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Sifting to Secure the Success of the Saved

The separation of two entities is a principle that occurs several times in the Scriptures. In the Genesis, God separated the light from the darkness; the land from the water; one firmament from another, and so on. And all the way to Revelation, we see God continuing this process of separation, which He often calls sifting.

Indeed, The Scripture shows us that, after creation, God has turned His attention to sifting us. And that elicits the question: When and why does God sift us? Or What are God’s reasons for sifting us?

Thus far, we have found two types of sifting in Scripture:

  1. Sifting for Salvation
  2. Sifting for Sanctification

1. Sifting for Salvation

The first type of sifting we will look at is sifting for salvation. John the Baptist described this type of sifting when He introduced Jesus ministry:

“…[Christ] shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire: Whose fan is in His hand [to SIFT], and He will throughly purge His floor, and gather His wheat into the garner; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

Matthew 3:11-12

In this passage, Christ is likened to a farmer winnowing, i.e., sifting, wheat. The purpose of the sifting is to separate the grain from the chaff. The grain is then gathered into His barn (garner), but the chaff is burned. This imagery precisely describes the meaning of salvation.

The saved are those that, by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9), have become useful to God; like grain is to a farmer. The unsaved, by their rejection of God, are unuseful, inedible, and so must be burned. In which pile will you find yourself on Jesus’ threshing floor?

“And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats” ~ Matthew 25:32

Interestingly, this sifting only separates the wheat from the chaff: It does not address the quality of the grain. That requires a different kind of sifting, which we will examine next.

2. Sifting for Sanctification

The second type of sifting is sifting for sanctification. Jesus described this type of sifting when He counseled Peter:

“And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.”

Luke 22:31-32

We can also see this type of sifting in work in the Book of Job.

The symbols are the same as before, but here the chaff represents the bad aspects of ourselves that remain, even after salvation. After we are saved we still have bad habits and attitudes to deal with. Peter was saved (John 17:6-19) but he still had to grapple with his own prejudice (Acts 10-11), his anger (John 18:10), his impulsiveness (Matthew 17:4), and his hypocrisy (Galatians 2:11-16).

We should note here that previously God was the one sifting everyone to separate the saved from the unsaved. However, God allows/permits satan to effect this type of sifting. God would allow satan to sift Peter just as He allowed him to sift Job centuries earlier. And God will allow satan to sift Believers today.

“Sanctify them through Thy truth: Thy word is truth. ” ~ John 17:17

We should never forget, however, that the sifting is for our GOOD. Satan wants to harm us for sure, but God uses satans ill-intended actions for our benefit. Notice that

  1. Jesus has already prayed for Peter so that his faith would not fail: Peter would be able to endure satan’s sifting.
  2. Jesus said “…when thou art converted” NOT “…if thou art converted“. Jesus already gave Peter victory over satan’s sifting.
  3. The purpose of sifting was Peters conversion: Peter would be blessed by the sifting because it would change him for the better.

Crucially, we see here that the process of conversion takes place AFTER salvation. At salvation, we become new spiritual creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17, Ephesians 4:24, Colossians 3:10). But we still have our old corrupt flesh present.

The conversion process, which is otherwise called sanctification, takes us from being dominated by our flesh to being willingly submitted to the Holy Spirit. And God allows trials to come into our lives so that by them our sanctification can be accomplished.

Finally, after his conversion was complete, Peter’s next step was to “strengthen thy brethren“. In other words, Peter was to be sifted so that he could thereby be sanctified; and then become useful to help his fellow Believers grow stronger. What satan meant for evil would end up being a great blessing to many.

Similarly, when Job’s trials were complete, he was able to help his friends who had been wrong about God (Job 42:7-10). Therefore, when we are sifted we should keep in mind that we will endure because God will give us victory and enable our ministry.

“And not only so , but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.”

Romans 5:3-5

Closing Thoughts

It’s too late to change when the chaff hits the fan.

The Deception of Disobedience

“But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.” ~ James 1:22

Both the meaning and the application of our text are fairly straightforward. In summary, it tells us that we should do more than simply listening (or just reading) God’s Word: We should put it into practice, i.e., we should OBEY the Word of God.

However, we would like to turn the spotlight on two parts of this passage for more examination. Specifically, we will explore two related questions:

  1. What exactly is the deception caused by not applying/obeying God’s Word when we hear (or read) it?
  2. What does this passage tell us about God’s blessing(s)?

1. The Deception of Hearing without Obeying

In the Bible (i.e., the Word of God given to guide Believers) places the emphasis for Christian living on actions. It is true that Believers are saved by God’s grace alone through faith alone (Ephesians 2:9). However, Christian living does end there: we are saved to do something: we are saved to fulfill God’s purpose for our lives (Ephesians 2:10).

Jesus put it this way:

“Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.”

Matthew 7:21

And

“And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?”

