Before I Formed You.

Christianity, Religion

“The word of the Lord came to me: I chose you before I formed you in the womb; I set you apart before you were born. I appointed you to be a prophet to the nations.” Jeremiah 1:4-5.

God spoke these words to the prophet Jeremiah when he was still a young man. God was calling Jeremiah to be a righteous man, to be a prophet that would speak out against the evil that was going on around him. God was going to use Jeremiah to bring the people of Israel back to Him.

God told Jeremiah that He knew him and chose him for this task, even before He had created Jeremiah in his mother’s womb. God created Jeremiah for this very task.  That is the beauty of our God– that He knows us before He has even created us. Before He forms us in the wombs of our mothers, God knows what will happen every day in our lives. He knows our futures, and He has appointed all of us to specific tasks. But even more importantly, God wants to have a relationship with us. From the time we are conceived, until the time we are reunited with Him, God wants to be a part of our lives.

God formed each and every one of us. He has the hairs on our heads numbered. He has set out specific tasks for all of us. And He wants us to seek Him. Let us do our very best to complete the work He has prepared us for, and let us praise Him while we do it. Remember that you are beautifully and wonderfully made by God, and that your life, just like all other life, is sacred to God. Seek Him in everything you do. Let us submit our wills to Him and allow Him to use us for the work He has appointed us to do.

Blessed.

Christianity, Religion

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness, because the kingdom of Heaven is theirs. Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you falsely and say every kind of evil against you because of Me. Be glad and rejoice, because your reward is great in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets before you.” Matthew 5:10-12.

Following God has never been easy and, quite frankly, it isn’t supposed to be. God gives us salvation and eternal life through Christ, and in return, we are to wholly submit our lives to Him. We are to strive to be righteous people and serve God in all we do. Those who have no care for God are baffled by this; the fact that we really have no desire for this world upsets them, even makes them uncomfortable. When we put God first in our lives, we are putting ourselves at odds with the world.

But the world is not content just to sit idly by and let us serve our God. Quite the contrary is true. The more we try to ignore the world and focus on the things of God, the more the world tries to lure us back in, and it will use any means necessary to do so. When all the world’s attempts to distract us fail, the world wants to be rid of us, and it is very eager and willing to try anything to be rid of God’s people.

Christ gave us this warning 2000 years ago. History has proven His words correct. The world has spared no time or effort in trying to expunge Christ’s followers and teachings from Earth. Even before the time of Christ, the righteous prophets sent from God met the same fate. But Christ’s warning carries with it a note of inspiration– we know we are successfully doing His work if the world is persecuting us. The world takes action against us because it is threatened by us and our beliefs. If we weren’t a threat to the world, then the world would leave us alone. Christ tells us to be glad and rejoice when the world persecutes us, because we are following in the footsteps of the prophets, but more importantly, in His footsteps.

Christ will be with us no matter what we endure. We can face anything the world can throw at us. Be glad and rejoice, Christ is with us and will see us through to the end.

The following is a list of notable Old Testament prophets, the 12 Disciples, and Paul and the fates they met:

Isaiah- sawn in two.

Jeremiah- stoned to death.

Amos- tortured to death.

Peter- crucified upside down.

James- beheaded.

John the beloved- only apostle to die a natural death in old age.

Andrew- crucified on an X-shaped cross.

Philip- crucified.

Bartholomew (Nathaniel)- skinned alive, then beheaded.

Matthew- axed to death.

Thomas- killed with spears.

John the lesser- stoned, then beaten to death.

Jude- beaten to death, then his corpse was beheaded.

Simon the Zealot- sawn in two.

Matthias (Judas Iscariot’s replacement)- stoned to death, then his corpse was beheaded.

Paul- beheaded in Rome.

The killing of Christians did not end in Rome. Currently, Christianity is either banned or illegal in 52 countries. In these countries, Christians are regularly attacked, beaten, imprisoned, and killed. Pray for our fellow believers. They surely would pray for us.

Fruit.

Christianity, Religion

“Either a tree is good and its fruit is good, or the tree is bad and its fruit is bad; for a tree is known by its fruit.” Matthew 12:33.

