Same Direction, Wrong Destination

A red electric train on curved tracks.

Many major cities around the world have specific areas where multiple railroad tracks cluster together. A great number of trains pass through these hubs to pick up and unload passengers or freight. For some, this is their destination, for others, just a stopover. Looking down on these rail yards from above, you would see many tracks running parallel to each other. Some will cross paths with another, while many never meet at all. Even in some towns, two or more tracks may run near each other yet never come together.

An overhead view of three red cabooses sitting on one of several train tracks including one that curves away from the others.

Now suppose two people decided to each take one of these parallel tracks and travel on it, expecting to get out and meet the other at the end of the line. After only a short period of traveling, they might discover that the tracks they chose depart from their parallel course instead, and end up reaching separate destinations. For the one who ended up at the wrong destination, everything seemed right in the beginning. His companion riding on the other track started off shortly before he did and moved along in the same direction as he was about to travel. Therefore he assumed that the end of the trip would work out just as well.

Two trains sitting side by side at a station.

Many think that they can just get on a track that seems right when it comes to really finding God and entering Heaven and they will surely arrive at the feet of God Himself, along with everyone else on other parallel tracks. The Bible spoke of this and its outcome thousands of years ago: “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Proverbs 14:12). Just because we think the way we want to travel is the best way does not always mean that it is. God made only one way available to get to Him, and that is through His Son, Jesus. “Jesus saith…I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). But many vehemently disagree with this statement, because they want control over the whole process. They do not want God’s way, because it involves giving up of the right to their self. They want everything on their own terms. They feel God must come down to them, not the other way around. They would prefer to accept a verse out of the ‘anti-Bible’ –“…I am a way, a truth and a life; all persons can come to the Father whether by me or anything else.”

Because of our sins, we are not allowed to come before God, since He is holy and righteous. No other being can rival or equal God. He is supreme and almighty. On the other hand, we—the human race—are sinful, finite beings. Our sinful nature cannot mix with God’s holiness; if we could do so, it could not make us more holy and free of sin. Instead, it would corrupt God Himself, nullifying His very existence, and cause complete chaos in the delicate balance of all of His creation (including us). In fact, with our limited knowledge of this world and the universes beyond, we cannot possibly comprehend the fullness of the consequences of God’s annihilation (if such was possible).

Prior to Jesus coming to Earth as a man, God made a temporary way for man to come before Him. But man still could not actually be in His presence, similar to children being in the house of their parents but still not in the actual room where their parents reside. The whole process found in the Old Testament exceeds the scope of this article, but the essence of it involves a sacrifice. God required the blood of an innocent, spotless, defect-free lamb to be shed as a temporary covering for the sins of the people. The lamb took the death penalty man deserved. Note the word ‘temporary,’ as these sacrifices could never permanently remove anyone’s sins. Therefore, they had to be repeated over and over. By obeying God’s commandments outlined in the Old Testament, and the offering up of the sacrifice by a high priest, God’s judgment could be avoided. But God never intended for this sacrificial system to go on forever. It necessitated a final sacrifice, one that would, once and for all, pay the price for the sins of every man, woman and child—not just the ones alive now, but even for those who already died and those yet to be born. The problem was that no one on Earth, or anywhere in the universe, could qualify as a man who was a perfect, sinless substitute.

A silhouette of a cross and brush with fog, sky and mountains in the distance.

That is where Jesus comes in. He willingly came down from His place in Heaven and became a physical human being just like us—only without any sin, ever. He, in turn, became the ultimate, final, living sacrifice needed to pay the penalty for our sins. During His time here on Earth, He fulfilled every requirement God had laid out in the Old Testament. This was something impossible for any other person on Earth to completely accomplish. When He was crucified on the cross, He took upon Himself every sin—past, present and future—of every person who was, is, and will be on Earth. His shed blood covered our sins. They are completely removed from God’s sight. “And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission [elimination]” (Hebrews 9:22). But, unlike the lamb mentioned earlier, Jesus’ sacrifice was final and permanent. Not only that, after He was taken down from the cross and buried, He rose three days later from the grave and soon ascended back to His place with God. This further seals the finality of His sacrifice.

This is how Jesus alone became “the way, the truth, and the life.”No man or animal ever sacrificed his life for us and rose from the dead afterward. Furthermore, no one every loved us to the point that he gave his only son to die for us.

But “…God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Remember also, that Jesus loved us as much as the Father, in that He willfully came down and gave His life in our place.

Which track are you riding on right now? Is it the one that you think (or have been taught) is going to God? Or is it one that everyone else is riding because they also believe that it is going to the right place? Just because the train’s cars are full does not make that track the right one. There may be two tracks at that station, or there may be many tracks in the rail yard, but only one is the right one that will take you to eternal life with God. Are you on that track? Or are you on a parallel one that will ultimately take you away from God? Don’t let today’s smug rejection be tomorrow’s surprise for eternity. There is still time to get on the train that is riding on the correct track. Why don’t you take a moment now and ask God to lead you to it?

For more information on finding God, please check out our main website here.

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Greater Than Any Fence

sunset and heron behind fence

A simple chain-link fence was all that separated me from the Great Blue Heron standing at the pond’s edge. Hoping for the “perfect shot,” I carefully inched closer, camera in hand. With each successive step toward the fence, the heron became more wary of my presence. I slowly raised my camera to the fence top, when—whoosh—the heron made its rapid egress gracefully into the sky, evading me once again.

