The Rock Upon Which Beauty Is Built

“The Gospel According to Matthew.” Settled and sure, and you can rest in this Rock. Message Magazine’s Online Devotional for Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Listen to “Thoughts in Worship 12.11.2018” on Spreaker.

“And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).

This Rock Is Jesus

One day Jesus asked His disciples who people said that He was. They responded that some thought He was John the Baptist, Isaiah, Jeremiah, or another prophet. Jesus asked them who they thought He was. Peter, being the impulsive man that he was, and quick to speak, said that Jesus was the anointed Son of the living God. With joy, Jesus said that no human could have revealed such an incredible truth to Peter. In fact, the Lord revealed this to him. Jesus continued by saying that the church would be built upon this rock and the gates of hell would not be able to withstand or defeat it. The church was built upon Jesus.

There has been confusion since the time of Christ concerning His identity. Some say He was a good man. Others say that He was a prophet like Moses, or in their view, Muhammad. Still others consider Him an ordinary man; a mere human who may have done some good things. The Bible teaches that Jesus was no ordinary man. Rather, He was Emmanuel, that is to say, God with us (Matthew 1:23).

Jesus, Himself fully God, revealed the Father to the world. It was upon this firm foundation, this rock of Gibraltar, that the church was built. Hence, the name, Christian

No Other Name

Can you imagine how unsettled and shaky the Christian church would have been if it a human being established it? Take Peter for instance. Could the church have survived on him? Did the gates of hell ever prevail against Him? “And after a while came unto him they that stood by, and said to Peter, Surely thou also art one of them; for thy speech betrayeth thee. Then began he to curse and to swear, saying, I know not the man. And immediately the cock crew” (Matthew 26:73, 74).

Although in the end, Peter emerged a very faithful apostle, the church would be in trouble if we implicitly followed his or any other faithful person’s example. The foundation of God’s church must not only be faithful, but all-powerful and eternal.

Solid Rock

Suppose the church was built upon Christ. Would the foundation be stable and secure? Was Jesus ever overcome by the powers of darkness? “Hereafter I will not talk much with you: for the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me” (John 14:30). “I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death” (Revelation 1:18).

We are secure in Jesus, knowing His church stands upon Him. Jesus is the foundation of the Christian church. With this firm foundation, there is no way that the devil can prevail. It’s no wonder that throughout the ages, every attempt to destroy the church has failed. The devil could not kill it by murdering its Shepherd, inflicting twelve hundred sixty years of persecution, or infiltrating it with false doctrine.

Christ, The Cornerstone

The Holy Spirit, through the word of God, brings the insidious nature of lies to light. We are secure with Jesus as our foundation. He is the rock. “Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole. This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner. Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:10-12).

This has been the gospel according to Matthew. Be transformed by it.




Mighty Mind-When You Need A Spiritual Supercharge

“The Gospel According to Matthew.” When you need the mental might to stay in the fight, God will provide. Message Magazine’s Online Devotional for Monday, December 10, 2018

Listen to “Thoughts in Worship 12.10.2018” on Spreaker.

“But when they shall lead you, and deliver you up, take no thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither do ye premeditate: but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye: for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost” (Matthew 13:11).

Super Strength

After a great discussion with a friend concerning our need for the power of the Holy Ghost, and complete reliance on Christ, something dawned on me. I thought back to my elementary school science classes. In those classes, we learned about the so-called fight or flight response. When certain stressors threaten us, adrenaline, noradrenalin, and cortisol are secreted into our bloodstream. The blood rushes away from our digestive organs, our pupils dilate, sight sharpens, and overall awareness is keener. In this state, we are physically stronger and able to move faster than usual. Our heart rate speeds up and to a large extent, we lose pain sensitivity. This is why a petite mother of a young child in danger, can literally bench press a car, if necessary, to rescue her child. Under normal circumstances, that same loving Mom may have difficulty opening a jar of pickles.

All of this neurophysiological stuff made me think of God’s willingness, and ability to supply us with what we need, at the very moment that we need it. The analogy may not correspond directly, but this is the way I see it. When we love the Lord and spend time with Him in daily devotional Bible study and prayer, He has promised many things. One such promise is that when we are faced with strong spiritual opposition and have to give an answer for our faith, He will speak through us. He said that we should not practice or specifically prepare, because it is God that speaks.