Unless you have an interest in horticulture and botany, chances are that if you were to come across a tree in the dead of winter, when all its leaves are gone, you probably wouldn’t know what sort of tree it is. Though there may be other identifiable characteristics, such as the bark pattern, seeing the fruit or leaves of the tree still remains the easiest way to identify it.

Now, imagine you come across that same tree in the summer. Its leaves are lush and green, and its blooms have developed into red fruit. Now you see the fruit, and realize that this is an apple tree. The tree looks healthy and strong, and the fruit looks good and appealing. This tree is good and it produces good fruit. Beside this apple tree, you spot another apple tree; however, this second tree does not look so healthy and its fruit look withered and bad. This tree is diseased, therefore it produces bad fruit.  A diseased tree can’t produce good fruit, and a healthy tree won’t produce diseased fruit. The trees are either good or bad, healthy or diseased.

Christ uses this simple analogy to explain something rather significant to his disciples. The state of our spiritual health is evidenced by the ’“fruit” we produce. A person who seeks to serve God will produce good fruit; that is to say that they will act out their faith. They will seek to do good deeds, donate their time and money to their church, and will continue you be actively engaged in spreading God’s word. However, a person who has no regard for seeking God will not produce good fruit. The fruit produced by this person has no spiritual value; instead they will act only in ways that will benefit themselves and their own fleshly desires. Christ makes it quite clear that the state of the tree’s health determines the nature of the fruit, and because of that, it is impossible for the spiritually dead tree to produce spiritual fruit. Likewise, the spiritually healthy tree should not produce dead, or sinful, fruit.

We are all either one type of tree or the other. We are either engaged in following Christ and seeking to bring forth fruit that will identify us as Christians, or we are seeking to please ourselves and producing fruit that identifies us with the world. We cannot have a combination of both, we must be one or the other. What kind of fruit are you producing?

Refuge.

Religion

“The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my mountain where I seek refuge, my shield and the strength of my salvation, my stronghold.” Psalm 18:2.

When David was a young man, he was picked by God to be the King of Israel. Though this was a great thing for David, there was a significant problem–Israel already had a king, Saul. However, Saul was not the king that God wanted for Israel; Saul was the man that the people had picked. They picked Saul because he was tall and good-looking and was a brave warrior. In other words, he looked like the kind of man that would make a good king. But Saul’s heart was not with God. David, on the other hand, was picked by God because his heart was with God, and God knew that David would always serve Him.

For years after David was selected to be the next king, Saul had a great deal of animosity towards David. So much so, that he chased David all around Israel trying to kill him. David was a refugee in his own country, never safe in the same place for any length of time. He had to hide in caves, stay distanced from his family and friends, and at one point, David acted like he was insane so that the king of a neighboring kingdom would give him sanctuary. This went on for some time until, finally, Saul made peace with David. Shortly thereafter, Saul died in battle. David was finally safe.

David penned this psalm shortly after he and Saul made peace. Though he had been on the run for so long, and was really never safe anywhere he went during that time, David knew that God would protect him. He knew he could depend on God to keep him safe. During his darkest days, David knew that God would deliver him from Saul.  God was his sanctuary, his safe place, his fortress. As long as David trusted in God, God’s defense of David would be more impenetrable than even the strongest mountain-top fortress. David knew he had nothing to fear.

The same is true for us with Christ. We endure trials just as David did, and we must follow his example and keep our faith firmly rooted in God. God will be our strength and our fortress, we need only to have faith in Him. Though the ordeals we face may be increasingly difficult, and we may even be hurt at times, God will not allow our enemies to overcome us, nor will He allow our troubles to swallow us up. Wherever we go, Christ is with us. He gives us refuge and solace. He is the strength of our salvation. He is our stronghold and He will always deliver us, and as long as we stay faithful to him, we are as safe in the face of our enemies as we are in bed.

If I Forget You.

Religion

“How can we sing the Lord’s song on foreign soil? If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill. May my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not remember Jerusalem with great joy.” Psalm 137:4-6

In the year 587 B.C., King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon invaded and destroyed Jerusalem. As a way of proving his power and might over the conquered Hebrews, Nebuchadnezzar ordered that the Solomon’s Temple, the holy Temple where the God of Israel resided, be destroyed. The Babylonian troops eagerly carried out this order and completely demolished the entire temple.  Then, Nebuchadnezzar began removing many of the Jews from the Promised Land and deported them to Babylon, where they would remain for roughly seventy years.