I spotted ibises later, moving across a grassy bank. With the tangled network of trees, bushes, and vines before me, the possibility was small that my presence would disturb them. Yet they still continued to hurriedly move farther down the bank. I cautiously repositioned myself just a short distance down along this barrier between the birds and me. Taking careful aim, I brought the ibises into focus, and waited silently. Suddenly, two boys gleefully bounded out of woods nearby toward my direction. The birds spotted them through this ‘fence’ and quickly flew off. Another fine photograph evaded me!

One would think that birds and animals feel safer behind fences and barriers. Yet almost every time, they flee at the slightest disturbance without hesitation. I’ve seen squirrels and doves high in a tree quite alarmed, that would run or fly away while I carefully walked underneath them. They didn’t know how difficult it was to reach them. So why would they, or a larger animal such as a cow or deer, feel compelled to move away from a human being, even though a large barricade stands between them? Could it simply be that they don’t understand just how secure they really are?

sheep behind fence

Many in today’s world harbor a similar fear. They consider the devil and all the evil associated with him a threat, and flee in the opposite direction at the slightest disturbance. This effort may be effective if someone nearby deliberately planned to throw a large object at them, but the devil operates in both the non-spiritual (natural, visible) realm, and in the spiritual (supernatural, unseen) realm. He is already waiting on the opposite side before they even get near there!

Wait—what about the fence mentioned earlier? Could the devil attack if a fence is in place in our life to protect us? It depends on our relationship with God. When we allow sin in our life, gaps appear in our fence, giving the devil access to us. Ever since the first man’s failure in the Garden of Eden, no human being has been able to be in God’s presence—whether in Heaven or on Earth—because of sin. Sin is disobedience to God’s laws and commandments, put in place for our benefit. Violating them results in both natural and spiritual consequences. God cannot permit or tolerate any sin in His presence, yet God wants every human being to be in His presence.

fence with hole

This is the point where Jesus, God’s only Son, comes in. Sin caused separation in the relationship between God and man. Through the requirements laid out in the Bible’s first five books, God made a way for man to come before Him, but only in a veiled manner back then. Sin couldn’t truly be defeated, because it required something sinless to overcome it—meaning no one from this earth would ever qualify. Sin could only be covered, or temporarily hidden, through the shed blood from the sacrifice of a spotless, innocent lamb. This meant that these lambs had to be continually sacrificed.

Jesus was sinless before He was born on this Earth as a man, and remained so all the way through His death on the cross and beyond. He was therefore able to fulfill this sinless requirement. He was the ultimate ‘spotless, innocent lamb’ that willingly (God never forced Him) shed His innocent blood by sacrificing His life on the cross. He permanently covered the sin of every man, woman and child that has lived, is living, and is yet to be born! Because He was the final sacrifice, no more lambs had to be sacrificed. When He cried out on the cross, “It is finished (literally just “finished,” John 19:30), He was referring to the end of the old physical sacrificial system, and of sin’s control over our lives. Not only did He sacrifice His life on the cross—three days later He arose from His tomb alive, completely victorious over sin and death!

So how does this apply to the fence I mentioned? Well, initially you need to admit to God that you were wrong and accept Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross by faith, as if it was your own sacrifice of yourself. He took your place and paid your debt for sin that He didn’t owe (remember, He was continuously sinless and blameless) —a debt impossible for you to repay. In fact, you can’t even pay the interest! Ask Him to forgive you for all of your sins against Him, and turn completely around in the opposite direction of them, thereby allowing Him to be in control of your life. [Click here for more information about giving your life to Him.] Do this, and He, in essence, becomes a hedge or fence around you. Not a literal fence you can see, but a spiritual fence that the devil and his minions are aware of, yet cannot get past.

cross with blue sunset

Because of Jesus’ victory at the cross, the devil no longer has the legal right to break through this fence and attack you—as long as you are yielding to Jesus, allowing Him to work in your heart and life. This doesn’t mean that the devil won’t threaten and intimidate you though. Like the boys running near the barrier scaring the birds, the devil will still create quite a racket—enough to make you believe that he has actually broken through the fence! The difference is, when you put your trust in Jesus, focusing on Him and not yourself or anyone else, that fence will remain secure.

Actually, you will be even more protected than the birds I mentioned. They are only safe from direct attacks on the side that the physical fence covers. But Jesus protects you on all sides. “I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in Him will I trust” (Psalm 91:2). He is greater than any fence or hedge of protection that you’ll ever find on this Earth. Make a commitment to Jesus today and let Him be your shield and barrier.

What God Wants for Christmas

christmas gifts

Near the end of every year, millions around the world take time from their busy schedules to shop for the highest day of gift giving—Christmas day. For the sake of just one single day of celebration, people push themselves until they go beyond their maximum threshold for stress. The results of these frantic efforts to try to make someone else happy or satisfied too often are arguments, disappointment, jealousy, heartaches, and sometimes even severe injuries. How ironic, that all of this is done in celebration of the birth of the One who came to make the way for eternal joy and peace in our lives!