Luke 6:46

The deception of disobedience is that it is enough to simply hear/read God’s Word or that it is enough to just acknowledge God. But Jesus clearly shows that He is far more interested in our obedience to the Word we have heard/read.

“Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” ~ Matthew 7:19-20

It is not enough to just have faith. Rather, the faith that we have must be transformed into obedience. The great amount of energy an electric power company has in store has no use to a community unless it is transmitted to that community. The knowledge we have acquired regarding God’s Word is useless unless and until His Word is activated in our lives through our obedience. Likewise, simply acknowledging or simply believing in God is insufficient, for even demons believe in God.

“Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.”

James 2:19

Believing in God is the crucial starting point. However, if we have allowed ourselves to be deceived by our disobedience, then we must consider, we must question, the validity of our own salvation: As we saw earlier: “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven…” ~ Matt 7:21a

Moreover, we are instructed as follows:

Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?”

2 Corinthians 13:5

The faith that saves, is the faith that makes us available to obey God.

To be clear, these passages do not argue for sinless perfection or perfect obedience as the standard of salvation. For example, we know that Peter denied Christ and that Jonah ran away from delivering God’s message.

Rather, as our text shows, the question is whether we remember what we looked like in the mirror of God’s Word and whether we will do something about it. In other words, the child of God cares deeply about God’s Word and what it reveals about his state. The child of God wants to be transformed into the image, the full stature, of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 4:13-14).

Conversely, those who do not care about applying God’s Word to their lives demonstrate that they have no genuine desire to become Christlike. They are willing to cry “Lord, Lord” but are uninterested to do the things which Christ, The Word (John 1:1-3), says to do.

How important is it to you/me to serve God as Christ did?

2. Blessings

What do we want?

We want God’s blessings!

When do we want them?

We want them now!

Our text identifies who are blessed and what God blesses:

“…But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.”

God blesses the one who is both a hearer and a doer. And God blesses the doer’s deeds. In other words, God blesses the one who is living according to God’s will for his/her life.

“Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples. ” ~ John 15:8

One may also think of it this way: Are God’s blessings available to those living outside of God’s will? Are God’s blessings available to those who have no intention to obey His Word?

Clearly, God’s intends to bless our acts of obedience to His Word.

To the extent that we are not living in obedience to God’s Word, we should be careful about claiming His blessing on our actions. Indeed, it is possible to claim blessings that do not originate with God.

Make no mistake, God is merciful. But God is also righteous and cannot tolerate sin/disobedience, much less bless it.

“If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me”

Psalm 66:18

Closing Thoughts

Jesus made it clear, it is our fruit that identifies us as His disciples or as pretenders (Matthew 7:18-20). Moreover, God’s will is that every Believer bears much fruit (John 15:5-8). But it is impossible for us to bear good fruit when we fail to apply God’s Word to our lives.

“But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.”

Matthew 13:23

Is God Your Hiding Place and Your Shield?

“Thou art my hiding place and my shield: I hope in Thy word.” ~ Psalm 119:114

What does it mean for God to be our hiding place, and shield? What does it mean for God to be our refuge and our protector?

It is easy to call on God to keep us safe. It is easy to claim that God is our defender. But what is a person under God’s watch-care like? How do they live? What is the evidence that proves they are truly part of The Great Shepherd’s flock?

Our text gives us the answer: “…I hope in Thy word”.

It isn’t the sounds of our bleating that identify us as being part of The Great Shepherd’s flock. Rather, it is our attitude and our obedience to His Word that mark us as being in His care.

Jesus put it this way:

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me”

John 10:27

In other words, those in the care of The Great Shepherd, those who truly find in Him a hiding place, those for whom He is a shield, are those who HEAR His Word (voice) and OBEY (follow) His Word. Or, as our text says, those who can truly say, “…I hope in Thy word”.

To hope in God’s Word is to look to God’s Word for the solutions, for the answers, on how to live our lives. To hope in God’s Word is to recognize that ONLY God’s word has the answers, that our hope is in nothing else. And, as faith is evidenced in works (James 2:17-26), likewise, our hope in God’s Word is proven by our obedience to God’s Word.

We can’t legitimately call on God to hide and shield us if we won’t listen to Him or obey Him.

Believers in Business: Three Tenets for Transactions

Conducting business transactions can be a minefield for Believers because worldly business culture usually focuses more on maximizing profit even if it means overstepping ethical boundaries.

Many business deals are often crafted in secret, rely on an insider network, and/or create obligations that ensure future alliances/dependence.

How then can a Believer navigate the world of business in a way that honors God?

To be clear, business deals are not inherently wrong. But it is equally obvious that the worldly business practices of worldly men are worldly instead of godly. Thus, the goals of Believers are often diametrically opposed to those with whom they must do business.

Genesis 23 records Sarah’s death and the how Abraham, her husband, bought a cave in which to bury her. By examining how Abraham conducted business with the ungodly Hittites in the land of Canaan, three principles emerge, (1) Identity, (2) Intent, and (3) Independence.