This psalm is referred to as the ‘Lament of the Exiles,’ as it was first penned during the period in which the Jews lived in exile in Babylon. The exiles were grieving the loss of Jerusalem, the city of God, and they vowed to never forget the holy city. However, it was not the loss of the physical buildings that make up the city that saddened the Jewish exiles, rather it was the spiritual loss that the destruction of Jerusalem represented. Jerusalem, and the Temple, represented a place where God dwelt among His people. It was a city that was filled with the spirit of the Lord; it was the city of God.

If God lived in Jerusalem, why did He allow it to be destroyed? For centuries leading up to the destruction, the people of Israel had not kept the commandments of God. Instead, they served pagan gods and allowed wicked kings to contaminate the country spiritually. God raised up numerous prophets, such as Elijah, Jeremiah, and Isaiah, to speak out against the wickedness of the people and to bring the people back to God. But the people would not heed the prophets’ warning. Instead, many of the prophets were killed, the wickedness increased, and God had to chastise His people.

Many people forget that God is a jealous God. He is absolutely holy, and He demands that we strive to be as well. When we stray from His commands, He will use any method necessary to correct us, and He does this because He loves us. The righteous remnant–those who had remained faithful to God during the time of wickedness in Israel–understood that the destruction of Jerusalem and the subsequent deportation to Babylon was God’s judgment, and they vowed to never forget the lessons learned from it. They would never again allow their people to wander so far away from God that He would to judge them in such a way. Though they were devastated and distraught, they vowed to never forget their spiritual heritage and homeland, even while they were  living in a foreign land.

Spiritually speaking, our time here on Earth is not entirely unlike the experience of the Jewish exiles in Babylon. This is not our spiritual home, we are merely living here until we can be reunited with God in Heaven. We live in a world that does not understand us, our beliefs, or our values; people make no effort to hide their mocking of our beliefs. Despite all this, we must keep God’s commandments and remember the spiritual Jerusalem–the place where God lives among His people–until we are able to return there. But, unlike the the Jewish exiles, who lamented because they did not know when they would ever return to Jerusalem, we have been assured by Christ that the reunion will occur. We must remain patient and ever longing for that day until it comes.

They Hated Me First.

Christianity, Religion

“If the world hates you, understand that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own. However, because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of it, the world hates you…If they persecuted me, the will also persecute you.” John 15:18-20.

In the past weeks and months, a combination of controversial hot-button issues led a few gregarious politicians to boldly declare that society is “at war with Christianity,” as though this so-called “war” has just begun. If these politicians had paid attention to the last 2000 years of recorded history, or if they took the time to check the Bible to see what Christ has to say, they would realize that this conflict is not new, nor is it unique to America. This conflict has been raging since the moment Christ was born.

After following the Star of Bethlehem all the way to Jerusalem, the Magi first went to King Herod and ask, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? We have seen His star in the east and have come to worship Him!” Herod, who was at that time the king of Judea, did not want to give up his throne to another king, so he ordered that all males under two years of age to be killed. Thousands of innocent babies were killed because of Herod’s greed and thirst for power. But Mary, Joseph, and the infant Christ fled to Egypt and avoided the slaughter.

Numerous other times, when Christ was a man, those in the religious establishment would be offended or infuriated by the things that Christ taught, and would try to incite others to harm Him. One time they tried to push Christ off a cliff, another time the Pharisees picked up stones and nearly stoned Christ. In each case, Christ either diffused the situation Himself, or the Pharisees began to fear for their own safety, since there were many people following Christ.

Christ does not beat around the bush; He is very frank in telling us that we should expect the same treatment. Being a follower of Christ has never been the popular thing to do, nor will it ever be. The world will always oppose us, and we should always be prepared for that. But the fact that the world opposes us should not discourage us, rather it should encourage us. Opposition from the world means that we are doing our job, that we are truly following Christ. We have nothing to fear from this world. Christ has already defeated the world, death, and the grave. Christ will be with us throughout any trial or persecution we endure. He will be with us to the end. It does not matter what the world does to us; they can feed us to lions, light us on fire, crucify us, stone us, or do any other sort of terrible things to us, but Christ will be with us. Death is nothing to be feared, it is merely the vehicle that transports us to be with Him in paradise. Though this conflict between Christ and the world is not new, it has already been won. Christ remains forever victorious. We have nothing to fear for Christ is with us.

