One of the requirements for a disciple of Jesus is introduced in Matthew 16:24-27. Jesus lays out 3 expectations: deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me. Prior to ascending into heaven, Jesus clarifies his great commission in Acts 1:8. Modern Christian musicians like Brandon Heath use their voices to tell the world about Jesus, spreading the Gospel throughout the earth.
You have heard of my earlier career and former manner of life in the Jewish religion (Judaism), how I persecuted and abused the church of God furiously and extensively, and [with fanatical zeal did my best] to make havoc of it and destroy it. 14 And [you have heard how] I outstripped many of the men of my own generation among the people of my race in [my advancement in study and observance of the laws of] Judaism, so extremely enthusiastic and zealous I was for the traditions of my ancestors. 15 But when He, Who had chosen and set me apart [even] before I was born and had called me by His grace (His undeserved favor and blessing), saw fit and was pleased, Galatians 1:13-15.
Brandon uses the outline provided by the apostle Paul in the passage above to communicate his testimony. The lyrics of I’m Not Who I Was explains how the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit has gradually transformed Brandon’s life. As you listen to this song, may you be encouraged that it’s never too late to change for the better.
The brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault introduced the tale of a Sleeping Beauty, a princess who was cursed, driven into a deep sleep meant to last for 100 years. Meanwhile, Washington Irving details the events of Rip Van Winkle who went missing for 20 years after refusing to do his daily chores. Although these two stories are fairy tales, anyone who is suffering from amnesia in 2020 probably won’t recognize their surrounding once their memory has been restored. While amnesia is a partial or total loss of memory, the Coronavirus has erased years of close contact communication.
Do not be conformed to this world (this age), [fashioned after and adapted to its external, superficial customs], but be transformed (changed) by the [entire] renewal of your mind [by its new ideals and its new attitude], so that you may prove [for yourselves] what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God, even the thing which is good and acceptable and perfect [in His sight for you], Romans 12:2.
This year has introduced new practices such as a self quarantine and social distancing as well as reinforcing the importance of washing your hands. Anyone who traveled abroad at the beginning of 2020, would struggle to catch up with the world that is changing so fast. The idea of singing and worshiping God in a church seems strange now. While some states have closed churches completely, others have banned singing in public spaces. Until a cure has been discovered, corporate worship will likely be limited in the months to come.
It is a reason for pride and exultation to which our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world [generally] and especially toward you, with devout and pure motives and godly sincerity, not in fleshly wisdom but by the grace of God (the unmerited favor and merciful kindness by which God, exerting His holy influence upon souls, turns them to Christ, and keeps, strengthens, and increases them in Christian virtues), 2 Corinthians 1:12.
The apostle Paul comments on how the world influenced first century Christians. In a letter to leaders in Rome, Paul encourages believers to renew their minds daily by studying the Bible. The more you are able to drown out the world, the clearer your calling on earth will become. Meanwhile, a letter to the Church at Corinth pleads readers to embrace the grace of God. It’s easy to beat yourself up by focusing on imperfections, the negative and your weaknesses. However, as the world quickly changes, the Word of God remains the same. This inspired a disciple to proclaim “God has given us everything we need in life,” 2 Peter 1:3-4. Test everything and cling to that which is good.
Consciousness in its simplest form is awareness of internal or external existence. Infants, children and adolescents rarely think about consciousness, unaware of the intricacies of the human body. As time takes it’s toll on the life, maintaining consciousness becomes an unavoidable challenge. Between the rising concerns surrounding mental health and numerous complications with old age, staying alive can be a weekly grind.
Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ, 1 Peter 1:13.
Unfortunately, nobody knows the exact day or time of their deaths. Some may receive inclinations, warning signs or visions, but few people live their lives as if today or tomorrow will be their last. Thus, maintaining consciousness is in God’s hands. Unless of course a drunk driver exercises their own freewill to use their vehicle as a tool of death. One day you could feel great and the next you’re stricken with cancer. Meanwhile, others show no signals of decay until an aneurysm, heart attack or gun shot wound tragically ends a life.
Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect, Matthew 24:44.
While coping with this uncertainty, the Lord desires individuals to exercise a spiritual consciousness. One of Jesus’ former disciples writes about preparing your mind for action. This can be executed with a sober mind set fully on the grace of God. Another disciple devotes an entire chapter on Jesus’ teaching of eschatology, what will happen in the last days. Until these days arrive, maintaining consciousness is the least that you can do, health permitting. Draw near to God and God will draw near to you.