Identity

“I am a stranger and a sojourner with you…” ~ Genesis 23:4a

Driving Abraham’s business practice with the worldly Hittites was the notion that He was a “stranger and a sojourner”. Even though he had dwelled there for more than forty years, Abraham saw himself as different, not one of the Hittites. And he didn’t consider Canaan to be his home, he was just a visiting for a while. As a stranger and a sojourner, Abraham wouldn’t let himself operate on the level of the Hittites. Otherwise, he would become one them.

This perspective is echoed in Jesus’ instructions to His disciples and in His High-Priestly prayer.

“If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.” ~ John 15:19

and

“I [Jesus] pray not that thou should take them out of the world, but that thou should keep them from the evil. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” ~ John 17:15-16

If we, like Abraham, see ourselves as strangers and sojourners in the world, we will be able to resist the world’s corrupted culture and do our dealings according to the commands of Christ. As strangers and sojourners, we don’t live by the world’s value system, and we don’t do business as the world does business.

Without this distinction, Abraham would have done business the way the Hittites did and we will do business the way the world does.

Therefore, the first crucial issue that confronts us is one of identity: “Am I of the world, or am I of Christ?” Our dealings in business, and the other aspects of life, will depend inescapably on our genuine answer to that question. If our citizenship is in Heaven, why would we identify with or imitate the world?

Intent

And Abraham stood up from before his dead, and spake unto the sons of Heth, saying, “I am a stranger and a sojourner with you: give me a possession of a buryingplace with you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight.” ~ Genesis 23:3-4

The terms “sons of Heth” refers to the Hittite nation that lived in the part of Canaan that had the cave Abraham wanted to buy. Abraham could have sought out the owner of the cave and made a deal with him to purchase the burial cave for Sarah.

The public way in which Abraham conducted the transaction made it open to everyone’s scrutiny. But that was the point. Having the purchase out in the open reassured all the stakeholders that there was nothing improper about it. Abraham could not be accused of taking advantage of the seller. And it was clear that the purchase was nothing more than a business deal: Abraham was not making an alliance with the seller or seeking to establish himself in the area by acquiring land.

In the discussion surrounding the purchase, it is clear that the Hittites see Abraham as a powerful entity in the region (Genesis 23:6). And power often engenders fear and envy, even more than it does praise and respect. Abraham’s transparency was inclusive and would have been reassuring to the Hittites.

Christians conducting business deals must likewise be as transparent as possible. Darkness provides opportunities for sin to creep in and gives an excuse for suspicion.


Jesus put it this way:

“And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.
But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.” ~ John 3:19-21

Many refuse to come to The Light because coming to Jesus will expose their evil conduct. But those who seek after righteousness run to Jesus, gladly making themselves available for His scrutiny, because they want to do what’s right.

Christians must embrace transparency in all transactions with the world because it allows us to demonstrate, to make clear to all, that our dealings are righteous because we are servants of Christ Jesus. Transparency helps us to avoid sin and confirms our intent to honor God.

In contrast, the world does not like transparency and actively seeks to avoid it whenever possible: fearing that exposure will reveal their true intentions and limit their ability to gain the advantage.

Therefore, the second crucial issue that confronts us in business transactions (and in other aspects of life) is one of intent: “Am I trying to gain the world, or am I trying to glorify Christ?” Our genuine answer to that question will determine whether we embrace transparency or not. If I am truly trying to glorify Christ, why wouldn’t I want the whole world to see?

Independence

[Ephron:] “Nay, my lord, hear me: the field give I thee, and the cave that is therein, I give it thee; in the presence of the sons of my people give I it thee: bury thy dead.”
And [Abraham] spake unto Ephron in the audience of the people of the land, saying, “But if thou wilt give it, I pray thee, hear me: I will give thee money for the field; take it of me, and I will bury my dead there.” ~ Genesis 23:11a & 13

Not all gifts are good. Abraham wisely insisted on paying Ephraim to acquire the cave of Machpelah to bury Sarah. In the times of Abraham, and even today, gifts were often used to establish an alliance (e.g. Genesis 21:27). Accepting the cave of Machpelah as a gift would have tied Abraham to Ephron. And Abraham’s independence would have been diminished.


Abraham made a similar decision when the King of Sodom had offered him the spoils from Abraham’s defeat of Cherdolaomer (Genesis 14).

“…I will not take any thing that is thine, lest thou shouldest say, I have made Abram rich:” ~ Genesis 14:23b

In other words, the King of Sodom would have no claim over Abraham: Abraham would not be obligated in any way to the King of Sodom but could operate with complete independence.

To be clear, Abraham had accepted gifts twice in the past, from the King/Pharaoh of Egypt (Genesis 12) and from Abimelech (Genesis 20). However, in the former case, the gifts were a result of Abraham’s deception.  And in the latter case, the gifts were offerings to God to absolve Abimelech of sin, with Abraham as a kind of intermediary to God.

