw nigh to you” (James 4:8a). All it takes is a simple prayer like this:

Jesus, I am sorry for running my life in my way and in my own strength. Please forgive me for sinning against you. I now give my heart and life over to you, and will stop trying to force the wrong pieces in my puzzle to fit. Please come into my heart and assemble the puzzle of my life with the right pieces in the way that You know is best. I am tired of the hurt and pain that I battle with. I lay it all in Your arms and I surrender my will over to You. Please use me and direct me in the way that You know is right. Amen.

Remember, what you thought was right all along turned out to be the wrong piece. Sure, it seemed right when you first placed it in the puzzle. The colors and pattern appeared to be right, but it was still the wrong piece, and the surrounding pieces will never fit properly with it there. As long as you continue trying to assemble the puzzle of your life and to make it complete in yourself, in your own strength, you will always have wrong pieces in place. You must turn over the assembling of your puzzle to Jesus and let Him put in the right piece in the right place. Jesus knows your life better than you ever will. He is the only one who can remove the wrong piece and replace it with the correct piece at the appropriate time. Don’t let the pain and frustration of having all of these erroneous pieces in place get you down. Give your pieces over to Him and He will make a way for you.

Emptiness

woman on bench

We all know the old saying that “money can’t buy happiness.” Although a few may find some happiness through money, no amount of money in the world can buy or bring anyone complete satisfaction. Ask King Solomon—in his time he was (and would still be considered) the richest person in the world. Some have calculated that he was worth over two trillion U.S. dollars in today’s money. And he was not only the richest, but also the wisest person who ever lived.

“…God appear[ed] unto Solomon, and said unto him, Ask what I shall give thee. And Solomon said unto God, Thou hast shewed great mercy unto David my father, and hast made me to reign in his stead. Now, O Lord God, let thy promise unto David my father be established: for thou hast made me king over a people like the dust of the earth in multitude. Give me now wisdom and knowledge, that I may go out and come in before this people: for who can judge this thy people, that is so great? And God said to Solomon, Because this was in thine heart, and thou hast not asked riches, wealth, or honour, nor the life of thine enemies, neither yet hast asked long life; but hast asked wisdom and knowledge for thyself, that thou mayest judge my people, over whom I have made thee king: Wisdom and knowledge is granted unto thee; and I will give thee riches, and wealth, and honour, such as none of the kings have had that have been before thee, neither shall there any after thee have the like” (2 Chronicles 2:7-12).

Did all of this wisdom, riches, wealth, and honor that he received make Solomon happy and satisfied? God recorded his conclusion for us to read: “…vanity of vanities; all is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1:2). Solomon was saying that all this world has to offer is actually emptiness. Throughout the book of Ecclesiastes, the Holy Spirit records Solomon’s woes regarding this earthly life. Little by little, he tried everything, and each time he came to the same conclusion—all is vanity or emptiness. Picture a loaf of bread filled with an excessive amount of yeast. It looks full and satisfying—until it is squeezed or sliced. Then it collapses into just a small lump of lifeless, baked dough. It will not satisfy.

Solomon had all the wisdom needed to solve almost any problem. People from all over the known world came just to hear his wisdom. He had untold riches. He lacked nothing—except true happiness and satisfaction. With so much in his favor and at his disposal, why didn’t he have real peace in his heart? Why wasn’t he satisfied? Because he did not keep God first in his life. He therefore tried to find happiness strictly on a human level, living his life on a parallel plane with the animal world.

God created man as a three part being: body, soul, and spirit. When we eliminate God from our lives, then all we are trying to satisfy is the body and soul.

As a result, our spirit remains dissatisfied. So we resort to additional efforts to try to satisfy the body and soul in an attempt to fill that deep longing that is actually from our spirit. Yet, the more we try to quench that longing by feeding and pleasing our body and soul, the worse we feel. As a result, we go through all kinds of physical, mental, and emotional turmoil, since one third of our self is constantly being denied or deprived.

God never designed us to live our lives without Him. We accepted the lie somewhere in our life that God is not necessary, or even that He is nonexistent. As a result, we have ended up out of balance. Compare this to trying to ride a tricycle missing one rear wheel. No matter how much effort we put into keeping those two remaining wheels rolling, we will never be riding in a satisfactory way. Lacking a third wheel will keep holding us back. We can try to make our own third wheel, but it will never be the same as the original one.

broken chained tricycle

Many try to solve this imbalance, this emptiness and its byproducts, by going for professional help. We see doctors, therapists, counselors, psychologists, or psychiatrists, and so on, and then attempt to follow their advice and solutions. We try following multi-step programs. We take prescription drugs. We may gamble or take in pornography. We may resort to smoking, drinking alcohol, or taking illegal drugs to try to satisfy the void in our life, or to cover up the pain that comes from ignoring that longing. We may seek all kinds of earthly pleasure. Yet none of these things, however beneficial they might seem to us, will ever relieve—much less fill—that emptiness deep inside of us. Just as Solomon plainly declared so long ago, it is all vanity. We can never permanently escape the emptiness this way. Sadly, all of our attempts to cover or fill this void within us only create new imbalances in our life. These result in even more efforts to solve the problems that we created in trying to remedy the original problems. We then end up in a cycle we can never free ourselves from.