Spiritual Adrenaline

In the fight or flight response, the one stressed cannot prepare for the activity at hand. They cannot prepare to run more than twenty miles per hour. They cannot prepare to move a one ton vehicle without the aid of a tow truck. All of these abilities are given to us by God in the moment they are needed. Can you imagine what it would be like if we stayed charged by adrenaline all of the time? We would become overcharged and probably have a heart attack. The point is this, just as God put a mechanism in place for our physical protection, He did likewise for our spiritual well-being. Just as we must trust Him to activate the systems that He put within our bodies, we must trust Him to do likewise within our minds.

It is wonderful to know that God gives us instantaneous help when we need it. He is never too late, but always on time.

This has been the gospel according to Matthew. Be transformed by it.




Never alone

“You are not alone, I am here with you. Though you’re far away, I am here to stay.” Touching are the words sang by Michael Jackson years ago. They could almost be mistaken for verses picked out of the Psalms or Isaiah. I believe that is because there is a recurring theme in the Bible of God wanting to be close to his children. One of God’s highest values is communion. Can He make good on His promise to never leave us alone? Join us as we explore and experience the promise of being “Never Alone.”

1) Read Matthew 28:16-20

Did you see what I saw? We are in the last chapter of Matthew. Jesus is saying His goodbyes, and the Bible tells us that “some doubted.” They have seen miracle after miracle yet they doubted. Jesus still finds it within His heart to say “I am with you.” Have you ever felt God with you, even while you doubted Him? Tell us about it here at Message using #MessageMag on Social Media. 

2) Read Joshua 1:1-9

The disciples were not the first to doubt. Can you imagine becoming the CEO of a company that has been in turmoil for more than 400 years, and the previous CEO turned things around only to be forced to pass it to you. Can you feel the pressure? Do you think you can do it? What would God’s words have meant to you in a time like that? Tell us about it here at Message using #MessageMag.

3) Read Isaiah 41:10; Deuteronomy 31:6; Zephaniah 3:17

The most common command in the Bible is some form of “do not be afraid.” Without fail this command is accompanied by the assurance that God will be with you. Have you finally come to the place in your relationship with God that His presence is enough to get rid of stress and anxiety? To what can God’s presence give peace in your life? Share it with us here at #MessageMag so we can pray for and with you.   

4) If you have children, you may know that getting them to sleep in their own bed when they are young can be a struggle. I believe it is because they sense the security of being in close proximity to their parents. It’s natural. We are God’s children, and I want you to take a moment, wherever you are to close your eyes and imagine being in the presence of God. Little do you know, you are!

5) May I give you a homework assignment? When was the last time you had a memory verse? We at Message would love to see a video of you reciting Romans 8:38-39. It’s fitting to know that nothing keep you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. Post it to Social Media and tag  #MessageMag.

6) Matthew 28:16-20; John 14:18;
John 20:17; Romans 8:34

Yes, the disciples doubted, but that didn’t stop Jesus from letting them know that they wouldn’t be alone. Jesus was going to the Father on our behalf, and He ensured that God would not just be with us, but in us. The disciples would face much but they would face it all with God. Do you really believe that you face every day with God? Don’t share. Just meditate on the promise that you can face the world with The Most High on your side.

7) The disciples would set off a chain reaction that resulted in countless people over the next 2000 years believing in the Lord Jesus Christ. Amid the peaks and valleys, suffering or success, for those who chose to follow Christ, one thing always rang through and true. It was the promise that His children were never alone. 

Call us if you find you have questions, want to talk, or want to pray with someone: 1-855-463-2273, or, 1-855-God Cares.

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Rashad Burden is the pastor of the Mount Olive and Shiloh Seventh-day Adventist Churches in Southern Alabama.

New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

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This article is part of our 2018 November/December Issue
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“I Am With You, Always”

Thus Christ gave His disciples their commission. He made full provision for the prosecution of the work, and took upon Himself the responsibility for its success. So long as they obeyed His word, and worked in connection with Him, they could not fail. Go to all nations, He bade them. Go to the farthest part of the habitable globe, but know that My presence will be there. Labor in faith and confidence, for the time will never come when I will forsake you.

