Don’t Lower Your Sails Prematurely

 

Large white modern sailing ship with sails rolled up

How often we believers in Christ easily become spiritually complacent in our walk with God. Throughout the Old Testament we find many examples of complacency where the Israelites took God for granted. As a result, God would withdraw and let them find out that they were operating on their own. Through defeat in a battle, or being taken captive by their enemies, they learned the hard way that to be victorious in God, they had to continually obey His Word and also prepare themselves for the next trial or attack of the enemy. But whenever they became complacent or self-righteous, they failed.

God expects us to do as the Israelites should have done. We are not going in battle physically with our spears, clubs, swords, and armor today, but we are still fighting an enemy, and ours is unseen. Jesus said, “Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation. The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak” (Mark 14:38 emphasis added). Jesus would not have told His disciples this if He knew that they were strong in their spirit.

It is human nature to ease off at, or after, a time of victory. Compare this to a runner or race car driver who slows down or even stops just as he is about to win a race—even though his competition is coming up fast right behind him. Yet this is the very point when we must be the most vigilant. Peter became an example of how easy it is to be complacent concerning God, even though he was one of Jesus’ closest disciples. “And as Peter was beneath in the palace, there cometh one of the maids of the high priest: And when she saw Peter warming himself, she looked upon him, and said, and thou also wast with Jesus of Nazareth. But he denied, saying, I know not, neither understand I what thou sayest. And he went out into the porch; and the cock crew. And a maid saw him again, and began to say to them that stood by, This is one of them. And he denied it again. And a little after, they that stood by said again to Peter, Surely thou art one of them: for thou art a Galilaean, and thy speech agreeth thereto. But he began to curse and to swear, saying, I know not this man of whom ye speak. And the second time the cock crew. And Peter called to mind the word that Jesus said unto him, Before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice. And when he thought thereon, he wept” (Mark 14:66-72). Not once, but three times Peter denied that he was connected with Jesus. Yet this is the same person who, just a short time earlier, had said “…though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee” (Matthew 26:35).

Peter in his own wisdom thought he was strong spiritually, and probably felt that after having been with Jesus for some time, he could never stray away from Him.

This is why Jesus emphasized many times that we must watch and, as well, pray. Whenever something is mentioned in the Bible one time—it is important, two times—it is very important, and multiple times—it is extremely important. God knows us better than we know ourselves, and He is well aware that we tend to grow overly confident and then we stumble. Had the Israelites gone to God during and after the victories that He brought them through as much as they had prior to the battles, there would have been fewer defeats afterward. If Peter had been watching and praying prior to Jesus’ arrest, his faith would not have wavered and left him open for the devil to push him to deny Christ.

Watching doesn’t involve our physical eyesight solely; it is a spiritual matter as well. “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12). God wants us to be in tune with Him through the Holy Spirit. If we are not open to His Spirit trying to alert us of impending danger, we leave ourselves prone to failure when temptation arises. It is only through His Spirit that we can truly know and deal properly with spiritual matters.

Accordingly, prayer must follow when we have been made aware of any imminent peril by the Holy Spirit. We are to go to God and seek Him for direction and protection for what is to come. We need to be sensitive to the leading of His Spirit as we pray, or else we will ask amiss and be ineffectual in our petitions to Him.

If we are watching without praying, we are like a child who sees an impending attack, but just stands there, instead of crying out to a parent for help and protection.

“Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (I Peter 5:8). God expects us to continually keep watch and then pray, for we, in our own physical understanding, do not know when or where the devil may strike. Our victory only comes through Jesus and His finished work on the cross. But when we become complacent, we take our eyes off of Christ and look at ourselves. This will result in a hopeless defeat by the devil. Don’t be like the captain of a sailing ship who, upon seeing land ahead, lowered his sails prematurely hoping to come in on his momentum, while failing to look behind and see a violent storm rapidly approaching. Let’s keep our sails fully open while we watch and pray accordingly.

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Dirtied Jewels


picture of smokey quartz crystals

Rob Lavinsky, iRocks.com – CC-BY-SA-3.0

The children were extremely bored, so they wandered around the house in a futile attempt to entertain themselves. Their mother was next door preoccupied with the neighbor’s new baby. Their father was stuck at an airport heavily entrenched in snow. Then an ugly scenario began to unfold after the children discovered a box containing mother’s jewelry collection.

