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Darkest Before the Dawn

“Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.” Matthew 4:11

landscape outdoor ocean horizon silhouette person mountain sky sunrise sunset sunlight morning hill dawn dark dusk standing evening shadow human darkness publicdomain atmospheric phenomenon mountainous landformsHow many of us give in at the first temptation that appeals to our appetites? Or at least the second which appeals to our sense of righteousness and holiness? But certainly, many of us fall to the temptation to increase our current advantage, our current position and status, even if just by a little bit. It’s the American Dream. A comfort that we’ve earned.

Our temptations are always darkest before the dawn. Right before the sunlight breaks, we do.

But Jesus kept His eyes on the prize of our hearts for eternity. And everything in this world paled to the nothingness that it truly is in light of His one goal. Redemption.

Having stood the test, Satan left Jesus. Most of us would be thankful just to have made it that far and to finally find some peace. Incredibly though, the angels–the heavenly host–came to attend Jesus. Did they attend Him on earth as they did in heaven? Worshiping Him as the Son of God He is. Perhaps they came to lift Him up in His physical weakness, though not because of a foot-flop contrived by the father of lies. Maybe they even delivered daily bread or manna from heaven.

We don’t know exactly, just that the angels of heaven tended to Jesus in His time of need.

God may or may not send angels to attend us in our times of need and triumph. But He has promised us His Holy Spirit. He never leaves us or forsakes us no matter how appetizing the worldly offer, no matter how murky the temptation shadow that drowns our thoughts.

And if we keep our eyes fixed on the Eternal, through the Holy Spirit we can overcome the darkness before sunrise, the steepest, craggiest mountain and the wolf-infested valley. If we are faithful to the end, we will receive the victor’s rewards in heaven [Revelation 2:10 & 3:4-5].

Are you struggling through something right now? Hold fast to your faith. Fix your eyes on God Almighty. He can bring you through if you trust Him. Does all of life seem darker than it’s ever been before? Hold on just a little while longer. The dawn is near.



More Than Wet Confessions

“I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” Matthew 3:11-12

Image result for water baptismWhy do we get water baptized?

A few verses earlier we learn that people confessed their sin and were baptized in the river [Matthew 3:6]. John tells us here that repentance was his express purpose for baptizing others in water.

Repentance is thinking again. Understanding our words and deeds through the lens of heaven’s eyes and realizing that we have sinned against God–whether by sinning against others or directly affronting Him. But when we repent–rethink our sinful ways–God begins the mental renovation process within us that ultimately transforms our outward life [Romans 12:2].

Nearly 2,000 years later, we still baptize people by water immersion. And it should still follow the repentant heart.

But it’s not enough.

John was only the harbinger of the Messiah, his cousin, Jesus. Only slaves, household servants, untied or carried their master’s sandals. By saying that he is less than a slave in Christ’s household, John is not belittling himself or bemoaning his station. Rather he is acknowledging that God is transcendent and that none of us or our ministries can in anyway compare to the Almighty.

John was confessing Jesus’ divinity.

John’s baptism made people physically wet. It literally washed the dirt from their skin. It stimulated their senses and connected spirituality to the physical. But it didn’t save anyone. It was a temporary, a fleeting momentary decision and public display incapable of truly changing a person. Just a first step in preparing the heart to receive the Word of Truth and the Holy Spirit.

Jesus’ baptism would surpass imagination and understanding [Isaiah 55:8-9; Ephesians 3:20]. The Holy Spirit. God’s own Spirit would not wash over us, but pour through us. Cleansing not our mortal skin but our immortal spirit-man within.

And fire. Which purifies gold, burning away impurities so that they can never return [1 Peter 1:7; Revelation 3:18]. Fire baptism is an irreversible chemical change. The life that comes out of this process can never be the same as it was.

One way or another, everyone is going to face the fire.

For those of us who acknowledge God and take up the cross of Christ in this life, our fire will be temporary and it will transform us into the holy nation that will inherit the kingdom of heaven. But for those who deny God and His Son Jesus Christ with their physical life, their fire will last for eternity [Revelation 20:14-15]. Nothing will stay it. Nothing will quench it. And it will produce nothing of worth in their hereafter.