The Saviour’s commission to the disciples included all the believers. It includes all believers in Christ to the end of time. It is a fatal mistake to suppose that the work of saving souls depends alone on the ordained minister. All to whom the heavenly inspiration has come are put in trust with the gospel. All who receive the life of Christ are ordained to work for the salvation of their fellow men. For this work the church was established, and all who take upon themselves its sacred vows are thereby pledged to be co-workers with Christ.

“The Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come” (Revelation 22:17). Everyone who hears is to repeat the invitation. Whatever one’s calling in life, his first interest should be to win souls for Christ. He may not be able to speak to congregations, but he can work for individuals. To them he can communicate the instruction received from his Lord.

Ministry does not consist alone in preaching. Those minister who relieve the sick and suffering, helping the needy, speaking words of comfort to the desponding and those of little faith. Nigh and afar off are souls weighed down by a sense of guilt. It is not hardship, toil, or poverty that degrades humanity. It is guilt, wrongdoing. This brings unrest and dissatisfaction. Christ would have His servants minister to sin-sick souls.

The disciples were to begin their work where they were. The hardest and most unpromising field was not to be passed by. So every one of Christ’s workers is to begin where he is. In our own families may be souls hungry for sympathy, starving for the bread of life. There may be children to be trained for Christ. There are heathen at our very doors. Let us do faithfully the work that is nearest. Then let our efforts be extended as far as God’s hand may lead the way. The work of many may appear to be restricted by circumstances; but, wherever it is, if performed with faith and diligence it will be felt to the uttermost parts of the earth. Christ’s work when upon earth appeared to be confined to a narrow field, but multitudes from all lands heard His message. God often uses the simplest means to accomplish the greatest results. It is His plan that every part of His work shall depend on every other part, as a wheel within a wheel, all acting in harmony. The humblest worker, moved by the Holy Spirit, will touch invisible chords, whose vibrations will ring to the ends of the earth, and make melody through eternal ages.


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ELLEN G. WHITE (1827-1915), one of the most published authors in the world, named one of the “100 Most Significant Americans of All Time” by the Smithsonian Institution in 2014, was a co-founder of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

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*You can read The Desire of Ages in its entirety online at www.whiteestate.org/onlineboks.




There Is No Limbo Or Purgatory!

Limbo” or “purgatory” have long been advocated in some Christian circles as future intermediate states where souls exist after their earthly death. There, according to some, these souls await entrance into heaven or hell. Some believe loved ones who are already in heaven can pray for these souls. Or, they believe that these souls go through a purification process in order to gain entrance into heaven.1

This stunning revelation means our decisions now count most.

Neither limbo or purgatory, however, are advocated, condoned, or even mentioned in the Bible. Instead, the Bible is clear that at one’s earthly death, the deceased body returns to dust, the spirit returns to God, and hence, the soul ceases to exist.2

Moreover, prior to death, one will make a decision to follow Christ. And, if one is living at the time of Christ’s Second Coming, one would have needed to make a decision to follow Christ prior to His advent.

Jesus Calls It

But after death, there is no limbo or purgatory to impact one’s eternity. Jesus says, “He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still. And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with Me, to give every man according as his work shall be.”3

Christ’s Second Coming will reveal the decisions that humanity has made to follow Him. When He returns, the righteous dead will rise first. Then the righteous living will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air.4 Each resurrected and caught up righteous person will then reside in heaven with Jesus. Contrarily, the wicked living will die at the brightness of Christ’s Second Coming. The wicked dead will remain dead for 1,000 years.5

This period is known to many as the millennium, derived from the Latin words mille (“thousand”) and annus (“years”).6 During the millennium, the righteous will reign in heaven with Christ, while the wicked will be dead here on this earth, and as such, there will be no opportunity for limbo or purgatory. While reigning with Christ, the righteous will not plead and pray their loved ones into heaven. However, they will participate in the millennial judgment.7 This judgment affords them the opportunity to review humanity’s decisions, and God’s every effort to save and restore His people.8

So Much Time, So Little to Do

Satan, during this 1,000 year period, will be unable to engage in his primary works of deception or temptation. After all, the righteous reside in heaven then, and the wicked are all dead on earth.