In the midst of all of our efforts to give each other gifts at this time, how often do we simply forget about, or even totally overlook the One who gave us the ultimate gift—Jesus Christ? We have become so engrossed in our giving to each other, that we relegate the remembrance of what God and His Son did for us to just a service or two at a church somewhere, if we do even that. Then, after all the songs and celebrations are over, we scurry back to the stores in the days that follow Christmas to exchange or return gifts we have received, or to buy even more things. We have not even mentioned the multitudes who do almost all their gift-giving on a computer, while never even setting foot inside of a physical store for the whole holiday season!

shopping mall interior at christmas

Now consider the other aspect of Christmas gift-giving: how much do we give God in return for the gift He has given us, and for what He has done for us? God the Father gave the only begotten Son He ever had to suffer and die for us on the cross, so that we could escape the just penalty of death for our sin against God, and the awful thought of spending eternity without Him. What God actually expects from us in return is our praise. “By him [Jesus] therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name” (Hebrews 13:15). He eagerly desires to receive our thanksgiving, appreciation, and love.

“I will praise thee, O Lord, with my whole heart; I will shew forth all thy marvellous works” (Psalms 9:1).

Therefore will I give thanks unto thee, O Lord, among the heathen, and sing praises unto thy name” (Psalms 18:49).

“I will bless the Lord at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth” (Psalms 34:1).

“In God we boast all the day long, and praise thy name for ever” (Psalms 44:8).

“Let the people praise thee, O God; let all the people praise thee” (Psalms 67:5).

“O Lord, thou art my God; I will exalt thee, I will praise thy name; for thou hast done wonderful things; thy counsels of old are faithfulness and truth” (Psalms 25:1).

“And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them” (Acts 16:25).

person in praise to the sky

There are many places throughout the Bible where praises are made unto God, because He deserves all of our praise. As we deepen and mature in our relationship with Him, our desire to praise and thank Him should increase as well. But when our relationship with Him weakens, then our praise and interests turn away from Him also.

At this Christmas season, and on into the next year, let’s pause from our hectic endeavors to try to please others, and consider instead the One who died to give us a new life and an eternal future in Him. Jesus is the reason for celebrating. Let our giving be to Him first, and then we can give to others to share our joy with them. He is the One who is worthy and who deserves our praise and thanksgiving.

male clasping hands in prayer

“But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light” (1 Peter 2:9).

“O come, let us sing unto the Lord: let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation. Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto him with psalms. For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods” (Psalms 95:1-3).

O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord!

You Can’t Drown by Just Falling into Water

flickr photo by odonata98 (Kimberly Reinhart) shared under a Creative Commons (BY-ND) license

Did you know that if you were to fall into a large body of water, such as a pond or lake, you wouldn’t drown? It’s true; you could fall into significant depths of water and still be alive. (Of course, I’m talking about ordinary liquid water, not solid frozen or near-freezing water.) The drowning occurs when you stay underwater. The longer you stay, the sooner you will drown. No matter how much you train or prepare for such a dive, if you don’t get out of the water, you will drown. Even if you keep your head above the surface, if you continue to float, you will eventually succumb from fatigue and drown.

The same is true with sin. Your relationship with God won’t permanently end when you fall into sin. It’s when you remain in sin that your relationship suffers. God is holy and can never have sin in His presence. When you continue to sin, or live in sin, then your relationship and fellowship with Him eventually ceases. Just as with water, it is easy to fall into sin, but getting out takes significantly more effort, and the longer you remain living in sin, the harder it is to get out of it.

Due to the sin of Adam (the first man), mankind has always had an inclination to sin (commonly called the “sin nature.”) Therefore, sin will always be present with you, but you don’t have to be controlled or overcome by it. When Jesus died on the cross, He won the victory over sin and death.

Since He fought the battle over sin and won, you no longer need to fight this battle yourself. In fact, you can’t fight this battle on your own and win.

The answer is to repent (turn completely in the opposite direction) of your sins and sinful ways, surrendering your will and life over to Him. “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord…” (Acts 3:19).

lambs and sheep

When a sheep falls into a ditch, it doesn’t just lie there. It does its best to get up out of the ditch onto more stable ground. When you fall into sin, don’t just stay there and continue to sin; repent and get up to better ground.

An even better solution is to put your focus on Jesus, and your trust in the victory He made possible through His sacrifice on the cross. It’s when you take your eyes off of Him and place them on your self and your problems that the ease in which you fall into sin becomes greater and greater.

The greatest tool you have against your sin nature is Jesus.

When you take your eyes off of Him and fall into sin, you need to turn your eyes back to Him, repent and flee from that sin, and seek forgiveness from God your Heavenly Father. Then “…the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19b). Sin only keeps you in despair, fear and depression (among many other things) due to your separation from God. So why continue in it when it is only going to prevent you from having real peace with God?

The Man in the Middle

scales of justice

What has come between man and God to keep us from being at peace with each other? The source of the disagreement between us is sin (violation of God’s law) going back to the first man, Adam and his wife, Eve. Man’s sin against God provoked Him into dealing with man in a way related to judgment. Man had rebelled against God as the sovereign ruler of his life, declaring himself independent of Him. There was no way man could come before God and honestly declare himself not guilty. His guilt was obvious. Who was satisfied with this situation? Neither man nor God. They needed someone to come between them and reconcile their differences, if they were ever going to be together and at peace with each other again. So God, the King of the Universe, appointed His Son, Jesus Christ, to become a human man and act as a mediator between God and man, between the King and His subjects, who were in rebellion against Him.