Conversely, Abraham gave Abimelech a gift (Genesis 21) that obliged Abimelech to return a well that Abimelech’s servants had stolen from him.

Like Abraham, Believers must be careful about receiving gifts because of the potential of becoming obligated to the gift-giver. This is especially true in the business world where such entanglements can compromise our ability to honor God in our dealings.

As the Book of Proverbs points out:

“A wicked man taketh a gift out of the bosom to pervert the ways of judgment.” ~ Proverbs 17:23

Therefore

“He that is greedy of gain troubleth his own house; but he that hateth gifts shall live.” ~ Proverbs 15:27

Again, not all gifts are bad, and not all gift-givers are evil. But some do use gifts to entangle/obligate others with themselves. In other words, gifts can be used as bribes. Therefore, we should be cautious whenever we are offered a gift. (Interestingly, the Hebrew words “shakh’-ad” and “mattânâh” can both be translated as either gift or bribe.)

“And thou shalt take no gift: for the gift blindeth the wise, and perverteth the words of the righteous.” ~ Exodus 23:8

Therefore, the third crucial issue that we must consider in our business transactions is independence from worldly entities: “Am I free to go as God guides me, or do my obligations (entanglements) limit what I am willing to do?” Our genuine answer to that question will determine how important serving God is to us. What steps am I willing to take to ensure my independence from the world so that God is my only obligation?

It is vital that Believers answer to God only. If we become obligated to others, then our decisions and actions will be compromised: we will be unable to serve God unhindered.

“Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers:
For what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness?
And what communion hath light with darkness?
And what concord hath Christ with Belial?
Or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?
And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols?
For ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” ~ 2 Corinthians 6:14-16

Closing Thoughts

the-traffic-light-2157162_1920The example provided in Genesis 23 of how Believers should conduct business in a world hostile to God demonstrates that God cares about all aspects of our lives. Nevertheless, one might wonder whether it was a crucial part of the story of Abraham.

In the preceding chapter, Genesis 22, the great faith of Abraham was demonstrated before God on the mountaintops of Moriah. However, while faith “on the mountaintop” is important, we spend most of our lives “in the valley” where we daily interact with both the godly and the ungodly: the saved and the unsaved. How do we demonstrate our faith then?

Real faith doesn’t exist only “on the mountaintop”. Real faith shows up in our day-to-day decisions, in how we treat people, in our value-system and how we represent God to the world.

Consider HIM

“Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee: because he trusteth in Thee.
Trust ye in the Lord for ever: for in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength:” ~ Isaiah 26:3-4

When the storm is raging high,
When the tempest rends the sky,
When my eyes with tears are dim,
Then, my soul, consider Him.

When my plans are in the dust,
When my dearest hopes are crushed,
When is passed each foolish whim,
Then, my soul, consider Him.

When with dearest friends I part,
When deep sorrow fills my heart,
When pain racks each weary limb,
Then, my soul, consider Him.

When I track my weary way,
When fresh trials come each day,
When my faith and hope are dim,
Then, my soul, consider Him.

Clouds or sunshine, dark or bright,
Evening shades or morning light,
When my cup flows o’er the brim,
Then, my soul, consider Him.

Author unknown

“Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.
And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”
~ Philippians 4:6-7

Foundations of Faith

And Abraham said, “My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together.” ~ Genesis 22:8

Our text is taken from a conversation between Abraham and Isaac. As a test of Abraham’s faith, God had asked Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. As Abraham and Isaac approached the place the sacrifice was to be made, Isaac, unaware of God’s request, asked his father where was the sacrifice that would be offered.

“…And [Isaac] said, ‘Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?’” ~ Genesis 22:7b

This account is one of the most well-known and discussed passages in the Bible. It concludes when God tells Abraham not to sacrifice Isaac and commends Abraham for his faith. Significantly, the occasion foreshadows the crucifixion of Jesus several centuries later.

However, for this study, we want to focus on Abraham’s response to Isaac’s question, because it demonstrates the twin foundations for real faith: Obedience and Attitude. If we are going to live by faith, as God’s word says (Habakkuk 2:4, Romans 1:17, 2 Corinthians 5:7, Galatians 3:11, Hebrews 10:38), then these foundations must be appropriated into our everyday walk with God.

“But without faith it is impossible to please Him: for he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.”
~ Hebrews 11:6

Obedience

The most arresting feature of the account is Abraham’s unquestioning obedience. How many of us, if asked by God to sacrifice a child, would respond in obedience without even a question? Yet that is exactly what Abraham did, and it is what was required of him and is required of us.

Why?

Because God is.

If God exists, then, as the creator of the universe, He must be obeyed. God is not omniscient some of the time. And we are never omniscient at any time. Consequently, the only permissible response to God’s commands is obedience.