If Satan has resurrection power, Satan has 1,000 years to prove it. The reality is he doesn’t have this life-giving power. Only God has the power to give life. Jesus made it clear, “I am the resurrection and the life.”9

At the end of the millennium, the wicked will be resurrected.10 Jesus Christ, accompanied by the righteous, will begin descent from heaven to this earth.11 Satan will deceive the wicked one last time into the belief that they can defeat our God by surrounding the Holy City as it descends from heaven to earth. But, God will rain down fire destroying Satan and sin forever!12

Decision Point

No, there is no limbo, and no purgatory! We are all now being given the opportunity to make a decision for or against Christ. The Bible makes it plain, “Now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”13

Your future is in your hands. Your eternity is decided by you. Christ loves you, died to save you, and is coming back to get you! Be sure of your future and choose Christ today! 

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CARLTON P. BYRD, D.MIN., is Senior Pastor of the Oakwood University Church in Huntsville, Alabama and the speaker and director for Breath of Life Television Ministries.

*All scriptural texts are taken from the King James Version unless otherwise indicated.

1  www.urbandictionary.com  and www.wikipedia.com

2  Ecclesiastes 12:7 and Job 27:3

3  Revelation 22:11-12

4  1 Thessalonians 4:16

5  2 Thessalonians 2:8-12 and Revelation 20:5-6

6  www.en.wiktionary.org/wiki/millennium

7  Revelation 20:12-13

8  2 Peter 3:9

9  1 John 11:25

10  Revelation 20:5-6

11  Revelation 21:2-4

12  Revelation 20:7-10

13  2 Corinthians 6:2



This article is part of our 2018 November/Decemer Issue
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The Best Book You’ve Never Read

Curious, this book called The Bible. Curious, because while believers claim it as God’s Word, most of us don’t actually read it. Jennifer Polland, writing in Business Insider1, has pointed out that during the last half century, sales figures for the Bible are a massive 3.9 billion copies sold.

Still, although the Bible remains the most published book, as time goes by, fewer of us are reading it. A Pew Research Study has found that among American adults, only 35% report reading the Bible at least once per week. Remarkably, those who claim to read the Bible once a week are outnumbered by those say they seldom, or never, read the Word. That number stands at 45%.3

One explanation as to why we don’t read the Bible is offered by Jeff Anderson in crosswalk.com. Among the reasons, he offered were: It’s an optional book; church leaders don’t expect us to read it; or our parents didn’t read it. However, it is Anderson’s reason number seven that stands out for me: “Bible Bullies.”4 According to Anderson, Bible Bullies are those who repeatedly tell believers, in both direct, and subtle ways, that we possess neither the intelligence nor the educational training to understand the Bible. In other words, we’re not smart enough.

For some of us, this is all the motivation needed for avoiding the reading of God’s Word. You can imagine how much traction this excuse would gain if students told their teachers that the reason the class reading assignment was not completed, was because they had been told they were not smart enough to read Moby Dick, To Kill A Mockingbird, or Of Mice and Men.

To be in the know

The prospects of becoming a Christian, or continuing to live as one, are very remote if we read God’s Word sparingly. We can know no more about God and His plan of redemption than He reveals in His Word. Revelation 1:1 declares that God the Father gave the revelation of the Messiah to His Son, Jesus, who presented the revelation of the plan of redemption to the angels, who gave it to John the Revelator on Patmos. And, John passed this revelation of hope, through the Lamb of God, to us. If we’re not reading the Word, how might we, in Paul’s words of 2 Tim 2:15 show ourselves approved unto God?

To Know Jesus

Our only true source of information on the living and dying and living again of the Jesus, our Savior, is the Bible. Jesus, Himself, said in John 5:39 that we are to “Search the Scriptures … they are they which testify of me.” We learn in Acts 17:11 that the believers in Berea were more receptive to the gospel preached by Paul, because they searched the Scriptures for themselves on a daily basis.

To Make it Today

As to the question, is reading the Bible essential to the development of our Christian character, we’re best advised to allow the Bible to speak to our need of a daily portion of God’s Word. If we had but one passage of Scripture to offer clarity on the essential nature of the Bible to our growth in Christian faith, Psalm 119 is replete with insights.

• Psalm 119:9 tells us that a young man cleanses his way, by heeding God’s word.

• In verse eleven, we’re reminded that the word of God in our hearts will aid against sinning.

• Verse twenty-eight notes that God’s word will strengthen us.

  According to verse fifty, the word of God provides us with life.

  Those in need of a lamp to guide the way in a world of darkness can easily find their light in God’s word, we are told by Psalm 119:105.

  God’s word can direct our victorious steps, says verse one hundred, thirty-three.