No Greater Love.

Christianity, Religion

“This is My command: love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends.”  John 15:12-13.

On the night of His arrest, Christ spoke these words to His disciples. Though they did not yet know what Christ meant by these words, they would soon witness them in action.

Many people usually gloss over this passage in John’s gospel. They trivialize it, and Christ’s ministry, by focusing on the fact that Christ commands us to “love one another.” Yes, Christ does want us love others, and He desires for us to “treat others as we wish to be treated,” but to focus only on that as the main point of this passage is a gross misreading of the text– and the rest of Christ’s ministry. It is not a matter of treating everyone fairly or as equals. It is something much more important.

Christ wants us to love another as He loved us. How much does Christ love us? Enough to leave His throne in Heaven and come to Earth, to overcome temptation and live a sinless life, and to endure torture, humiliation, to be mocked, and killed for crimes He did not commit. He loves us so much that he died–he willingly laid down His life–for us, so that we can have life eternal in Heaven. He gave up His life for us because He loves us, and Christ says that there is no greater love than that in the world.

What we need to realize in this text is that Christ is commanding us to do the same. We are to be selfless. We are not to love ourselves more than anything else. We are to always put others ahead of ourselves, and to be more concerned about their well-being than our own. When we are able to put ourselves last, we then are able to learn how to love the way Christ commanded us to.  No other love will ever enable us to care enough about someone else that we would put our lives on the line for them; only the love of Christ can do that. But that same love is the greatest love in the world, and unless we exhibit that love for our fellow believers, then we are doing them a great disservice. Though we cannot bring salvation to anyone by laying our lives down for someone else, we can demonstrate our love, and Christ’s love, for them. Christ willingly gave up his life for us because He loves us, and He has commanded us to have that same love for one another. We can do nothing less than what our Lord has commanded us to do.

Lord, fill us up with Your love. Enable us to be selfless. Allow us to love others as much as You have loved us, even if that requires us to lay down our lives. Should we be required to do so, let us walk in your footsteps with rejoicing in our hearts.

Joy in the Morning.

Christianity, Religion

“Though I may spend the night weeping, there is joy in the morning… You turned my lament into dancing; You removed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, so that I can sing to You and not be silent. Lord, my God, I will praise you forever.” Psalm 30:5, 11-12

Our lives hear on Earth are frequently filled with heartache, hardship, and disappointment. We’ve all heard the old saying that “nothing in life is easy,” and there is quite a bit of truth to that statement. For every victory we win, or every high point we experience in life, there will be moments when we feel completely defeated by the world. At times, it seems as though we have no hope and no reason to go on.

David, who wrote the words from this psalm, knew this better than anyone. He was the boy that slayed the giant, Goliath. He was the man that would go on to be the greatest king in the entire history of Israel, but he was also a man who had suffered many setbacks and defeats. He spent several years of his life hiding in caves because his enemies wanted to kill him. He struggled with sin and lust just like any other human being, and his fleshly desires caused him to commit very grievous sins. Yet, even at his lowest point, David knew he could still count on God. David’s faith was planted firmly in God, and no matter what the circumstance was, David would praise God.

No matter how bad today may seem and no matter how many tears you may shed tonight, tomorrow is a new day that has been given to you by God. He, in His infinite love and mercy, will see us through our deepest and darkest trials. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and we must praise God for it. If it were not for God, there would be no reason to go on, there would be no hope, and there would be no joy in the morning. But God is with us! He reigns supreme over the entire universe, with Christ at His right hand. And we can rejoice because of this! Our tears will be turned to singing, and our heartache to gladness! The trials of this day will soon end and we will find renewed hope and joy with the rising sun. And we, like David, should offer our highest praise to God for the hope and joy He gives us. We must not be silent. We must not take His blessings for granted. We must sing loudly and joyously to the Lord who sustains us and renews us. Let us begin praising Him forever now!