Water baptism does have value as a physical act of our faith. In fact, Jesus commissioned us to be baptized and baptize others in His name [Matthew 28:19-20]. Have you repented your sin nature, confessing to God? Are you being transformed by the fiery baptism of the Holy Spirit at work in your whole heart?


Baptized into the River of Life

“John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.” Matthew 3:4-6

Image result for baptismJohn was an ordinary guy. He wore commoner’s clothes and ate desert forage–locusts and wild honey. While his father ministered in the temple, and these foods were in keeping with Jewish dietary law, John was introducing baptism in a whole new way.

The Pharisees of his day immersed themselves in water to remove ritual impurity  [Matthew 15:2; John 2:6]. The Old Testament did in fact set this precedent, especially for priests [Leviticus 15, 16:4 & 24]. All Jews had to observe these ritual baths to be pure so that they could enter the temple and participate in its services during major festivals [Numbers 9:10; John 11:55; Acts 21:24-27]. But the Pharisees practiced regular immersion out of religiosity–following the rules to look good to men, rather than living from a heart for God.

John took baptism out of the temple. But just like the temple, people came from all over Israel to be ministered to. They came from Jerusalem where the temple was. From Judea, the whole region surrounding the city of Jerusalem and the temple of God. From the whole Jordan river region which extends north to south through the land of Israel.

John took baptism into the Jordan. This was the river that God parted so that the Hebrews could pass through on dry land and enter the Promised Land [Joshua 3-4]. A river analogous to the river of life that flows through the New Jerusalem in heaven [Revelation 22:1-2].

John baptized without priestly garments. But he led people to recognize and confess their sins to God. In effect, John launched the self-as-priest-without-need-of-a-Levitical-mediator ministry, preparing hearts for Jesus’ ministry, and people responded to it in droves!

And John baptized by immersion, which meant that a person’s whole body passed through the water. This is symbolic of the days of Noah. Before the flood, people did not confess their sins to God, many no longer even recognized right from wrong. Everyone just did as they saw fit. The floodwaters purified the world of the sin that had grown so rampant, wiping the proverbial slate clean for righteousness to start again.

Noah’s ark is an archetype for Jesus. By faith, Noah and his family were saved in the ark. By grace, we are saved through faith in Christ. When we confess our sins and are baptized, it should come from a heart to live for God. It should truly represent a change from living however we want to wiping our hearts clean, clothing us with Christ Himself, so that we can start anew and live righteously.

Have you confessed your sins to God? Have you been baptized by immersion in the name of Jesus? Is your faith purifying your heart?


The Shepherd-King

“When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. ‘In Bethlehem in Judea,’ they replied, ‘for this is what the prophet has written: ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.'” Matthew 2:3-6

Image result for shepherdIf it wasn’t previously clear that King Herod didn’t really belong on Israel’s throne, it is now. For one, he’s disturbed by the news, worried that the true king has been born somewhere and people will now try to depose Herod. And second, he has to talk to Jerusalem’s religious leaders–the former high priest, Annas; the current high priest, Caiaphas; all of their families on the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin; and their own synagogue teachers–to learn about the true king.

Curiously, the city of Jerusalem was also disturbed by the news that a true king of Israel had been born. Was it because they liked Herod’s rule? Or maybe they were loyalists and wondered what the coming of the Messiah really meant for them? Certainly–even though they knew the sign of the virgin being with child–they hadn’t expected the proclamation to come about a baby king.

Unlike Herod, who had to rely on the religious leader’s knowledge of scripture for answers, the Jewish citizens of Jerusalem would have known full well that the the Messiah was supposed to be born exactly where Jesus had been born. They would have grown up hearing the words of Micah [5:2] in the Synagogue. The very religious leaders that Herod turned to had taught the people of Jerusalem to know this sign.

Jesus, the Lord of lords and King of kings [Revelation 17:14], would be a shepherd-ruler the way that King David was called to shepherd, or lead, Israel [2 Samuel 5:2]. A shepherd protects the flock, keeping the sheep away from dangerous places as much as fighting off the evils that come. A shepherd guides the sheep along the path to good grass and clean water. Sometimes he must carry an obstinate sheep along, but he can’t force him to eat or drink that which is best.

