In Acts 17:30-31 we read “And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent: Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.” An honest heart will read those words and will feel dread. To be judged by a Holy God based off my righteousness doesn’t leave me much hope. I know what I’ve done; and it’s not good. Not even on my best day. I don’t consider myself a really bad person. Perhaps you are even better than me in doing good. Regardless of how good we think we are we still have fallen far short of the righteousness of God. In Isaiah 64:6 we find that “all our righteousness’s are as filthy rags.” On our own, the very best we can produce is a dirty, stinking, filthy rag. Something that is not even fit to be cleaned; just thrown away. We are to be judged by our own righteousness. Scary thought!
But there is hope!
I can be judged not of my righteousness but based on the righteousness that God is willing to grant me. Romans 4:6-8 describes the blessed state of a person that knows the forgiveness of sins; a person to whom God has imputed righteousness. That gives me and you hope! This imputed righteousness isn’t just pulled out of thin air. It comes from Christ’s righteousness. The perfect life he lived. His life sacrificed. In 2 Corinthians 5:21 we read of the offer God has made to all of mankind: “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” God is willing to take all the vile things I’ve done and place them on Jesus Christ on the cross. And in place of my sin, God is willing to take the perfect life Christ lived and place it on me. This offer isn’t based off how much good I’ve done or how many times I’ve failed. It’s 100% Christ. That’s why Romans 10:4 declares “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believeth.”
Christ is the answer and our only hope!
So how does one get this righteousness? Does one have to do a certain amount of good deeds or maintain a certain level of morality in order for God to offer them this deal? Certainly not. This is all about Christ’s perfect life. Romans 3:20-22 tells us the only way to access this is by faith. Note especially verse 22: “Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference:” The answer is faith! A complete trust in the promises of God. A trust that when I submit to the gospel of Christ, God will keep His promise to impute Christ’s righteousness to me. I don’t have to depend on my ability (or lack of); just my willingness to surrender to a Holy God’s plan by placing total trust in Him and His power.
Now imagine standing before God on that day when he will judge the world in righteousness.
But this time you are not standing there being judged based on your righteousness but based on the imputed righteousness of Christ. Standing there in that position there is no dread; only joy and peace. Philippians 3:9 declares “And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:” You can trust God’s promise. You can have hope. God’s righteousness is available to you. All you have to do is surrender to God by faith.
Mark introduces his narrative by saying, “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the son of God” (Mark 1:1). The word translated Gospel simply means “good news”. So, when we read about the Gospel of Christ, it means that we are literally reading “the good news about Jesus.” Mark promptly tells us about the nature of this gospel: “As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight’” (Mark 1:2-3). By citing this prophecy, Mark indicates this “gospel” is not something unexpected; on the contrary, it has been in the works centuries ago. This prophecy is found in Isaiah 40:3-5. While this prophecy is dense with significance, in short, Isaiah is speaking about Israel’s return from exile and reunification with God. When we read the good news about Jesus, we should have in mind the background Mark gives us: God is redeeming His people.
In Israel, God’s chosen people, we see God’s intention to work through the patriarch Abraham to reconcile all nations to Him (see Genesis 12:1-3). This raises the question: why did God want to bless the nations? Why did God need Abraham? To answer the first, we read in Genesis 1, 2 that God made everything in the world (e.g., plants, animals, humans) and that He made it good. However, in Genesis 3, we read that Adam and Eve chose to disobey and through their choice sin entered the world. As we read on in Genesis, we find that all people are as sinful as Adam and Eve. In Romans 5:12, Paul summarizes this: “Therefore, just as by one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned.” It is from this rampant wickedness that we see what God had in mind by using the family of Abraham to bless the nations. God knew it was “not in man who walks to direct his own steps” (Jeremiah 10:23). Simply put we are lost in sin without a way out on our own; God’s intervention was necessary. Paul reflects on this promise given to Abraham, in Galatians 3:16, pointing to a single descendant “…which is Christ”. Jesus would be exactly the pinnacle of God’s program of redemption inaugurated through Abraham.
Mark stated that he would tell the “Good News” about Jesus and that Jesus is the culmination of God’s mission to redeem the world from sin. We are left to ask: how will God bring this about? Mark records that Jesus said He “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). In this, we see that God would redeem the world not by coming to the world and ruling physically, but that He would redeem the world by giving the life of His Son. Paul summarizes this concept as well: “the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,” (I Cor. 15:1-4). This is the good news about Jesus: God sent His Son into the world to die as a ransom for us, to be buried, and to be resurrected from the dead.
What happens when life takes a serious turn?
Suddenly. Without warning. You’re skating on the blessings of life one day and the next day the unexpected hits you like a ton of bricks. Suppose you are sleeping away and suddenly your house gets hammered by an earthquake? What if you received the news that you are facing a rare incurable disease? What about the sudden death of a loved one? Are you prepared for that kind of tragedy? How would you cope?
So many of us are ill-prepared. But why?
The unexpected happens all the time. Life will throw you a mean curve-ball. Happens everyday and every night. If you will, let me illustrate. My wife and I the other night went to bed earlier than normal. I had a medical procedure performed that day so we were both a little exhausted. So, off we go to bed. Around midnight I had to get up, couldn’t sleep, restless. About an an hour or so later my wife came in and tracked me down some medicine to take for the pain. Now by this time we are both sleep deprived and exhausted so not surprisingly when our heads hit the pillow we were out.