Now what does a mediator do? He reconciles differences. He has to deal with two sides—he cannot mediate one side only. And the two sides have to be at odds with each other, or there is nothing to mediate. The two sides need someone in the middle, who understands both sides of the issue, to bring the two warring sides together so they can live in peace with each other again. Jesus Christ is the One qualified and worthy of being chosen to be the only perfect Mediator between God and man.

Man left to his own devices is at a great distance from God. There is hatred of God within man. He is offended at God’s justice.

Jesus came to be the middleman between the two sides. He resolves the differences between them and brings both to a state of harmony and restored friendship. He draws the ones who were far from God close to Him again, to bring honor and glory to God. He was able to accomplish this by presenting His blood that was shed when He died on the Cross before God, the proof that He had died. Someone had to pay the price due for man’s transgression of God’s law, which was death. By this means, Jesus satisfied the demands of the Law of God in a righteous way and justice was upheld and satisfied.

If Jesus was not also God, then He could not have come near to God to speak on man’s behalf. He could not have taken up man’s case to try to help him to be reconciled back to God. And He certainly could not have paid the price man owed on his behalf. The ability to be the sacrifice man needed would not have been available to Jesus if He remained God only. He could not have cleansed man from sin, nor have been able to get a pardon from the King for him. Justice would not have been served and man would still be guilty. He could not have made atonement (giving satisfaction for an offense or injury) for man’s sin nor peace between man and God.

Today, Jesus is still mediating between man and God as He appears in the court of Heaven, in order to intervene between the two parties to restore friendship and harmony between them, and to plead their case before God—the holy and highest Judge.

Jesus is the advocate or the lawyer for man. He makes sure man gets all he is entitled to in God’s court, which concerns the blessings of God’s covenant (contract) with man. This is what He is in court to take care of. He makes sure all the blessings are made available to the clients committed to His care and keeping, and that they are kept safe from risk, harm, or destruction unto everlasting happiness.

But why did Jesus need to become a man in order to carry out this assignment? Someone was needed who would be capable of obeying God by suffering and dying. God is not capable of dying, since He is life itself. Actually, obeying, suffering, and dying are the part man needs to do. He is guilty of having broken the law of God, and is therefore obligated to suffer for his disobedience. The sentence for the crime of rebellion against God is death—not just the end of his physical life, but also separation from God forever. Whoever would take man’s place as his substitute had to be able to do all that man should have done to satisfy perfect, divine justice.

Jesus is the appropriate Mediator between man and God because He has taken on the nature that all men have.

If the issue had been over a cow that man had stolen from God, then he would need to give God another cow, or the price of one, to compensate Him for the loss. The offender has to offer something worthy of restoring to its rightful owner, the offended one. What could man offer God?

The only offering man could make to bring a state of peace or quiet between him and God was his own life, because his crime against God was that severe. He was guilty of red-handed rebellion against God, caught in the very act! And the just penalty for rebellion is execution of the rebel who refuses to obey the law of the kingdom. Jesus agreed to be the One who would be executed as a sacrifice for man’s sin. But He was not able to offer Himself up as a man as the sacrifice required to appease God, the One offended, unless He took on the human form in order to be both man and God—and therefore the perfect Mediator between them. His death was the redemption price paid or demanded for the release of someone from captivity. Redemption means to redeem, to buy back, to get or win back. Finally, complete peace between the two could be made forever.

Now, if Jesus was willing to go through all this as man’s great Mediator, don’t you think He has compassion on man’s behalf? And that He wants man to be reconciled with God so he can be with Him and part of the Kingdom of Heaven forever? Do you truly want to be reconciled to God? Then you must go through the Mediator that He selected, who is qualified and has compassion on you. You have to go through Jesus, the Mediator for all mankind, to come to God, because He is the One who has made peace by His blood shed on the cross when He, as a man, offered Himself as the perfect sacrifice for sin.

 Jesus is the only man who can bring you in touch with God and reconcile both of you. He is the only One who has ever been both man and God. And He is the only One who can make peace between man and God. Through Jesus, God the Father is able to touch man and man is able to touch God. He has already done all that is necessary for you to have peace with God. Your part is to accept this fact, to believe it, and to give your life to God. He has already paid the ransom price for you. You now owe your life to Him!

 “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time” (1 Tim. 2:5-6).

Enamored With Our Self

I love me graphic

Stan just stood there, staring at the edge of the lake with a gaze of uncertainty, almost to the point of daydreaming. “Hey, Stan!” he heard his friend shout, “The bus is coming just up the road.”

“Uh, yeah,” Stan replied, with some hesitancy. “I’ll be right there!” He reluctantly wandered back to the bus stop, his dream-like state having been interrupted like a burst balloon.

“Stan, what are you doing? Staring at yourself again?” his friend cynically called out. As Stan got on the bus, he happened to spot his reflection in a mirror. He just couldn’t seem to break himself away from the sight of himself.

“Let’s move it; I’ve got a schedule to keep!” the driver of the bus growled. Stan eventually managed to slip into a seat by a window, two seats down from his friend, who was now really beginning to wonder about him. By this time, the sun was almost gone for the day and the interior lights of the bus began to take on more prominence than the sunlight on the surface of the window, or even much of the activity outside the bus. Now Stan could see himself more clearly in the window’s glossy surface.

Harriet had gently warned him long ago about getting lost in his own reflection. She was always the guiding force in his life, or, at least, that was how he thought of her. That gently curling hair of auburn persuasion, those captivating azure eyes—it seemed like it was just weeks, not years, since he had first become enraptured with her comely looks and radiant disposition.