“Open it! Open it!” the children cried in unison, while one of the older boys pried unsuccessfully, first at the gap in the lid, and then under the lock. After several minutes, their disappointment turned into mild anger as some of the children begin to push and pull at each other. Then the bureau was jarred. Suddenly the jewelry box crashed to the floor, bursting apart at the hinges. Precious jewels scattered everywhere and glee was the result. The room filled with awe and squeals of joy as necklaces with diamonds, earrings with rubies, and bracelets made of emeralds were passed around like candy. It wasn’t long before the whole group was in the backyard strutting around in a manner that would leave a fashion diva aghast.

Given their fleeting attention span, the children (mainly the boys) soon lost interest in the jewelry debacle. One boy then made the challenge to the others that jewels will still shine even if they have become dirty. Naturally, a handful of children jumped at the opportunity and started churning some jewelry through a muddy patch in the yard. But their escapades did not stop there. One discovered a small bin nearby of odd lawnmower parts with lots of oil and grease in the bottom. If there ever was a possible point of stopping their progress and restoring everything to its original state, they had long since passed it. The jewels they smothered in mud, grease, and grime were now virtually unrecognizable. Then one girl taunted the others, “OK, let’s see all that shine you boasted about!”

Sadly, there was now absolutely no shine, no glimmer, or anything good left to remark about. When they held the jewels up, they were nothing but a collection of black blobs. Another boy took a clean rag from the shed. After a great deal of scrubbing, he tried his best to get them to at least hint at sparkling again. But, to his great dismay, the jewels refused to gleam. In fact, they would not even come close to being clean. Then he tried dipping some jewels into a heavy-duty cleaning solution full strength. Yet, after a lot of soaking and wiping, they still were only about seventy-five percent clean. The rest of the children peered over his shoulder with great concern.

“What’s Mom going to say when she sees these?” one girl inquired. A boy retorted in exasperation, “She won’t see them! Quick, take all the other jewelry and put it back in the case.” He then ordered one of his brothers to repair the broken hinges and lid. “Maybe,” he muttered softly to himself, “just maybe, she won’t even notice.”

To the relief of all the children, days passed into weeks without a single mention of the jewelry case. One older boy scrubbed and scrubbed, but the film and dirt that remained kept the beauty of the jewels from reappearing. He knew their mother would not overlook the grimy residue, so he continued holding on to the jewels, hoping to figure out something he could use to get them totally clean again. But he got no opportunity to try again.

“OK, who has been in my jewelry box?” their mother yelled down the stairs. “Where are my precious jewels?”

“Uh-oh,” the boy who had tried cleaning them muttered loudly to himself. He knew that it was hopeless at this point to try to hide or escape. He grabbed the jewels and ran to his mother instead. “Mom, it’s all our fault. I mean, actually, it’s my fault,” he blurted out, as he began to sob. “I made a challenge to everyone that the jewels would still shine when they are dirty.” Now he was crying. “I tried and tried to get them clean, but they just won’t look pretty anymore.”

His mother reached over and gave him a big hug. She told him how she appreciated his honesty and willingness to come forward. “But why did you hide this from me?” she gently inquired.

“Because I was afraid of what you and Dad would do to us if you saw how dirty these are.”

“My son, your father and I greatly love you all. You still need punishment for what was done, but that does not mean that we hate you or want to hurt you. Besides, I have methods to clean these jewels you don’t know about. You should have come to me in the first place. You never could have solved this in your own efforts; in fact, you might have ruined them permanently.”

picture of clear gemstone

Do you realize that God sees each one of us as a perfect, sparkling, precious jewel? We usually see ourselves as dirty and blemished, like the jewels mentioned here, and are constantly trying in our own strength to make ourselves shine. And, like the boy trying his best to get the jewels clean, we go through all kinds of programs and rituals, yet in the end, we are still just as soiled as before—if not worse. We try so often to make ourselves pure and right, but we usually cause even greater damage to our hearts and lives instead. The devil wants to keep us believing the lie that we are too polluted and have to keep working at getting our life straight before we come to God. So we hide from Him, hoping He will never notice what we have done. This only causes our relationship with Him to suffer. “For there is nothing hid, which shall not be manifested; neither was any thing kept secret, but that it should come abroad” (Mark 4:22).