You Go.

Christianity, Religion

“Then He said to another man, “Follow Me.”

“Lord,” he replied, “first let me go and bury my father.”

But Christ told him, “Let the dead bury the dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”“ Luke 9:58-60.

At first glance, these words from Christ may seem harsh and uncaring, that He would tell a man not to go and mourn the loss of his father. Why would Christ say something such as this to a man who had just lost his father?

The answer is this: Christ wants us to realize that there is no relationship more special than the one that we will have with Him and with God. Because of this, we should not let any earthly relationship hinder us from following Christ; our first priority, and most important relationship, should always be God. Everything else, family included, is secondary.

When Christ told the man to “let the dead bury the dead,” He was referring to those who are spiritually dead. The spiritually dead are those persons who ignore the call that Christ gives them, or make up excuses as to why they cannot yet follow Christ. Jesus is giving the man an ultimatum: either follow me, or be one of the spiritually dead. This anonymous man has a decision to make. Does he let his dead father keep him from following the Messiah, or does he go and follow Christ?

The decision faced by this unnamed man is a decision we all struggle with. It is not always easy to make our relationship with God the most important relationship. Very often we do get sidetracked by other matters. But, when Christ calls us to follow Him, we must be ready to drop everything and do just that. We do not want to be among the spiritually dead, we want to be among those who are preaching and spreading the kingdom of God. Every other relationship we have will fail us and people will constantly disappoint us, but God never will. Christ will stick closer to us than even our siblings. When all others die or forsake us, Christ will remain with us. Heed his call. Follow Him and let nothing stop you from doing so. Go out and proclaim the kingdom of God.

God is Calling.

Christianity, Religion

“Then the Lord came, stood there, and called as before, “Samuel, Samuel!”

Samuel responded, “Speak, for Your servant is listening.”“ 1 Samuel 3:10.

For years a woman named Hannah tried to have a child. After many failed attempts to have a child, she turned to God and asked for Him to bless her with a child. Should she be given a son, she vowed to dedicate that son to God and His service. Shortly thereafter, Hannah became pregnant, and when she gave birth to a son, she named him Samuel, which means “God has answered my request.” True to her word, when Samuel was old enough to be weaned, Hannah took Samuel to the home of the priest Eli, and left the child there to be raised by Eli “in the presence of the Lord.”

During the time in which Samuel was growing up, the Bible says that “the word of the Lord was rare and prophetic visions were not widespread.” Because the majority of people in Israel at that time did not seek God, God did not speak to the people. However, Samuel was taught to seek God and he “grew in stature and favor with God and man.” Samuel would be a man that God would use to do great things.

One night, as Samuel was going to bed, God called out to him. Samuel heard his voice being called, but did not recognize that it was God’s voice, since he had never heard God’s voice before. Instead, Samuel thought it was Eli calling him, and he went to check on Eli. Eli told Samuel that he did not call him, and Eli sent Samuel back to bed.

Again, God calls Samuel, and again, Samuel thinks it is Eli. Eli, again, tells Samuel to go back to bed. God calls Samuel a third time, and this time when Samuel goes to Eli, Eli realizes what is happening. Eli tells Samuel that it is God who is calling him, and he tells Samuel what to do when God calls him again. Once more, Samuel is sent back to bed.

The fourth time that God calls, Samuel is ready. When he hears God’s voice calling his name, Samuel says, “Speak for Your servant is listening.” God then goes on to give Samuel the first of many messages that he would relay to the people of Israel. Samuel would go on to be one of the greatest prophets in all of the history of Israel.

God is still calling people today; the question is are we listening for His voice? Though Samuel did not recognize God’s voice at first, he was still able to hear God’s call because he always sought to serve God. Can the same be said of us? Are we seeking to serve God? Are we listening for His voice? Or do we allow all the distractions of this world to muffle God’s voice while we focus our attention elsewhere? Even when we may hear God’s voice, do we  recognize that it is Him? We must follow Samuel’s example and open our hearts and minds to God. We must seek to grow in favor with God and man, and be ready to take part in God’s service. When we submit ourselves to God and seek Him, we will then be able to hear His call to us. Let us have open ears to hear, and willing hearts to serve God, just as Samuel did.