  And, we have the assurance from Psalm 119:160 that the whole of God’s word is truth.

As He taught the disciples how to pray, Jesus said in “the Lord’s prayer,” “…give us this day our daily bread.” We know, based on our study of the word, that Jesus is the Word of God (See John 1:1). We are further aware, from John 6:35, that Jesus is the “Bread of life.” Since Jesus is the Word, and He is the Bread, it is a fact of life eternal that our daily bread is the word of God. Therefore, we must eat the bread from heaven, God’s Word, on a daily basis.

The nourishment needed to fuel our transformation from what we once were, to what we are becoming in Christ Jesus is found in the Bible.

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DONALD L. McPHAULL, M.S.W., has enjoyed 30 years of ministry and is currently the senior pastor of the Ephesus Seventh-day Adventist Church in Los Angeles, California.

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1 Polland, J. (2012). The ten most read books in the world, infographic. BusinessInsider.com 

2 ibid

3 Geiger, A. (2017). 5 facts on how Americans view the bible and other religious texts. Pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/04/14/5

4 Anderson, J. (2017). 8 reasons we don’t read the bible. Crosswalk.com

5 Geiger, A. (2017). 5 facts on how americans view the bible and other religious texts. Pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/04/14/5



This article is part of our 2018 November / December Issue
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DONALD L. McPHAULL, M.S.W., has enjoyed 30 years of ministry and is currently the senior pastor of the Ephesus Seventh-day Adventist Church in Los Angeles, California.




Suspicious Worshippers

The Gospel According to Matthew.  The Path of Feigned Worship. Message Magazine’s Online Devotional for Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Listen to “Thoughts in Worship 11.27.2018” on Spreaker.

“Then Herod secretly summoned the wise men and asked them the exact time the star appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. When you find Him, report back to me so that I too can go and worship Him.” After they were gone, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Get up! Take the child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. For Herod is about to search for the child to destroy Him”” (Matthew 2:7–8, 13, HCSB).

Wily Worshipers

Worship is not a joke! We were born to worship. Unfortunately, some worship self, money, unholy pleasures, sexual habits, entertainment, people, false gods, and the status quo. Some who claim to worship God, really are antagonistic to all that is godly and are displaying “… a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away” (2 Timothy 3:5).

Today’s theme passage chronicles an example of what lies, deceit, and hatred produces in those who claim to worship God. We all have heard the story during the holiday season. Herod felt threatened by baby King Jesus, feigned worship, and sought to kill Him instead. Is there any principle we can learn from this story?

While none of us are probably insecure monarchs who feel our thrones are threatened or are willing to commit mass murder to protect our legacies, some of us fear our pride will be dismantled by God, so we keep up appearances like we are true worshippers, but we really are not. In fact some of us have actually experienced the power and presence of God, but turned away from Him; and by virtue of that fact, “…seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.” (Hebrews 6:6). Pretending to worship God, but living in un-repentance is just like crucifying Jesus.

Hope for Prideful Pretenders

Yes, stories like Herod’s are interesting, and even may provide information for our understanding, but we must adapt them so we can apply godly principles to our lives. Among the many principles we can apply from the story, one bubbles up to the surface: false worship or pretend worship of God leads to a host of atrocities. Therefore, it is our privilege to get to know our Creator and not give in to pride, fear, or self righteousness. We can commit to asking God daily to introduce His beauty and character to us, so love, power and trust will result. Remember, it’s a daily journey, and God is with you every step of the way.

This has been the gospel according to Matthew. Be transformed by it.




New Birth Experience: Fully Rely On God This Time

The Gospel According to Matthew. Thinking of the New Birth during this season. Message Magazine’s Online Devotional for Monday, November 26, 2018

Listen to “Thoughts in Worship 11.26.2018” on Spreaker.

“…Jacob fathered Joseph the husband of Mary, who gave birth to Jesus who is called the Messiah. So all the generations from Abraham to David were 14 generations; and from David until the exile to Babylon, 14 generations; and from the exile to Babylon until the Messiah, 14 generations. The birth of Jesus Christ came about this way: After His mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, it was discovered before they came together that she was pregnant by the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:16–18, HCSB).