Only God can cleanse us so that the true beauty and purity He alone sees in us will shine forth. The key is that we must yield our self to Him and let Him do the work. The more effort we do, the more we remain mottled and murky. But if we actually could cleanse our heart and life ourselves, then it would just lead to boasting and pride—making us dirty all over again. “Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:9). Therefore, we need to stop trying to clean up our heart and life by our own efforts, and yield our self to Jesus instead. He wants to make us into the bright polished precious jewel that He sees, not the muddy, imperfect, unclean one that we see. He is the only One who can do it.

“And I Sent the Hornet before You”

 

A graphical image of a hornet.

Many times in our walk with God He will use something small, or even unseen, to bring about a great victory for His glory. One example of this occurred thousands of years ago, after the Israelites had crossed the Jordan River and were entering the land that God had promised for many years to give them. One thing remained though—the occupants of the land did not simply leave after their arrival. God ordered the Israelites to destroy the people of the land because they were idolaters who worshipped everything but God Himself. They loved the creation more than the Creator.

Some may think that God is an evil tyrant who kills on a whim and has no compassion for anyone, yet He is quite the opposite. “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9 emphasis added). He never wants any of us to die eternally lost. The depth of His love no one can fathom. What is overlooked here is, that God’s love and longsuffering had given these people the opportunity to forsake their disobedience and rebellion for hundreds of years—but they never did. Noah and his family did not build the ark in a few hours, and then God immediately destroyed everyone else with a flood. God continued to give the people time to change their evil, rebellious ways and turn to Him. There could have been many more than just the members of Noah’s family in the safety of the ark, but the people continued to refuse the offer from a loving and merciful God—only to die in the rising waters.

When the Israelites arrived, they did not just set up camp until God gave them the land as their inheritance and then wait for the enemy’s arrival to see if they were as evil as described. No, they went forward in battle in the name (or unfailing nature) of God, with Joshua as the captain of the host leading the way.

But while they may have fought and defeated their enemies, they were not the ones who actually drove the occupants out. The real victor was God. And He did it in ways not known to the Israelites.

“And I sent the hornet before you, which [drove] them out from before you, even the two kings of the Amorites; but not with thy sword, nor with thy bow” (Joshua 24:12). One insect sent a whole army to flight! Although some scholars believe this may not have been a literal hornet, it still shows that God uses a simple means that is not conventional to us to accomplish His task. Now look at verse thirteen: “…I have given you a land for which ye did not labour, and cities which ye built not, and ye dwell in them; of the vineyards and oliveyards which ye planted not do ye eat” (emphasis added). Notice that the land was given to them, cities were already built, and crops were already growing—and were ready to eat. Even the very enemy they came against was brought out before them to be eliminated. And all of this was carried out without any work of their own. God, in His faithfulness, did it all Himself. Why? Because they trusted in Him, obeyed His commandments, and because of His immense love for them.

“Now therefore fear the Lord, and serve Him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the Lord” (Joshua 24:14).

This was the key for their victory. As we read throughout much of the Old Testament, whenever the Israelites forsook God and His Word, they were defeated in battle against their enemies. Yet when they cried out to God and repented of their rebellious ways, He would come in and deliver them. If they did not overcome and destroy their enemies, then their enemies would overcome them, due to the Israelites’ compromise and worship of their enemies’ gods. As long as the Israelites turned away from God and followed idolatry, they would walk in defeat, and ultimately in bondage to their enemies.

These verses apply in our own life spiritually as the children of God. We must remember that our success comes from trusting in God and obeying His Word, the Bible. Then God will drive out our enemies by means not seen, and He will provide for our needs through no part of our own doing. All He wants is for us to love and serve Him, and Him alone. “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths. Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the Lord, and depart from evil” (Proverbs 3:5-7). We may never know how many ‘hornets’ have gone before us and driven out our enemies, but we do know that when we truly and wholeheartedly follow Him in trust and obedience, He will always go before us and bring victory.

“What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).

All in Vain

This world is filled with people trying to make it in this life without God. Some physically work themselves to the point of death in an effort to live comfortably when they retire. Others put on a front that leads many to believe they have prospered and now have everything they need. A great number will spend their whole life attempting to succeed by getting others to do their work for them, or by getting them to give them something for nothing in return. Even some of the most religious do all kinds of ‘works,’ trying to make themselves morally and spiritually right with God.