What argument could we present to God to demonstrate that His command is unwise or unjust or untimely?

“…so they went both of them together.” ~ Genesis 22:8b

Our text shows that Abraham wisely focused on obeying God rather than on understanding or challenging God’s command. Because God is sovereign and Abraham is not.

Consider the following passage:

“…Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.
For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.” ~ 1 Samuel 15:22-23a

Obedience is more important than anything we do suffer or sacrifice for God. And disobedience/rebellion is as bad as being a witch, i.e., a devil worshipper. In other words, if you are going to disobey God you might as well serve the devil!

Indeed, even stubbornness, even being unwilling to obey, equates to loving sin and worshipping idols instead of God.

In short, disobedience is evidence that God is not God to us. Clearly, God is not our God if we don’t obey Him.

Jesus put it this way:

“Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” ~ Matthew 7:22-23

It’s not what we do for God that matters. What matters is what we do for God in obedience to Him. All works outside of God’s will are not just pointless, but also evil.

Abraham spent no time questioning or challenging God’s commands, and neither should we. Like Abraham, our energy must be directed to obeying God.

We cannot exercise faith in God without obeying Him. Obedience to God is then fundamental to faith in God. And one cannot exist without the other. To live a life of faith is to obey whatever we know to be God’s will for us. Even when we don’t understand.

Attitude

We can gain insight into Abraham’s thinking by carefully examining his answer to Isaac. First, notice that Abraham used the future tense in his answer.

And Abraham said, “My son, God will provide…” ~ Genesis 22:8a

But God had already identified Isaac as the sacrifice. Hence, Abraham’s use of the future tense suggests that he believed/hoped God would provide a substitute for Isaac.

We also see that notion expressed in the next words:

And Abraham said, “My son, God will provide himself a lamb.” ~ Genesis 22:8a

Abraham anticipated/hoped/believed that God would work things out so that the sacrifice would end up being a lamb instead of his son, Isaac.

Why did Abraham believe that? What gave Abraham hope?

Abraham knew God. Abraham had walked with God and knew that God was just, that God loved him. Abraham also trusted God’s previous promises. God had promised Abraham descendants through Isaac. And God keeps His promises. Clearly, God would work everything out.

Abraham could not see God’s plan, but he had seen/experienced God’s love and God’s faithfulness. Abraham knew God was good, so there was no reason to fear.

To have faith in God we must believe that He is good that He loves us and has our best interest at heart. Otherwise, when the storms come we will jump ship, not believing that Captain Jesus loves us enough and is powerful enough to bring us safely to harbor.

But God’s Word tells us:

“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” ~ Romans 8:28

And

“For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, [39] Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” ~ Romans 8:38-39

Therefore, Abraham’s hope was well founded. And if we believe God is good, as Abraham did, then we will be able to put our faith/trust in Him regardless of our circumstances.

Closing Thoughts

Abraham’s answer to Isaac contains another compelling insight.

“…God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering…” ~ Genesis 22:8

God provides His own sacrifice!

Every offering originates from God. We can offer nothing that God hasn’t already provided. Therefore, sacrifices were never about the offering, they were about the heart, the attitude, the mindset, of the offerer.

God was testing Abraham, not Isaac: It wasn’t sacrificing Isaac that mattered, it was whether Abraham would show up. Was he willing to obey God in the ultimate test of faith?

When God calls on us, will we show up? Or will we be missing in action? Our responses to God reveal to us, and everyone watching, what we think of Him. Our responses will reveal if He really is our God. Our responses will reveal whether we believe He is good, fair, just, and worthy of our love.

Finally, the geographical area where the Abraham had built the altar for Isaac is where Jerusalem was eventually established and where Jesus was later crucified. God’s replacement for Isaac was not the “ram caught in [the] thicket” (Genesis 22:13).

As Abraham had prophesied, God would “provide himself a lamb” and that Lamb was to be Jesus. God will never ask us to do more for Him than He will do for us.

Consider Your Ways: Four Obstacles to Fruitfulness

The time spanning the last days of a year and the beginning of a new year is always a popular time for self-evaluation. What did we accomplish? How well did we do? What could we have done better? What should we target in the new year?

In the book of Haggai, the prophet challenged the Israelites to reflect on their accomplishments over the years since their return to Israel from seventy years of captivity in Babylon.

Through King Cyrus, God had commanded the Israelites to return home to rebuild the Temple:

“Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, The Lord God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Who is there among you of all his people? his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the Lord God of Israel, (he is the God,) which is in Jerusalem.” ~ Ezra 1:2-3

However, several years had passed (by the time of Haggai, three kings had succeeded Cyrus) and only the Temple’s foundation had been completed.

It was time for the Israelites to evaluate their performance.