“We are now approaching the stop for Twelfth Avenue and Rey Street,” a computerized voice interrupted through the intercom of the bus.

Stan’s eyes were now attracted to the change in his reflection, due to the distortions of the window surface of this bus. After a brief stop, the bus jolted as it started to move forward again. Stan sat intrigued by the way his left ear seemed to detach itself as he moved his reflection back and forth over the irregularities of the window’s tinting.

“We are now approaching the stop for Materfell Street Station,” the computerized voice abruptly alerted again, a short time later. Stan was still sitting enamored with his own reflection when he felt some small objects pelting the side of his neck.

“Stan, you daydreamer, this is your stop!” his friend, who had now turned around in his seat, hollered out. Stan suddenly remembered that he and his friend had agreed earlier that they weren’t going to get off at the same stop. Stan was relieved at this crude interruption since the bright exterior lights now moving into view were making his reflection dissipate, and he prepared to leave the bus. While standing at the exit door as the bus came to a stop, Stan glanced in the direction of his friend, waved to him, and then saw his reflection staring back at him again from the mirror above his head. He completely missed the second step on his way out. The driver hurried down the steps with reluctant sympathy, and helped Stan get up from his painfully crumpled position straddled between the curb and the steps of the bus.

“Man, you can’t be doing this,” the driver barked. “You is gonna get killed!”

As the bus pulled away, Stan slowly made his way back to his apartment a few blocks away. In spite of all the clatter of activity stirring around him, he found himself thinking about Harriet again, and his friends, and his family. But his thoughts always seemed to somehow gravitate back to himself. He thought of the many hours he’d spent in front of mirrors fixated on his own appearance. Harriet had often finished long before he did whenever they were getting ready for a date. His meals at his parents’ place frequently needed to be reheated. His employers had regularly scolded him for focusing on himself more than their clients. It seemed like self was more important to Stan than anything or anyone else.

Being caught up with our selves has always been a part of mankind, ever since the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

“And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die…And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed” (Genesis 2:16, 17, 25).

Prior to eating of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve were not aware of the appearance of their physical selves. They had no need to know how they looked, because being in the presence of their Heavenly Father was all they needed.

“And when the woman saw that the tree [of the knowledge of good and evil] was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat. And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons” (Genesis 3:6, 7).

When they disobeyed their heavenly Father, then sin had the legal right to enter and take its course in their lives. Since they did not ask their Father for forgiveness, and did not repent of what they had done, they took their eyes off of their Heavenly Father and suddenly became acutely aware of their own selves. Because of sin they no longer were in God’s presence, and He no longer provided a covering for them. They allowed pride and self-righteousness to take root, which eventually led to the conclusion that they had no need for God, hence the pitiful covering of fig leaves. Initially, they were fearful, but later on, they and their descendants became complacent and began to love themselves more than God their Father. This permitted evil to multiply exponentially.

“And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5).

When we become enamored with our self, we then feel like we no longer need God. As a result, God lets us go our own way. He allows us a chance to try to find our “real” self. He even allows us to love our self, though it grieves and hurts Him greatly. But when we come to the end, our end, we go right back to the very thing we were created from—the dust of the earth. In our condition of pride and love of our self, we think that we are something great, something superior to all creation (even of our own kind). Yet, in God’s eyes, we are really nothing. In the book of Job, God asked him, “Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding” (Job 38:4). The heavenly Father was essentially saying that, if we think we are so great and wonderful, if we know so much and consider ourselves to be so superior, then where were we when He created everything, including us?

God created us to love Him, not our self. He wants us to put Him first in our lives. He placed within us a free will so that we could choose Him and love Him of our own accord. He will never force us to love Him. When He put forth the commandment in the Garden of Eden to not eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, He did this not to tempt or tease man, but rather to test or try us in our love for Him. He loves us, and He wants us to make the effort to love Him in return. He wants us to stop loving our self, and to love Him instead.

There is one detail, though, that we dare not miss. We can’t just freely come before God because He is holy, and He absolutely will not allow any sin to come before Him, including self-love, pride, etc. But the good news for us is that God made a way for anyone who really desires to, to come to Him. His Son, Jesus Christ, is the way.

Jesus freely left His Father and came to this earth as a sinless human being. He fulfilled all of the requirements for the cleansing of sin that God His Father had laid out hundreds of years prior to His arrival. These requirements couldn’t be completely fulfilled by sinful man himself. But the ultimate requirement was for Him to sacrifice His life on the cross (even though He was totally innocent of any wrongdoing whatsoever) for the sake of every man, woman and child who ever lived, or is living now, or has yet to be born. He paid the horrible price for sin (that we all actually owed and deserved because of our sins) which is death.

When He shed His blood at the cross, it symbolically covered our sins. Now all we have to do is acknowledge to God that we have sinned, and be willing to turn completely from our sinful ways. Then we need to accept and believe in faith that the sacrifice and shed blood of Jesus at the cross was made in order to cover and cleanse us of our sins. Finally, we need to surrender our life to Him completely, and let Him come in and clean us up from our sinful ways.

For more information on the way to God click here.

–James Pangburn

Lost in the Dark?

man with dog on dark path
Have you ever eagerly wandered off into a deep, dark forest, only to find yourself lost? Or taken a walk down a path and had the sun go down earlier than you had anticipated, leaving you to find your way in the dark? Maybe you have driven down a road and had dense fog suddenly move in, or had snow begin to fall heavier than you expected. Have you traveled where the way was so dark you could see only a short distance ahead, only to have your source of illumination quit working?