Sadly, all of these methods, however good and beneficial that they be in themselves, are not sufficient when life ends. The wisest and richest person in history, King Solomon, sums it up well: “Vanity of vanities…all is vanity. What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?” (Ecclesiastes 1:2, 3) God firmly stated that, Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it” (Psalm 127:1 emphasis mine).

True, many do prosper in one way or another in this life, according to the world’s standards, but when it comes to eternity, no effort of our own can bring success with God. If God is not first in our lives, then all of our efforts are in vain.

“God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). We are sinful physical beings and God is a holy, sinless Spirit. We are on the ‘bad’ side from the start and cannot ever reach the ‘good’ side by our own means and strength. No matter how much we labor and manage to have some success, we will not ‘build the house’ without God. Instead, we fill our lives with worry and anxiety each morning and night about what our immediate and distant future holds—and all in vain—because God is not in it.

grey cross

Real success lies in Jesus, the One who overcame sin and death through His sacrifice on the cross. He made it possible that, by total trust and belief in Him, we can have the same victory over sin as He did. We now can worship God “in spirit and truth,” because Jesus is the truth. When we put Jesus first in our life through placing our faith in Him and His finished work on the cross, we are able to have real success. We no longer need “to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows” (Psalm 127:2). When we fully obey God and depend on Him, “He giveth his beloved sleep” (Psalm 127:2).

“Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain. It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows: for so he giveth his beloved sleep” (Psalm 127:1-2). Let “the Lord build the house” and “keep the city,” or our efforts will all be in vain.

Much Effort; No Results

sprial tablet new ysr's resolutions

At the beginning of each year, we always seem determined to make ourselves better than we were the year before. What great endeavors we make to fulfill whatever resolutions we think will improve our life; yet, for so many, these efforts yield little or no results. Why can’t we accomplish all we set out to do? Or why do we sometimes succeed at something, then later see our success dwindle away? Why does it seem that for every two or three steps forward, we end up moving one or two steps back? How is that we work so hard to achieve so little—or even nothing at all?

For some, the answer lies in laziness, or just lack of initiative. Now if our success resulted solely from the monumental plans we have conceived in our minds, there would be prosperity and happiness in every corner! But, when it comes to walking with God, the real answer is that we are trying to accomplish all of these plans by our own strength and effort. We want to please God. We know we need to be healthy. We try to be abundantly prosperous. But we continue to do it all in our self. Without even realizing it, we leave God out of the picture. Or we do ‘include’ Him, but it ends up being conditional—on our terms. It’s like trying to drive a vehicle with an engine whose output is severely restricted. We make all of these great efforts on our own to get the vehicle moving and keep it going, but in the end, we’ve hardly traveled anywhere. Or, even worse, we boast of our great strides to go nowhere as if we actually accomplished something!

woman exercising in athletic field

God never intended for us to live our lives without Him. He wants us to look to Him for our strength and guidance. When we go forward on our own, we exhibit pride and self-righteousness. We are, in essence, displaying to God that we don’t need Him to solve the problem at hand. Or we are actually telling God that we know more than He does. Children and teenagers exhibit such an attitude at times when they are struggling to assemble an object, or have a difficult school assignment to complete. Rather than allowing (or even going to and asking!) one of their parents to assist them with it, they often angrily and hastily whisk the item away and move to another location. They may even order the parent to leave the room. Such actions naturally make the parent feel hurt. Then the child often does poorly or fails on the project, because he took it all on himself, even though he didn’t fully understand what he was to do.

Obviously, God does not view this or any form of pride and self-righteousness favorably. How could He, when His own creation has just declared themselves to be superior over Him! Our Heavenly Father loves us in a way greater than we, as a physical being, could ever understand. He knows that, due to sin, we are incapable of making ourselves totally right and complete before Him. In fact, it is impossible to make our sinful, mortal self perfect enough to stand before Him. That is one reason why He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, who willingly came to this earth to be our perfect substitute. Since He was without any sin, He was the only one qualified for this position. Jesus fulfilled everything that the heavenly Father required in order for us to be able to freely and boldly come before Him—all the way to the point where He sacrificed Himself on a cross. All of this He did on our behalf. We could never reach the position, by our own efforts, where God could declare us to be pure, righteous, not guilty, and without blame.