Surprise

It was a miracle! A young woman who had never had sexual relations with any man was pregnant. How many times have you heard of instances when women did not know they were pregnant until the third trimester? How many times have you heard of a woman feeling weird, going to the doctor to find out what was going on, and then … “surprise!” being diagnosed, not with something that caused weird feelings or nausea, but rather pregnancy? They simply did not know. Even when these women did not realize they were pregnant and were surprised by the fact, they did have sexual relations, and pregnancy was the outcome of that experience. Makes sense.

Well, Mary’s case was different. It was so different that God sent an angel to her to explain what happened. Even though she was indeed a virgin, she was pregnant. Miraculously, in fulfillment of many Old Testament prophecies, this holy young woman of God was pregnant. The Holy Spirit reached down into her DNA, with all of its historic and genetic relevance and placed the blessed embryo (for lack of a better way of saying it) who we would finally recognize was the Son of God! God’s power overshadowed the human predicament, and Mary bore the Son of the Living God. Miracle!

Weak Roots in The Family Tree

Since we do not have a lot of time to exhaust this holy topic, I would like to direct your attention to an intriguing aspect of the story. Even though Joseph had nothing to do with Jesus’ birth, He did still come through the womb of a normal human woman. This means that the list of persons preceding our theme passage were all ancestors of Christ. This also magnifies the reality, that Jesus Christ entered upon the human scene with the need to rely on His Father, fully, so He could live a righteous life. Have you read the motley cast of characters, with all their foibles in the list? This simply says to us, that the Father did not orchestrate some sideshow and call it the plan of salvation. No! Jesus had real human ancestors whose genetics could have impacted His character if He did not rely on His Father’s strength 100% of the time.

Are you willing to rely on God for power to live above sin just like Jesus did? We do realize there is a difference here – Jesus was victorious from His birth until He died. We all have sinned and come short of God’s glorious intent for our lives. However, John 3, Romans 6, and Romans 8, all teach us that we can be victorious from our newbirth until we die or Jesus returns, as the case may be. If we make mistakes along the way, following our newbirth experience, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous One.

This has been the gospel according to Matthew. Be transformed by it.




Why Is There No Thanksgiving Music?

Grateful Hearts, Thankful Hearts Live Longer. Love Harder.

Tips and Tests for the “Grouch-ruts” Among Us.

Today I went in to a retail store and was immediately accosted with secular Christmas music. Now I don’t have anything against Christmas—or Christmas music for that matter. In fact, for the majority of the known world Christmas represents the birthday of the most important person I know and love: Jesus! (even if they don’t actually believe in, know, or love Him).

But I digress…

The Connection between “Black Friday,” “Cyber Monday” & No Thanksgiving Music

My theory as to the reason why there are way more secular Christmas songs than Thanksgiving ones is basically because people are selfish…they like to get stuff! The more the better! And the songs remind them of the good, tingly feelings they get when they get stuff. Don’t believe me? Check out what the Apostle John said—or wrote–when he wisely observed:

“For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world” (1 John 2:16, NLT). Solomon (the wisest person in the history of the world—ever) wrote these saltily lamented these lines: “Everything is wearisome beyond description. No matter how much we see, we are never satisfied. No matter how much we hear, we are not content” (Ecclesiastes 1: 8, NLT).

It seems that not only is there Christmas music playing on the first day of November, but all the retail stores have all their Christmas promotions already going—some already even have something they’re calling Thanksgiving “Pre-Black Friday” promotions in full-swing! It seems that the retailers don’t want anybody to stop and think about how empty they are emotionally, relationally, and spiritually. They are making an all-out effort to squeeze the practice of thankfulness, thanksgiving and contentment out of our hearts and minds.

But why? Can the answer to this age-old question really be this easy? Simply put: people aren’t truly thankful because they aren’t truly contented.

Not More Stuff—But More Savior!

During this time of the year the world works very hard to erase the fact that Jesus is the owner, sustainer—and provider of all good things! We are tempted and tainted by slick advertising campaigns promising happiness, peace, and contentment is found in some store, rather than the Savior. However, God disagrees, and writing through the Apostle Paul he reminds us to keep our eyes focused on the truth with this stark reality check:

Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content.

But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows (1 Timothy 6:6-10, NLT).

What Matters Most

Again, the writer of Hebrews keeps us focused on what’s most important: “Don’t love money; be satisfied with what you have. For God has said, ‘I will never fail you. I will never abandon you’ ” (Hebrews 13:5, NLT). The focus for the Christian is not more stuff to make us happy, but more Savior aka Jesus!