The only solution to all of this heartache, pain, and madness is to acknowledge that God exists, that He is real. God loves us move than we ever can comprehend. The primary, essential example and evidence of His love is His willing sacrifice of His only Son. Jesus died on the cross so that we could be freed from this constant turmoil in our lives. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever should believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

Have you ever heard of a doctor or psychologist or even a close neighbor offering to take all of your problems, as well as all the rest of their patient’s or client’s problems or even the all problems of those in the neighborhood, upon themselves, permanently?

No person on this earth can ever solve the problems that denying God has caused in our life due to sin. This is why we absolutely need Jesus in our life. He was never trapped in these cycles of emptiness that we struggle with continually. He was sinless. Yet He took upon Himself all of our sins, struggles, and problems. He paid the penalty for sin that He didn’t owe so that we won’t have to. Jesus wants to fill that spiritual void in our life. He said, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

But He can only work in us if we let Him. As long as we continue to go about in our own way and deny Him, or try to replace Him in our life, we will never have real peace and satisfaction. All of our own efforts will not bring true fulfillment in our life—only more emptiness. We may cover it up or try to escape from it, but the emptiness will always be there. The worst part is that this emptiness will not end when we die, but will continue throughout eternity. We are only deceiving ourselves if we think death will be the end of it all.

man sitting on ledge

We only have a very small portion compared to what King Solomon possessed. Yet, in spite of his immense wisdom and grandeur, he discovered that all is vanity or emptiness without God. Why settle for a life that is ultimately empty forever, when we can have eternal satisfaction instead? The point must come in our life when we acknowledge the existence of God. What happens to us in eternity rests on our choice now. Right this moment, Jesus can take away our pain and emptiness, if we will allow Him to. We don’t have to have all of the riches and wisdom in the world to find out that God is the answer. He is here right now. Give your heart over to Him and be free from pursuing vanity.

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A Strong Tower

scrabo tower

You are in a bad predicament. Your enemy has you surrounded and is closing in quickly. What should you do? Run!

Me, run?

Yes, you! Run. Run to the nearest fortified protection.

But that’s retreating. I don’t retreat, I fight!

So you are going to fight an enemy that is always more powerful than you are? An enemy you can’t always see?

Well, if I try and apply myself hard enough, I’ll surely make some kind of headway and then I’ll round up some reinforcements.

But you will not be retreating in defeat and you won’t need any reinforcements if you’ll do what I just said!

But where do I run? I don’t see anything but some tower nearby.

That’s it, exactly!

It looks so isolated and I’m sure I’m going to be trapped when I get inside! Oh, now I see—a trap! Some help you are, sending me into a stuffy old tower in the middle of nowhere with an impossible enemy bearing down on me!

It’s not a trap. Are your plans any better? How are you going to fight with nothing but your bare hands?

I’ll make some kind of weapon with whatever is around me. I’m really a very resourceful person, you know. Look, rocks and pebbles! Yes! That’s what I’ll do. I’ll gather up lots of these and pelt the enemy in the eye, the face, or wherever I can do some harm. That’s it! I’ll be like David in the Bible, where he took some stones and knocked the life out of a giant! You know, I do have a rag in my pocket that would make a perfect sling.

Well, you could do that if you were relying solely on God first.

Oh! that is so difficult and complicated, and, besides, I’m pretty sure my aim is sharp, and I can throw really fast and… and…just how strong and secure is that tower up ahead?

Stronger than anything any enemy could use to come against it. In fact, no enemy will ever be able to overcome it. Period.

It doesn’t look that secure. Who designed and constructed it?

Jesus.

Jesus? You mean the One who died on some beams shaped like a cross thousands of years ago and miraculously rose from the grave a little while later? The One I accepted into my heart and surrendered my life over to sometime ago?

He’s the one! He not only is alive, He now sits at the right hand of God His Father in Heaven victoriously! You see, when Jesus died on the cross, He not only made it possible for anyone who believes on Him to have eternal life, He also took away the legal right for the devil to have control over them as well.