The sheep must choose to follow. The sheep must choose to stay away from danger. The sheep must trust the shepherd to fight off predators. The sheep must choose to eat the green grass and drink the clean water. In essence, the sheep must choose to live life in the shepherd’s care.

As human sheep to Christ our shepherd, we must also choose to learn His Word and know His voice [John 10:27-28].

Jesus was born to shepherd your whole heart–intellect, will and emotion–have you given all to Him? Are you walking close beside Him or straying toward the dangers of sin? Are you hungry for the banquet of righteousness He is daily preparing for you or have you sated your appetites with the things of the world [Matthew 5:6; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31]?


First Love

“We love because He first loved us.” 1 John 4:19

Image result for great loveGod is love. He loved us first. He loves us most. He loves more than we could ever ask or imagine. Constantly. Faithfully. Mercifully. Full of grace, pressed down, shaken together and running over [Luke 6:38].

His love for us is holy. We are set a part as children [1 John 3:1], not the human toys purported by pagan mythologies. We are prepared as His spotless bride [Revelation 19:7-8], not exploited as harlots like in the mythological pantheons.

His love for us is sovereign and transcendent. That’s why His anger stirs when we continually and blatantly sin against one another [Matthew 18:21-35; Romans 6:1; James 2:13]. And when we sit in judgment on other people’s sins while disregarding our own [Matthew 7:2-5; Luke 6:41-42].

His love for us is righteous and good. It wills only for our eternal best. It treats us only with rightness–that which is infinitely and precisely correct according to God’s moral law. Never impatiently or unkindly. Never enviously, boastfully or arrogantly. Never dishonoring us or using us for His own gain. We do not easily trip God’s temper, and our reciprocal love toward God covers over the multitude of our sin. His love does not delight in evil. Period. But it rejoices when a sinner finds the truth, the way and the life. God’s love eternally protects as we trust in Him. His love eternally hopes we will choose to repent, though, He already knows whether or not we will. His love perseveres from the beginning to the end of human history, pursuing our hearts to return to Him–our first love, who first loved us.

In His eternal wisdom, His love will never fail us [1 Corinthians 13].

But our finite human love will fail us every time. Unless we deny our flesh and take up the cross of Christ [Matthew 16:24; Luke 9:23], our sin-warped love will fixate on another thing, like money, and become the root of all evil [1 Timothy 6:10]. Or like physical and material desires, temptations that will grow into full blown death [James 1:15]. It will fixate on finite, sinful human beings and fail to meet our self-absorbed, insatiable expectations. Leaving us with the sense of being robbed and cheated rather than whole.

God’s love for us is holy–wholeness itself.

His love for us is just. It respects our freewill even when it hurts God’s heart [Deuteronomy 5:29]. He will give to each as each has chosen–the righteous to everlasting life and the unrighteous to everlasting condemnation [Matthew 25:31-46; Revelation 20:15 & 21:27].

Do you know the depths of the riches of God’s love for you? Do you realize that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all Creation will be able to separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus [Romans 8:38-39]?

It’s true. The only thing that can separate you from God’s love is you.


Living the Ultimate Lie

“‘You will not certainly die,’ the serpent said to the woman. ‘For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.'” Genesis 3:4-5

Image result for crownGod is sovereign. And ultimately, Satan’s original lie is a question of sovereignty to both humans and angels alike [Isaiah 14:14; Revelation 12:4].

Did God really say?

As if the creature has any authority–the power or right to give orders, make decisions and enforce control–to call God’s dominion into question. God made everything. Satan made nothing and has no power to create.

Satan was a creature twice over–first as the angel of light, Lucifer, he rebelled and also convinced a third of heaven to usurp God’s authority over their own lives. Now here, cast out of heaven to be the prince of this world [John 14:30; Ephesians 2:2], Satan assumes the form of the serpent, a lowly creature, yet sleek and agile. How easily did he worm his way into Eve’s presence without detection and drop down over her shoulder for a chat.

You must not eat from any tree in the garden?

Questioning God’s right to be Eve’s sovereign. If God is sovereign, then He must also be good. But if He forbade you to eat, to nourish your hungry flesh, then He is not good and, therefore, not sovereign.