“Now therefore thus saith the Lord of hosts; Consider your ways.
Ye have sown much, and bring in little;
ye eat, but ye have not enough;
ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink;
ye clothe you, but there is none warm;
and he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes.
Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Consider your ways.” ~ Haggai 1:5-7

God had given them on each task to complete on their return. But, after many years, their efforts had borne little fruit. Why?feedback

Like the Israelites, Believers have also been assigned a task: Each and every Christian has been called to participate in the establishment/edification of the church (Matthew 28:18-20, Ephesians 4:7-16) for we are also involved in the building of a temple:

“…Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.” ~ Ephesians 2:20b-22

However, many of us (too many of us!), when we reflect on our lives as Christians find ourselves not doing much better with our project than the Israelites did with theirs. Many years have passed by and we haven’t accomplished much beyond the foundations of our faith. And some of us haven’t even done that.

It is time for us to evaluate our own performance.

“For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself. But let every man prove his own work…” ~ Galatians 6:3-4a

Towards that end, we can gain insight from Haggai, as God’s Word through him reveals four issues that had hindered the Israelites’ fruitfulness then and hinder our fruitfulness now.

Plutocratic Priorities

“Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your cieled houses, and this house lie waste?” ~ Haggai 1:4

A cieled house was one that had panels on the interior walls. Paneled walls were fashion statements and status symbols: a display of wealth. The Israelites had had enough time and prosperity to indulge themselves in fancy houses but had yet to complete the construction of God’s house. They had prioritized their own houses above God’s house.

Whenever our priorities are misplaced, whenever our personal agendas are held above God’s plans for us, we will find it hard to serve Him: We will find it hard to be fruitful.

Indeed, Jesus provided us with the right approach to life:

“Jesus saith unto them, My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work,” ~ John 4:34

And

“For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.” ~ John 6:38

If Jesus dedicated His life to accomplishing The Father’s will, shouldn’t we all do the same?? Shouldn’t I do as Jesus did?

Every moment I spend doing my will is at the expense of doing God’s will. The less I yield to God, the less He can work through me. The less God works through me the less fruitful I will be.

Who is the priority in your life?

Hardened Hearts

Then answered Haggai, and said, “So is this people, and so is this nation before me”, saith the Lord; “and so is every work of their hands; and that which they offer there is unclean…
…“I smote you with blasting and with mildew and with hail in all the labours of your hands; yet ye turned not to me”, saith the Lord.” ~ Haggai 2:14 & 17

The hearts of the Israelites had become hardened through neglect: The more they concerned themselves with themselves, the less sensitive they were to God’s overtures/appeals. Consequently, even when they tried to do right, they were wrong: No one can serve God on his/her own terms. The Israelites couldn’t and neither can we.

Indeed, this principle has been taught from the beginning: Cain’s offering was rejected because it was not what God wanted him to bring (Genesis 4:1-7). Before ever coming to offer a sacrifice Cain should have asked God what offering God would be pleased with having. That would have required Cain to have a love relationship with God: one in which Cain walked humbly with God seeking to do God’s will not Cain’s will.

Quoting Isaiah, Jesus said,

“This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” ~ Matthew 15:8-9

Fundamental to serving God is our relationship with Him. Without a relationship with God, we will never be fruitful. If our hearts are far from God, if we do not have a relationship with Him, we cannot serve Him.

Moreover, without a relationship with God, everything we do is tainted. Indeed, as long as we are apart from Jesus we are unable to produce any good fruit.

[Jesus said:] “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.
“I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.
“If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered…” ~ John 15:4-6a

How is your relationship with God going? Are you walking closely, are you joined to Jesus?

Feckless Faith

Thus speaketh the LORD of hosts, saying, “This people say, The time is not come, the time that the LORD’S house should be built.” ~ Haggai 1:2

To understand the issues contained in this verse, it is necessary to read Ezra 3-6 for the “backstory”. In those chapters, we learn that the neighboring nations had opposed the building of the Temple and lied to the Persian rulers in a letter claiming that the Temple was a means by which the Israelites would start a rebellion.

As a result, the Israelites ceased their work on the Temple, never bothering to challenge the false report. It wasn’t until many years later, under the divinely appointed leadership of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, Zerubbabel the governor and Joshua, the High Priest, that the Israelites resumed building the Temple.

But the big question is, why didn’t they resist the false narrative of their jealous neighbors? Why didn’t they stand up for the truth? Why did they give up so quickly?

As soon as their treacherous neighbors challenged them, they gave up: essentially saying, “Oh well, it looks like this is not the right time to build the temple.”

Sadly, we frequently respond in the same way. At the first sign of opposition, many modern-day Believers simple drop their tools and go back home, saying, “Oh well, it looks like this is not the right time to do God’s work.”

But “God’s work” is work: it takes blood, sweat and tears, and the willingness to stand strong against those who oppose God and His church.

Jesus said,

“If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you…” ~ John 15:18-20a

Moreover, if we are going to do anything for God we should expect opposition. And if we are going to do anything GREAT for God we should expect GREAT opposition.