OK, so now how do this tower and I fit in with all of this?

stone tower

Well, when you put your faith and trust in the victory that Jesus won over the enemy (the Devil) through His sacrifice on the cross, then that victory becomes your victory. He is that strong tower that keeps you safe. The Bible says in Psalms 61:3, “For thou hast been a shelter for me, and a strong tower from the enemy.” And in Proverbs 18:10, “The name of the LORD is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe.”

Wow, you mean that all I have to do is just put my trust in Jesus to shield, protect and care for me?

That’s right. When you try to fight the enemy in your own strength and effort, defeat and failure result. There is nothing about you that will overcome the enemy. It is only in Jesus Christ that you can have victory.

But aren’t there some procedures, some rules or requirements that I have to follow first?

Just one. Believe (have faith) in Jesus, that He will take care of your enemy or problem. If you worry about the problem at hand, you doubt God. When Jesus was on this earth, He could have touched many more lives than He did if there had not been so much unbelief among the people. Even His own family and the people in His hometown refused to believe in Him.

Um, could we finish this conversation inside that tower? The enemy seems to be getting awfully close now, and an intense storm is brewing overhead too!

Well, do you believe that Jesus has the power to protect and shield you by that tower? Do you believe that His sacrifice on the cross has not only saved you from eternal punishment in hell, but has also set you free from the control of sin as well?

OK. OK. Yes, I do believe that, and I even believe that I can overcome the enemy only through Jesus and His victory at the cross. Now, can we go?

Don’t panic—we are already there!

Wow! This tower isn’t bad at all. I can feel peace, even though the storm is raging above and the enemy is charging all around us!

Let’s take a look outside.

Are you nuts? With all of the fury going on out there? Stop! Don’t push—I’m moving! Let me just look out this window here. Wait! Where is the enemy? What happened to the storm?

Jesus handled everything. Remember that He already fought the enemy and won the victory once and for all at the cross. We are to just rest in Him. Our victory over the enemy is only as good as the faith we put in Jesus Christ to take care of the problem for us.

This is amazing! So, by putting my trust in Jesus and the victory He won at the cross, He will be as a strong tower, a place of refuge? Yet, if I try to fight the enemy or solve the problem at hand on my own, then I will be like a deer in the midst of an open field with predators lurking all around?

That’s about the size of it!

Well, watch out world, because I’m looking now in faith for that strong tower whenever I find the enemy trying to overtake me!

————–

How about you, reading this right now? Have you put your faith in Jesus and the victory He won at the cross? Are you anxious over the problems overtaking you, or overwhelmed by the size of the enemy approaching? Is your worrying and lack of faith in Jesus Christ limiting God? The Bible says in Philippians 4:6, 7 “Be careful [full of cares, anxious] for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication [petition, asking in earnest] with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” This is not a nice suggestion, but rather a command by God.

When the enemy comes at you, do you seek refuge in the strong tower of Jesus in faith, or do you try to fight the enemy, or take care of your problems in your own strength? Are you putting yourself first or God first? Jesus wants to be your strong tower from the enemy and your mounting problems, if only you will commit them to Him and let Him do the work.

Savior or Swine?

pig close-up

“…they arrived at the country of the Gadarenes, which is over against Galilee. And when he went forth to land, there met him out of the city a certain man, which had devils long time, and ware no clothes, neither abode in any house, but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out, and fell down before him, and with a loud voice said, What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God most high? I beseech [beg] thee, torment me not. (For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. For oftentimes it had caught him: and he was kept bound with chains and in fetters; and he brake the bands, and was driven of the devil into the wilderness.) And Jesus asked him, saying, What is thy name? And he said, Legion: because many devils were entered into him. And they besought him that he would not command them to go out into the deep. And there was there an herd of many swine feeding on the mountain: and they besought [begged] him that he would suffer [command] them to enter into them. And he suffered them. Then went the devils out of the man, and entered into the swine: and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the lake, and were choked. When they that fed them saw what was done, they fled, and went and told it in the city and in the country. Then they went out to see what was done; and came to Jesus, and found the man, out of whom the devils were departed, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed, and in his right mind: and they were afraid. They also which saw it told them by what means he that was possessed of the devils was healed. Then the whole multitude of the country of the Gadarenes round about besought him to depart from them; for they were taken with great fear: and he went up into the ship, and returned back again. Now the man out of whom the devils were departed besought him that he might be with him: but Jesus sent him away, saying, Return to thine own house, and shew how great things God hath done unto thee. And he went his way, and published throughout the whole city how great things Jesus had done unto him.” (Luke 8:26-39).