Eve falteringly defends God’s goodness–we may eat…God provides for and sustains us–but she also adopts Satan’s question of sovereignty, adding–we must not touch the tree of the knowledge of good and evil or we will die.

You will not certainly die.

Questioning God’s omniscience. The creature, Satan, wants Eve to question whether or not God is all-knowing. Because to be the Sovereign God He must know everything about everything He created. If on one point God is unaware, then His authority fails over that detail and everything related to it and, then, He is not infinitely sovereign. He is finite as we, His creation, are.

For God knows that your eyes will be opened, and you will be like Him.

Once again questioning God’s goodness, omniscience, sovereignty, as well as His justice, righteousness and love. As if Satan himself possesses any of these attributes?

Satan is the antithesis of good. He knows nothing except what his senses have taught him. And he has absolutely no authority. He cares nothing for justice, only for himself. He has no rightness in him, everything is crooked, warped and twisted by sin and rebellion against God. And he loves no one but himself. With all of this, all Satan is is a liar–and the father of lies [John 8:44]–driven to steal, kill and destroy the treasures and lives of this finite earth [Matthew 6:19-20 & 10:28; Luke 12:4; John 10:10].

And yet, many accept Satan as their authority. They accept his lie, wanting to be their own sovereign god. Rebelling against God’s authority in favor of their own selfish, finite attempts to rule self. The sad truth, is that self-godship is an illusion. Satan knew from the beginning that rebellion against God would not make us our own sovereigns. On the contrary, by insisting on controlling our own lives, we lose them–all freedom, all power, all blessings, all provision, hope, peace and purpose, all joy, and love and mercy and grace and justice is lost to us.

Because, as the creation, we have no authority or power to provide any of these things for ourselves. We can only accept them from the loving hand of our Almighty, Sovereign God.

Are you living the ultimate lie?


Hallowed, Vain or Profane?

“He said to them, ‘When you pray, say: ‘Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come.”” Luke 11:2

Image result for clean lipsGod is infinitely holy. That means that everything about Him is also holy. His name alone bears a holiness that could crush or redeem a person.

Jesus instructed his disciples to respect God as their own Father and to revere His name as holy, willing His kingdom’s presence. It seems almost paradoxical to consider God our Father–in light of the casual relationships many of us have with our parents–while at the same time honoring Him with all due reverence.

So it is the third clause that binds the first two together in our understanding. Jesus is reminding us that we are God’s children and, therefore, coheirs of God’s kingdom with Christ [Romans 8:16-17 & 9:8]. He is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords and we will reign with Him  [1 Timothy 6:15; 2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 17:14, 19:16 & 20:4-6].

But claiming to be His children and doing things in His name versus living as His children and giving all glory and honor to Him are two different things [Matthew 7:21-23].

In the second commandment, God instructed us not to use His name in vain–that is in an empty manner [Exodus 20:7]. Remember that rendering something holy means that it is filled with a special purpose. God redeemed us to make us holy–to refill us with the special purpose with which He created each and every one of us.

The devil seeks to empty our lives of all that our good and loving God seeks to give us in more abundance [John 10:10]. Satan wants to use us up in vain–emptiness–and spit us out. God wants to breathe purposeful life into our freewill.

And He rightly expects us to treat Him accordingly. To speak His name with reverent purpose rather than emptily tossing His holiness about like an empty wrapper.

His name fills us with hope, peace and healing. His name is a strong and mighty refuge in our stormy world [Proverbs 18:10]. His name is above all names, a firm foundation and mighty to save [Exodus 18:11; Isaiah 63:1; Zephaniah 3:17]. His name casts out demons–and they shudder in fear [Mark 9:38; James 2:19]. His name causes the nations to tremble [Psalm 99:1]. And at His name every knee will bow and every tongue confess that He alone is God [Romans 14:11; Philippians 2:10].

His name is full of life. It is the wholeness that we, as sinners, so desperately need. It is the purpose that fills our lives and makes us holy.

And using it in vain only drains all of the fullness, wellness and purpose out of our lives.

Have you spoken God’s name in emptiness? Have you used it to profane–that is irreverently to disrespect? God will forgive it if you ask, and He will make you wholly holy to His glory and honor–only reverence His name as you wear it before this world.