Finally, Jesus Himself put it about as plainly as can be:

“If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met” (Matthew 6:30-33, MSG).

Mind the M.D.’s!

If what God says about stuff vs the Savior isn’t sufficient (and I certainly hope it is), secular science proves that thankfulness and gratitude is great for you—on Thanksgiving and all-year long. The brainiacs at Harvard Medical School write this: “Research (and common sense) suggests that one aspect of the Thanksgiving season can actually lift the spirits, and it’s built right into the holiday — expressing gratitude.”*

Additionally, research shows that people who are regularly grateful as a daily life habit are:

  1. Happier
  2. Have more life satisfaction
  3. Have less disease (mental and physical)
  4. Live longer

So now that you know that you should be more grateful and give thanks, but honestly, you’re kind of a grouch-rut (in this world, it’s easy to be one). Well, take heart: God wouldn’t tell you to do something without giving you the process and the power to do it.

Gratitude: God’s Way

God shares a practical formula for effectively beating the thanklessness and a personal negativity problem. It’s laid out most clearly in the New Testament book of Philippians. The apostle Paul wrote this book to Christians—from jail. So if anybody knew about being thankless and focusing on the negative stuff in his life, it was Paul. In Philippians 4:4-8 he gives us the process for overcoming them (I’ll wait for you to read this on your own).

Let’s break the process down into separate steps:

  • Be glad (verses 4, 5). God wouldn’t tell us to be glad if it weren’t possible. Why can we be glad? Because we have a relationship with God
  • Be gentle with others (verse 5). When we get thankless, worried, and anxious, we tend to easily and quickly lose our cool. We treat others—especially the ones we love the most—rudely or impatiently. But Paul says that we should be gentle, especially when we’re being pressed by our own problems.
  • Don’t worry about anything, but pray about everything (verse 6). Again Paul encourages us not to worry about anything, but to engage and strengthen our relationship with God. I find it interesting that here Paul invokes a standard and very effective psychological counseling principle of “replacement”: To eliminate a negative behavior, replace it with a positive one. The replacement principle is key when dealing with habitual or compulsive behavior. Translation: stop worrying and start praying!
  • With a thankful attitude, tell God the things you’re worried about (verse 6). God is your Father. He knows your heart and cares about the things you’re going through. He truly wants to know what you’re worried about, so go ahead and unload. He can take all your mess and heat. Paul first wants us to change our focus from ourselves to God. Additionally, I find it interesting that Paul qualifies how we should be sharing with God. Our attitude should be thankful—but many times we just have…an attitude.
  • Being connected to Christ through a real relationship will allow Him to bless us with peace that no one can understand (verse 7). This peace will control our hearts (our feelings) and our minds (our thoughts). In other words, God’s peace will take total control of us.
  • Keep being glad (verse 8). Basically, repeat step 1. Initially, you’ll have to work this process many times throughout the day…because you’re dealing with habitually compulsive behavior of selfishness and thanklessness. But take heart; it does work.

Paul then goes on in verses 10-20 to expound on how being thankful and contented changes our focus from one of self to Jesus. He summarizes this passage with these four verses: “Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. . . . And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3: 11-13, 19, NLT).

Ways to Cultivate Gratitude

Gratitude is a way for people to appreciate what they have instead of always reaching for something new in the hopes it will make them happier, or thinking they can’t feel satisfied until every physical and material need is met. Gratitude helps people refocus on what they have instead of what they lack. And, although it may feel contrived at first, this mental state grows stronger with use and practice.

Here are some ways to cultivate gratitude on a regular basis.

  1. Pray. People can use prayer to cultivate gratitude. God is waiting to hear from you—not just about what you want, but more importantly about how grateful you are for His salvation and for who He is.
  2. Write a thank-you note. You can make yourself more joyful and nurture your relationship with another person by writing a thank-you note or letter expressing your enjoyment and appreciation of that person’s impact on your life. Send it, or better yet, deliver and read it in person if possible. Don’t be cheap, but buy fancy stationary (yes, it’s still made). Make a habit of sending at least one gratitude note or letter a week.
  3. Thank someone mentally. No time to write? It may help just to think about someone who has done something nice for you, and mentally thank the individual.
  4. Keep a gratitude journal. Make it a habit to write down or share with a loved one, thoughts about the gifts you’ve received each day from God and others.
  5. Count your blessings. Pick a time every week to sit down and write about your blessings — reflecting on what went right or what you are grateful for. Sometimes it helps to pick a number — such as three to five things — that you will identify each week. As you write, be specific and think about the sensations you felt when something good happened to you.
  6. Meditate. Meditate daily upon the Word of God. Pick one Bible verse or passage and spend the day thinking about it and mentally allowing it to marinate your soul. Meditation is a powerful and effective spiritual practice that you can use, but, like prayer, it has to be cultivated to be effective. I suggest that you start with a specific chapter of the Bible.