We all have to face situations like these at some point in our lives. I once read about a man who traveled a considerable distance in the midst of a Saudi Arabian desert to view a rare cluster of “desert roses” (a flowerlike collection of mineral crystals found in very arid areas of the world). While his effort to find them in the daylight was not much trouble, his return at sunset proved to be of significant concern, since his car would not start! Being lost in a Middle Eastern desert at twilight is challenging enough, but to try and find your way overnight with no light is even worse. In the end, this man had to sleep in his car. He barely managed to get a ride back to civilization the next day with a man hauling goats! But not everyone has that option.

There are times when we can’t stay where we are until the light returns. There are even times when the light does not return.

Most try to press forward, groping in the darkness, proceeding slowly step-by-step, not really knowing exactly what lies ahead. Is there a tree, a large rock, a steep ravine, a poisonous snake, a hole, or a parked vehicle ahead?

Does the road continue to go straight or does it turn sharply? Is there a precipice ahead? How much farther do we have to travel to reach something recognizable? But the nagging question always looming in the back of our minds is, are we going in the correct direction?

Some have never experienced situations like these, since they have always lived in well-lit urban or suburban areas and were safely inside whenever power outages occurred. Others have never had a malfunctioning light source. Yet they continue to live a life regularly filled with darkness. Even as you read this, you may be experiencing darkness in your heart and life that you can’t seem to eliminate or even control. So you go along, groping in this darkness, grabbing at this solution or that. But each seems to brighten your path or dispel the darkness no more than a flashlight with weak batteries could do. You may try some religion, or you may have dropped all religion. You may try praying more, or you may stop praying altogether. And still the darkness refuses to dissipate. Have you done something good for others, or maybe traveled to a distant land on a pilgrimage, and found that the darkness lifts—but only for a season? Then it returns to haunt you even more than before.

I have been there too. In fact, all who have overcome being lost in the darkness have been there. Those who have overcome still have darkness all around them. While the particular darkness we have been through may not be identical to what you are going through now, it is still darkness and no light can be seen. But the difference is, that we have found a source of light that is always with us which will never dim, flicker, or burn out. That light is Jesus Christ.

Jesus said, “…I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12).

Have you ever been led somewhere by someone holding a light? You followed him because he could see the way, since his light illuminated the pathway. But you had to follow closely behind because the light only covered a short distance. If you hesitated or lagged behind, it would get farther and farther away, and you would find yourself in the dark again. We must draw near to Jesus when we follow Him, and let Him be the light that lights our way. When cares or pleasures of this life distract us, when we start looking around or behind us, the path becomes darker and harder to see, since the Light gets farther and farther away. Just as the moon only reflects the light of the sun, having no light of its own, we also have no light of our own to light our way. We must let Him be our light and guide us.

“In the way of righteousness is life; and in the pathway thereof there is no death” (Proverbs 12:28).

How did Jesus become the light of the world? through His victory over sin and death, which came through His death on the cross. Throughout the period of the Old Testament in the Bible, thousands and thousands of sacrifices were made by the Jews to cover their sins. But they only covered them for a time. When Jesus died on the cross, He became the ultimate and final sacrifice. Then there was absolutely no need for another sacrifice for sin, since He paid it all. This was further cemented when He arose from the grave and returned to His Father in heaven. By accepting His sacrifice for us and turning completely from our sins in faith, allowing Him be our only light source, we can have the Light to see through the darkness continually! But if we reject Jesus as our light, we will only continue to grope and stumble in darkness, never having everlasting light.

“O send out thy light and thy truth: let them lead me; let them bring me unto thy holy hill, and to thy tabernacles [dwelling places]” (Psalm 43:3).

For more information about the path or way to everlasting life, click here.

When the Plus Sign is too Religious

arithmetic symbols

A magazine I recently read had a humorous list with three strange requests on it that graphic designers have heard from their clients. One was a client who wanted his designer to use something besides the plus (+) sign, because he considered it too ‘religious’! While this is somewhat amusing, it also reflects the current state of our society. It ultimately demonstrates how far we have now digressed ‘religiously’ as a society. Another article I also read not long ago was about a church that discarded the cross from their building. It even showed a photo of a church leader throwing the cross in the dumpster!

When we remove God from our workplace, our homes, our schools, and ultimately even from our churches, we are left with a void that must be filled with something else.

For many, it’s another religion (which worships or acknowledges a god (or gods), but not the God of all gods). For others, it’s seeking pleasure, being entertained, playing or watching sports, getting more education or knowledge, etc. And for some, it’s a denial of any kind of god or divine being. Man eventually becomes sterile this way, when he has no affiliation with anything he considers offensive. Whatever is ‘religious’ becomes taboo, especially anything concerning God, the Bible, Jesus, or the Cross.

Yet society has not become happier, more peaceful, or more loving, with everyone equally prosperous, under this kind of approach.

Look at countries where God and all connected with Him have been either banned outright, or pushed into a corner—where worship becomes strictly an internal affair. Or countries where all forms of worship are state-controlled, and God is diluted to almost nothing. Its citizens are in a repressive state that way, with no true happiness.

The problem does not actually lie in the Cross, or the plus sign (which, by the way, was derived from a simplified form of the Latin et, meaning ‘and’), or any other variation. The Cross in itself means nothing; it serves only as a representation or reminder of what was accomplished there.