Massah is one of the locations which the Torah identifies as having been travelled through by the Israelites during their exodus out of Egypt. While the list of visited stations in the Book of Numbers does not mention Massah, Exodus 17:7 refers to Massah and Meribah as the place where a quarrel began. According to Moses, upon reaching Massah, Israelites lost faith and hope, questioning if God was really with them anymore.
“You shall not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah,” Deuteronomy 6:16.
As Gentiles began to convert to Christianity and receive the Holy Spirit, Pharisees sought to add Jewish traditions to salvation. This concept didn’t sit well with Simon, prompting Peter to stand up to address religious leaders gathered together at the Council of Jerusalem. According to Luke, Peter eludes to Deuteronomy 6:16. Adding circumcision to salvation is comparable to placing a yoke around the neck of the disciples. Making circumcision mandatory for everyone would de-emphasize the grace of God and cause potential converts to change their mind.
Now then, why are you testing God by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we have been able to endure? – Acts 15:10
Today, not only do people lose faith in God, but sects of Christianity have added legalistic practices which often confuse young believers. This atmosphere sets the stage for more people to test God, wanting some sort of sign or miracle for assurance. Yet, faith is the exact opposite of these natural desires. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for and evidence of things not seen, Hebrews 11:1. Subsequently, you may find yourself in the dark from time to time, but remember what happened at Massah so you don’t repeat the same mistakes of the past.
From the age of 6 to 16, my parents started to vacation in the state of Maine. After renting a small cottage on Thompson Lake for a few years, a retired couple invited my family to stay in their A-Frame and Lodge. Subsequently, Maine became like a second home, spending several weeks there each August. While my birthday parties were small, I went fishing, golfing or running every day. Eventually, my parents found a church in Oxford, about a fifteen minute drive. To my pleasant surprise, this church ran like a clock, ending in 39 minutes every Sunday. As a teenager eager to fish or play golf, this priest kept my attention, always short and sweet.
When the congregation of the synagogue had been dismissed, many of the Jews and the devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who, talking to them were urging them to continue in the grace of God, Acts 13:43.
During one of their missionary journeys, Paul and Barnabas experienced the exact opposite reaction. While preaching to a crowded synagogue in the region of Antioch in Pisidia, the audience in attendance did not work this service to end. After being dismissed, several Jews and converts to Judaism begged Paul and Barnabas to keep teaching. These souls were spiritually hungry, eager to learn more about the grace of God. This desire reminds me of a portion of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus reveals two key priorities.
But first and most importantly seek (aim at, strive after) His kingdom and His righteousness [His way of doing and being right—the attitude and character of God], and all these things will be given to you also, Matthew 6:33.
Spiritual hunger isn’t natural, but when individuals take time to pray, read the Bible or worship God, the Holy Spirit alters human priorities toward spiritual desires. Although I can’t recall ever wanting a church service to keep going, there are other moments in time that I didn’t want to end. Spiritual retreats, certain vacations and my Tentmaker Leadership Training were so life altering that I wanted to stay. Anytime you have to go back to reality is hard, especially if you are not happy with where you are in life. Nonetheless, when you hunger and thirst for righteousness, you may find yourself like the service in Acts 13:43, not wanting church to end.
In a letter to the church at Corinth, the apostle Paul reveals how God dishes out a variety of spiritual gifts. These special abilities are given out by the grace of God. Some of these are ordinary such as giving, serving or teaching. Other talents are extraordinary, fueled by the power of the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately, spiritual gifts like healing, prophecy and speaking in tongues often elicit jealousy in those that don’t possess a supernatural gift.
Now there are [distinctive] varieties of spiritual gifts [special abilities given by the grace and extraordinary power of the Holy Spirit operating in believers], but it is the same Spirit [who grants them and empowers believers]. 5 And there are [distinctive] varieties of ministries and service, but it is the same Lord [who is served]. 6 And there are [distinctive] ways of working [to accomplish things], but it is the same God who produces all things in all believers [inspiring, energizing, and empowering them]. 7 But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit [the spiritual illumination and the enabling of the Holy Spirit] for the common good, 1 Corinthians 12:4-7.
To address issues like envy, the apostle Paul writes a similar letter to the church at Rome. In the passage below, Paul compares spiritual gifts to a church body with many parts. Apart or own their own, a spiritual gift glorifies individuals, not God. However, when individuals submit to God by joining a local congregation, your gift makes a difference by filling a spiritual hole. The purpose of any spiritual gift is to serve God by offering your body as a living sacrifice. While certain gifts will always overshadow your gift, hearts and minds need to stay focused on the common good.
For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function,5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith;7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach;8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully, Romans 12:4-8.