So why are we so weak so often?

The answer is that it is always easier to give up than stand up. To give up appears to cost little, while to stand up might cost us everything. We would rather lose our status in the Kingdom of God than lose our status in the kingdom of man.

…the high priest asked them, saying, “Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.”
Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, “We ought to obey God rather than men.” ~ Acts 5:27b-29

For the Israelites, it was easier to just give up rather than risk incurring the wrath of the King of Persia. Somehow the Israelites were more concerned about offending the King of Persia than offending God. Likewise, we are often more concerned about upsetting the world than upsetting God: Worldly approval trumps God’s approval for far too many of us.

However, it is our fruitfulness that validates our faith. To be fruitless is to be faithless. The failure to complete the mission of building the Temple testified of the weakness of the Israelites faith. In the same manner, we only serve God as much as our faith allows us to do.

“For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” ~ James 2:26

Can we bear fruit without faith??

Voided Vision

“Who is left among you that saw this house in her first glory? and how do ye see it now? is it not in your eyes in comparison of it as nothing?” ~ Haggai 2:3

When the foundation of the temple was laid (Ezra 3:11-13), there was a mixture of joy and sadness. Some were glad to have the work started on the new Temple. But others remembered the greatness of the previous Temple and mourned the comparative poverty of the new one.

However, both groups got it wrong. The significance of the Temple was neither its physical glory nor just its existence/utility. The first Temple was great because (for a time) it was filled with God’s glory (2 Chronicles 7:1-3). And the first Temple stopped being great when God’s glory left the Temple (because of Israel’s/Judah’s sin, Ezekiel 10).

The new Temple would be even greater than the first, not because of its opulence, but because it would be visited by The Messiah: Jesus would preach and teach in its courts!

The Israelites in the time of Haggai didn’t capture that vision, even though their Scripture contained many prophecies of the Messiah’s coming. It is always easier to work towards a goal if we have a vision of what we are working towards. That is a major reason for the prophecies in the Bible. God wants us to know ahead of time that our work will not be in vain.

God’s Word tells us that our work for His Kingdom will be rewarded (1 Corinthians 3:12-17). His Word tells us that we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matthew 5:13-16). His Word tells us that Jesus will return and we will be with Him (1 Corinthians 15).  His Word tells us everything we need to see the vision He has for us, His children.

If we capture the vision of the future described in God’s Word, every decision will have more meaning, every step will have more purpose, and every opportunity will have more value.

“So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” ~ Isaiah 55:11

“Where there is no vision, the people perish…” ~ Proverbs 29:18a

To be fruitful, we need an idea of what we are being fruitful for. But, to get the vision, we must know God’s Word, for the vision is contained therein. God’s Word will not return to Him void/empty/unfulfilled, and neither will the vision outlined in His Word.

Closing Thoughts

God has prepared work for each and every Believer to do (Ephesians 2:10). He has equipped us to do that work (Ephesians 4:7-16). He will supply us with all the wisdom we need to complete the work effectively (James 1:5-8). He requires of His children that we are faithful in doing what He has set before us to accomplish.

“Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.” ~ 1 Corinthians 4:2

As each of us evaluates our own performance, perhaps the most important question to ask is whether we have been faithful. Have I done what God has called me to do? Have I even tried? God is well aware of the particular challenges each of us faces. But He still requires faithfulness.

It’s time to get to work: we have a Temple to build.

No Room Made for Jesus while He Made Room for Us

“And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.” ~ Luke 2:7

The phrase “…no room for them in the inn” is perhaps the most revealing comment in the beautiful Christmas story. In just a few words it describes both man’s problem and God’s solution. The issue here is not that there was no room specifically for Joseph and Mary, who was pregnant with Jesus. Neither the guests in the inn nor the innkeeper was aware that the Messiah was nestled in Mary’s womb. The shame was that no one was willing to give up their place in the inn for a heavily pregnant young woman.

Interestingly, there was nothing in the Mosaic Law that required any special treatment of pregnant women. Therefore, to make room for Mary, someone in the inn would have to be internally motivated to respond to her plight. Someone in the inn would need to have enough compassion to show her mercy. But no one in the inn did.

No one in the inn was willing to give up their comfort so that someone imperiled by circumstances could be rescued.

But then there was Jesus.

About to emerge from Mary’s womb was Immanuel.

God, The Father, saw mankind imperiled by sin. And He sent Jesus, His only begotten Son, to save us. Jesus left the comfort of Heaven, relinquished His glory and took on flesh, bore our sin and shame on the cross, all to make room for us in Heaven.

Understand, before Jesus came, there was no room for us in Heaven: sin disqualified us from entering. But Jesus had compassion on us and He was willing to show us mercy: He was willing to do whatever was needed to rescue us from condemnation.

If you are willing, in faith, to knock on the doors of Heaven, you will find there is room, lots of room, all because of Jesus.