The real hatred is for the One who died on the Cross—Jesus Christ.

Many criminals in ancient Rome were sentenced to death on crosses all the time, but no one objected to the crosses for that purpose. When Jesus Christ died on the Cross for the sins of everyone, past, present, and future, when He completely fulfilled God’s Law and won the victory over sin and death, this brought on and fueled the hatred. It was foretold all the way back in the book of Genesis, in the Garden of Eden:

“And the Lord God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life: And I will put enmity [hostility, opposition, hatred] between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:14-15).

True believers in Jesus Christ are hated and despised, not so much because of what they believe as for Whom they believe. His victory at the Cross is the dividing line between eternal life and peace, and death with eternal torment. Without the Cross, without belief in the finished work of Christ (i.e., the complete fulfillment of all of God’s requirements up to the birth of Jesus) at the Cross, there is no hope for anyone. This is how the plus sign, or any other resemblance to the Cross, becomes offensive to some people. Their offense is at the One who died on that Cross, and that offense originates from the one who put Him there in the first place—the Devil (or Lucifer, Satan, Beelzebub, the Evil One, etc.). He has always been at odds with God and anything affiliated with Him, because he wanted to be God himself (not in addition to Him, but as the replacement for Him). Therefore, if you are not on the Devil’s side, his hatred will affect you too. Even if you are on his side, it doesn’t guarantee a hate-free life either!

This may appear to be just a war between good and evil, but it isn’t. That war has already been won through Jesus’ victory at the Cross! The victory He won through His sacrifice of His human life on the Cross took all the legal rights of the Devil away concerning his ownership over us. That is, if we give our hearts over to Jesus, accept in faith His sacrifice of Himself for all of our sins as our sacrifice, and submit our lives to Him. Then the Devil loses his control over us.

You can now be free in Christ because of what He did for you on the Cross. “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (John 8:36). If you want to know more about this freedom, click here. But if we reject, or don’t completely accept, what Jesus has done for us on the Cross, then we continue to give the Devil the right to own and control us—even after we die. The choice is up to you.

Let’s keep the + sign in mathematics and the Cross in our lives and hearts!

The Bee and the Birdbath

 

old birdbath

“He sent from above, he took me, he drew me out of many waters. He delivered me from my strong enemy, and from them which hated me: for they were too strong for me. They prevented me in the day of my calamity: but the Lord was my stay. He brought me forth also into a large place; he delivered me, because he delighted in me.” Psalm 18:16-19

In my travels, I visited a small butterfly garden that was part of a larger botanical garden. The butterfly garden consisted of a pathway lined mostly with flowering plants and shrubs and with an occasional decorative accessory, such as a bench or a birdbath. While passing one of the birdbaths, I noticed an insect floating on the small amount of water that had accumulated in it. On closer inspection, I determined that it was a small honeybee. The poor thing had somehow become stuck upside-down on the water and was barely moving. I watched as what appeared to be its final minutes were running out. If others had passed by then, they probably would not have noticed or cared about the helpless bee. But I could not bear to just let it die in such a sad, helpless state. So I picked up a nearby leaf, carefully scooped up the straggler, and gently placed it right-side-up on a raised area of the bath. I figured that it could at least have a short time in a dry, sunny place before its demise. When I returned about thirty minutes later, I was pleasantly surprised to find that its weary self had apparently not only dried out, but also recovered enough to fly away!

This incident may seem insignificant, but God, throughout history, has done this innumerable times with each of us.

Just when we thought our life was about at an end, He reached down, picked us up, and placed us on dry land. He cares for us so much that He is willing to reach down and pick us up from our lowest moments in life, if we will let Him.

Yet, even in such a desperate moment as this, we often refuse because of pride, and even curse God for trying to help us. We believe we can make it on our own. We think, “I don’t need anyone’s help; I am on the verge of reviving” (while actually moments away from drowning). But God sees the big picture, and He desires to rescue us. In fact, He sent His beloved only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to die for us.

birdbath nested in plants

Because of our sins (our wrongdoings against God), God’s law was broken. It therefore demanded that the penalty be paid: death. And it was not just to be death and the grave here on Earth, but death eternally in Hell (a place of perpetual torment).

According to God’s law, the only way out of this was through the sacrifice of an animal as our substitute. An innocent, spotless lamb was required to be sacrificed in our place. But this was only a temporary means; there was no way that we could ever pay the price ourselves to be saved from eternal death.

It’s like trying to rise up to a great height by lifting ourselves up with only our bare hands. That’s why God sent His Son, who willingly came down as a human being, to be the perfect, innocent, and sinless sacrifice for all of our sins. This fact was witnessed in the book of John, chapter 1, verse 29: “The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. That includes sins from the first sin of Adam to the sins of a future generation not even born yet!

Jesus fulfilled all of the requirements of God’s law (but did not eliminate it) through His sacrifice on the cross. When He died, He broke the chains of eternal death and our sentence to Hell forever.

And He set free all of those, prior to His death, who had offered up the temporary covering of the blood of the sacrificed lamb.