Jesus and first century church leaders warned about counterfeit, fake and imposters who come in the name of Jesus. These individuals still exist today, often perpetrating frauds on those who watch on television or attend a rally. When truth exposes these people like Steve Martin in a Leap of Faith, modern churches are harmed by these spiritual stains. Whenever spiritual gifts are used to glorify self, the Holy Spirit will move to another area, region or country. While most people wish they had another spiritual gift, for now God seeks humble servants willing to be the hands and feet of Christ today. The dedicated, faithful and obedient persevere during spiritual droughts, hopeful that the presence of the Holy Spirit will return when God’s timing is right.
Grace in the biblical sense refers to favor and goodness that God shows to mankind. Thus, any example of a good, kind or merciful act can be described as the grace of God. During the first century, a church with little guidance and oversight from the apostles experienced a great spiritual awakening. When news of this special anointing from God reached Jerusalem, Barnabas was sent to see what was happening. According to Luke, Barnabas’ first impression was that he was an eyewitness of the grace of God at work.
The news of this reached the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 When he arrived and saw the grace of God [that was bestowed on them], he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with an unwavering heart to stay true and devoted to the Lord, Acts 11:22-23.
As soon as I read the passage above, I wanted to know what does the grace of God look like? Just as the Holy Spirit fell upon Gentiles in Caesarea, this same phenomena began to take place in Antioch. The words that Barnabas conveys to Luke is the bestowing of the grace of God. As Gentiles repented of their sins, turned to Jesus for forgiveness and were baptized, lives were transformed. While visiting Antioch, Barnabas spent time talking to these new converts. Based upon these conversations, Barnabas found unwavering hearts who stayed true and devoted to the Lord.
For it is by grace [God’s remarkable compassion and favor drawing you to Christ] that you have been saved [actually delivered from judgment and given eternal life] through faith. And this [salvation] is not of yourselves [not through your own effort], but it is the [undeserved, gracious] gift of God; 9 not as a result of [your] works [nor your attempts to keep the Law], so that no one will [be able to] boast or take credit in any way [for his salvation], Ephesians 2:8-9.
Reading this portion of the book of Acts makes me wonder, where is the grace of God today? Is faith dead or has the sinful nature blinded modern Christians from recognizing the grace of God? The apostle Paul makes an interesting comment about grace in the passage above. Grace is all God as there is nothing human beings can take credit for. This gift is either accepted, put on hold for a while or rejected. When grace is embraced, this is accomplished through faith. However, Paul makes it clear that no one should boast or take credit in any way. In view of this, may the Holy Spirit open our eyes today so that we too can witness the grace of God.
If you have ever played golf or watched a high school match, you understand the expression falling apart. After coaching for a decade, there is nothing worse than observing a teenager lose their confidence. Since there is no coaching during a hole, all you can do is encourage, pray and uplift players on the verge of an emotional breakdown.
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit, Psalm 34:18.
As a parent of a freshman and junior, I spend two days a week each spring following both of my kids. Today, a series of showers turned a warm overcast day into a fight for survival. When my daughter had a bad hole I switched over to watch my son who had his worst round of the season. Perhaps, I was the bad luck charm as wherever I went players kept falling apart.
He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds, Psalm 147:3.
The Psalmist provides a message of hope for anyone on the verge of falling apart. David reflects upon a time in his life where his heart was broken and spirit crushed. When David pretended to be insane before Abimelech, he hit rock bottom, ashamed of his current state of mind. Yet, by the grace of God, the Lord brought David through this difficult time. The same applies today for anyone who falls apart. Thus, in future moments of despair, cry out to Jesus who promises healing and restoration to the brokenhearted.
According to a report that broke late last week, a coven of witches in New York plans to hold an event this week. The purpose of this public gathering is to perform a ritual to place a hex on recent Supreme Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh. I watched a segment on cable news over the weekend as a liberal guest speculated on what the sponsors of this ceremony hope to accomplish. While neither claimed to be an authority on hexing, this news story makes me wonder if witchcraft is fact or fiction?
Then Saul said to his servants, “Find for me a woman who is a medium [between the living and the dead], so that I may go to her and ask her advice.” His servants said to him, “There is a woman who is a medium at En-dor.” 8 So Saul disguised himself by wearing different clothes, and he left with two men, and they came to the woman at night. He said to her, “Conjure up for me, please, and bring up [from the dead] for me [the spirit] whom I shall name to you.” 9 But the woman said to him, “See here, you know what Saul has done, how he has cut off (eliminated) those who are mediums and spiritists from the land. So why are you laying a trap for my life, to cause my death?” 10 Then Saul swore [an oath] to her by the Lord, saying, “As the Lord lives, no punishment shall come upon you for this.” 11 So the woman said, “Whom shall I bring up for you?” He said, “Bring up Samuel for me.” 12 When the woman saw Samuel, she screamed with a loud voice; and she said to Saul, “Why have you deceived me? You are Saul!” 13 The king said to her, “Do not be afraid; but [tell me] what do you see?” The woman said to Saul, “I see a divine [superhuman] being coming up from the earth,” 1 Samuel 28:7-13.