‘Twas a sheep not a lamb

‘Twas a sheep not a lamb that strayed away
In the parable Jesus told,
A grown-up sheep that strayed away
From the ninety and nine in the fold.

And why for the sheep should we seek
And earnestly hope and pray?
Because there is danger when sheep go wrong;
They lead the lambs astray.

Lambs will follow the sheep, you know,
Wherever the sheep may stray.
When sheep go wrong, it won’t take long
‘Til the lambs are as wrong as they.

And so with the sheep we earnestly plead
For the sake of the lambs today,
For when sheep are lost, what a terrible cost
The lambs will have to pay!

― C.C. Miller

From a List of Laws to the Love of The Lord

“All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient:
all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.” ~ 1 Corinthians 6:12

“All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient:
all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.” ~ 1 Corinthians 10:23

Understanding what was sin was a major issue in the early church. The Mosaic Law had for hundreds of years defined sin for the Jewish people. However, Christians, born-again through the blood of Jesus Christ, were not under the Mosaic Law.

For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace. What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.” ~ Romans 6:14-15

And, although Jesus’ teachings were available, He had not given any “laws”. How then would Believers know what sin was? With no law, how can sin be defined?

In reality, this issue had already been addressed and resolved in both the Old (e.g., Micah 6:6-8) and the New Testaments (e.g., Matthew 22:35-40). However, our texts (the verses above) are particularly useful in illustrating the change from the old paradigm of the Law to the new paradigm of Grace.

All things are not expedient

As we can see in the verses above, in the epistle to the Corinthians, sin is defined sin as doing whatever is “not expedient”.  Instead of a list of do-nots as in the Mosaic law, we are instructed to focus on a single concept: expedience.

According to Merriam-Webster, something is expedient if it is suitable for achieving a particular end in a given circumstance.

Our focus, then, is to be on doing what is most suitable to achieving God’s goals in every circumstance, anything else is sin.

God has a plan and purpose for us in every moment and at every step of our lives. Our job is to make choices that “expedite”, that facilitate, God’s plans/purposes. Any choice that frustrates/hinders God’s plans/purposes is sin.

Consequently, sin cannot be pinned down to any list of do’s and don’ts.  The emphasis has been shifted from a list of laws to the love of The Lord.  In each situation that faces us, we ask not what’s on a list, but what best demonstrates the love of God.

This means that we must constantly be concerned with God’s Will in any and every circumstance. And it reveals the central importance of our one-on-one relationship with God.

As we walk in right relationship with God, we apply His Truth, His Word, to every situation to determine what is expedient: to determine what God wants to accomplish in us and through us.

Living under grace, instead of under The Law, is dynamic and personal rather than static and general.

“He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” ~ Micah 6:8

But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the Lord. ~ Jeremiah 9:24

Because the emphasis is on the relationship between Believer and God (The Lawgiver!) instead of on the law, our relationship is then fundamental to making the right decisions. We focus on God and depend on Him to get us to the right result/choice/outcome.

“In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths.” ~ Proverbs 3:6

Consider the Pharisees of Jesus’ day: Despite their knowledge of (the letter of) The Law, they were unable to ‘see’ the Lawgiver when He came to them in flesh. They were unable to understand His ministry and His death and Resurrection. They knew The Law, but knew not the Lawgiver. They had knowledge without relationship; but in God’s Kingdom, there is no knowledge without relationship.

Not under the power of any thing

According to our text, 1 Corinthians 6:12, sin tries to enslave us: to bring us under its power. Therefore, we can determine whether an action is wrong or right, whether it hinders God’s will or expedites God’s will, by examining if it will rule over us. Apart from God, whatever/whoever controls our behavior is sinful. The possibilities are many but include addictions, relationships, and even our egos. We should eliminate or subdue everything in our lives that would challenge God’s authority.

All things edify not

choose-the-right-directionAnother sign of sin is whether it edifies or destroys. Things of God always build us up, making us stronger spiritually so that we can better do the will of God. Conversely, anything that damages us spiritually also hinders our ability to do God’s will. Believers must always consider carefully what they consume. Psalm 1:1 tells us not to consume the counsel of the ungodly, the lifestyle of sinners or the company of scoffers (those who mock God). It is hard to walk with God if the things we are involved in undermine our relationship with Him. Our spiritual growth is often stunted by the weeds that we allow into our lives.

Closing thoughts

Both righteousness and sinfulness are results of our posture to God, our attitude to the Almighty. The depth of our desire to serve God determines whether we walk in righteousness or stumble in sinfulness. If we are constantly seeking to do God’s will, to expedite His plans, we will walk righteously.  But if we are busy living for ourselves, executing our own plans, we will be mired in sin.

It is easy to impress others with our piety by performing a list of laws: going to church frequently, giving regularly, and so on. However, God demands much more than that. He requires that His children are always going about their Father’s business.