We have a two-sided situation here. One side leads to deliverance, victory, and a new life. The other leads to lust for material gain, bondage, and death for all eternity. Looking at the narrative in this manner can alter our overall viewpoint.

Jesus had just crossed over from the west side of the Sea of Galilee with His disciples. They had battled it out with a storm of near-hurricane proportions and Jesus had to rescue them because of their unbelief. No sooner had they come ashore than a man possessed by possibly six thousand demons (an incomprehensible amount, to say the least!) approached them in all of his devilish might.

evil eyes

This man was in real bondage. He had no home, no clothes, no control over his own body. He lived in a graveyard among the dead and was compelled by the devil to go into the wilderness, which was also devoid of any real life. He had been bound by demons a long time. Such are the results when we allow the devil to have his way in our lives. He will not take over just our left hand, nor will he be satisfied with just our left hand and our legs. He will not even quit with just our left hand, our legs and our stomach. If you let him into your life, he will take over all of you—from the hairs on your head to the soles of your feet. And he just might bring along a few thousand more of his devils to help keep you under his control.

The only human help this man received was chains and fetters. That primitive solution was rather useless in his day, nor has it improved in this age. We just give the “chains and fetters” more appealing names. The demons broke all of man’s physical restraints as if they were just made of paper.

Man’s help did no good, since he was suffering from a spiritual problem, not a physical one.

It takes a spiritual solution to solve a situation like this—which is why we must let Jesus take care of the problem. We cannot expect a physical solution to solve what is basically a spiritual problem, like addiction to drugs (legal or not), alcohol, lust, pornography, or pride, adultery, demon possession, etc. Man’s solutions try to control the problems; God’s solutions solve the problems.

Jesus was not deterred the least bit by these demons, because He had authority over the situation. In fact, they knew who He was before He opened His mouth. How sad when demon spirits acknowledge what the religious leaders would and could not! The leaders had studied the Bible most of their lives, yet they refused to acknowledge that Jesus was the promised Deliverer (even after His death and resurrection). The demons possessing this man were truly terrified when Jesus appeared on the scene. They thought He was going to order them to their prison in the bottomless pit. So they begged Him to send them into some swine nearby instead. Jesus granted their request, and then the whole herd rushed into a nearby lake and drowned.

Some may see this as odd and may even sympathize with the pigs. The reason Jesus allowed this lies in God’s laws given long ago when the children of Israel were in the wilderness. “And the swine, though he divide the hoof, and be clovenfooted, yet he cheweth not the cud; he is unclean to you” (Leviticus 11:7). Pigs were considered unclean for the Jews and were forbidden in the land.

These swine owners were violating God’s law, and even making a living off of it.

Now read the real irony: “…the whole multitude of the country of the Gadarenes round about besought him to depart from them; for they were taken with great fear: and he went up into the ship, and returned back again.” A man had just been delivered from thousands of demons by Jesus. Yet the locals wanted Jesus to leave, because their livelihood had been ruined! They cared not one bit about this man. As long as he remained in demonic bondage, no strangers would dare to venture through that area (and discover the illegal swine being raised there).

Are you like this demon-possessed man, struggling to be free, yet receiving nothing but more bondage? You may not have thousands of demons raging inside of you, but you may still be under the devil’s control. Or are you like the locals whose livelihood was derived from something directly against God’s law? They had no concern about the horrible agony, torture, and bondage the demon-possessed man was going through. But the locals reacted with great fear over what Jesus had done for him. They did not want their sinful livelihood exposed. They valued material gain more than victory over bondage, sin, and death. They rejected the Savior of the world for a multitude of swine. In the end, Jesus left. The Bible never mentions Him returning to that region.

person set free

When Jesus freed this man from all of those demons, he was truly set free. The next mention of him, he was “sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed, and in his right mind…” (v. 35). No follow-up treatment, no prescriptions, no therapy, and no long-term counseling. He went back to his home city eventually (the city of the swine owners), proclaiming what wonderful things Jesus had done for him. Jesus is also able to set you free, if you will only come to Him. And “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (John 8:36).

cross silhouette

Jesus was led by His Father (through the Holy Spirit) to cross a raging sea in order to set one person in desperate need free. Jesus could have remained on the opposite shore and left him that way. But Jesus loved him so much that He was willing to endure a treacherous journey to deliver one man from demonic control. The swine owners and all who came with them to meet Jesus could have been set free from their bondages that day as well, but they refused, and told Jesus to leave.

Jesus also came to deliver you from the bondage of the devil. Which will you choose: the Savior, or the swine?

For more information about giving your life to Jesus, click here.