One of the most detailed passages in the Bible in relation to witches occurs in the Old Testament. In the passage above, the witch of Endor is compared to a medium. The best modern comparison to this woman would be the show Crossing Over. John Edward is a psychic who claims to be able to communicate with the spirits of dead members of his audience. At the height of this shows popularity, I asked my senior pastor what he thought about Edward’s gift. Based upon the encounter above, able to communicate with Samuel, he believed certain individuals do have a special ability. While certain parts of Crossing Over may be faked or over dramatized, some experiences are genuine.
O you foolish and thoughtless and superficial Galatians, who has bewitched you [that you would act like this], to whom—right before your very eyes—Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified [in the gospel message]? 2 This is all I want to ask of you: did you receive the [Holy] Spirit as the result of obeying [the requirements of] the Law, or was it the result of hearing [the message of salvation and] with faith [believing it]? 3 Are you so foolish and senseless? Having begun [your new life by faith] with the Spirit, are you now being perfected and reaching spiritual maturity by the flesh [that is, by your own works and efforts to keep the Law]? 4 Have you suffered so many things and experienced so much all for nothing—if indeed it was all for nothing? 5 So then, does He who supplies you with His [marvelous Holy] Spirit and works miracles among you, do it as a result of the works of the Law [which you perform], or because you [believe confidently in the message which you] heard with faith? – Galatians 3:1-5
In the New Testament, the apostle Paul uses witchcraft in a different context. A group of zealous religious leaders were unable to let go of the traditions of Judaism. Thus, this sect known as the Judaizers began to add conditions to salvation. When the apostle Paul visited the church in Galatia, these individuals had tricked members through excessive legalism, slowly forgetting about the grace of God and freedom in Christ. This compelled Paul to ask, “who bewitched you?” Paul uses the analogy of a witch casting a spell over these church members, forgetting everything that Paul had taught during a previous visit.
In conclusion, be strong in the Lord [draw your strength from Him and be empowered through your union with Him] and in the power of His [boundless] might. 11 Put on the full armor of God [for His precepts are like the splendid armor of a heavily-armed soldier], so that you may be able to [successfully] stand up against all the schemes and the strategies and the deceits of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood [contending only with physical opponents], but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this [present] darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly (supernatural) places, Ephesians 6:10-12.
After searching through the scriptures, there are only 2 questions left to address: what is a hex and are witches real? According to the dictionary, a hex refers to casting a spell over someone or something. The purpose of this act is to jinx a person by calling upon demonic powers. When you search placing a hex on someone, most of my searches tied nexing to voodoo, taking a pin and placing it in a voodoo doll. In the passage above, the apostle Paul reveals three different realms of darkness. Physical opponents in the form of rulers, worldly forces that tempt individuals to be lured into darkness and spiritual forces of evil. While modern day witches may not resemble characters from Bewitched, Charmed or other Hollywood shows, witches do exist and can harm the body of Christ by placing curses of those they deem to be the enemy. Thus, its essential to use prayer as a hedge of protection to prevent you and your family from current or future curses.
Depending upon how well your are connected in your community or at work, it doesn’t take much to notice the content from the disenfranchised. Some people feed off of bitterness, often poisoning positive individuals. Meanwhile, the encouraging need to work extra hard to ward off negativity.
See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; Hebrews 12:15.
When my children were younger, I enjoyed watching Veggie Tales. My favorite was the Rumor Weed illustrating an important lesson for anyone. If you allow evil to take root in your life, bitterness usually follows. For this reason, the author Hebrews warns readers about how bitterness can become an obstacle to obtaining God’s grace.
Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! – Isaiah 5:20
Sweetness is received when sinners are forgiven, pardoned by God through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Yet, there are forces of darkness that continue to steal joy from this life. As demonic influences manipulate unknowing accomplices, some are deceived calling evil good. If you listen and watch carefully to voices in the media, Isaiah’s prophecy is being fulfilled. In view of this growing bitterness, may the power of the Holy Spirit protect you and lead you to the sweet promises of hope found in the Bible.