A Parting Assignment

Now that you’ve learned the truth about why people around the world become crazy and more frenetic during this time of year, and God’s prescription for the solution, I’d like to challenge you to take time every day for the rest of November to read Psalm 118. Bible scholars call this specific Psalm “The Thanksgiving Psalm,” and rightly so. It’s an absolutely beautiful Psalm about what’s most important to the Christian about Thanksgiving. It is about giving God thanks for His immeasurable free gift of salvation to us. It expresses gratitude for a joyful life on this earth filled with power and purpose. And, finally, it expresses joy in the promise of eternal life spent with Him!

As you read it, take some time to talk to God about all the things you’re thankful for that day and once you begin to do this, you will begin a beautiful and powerful positive habit that will bring you peace, purpose, and joy all the months of your life, and not just on Thanksgiving.

I’d like to wish you all, not a ‘Happy Thanksgiving,” but in order to be happy, give God thanks.

*Accessed on November 7, 2018 from https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/giving-thanks-can-make-you-happier

 

Thanksgiving Songs. The Contenders. Listen In:

If you’re so inclined, check out and enjoy this collection of Thanksgiving songs that I’ve been able to find:

 

 




The Protest Is Not Over: Confusion in Confession

“The Protest Is Not Over: Transformation is Key to Reformation.”  Confession is good for the soul, unless, you’re doing it with the wrong person.  Message Magazine’s Online Devotional for Monday, November 12, 2018

Listen to “Thoughts in Worship 11.12.2018” on Spreaker.

“From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17).

New Look at An Old Word

Repent! This is a powerful word; a word full of promise. In our common speech we don’t use this word much unless we are in a religious setting. Simply put, repentance is a gift from God. He makes us aware of where we have missed the mark of holiness. His Spirit gives us the godly sorrow for sin, and the resolve to do God’s will by faith. He leads us to make restitution  possible (Romans 2:4; 2 Corinthians 7:9-10).

Let me share a familiar verse we have already used in this series: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). The only way we are able to confess our sins (or agree with God’s perspective on our sins), is that the Holy Spirit brings conviction. The only way we can act righteously upon His bringing our need to mind is with His power. This is a gift from God. He is faithful to forgive us. Not only is He faithful to forgive us, but if we continue in the spirit and mindset of confession and repentance regarding the sins we do recognize with His guidance, He will continue to guide us, not hold our sins against us, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

He has got us fully covered. There may be times, when we have stolen from or defrauded someone, that fruit of repentance will be manifest in restoring what we have stolen. In cases like these and others, we have an obligation to make amends with the injured or offended party. It’s only right to do so.

God Has Us Covered. Why Confess to People?

Notice the blessing of the passages we have cited thus far. In neither of the passages does it say that we must confess our sins to a human priest. All human beings possess a sinful nature just like we do. They did not say that we must journey on a wearisome pilgrimage to somehow expiate our sins. It does not say that we should await priestly instruction on what act of mercy, voluntary sacrifice, or act of service we will perform in order to receive absolution.

Confession and repentance are not predicated upon third-party human intervention, whether priestly or by church authority. This is critical. We are not subject to some earthly validating power in order to reconcile with God. We are not subject to the whims, behest, mercy, or self ascribed requirements of any human entity to receive the blessed gifts of forgiveness and cleansing from our unrighteousness. Do you believe it?

Gratitude for His Priestly Intervention

Thank God for giving us His Son, all sufficient and merciful; along with the power of the Holy Spirit to deal with our sin problems. Thank Him for not allowing human beings to control whether we are saved, lost, or want to attempt to earn our way into favor with heaven. Thank God for handling this dastardly beast, we call sin, all by Himself, and using faithful followers of His to guide us into His atmosphere, where we will find grace to help in times of trouble.