We therefore need to stop trying by our own efforts to make ourselves acceptable and perfect to God (or anyone else, for that matter). Success will only come when we yield to Jesus and accept His sacrifice on the cross for our sins as our own. All of our resolutions and efforts, whenever they are made and attempted, will not make us any better before God—unless they are done through Christ. We need to commit ourself to Him and then let Him work through us by His Spirit. Even though we are children of God, we cannot just come boldly before Him as we are, due to our inherent sin nature (or sinful self). We must go before Him through His Son, who covers us and cleanses us of all our sins or unrighteousness with His blood that was shed on the cross. While exercise, prayer, budgeting, Bible reading, eating better, etc., are all good in themselves, if our true motive is to improve our self to gain the favor of God, then we will make much effort with no results.

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

Does God Play Favorites?

 

acorns showing partiality

“…Peter opened his mouth and said: “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him” (Acts 10:34-35).

“For the Lord your God is God of gods, and Lord of lords, a great God, a mighty, and a terrible, which regardeth not persons [does not consider one over the other]” (Deuteronomy 10:17).

Did you ever have that one person (or group of people) in your life who seemed to be treated better than everyone else, someone who often left you in teeth-gritting anger? It would seem like, no matter how hard you tried, you could never get the special recognition you felt you deserved—whether at work, at school, or even at home. There seems to have always been that one person or group who got all the extra favors. When I was much younger and going to school, there was almost always a person there who could have his way with the teacher no matter what he did or did not do. People like that were always doing something extra that was ordinarily unnecessary. But, in their case, it would get them special favors or attention from the teacher. The annoying part was that most of us in the class (especially me) could not do the things that they did and get special favors.

Later in my life, when I had been working at a job for some time, some coworkers were allowed to do many things that were against company policies, which were obviously not permissible for me or others to do. I remember one who, many times, would only do half of the required work, and then would chat endlessly with customers, or go take an extra-long smoke break. Was he ever reprimanded? Of course not! He probably could have gone so far as to ask the boss if he (the coworker, not the boss) could leave early, and the boss would let him!

These examples only concern school and work, but favoritism can also be found in all facets of life, all over the world, among all types of people, in all age groups. Some people are regarded as superior because they are of a certain race or skin color. Some are automatically considered superior because of the higher caste that they were born into. Others are favored for their wealth and all that goes with it. Some who have a commanding or persuasive personality will often coerce others into favoring them. Quite a few are favored because of their advanced education. Others gain favor because they have convinced almost everyone that they know everything (even when they don’t). Many are favored due to their taste in fashion. Then there are people who are favored due to their political status or position. Ironically, some are favored because they don’t have any status or position in life at all!

Thankfully, God does not show favoritism—ever. He can’t be partial to any one person or group of people and still love everyone unconditionally.

Some may argue that God sends many people to Hell; therefore, He must like some people more than others. Actually, it is sin that God hates. When a person chooses to sin, never confesses his error, and refuses to repent, that is what will cause him to go to Hell. God loves the sinner, but He never condones the sin he commits. God does not want anyone to go to Hell; it is repeated or continual rejection of Him that results in this final judgment. “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering [patient] to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9 emphasis mine).

When God brings to light various qualities (both positive and negative) in a particular person, He does this as an example for all to see what they should do or not do. There are times when our deeds speak louder than our words. God never intended for that particular person to be favored over another, just his deeds. “And the Lord said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect [blameless] and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth [abstains from] evil” (Job 1:8)? In this Old Testament verse, God was uplifting Job’s righteousness to Satan, not Job himself. We are all sinners, worthy of death, in God’s eyes.

In our own futile wisdom, we think that if we try hard enough, and make ourselves right enough in God’s eyes, He will like us better than someone else, and will want us to sit at His side in Heaven. This is called self-righteousness, and God never honors it. In fact, He abhors it, because it makes the creation think it is equal to, or greater than, the Creator.

God does not want competition with Himself, or among us. What He really does want is for us to love Him and submit ourselves to Him. When self-righteousness is active, then we are competing among ourselves and favoritism becomes prevalent. When Lucifer, the closest angel to God, (before he sinned against Him and became what we know as the Devil, or Satan) pursued favoritism and self-righteousness, God struck him down out of Heaven permanently. Therefore, how much better can we expect to fare with God if we are cultivating favoritism here on Earth in our own lives? God sees us as one people, not as greater and lesser individuals. Therefore, we can’t look at each other as being either superior or inferior, especially when the standard we base this favoritism on concerns the very individuals and society we exalt or debase. Our standard has to be God’s Son, Jesus Christ. He is the only One that we are to exalt and show favor to. Man will always fail us, no matter how much favor we may show to him, but Jesus will never fail us. Let’s look to Him for our righteousness and not ourselves. Let Him be our favorite and no one else.