Our sin has ultimately left us like that bee in the birdbath, hopelessly struggling to live on borrowed time, or even dying. To say that you have more time, or that everything is fine, or that it will all work out all right in the end, is like saying that, because today is sunny and clear, every day is going to be sunny and clear from now on—when actually an inevitable and deadly storm is on its way straight toward you. You are not able see the big picture that God sees. All God wants you to do is to admit that you have sinned against Him, and believe that Jesus died for your sins on the Cross, which paid the tremendous price that you owed. Ask for His forgiveness now, and let Him work inside of you. Let Him reach down and pick you up!

 If you need help with what to say to God, click here for more.

The Broken Window

broken window

“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God…” Romans 3:23

Have you ever broken a window, a mirror, or just a sheet of glass? Thankfully, throughout my life, I have had only a handful of instances where glass in some form was broken (bottles excluded). While I’ve never had a ball, rock, or similar object break a window, I have had glass in pictures and mirrors break, as well as glass in a window that cracked when the window was slammed hard. When I was in college working in maintenance, one of my jobs was to replace the broken glass in windows. These were the older sash windows with muntins separating individual panes. It was tedious work, which eventually gave me a real appreciation for glaziers, and the newer gridded windows with plastic grids overlaid on, or imbedded between, the layers of insulated glass.

When I was repairing windows, the main problem often wasn’t glass totally broken or falling to pieces, but was rather just a small crack in a corner. Many would think, “Why bother replacing it? It is just a small crack in the corner.” This was often true, and, in some cases, a crack might not become a problem. But in other cases, the crack could spread through the whole window, making it extremely unsafe or even unusable. Abrupt temperature changes can cause many cracks (especially in vehicle glass) which seem innocuous. But later, especially in winter, they can spread all the way across the window. Even a small crack could allow water to leak in during a strong storm and could even, over time, cause the wood frame of the window to rot.

small cracked windowBy now, you may think that I couldn’t think of anything but windows and glass to write about! Well, I want to use these broken window examples to point out that sin in our lives is like a cracked or broken window or mirror. Just as we each have different levels of what we consider to be right, we each have different levels of what we consider to be wrong:

  • For many, murder, large-scale theft (like robbing a bank or stealing an expensive car), using illegal drugs, breaking into a corporation’s or government’s computer system, or blowing up a building are considered “big wrongs or sins,” and everything else is on a lesser scale of wrongdoing.
  • To others, lying, cheating, rape, and adultery are at the top of their list of wrongdoings.
  • Some feel abusing or killing animals, destroying forestland, using methods that alter our climate, or polluting the waterways of the world are major wrongdoings.
  • Another group would consider common vices, such as smoking, drinking alcohol, premarital sex, gambling, and watching (or creating) pornography as very high on their list of evil acts.

One might consider murder to be like the smashed window and a lie as just a small crack. Another may treat gambling as a huge crack in a mirror and an occasional extramarital affair as just a little crack that is hardly noticeable (except when the “heat is on” and it keeps on growing to become a major (and very visible) fracture).

Throughout history, we have determined what we feel is wrong by many, many different standards and benchmarks.

Some may be very good standards; other standards may be almost no standards at all. What might be just a small fracture in a mirror today could be a disastrous monstrosity tomorrow, next year, or in a century. To a junkyard operator, broken glass that punctured a framed piece of artwork means nothing, but an art collector would consider it a horrible, major crime. As long as our view of what is right and wrong is mixed-up or evolving, our life on this planet will never be stable.

But God does not see sin as we do; He never has, and never will, either. Whether the window or glass is just cracked, or is fractured in many places, if it has just a miniscule crack in a corner, or even a large split on one side, it is still broken. If we tell a little lie to a friend in passing, or just look at a person of the opposite sex with lust in our heart, or viciously murder crowds of people, or go ahead in impatience and do God’s work ahead of Him, we have still sinned. Sin is still sin, no matter what the magnitude of it may be. God cannot tolerate any sin in His presence.

If God doesn’t tolerate any sin, how can we ever come before Him? Do we have to make ourselves right or clean ourselves up first? Are we to go before a person of spiritual authority and confess our sins or wrongs?

If we do enough right things, won’t that counter all of our wrongdoings? Even though we haven’t eliminated all of our sins, if we try hard enough and show God that we are doing the best we can in the situation we are in, won’t that be enough?

The quick answer to most of these questions is, no, no, and no. Isn’t there some way that all of these sins could be covered up or even eliminated? Now you’re starting to look in the right direction! God knew that we could not meet the standards He has set through His written word, the Bible. He intentionally made everything this way, in order to bring us to the point where we can see that we can’t make it without Him. If it weren’t for our pride, in all of its forms, we most likely would yield and let Him fully reign in our lives.

The good news is that God did make a way for all of these sins in our hearts to be eliminated. That way is through His Son, Jesus Christ. He fulfilled all of the requirements of the law God had laid out prior to His birth. In the past, only certain animals could be sacrificed, but they were not enough.

“For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins. But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins” (Hebrews 10:1-4).

They were only a temporary covering. But Jesus was perfect and without sin, and therefore qualified to be the perfect, final sacrifice. As a result, the shed blood of His sacrifice has totally covered our sins, a permanent covering. All we have to do is believe in faith that His death, His sacrifice—the blood He shed on the cross—covers our sins, and, as a result, we are cleansed—made white as snow! Now the ‘cracks in our window’ are gone at last! Do you want to continue living with these cracks in your life? Suppose the cracks spread until the glass is totally broken and falls out—then what? Don’t let another moment pass by without allowing Jesus to work in your life—give yourself to Jesus and see those cracks disappear for good!

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