–James Pangburn

Fine Castles Are Not Made With Wet Sand

sandcastle with wave

When I was a child, my family preferred to go to the beach whenever possible for vacations—not so much for the sun or to swim, but more to take in the refreshing air and relaxing sounds of the surf. I never cared to go swimming, never wanted to ride on the waves, or even to go wading in water higher than my waist. This is mostly due to one small detail—not being able to swim! My particular fondness was building sandcastles. I enjoyed creating grand structures in the sand, particularly in forming them dangerously close to the water’s edge. I doubt that any king would have wanted to reside in the ‘castles’ that I formed though! In fact, I think he would be in a constant state of fear, considering how close these ‘fortresses’ would be to the incoming waves.

I would naturally build some kind of retaining wall, perhaps even two or three, to help protect the ‘castle’ that would eventually rise up from the sand. (I’m using the word ‘castle’ loosely here, since the end result of my endeavors only vaguely resembled anything a self-respecting monarch would live in!) I have found that, no matter how carefully I would take handfuls of dripping wet sand and try to construct something with them, when I finished almost nothing resembling a building remained. It did not matter how hard or how fast I tried to use the sand. The mixture would soon just dissolve into the sand around it, if not first swept away by an incoming wave.

“But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us [made us alive] together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: that in the ages to come he might [show] the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:4-9).

Have you ever thought about the fact that our own works we do for God are much like building fine castles with handfuls of wet sand? They ultimately prove to be futile, without any lasting merit. It doesn’t matter how much work we do on our own to try to make ourselves right before God. In His eyes, these efforts are worth nothing more than a pile of wet sand. If we decide that we are going to clean ourselves up before we come to Him, we are just wasting our time.

beach with person

At the beginning of each new calendar year, we have lots of great ambitions to lose pounds and pounds of weight, read numerous books, fix everything broken in our home or vehicle, visit places all over the world, maybe even clean up our lives and make ourselves right with God, as well as with everyone else. Yet, after just a few months (or even a few days), these great ambitions soon fizzle out. We find ourselves in the end not much better than we were the year before. Why does this happen? because we do it all by our own strength and effort. To put it bluntly, God does not need our help (or even us, for that matter). Whenever we try to do God’s work for Him, or try to help Him with His work, we are doing it without Him. Yet it is only by the grace of God that we can even be here today.

What is God’s grace? Many views and explanations have been put forth. But, in a nutshell, His grace is His perfect love (something we, as finite beings, can’t truly understand) and favor for us that makes Him willing to overlook our faults and shortfalls, even though we don’t really deserve anything but death eternally in Hell. Grace is continuously flowing from Him, but that does not mean that it automatically flows over or covers us. We need to first accept it, and then to be obedient to His commandments and His will.

We can only do this by accepting the sacrifice that His Son, Jesus Christ, made on the cross over two thousand years ago for our sins as our own, done for every man, woman and child who ever lived.

There is nothing we can do by ourselves to earn His grace or favor. No human being, or even the angels above, can earn His favor.

We need to come humbly before Him instead and yield our lives to Him. We need to turn completely in the opposite direction in our sinful ways, willing to totally forsake them. We can’t remain in their shadow  and also be successful with Him.

At the same time, this needs to be a continual effort. Whether you accepted Christ and became a believer decades ago, or only just recently, you need to come humbly before God, our Heavenly Father, daily, and yield to Him. For many, the act of surrender is considered a one-time event. But God expects it every day. “And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23 emphasis mine).

This is not some type of asceticism, but rather, not allowing our old sinful self to continue to control us. If we are not surrendering ourself to God every day, we are operating on our own plan. Then all our efforts become just futile works, not worth much more than elaborate castles built of piles of wet sand. This ultimately will lead us to boasting about our works, thereby leaving God out of the picture.

Don’t try to please God with your own works, thereby nullifying the finished and complete work of Jesus at the cross. Yield to God instead, and trust Him do all of the works for you.