A tremendous crashing sound emanated from our utility room next to our bedroom. The house shook. I literally thought the world was coming to an end, or that a tree had fallen on the side of the house, or that a car had crashed in the house or that someone was beating down the back door. I jumped out of bed. I yanked the door to the utility room open to find who knows what. My wife following me waving an automatic weapon like she was Clint Eastwood. To our amazement the entire wall cabinet had fallen down from the wall. No car crash, no aliens, no one beating down the door, no armageddon. Whew.
But this event really started me to thinking. How would we have responded to a real disaster? I was reminded of the great encouragement from the Apostle Paul:
“The God who spoke light into existence, saying, “Let light shine from the darkness,” is the very One who sets our hearts ablaze to shed light on the knowledge of God’s glory revealed in the face of Jesus, the Anointed One. But this beautiful treasure is contained in us--cracked pots made of earth and clay—so that the transcendent character of this power will be clearly seen as coming from God and not from us. We are cracked and chipped from our afflictions on all sides, but we are not crushed by them. We are bewildered at times, but we do not give in to despair. We are persecuted, but we have not been abandoned. We have been knocked down, but we are not destroyed. We always carry around in our bodies the reality of the brutal death and suffering of Jesus. As a result, His resurrection life rises and reveals its wondrous power in our bodies as well.” 2 Corinthians 4:6-11 (Voice)
You see, the very power of the resurrected Jesus Christ is present in all believers. That light and truth empowers us to deal with the unexpected, to be prepared and overcome life greatest struggles.
Only the Resurrected Savior can help you deal with whatever may come and whatever sin enslaves you. Is Jesus Christ your Lord and Savior?
Sometimes God seems to be a million miles away.
Everything is falling part, nothing seems to be improving, one problem after another rocks our lives, and we wonder, where oh where is God? Out of the blue tragedy hits. We become bewildered, amazed, shell-shocked.
During these critical crossroads we are filled with so much conflicting emotions like Job who speaking to God asked,” Why do you hide your face and regard me as your enemy?” Job 13:24 Then in the same breath Job proclaims powerfully, “I know that my Redeemer lives!” Job 19:25
We pray. Tears fall. Joy is fleeting. We cry out. Is God really there? How close is God?
When I turned 18 dad helped me buy my first car, a 1972 VW Beetle. The color of the car was yellow, I mean really yellow. I loved the mean-looking gear shift, how I was able to shift like a pro, the cool sounding stereo, and the awesome color. Oh, yeah, did I mention the color?
Should have been code for lemon. Not long after the purchase things got worse. The rear muffler system fell completely apart. I was determined to fix this problem on my on. On a cold bleary day I worked and worked to I was blue in my face. Doom. Agony. I felt disappointed, lonely, tired, and discouraged. I didn’t realize how tough life could be. Hopeless.
As I was standing there defeated a hand gently grasped my shoulder, it was dad. Nothing was needed to be said. His hug was enough. I poured out my frustration. I needed help. I realized later he had watched me struggle. Taking in everything I was doing. Then at the right moment acted. Dad was always close. Which is why i miss him dearly.
No man is perfect but God is and He is always, listen, always close by, so close He can count the very hairs on your head, so close he can see the secret chambers of your heart, so close he can hear your cries. You are not alone and never will be.
In Psalms 116 we have the Psalmist pouring out his heart to God. Why? Death was knocking on the door. Where can you go at that point? The Psalmist experienced great affliction, trouble, sorrow, to the point of being at the lowest point of life. To make matters worse no one cared, nobody shed a tear, no one gave him aid.
This song sings of the wonderful truth that God wasn’t a million miles away, He wasn’t sleeping but was very close and listening to every heart-felt word.
God’s answer was filled with grace, mercy, and righteousness. “For You have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, and my feet from falling.” Psa. 116:8
You and I need to understand that a war is being waged. Do I believe in God? If so do I believe He is close by looking out for my best interest even in times when my faith is weak? Our response should like the Psalmist who pulls us in with these momentous words, “I love the Lord, because He has heard My voice and my supplications. Because He has inclined His ear to me, Therefore I will call upon Him as long I live!” Psa. 116:1-2
Bruce Kessler Elder/Evangelist, SCV Church of Christ, Norman, OK
At birth you were given a gift, a potential weapon. No safety classes were necessary at the time. No license was needed from the federal government. No state requirements. By virtue of being human you were granted freedom of choice and the power of life and death.
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” (Proverbs 18:21) . The tongue represents our ability to speak or communicate. The fruit is the effects produced by your words, good or bad. I bet you never considered that you were that important. You are. Your words are power and can cause great good (life) or great pain/destruction (death).
Right now most of you already understand the powerful effects of words. Encouraging and soothing words of your parents or the comforting words of a caring member of your church-family. Perhaps you experienced first hand the genuine pain caused by the hurtful words of a friend or loved one. Possibly you have uttered similar words and remembered how awful you felt when those words could not be taken back.
Remember the story of Job? He faced similar struggles with friends who caused great pain. He had lost everything, house, children and health. Yet, while trying to reason and understand his suffering, his friends just rained down on him one accusation after another, so much so that later on he would say, “How long will you torment me and break me in pieces with words? (Job 19:2)
I remember several years ago, Duke lacrosse players were accused of raping a North Carolina Central College student during a party. The media storm turned the case into a three-ring circus. The problem? It was a vicious lie and one that still has repercussions this day. Facebook is perhaps the single worse invention of all time as it relates to controlling the tongue or your words. The truth is that these days Satan has filled the arena of conversation with hate, complaining, gossiping, lying, sprinkled with a little dab of contention.
You are ultimately responsible. This may be the age of playing the blame game but God holds you accountable for the words you use and the ripple effect they cause throughout time and eternity. “For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:37)
This should cause us all to sit up and take notice. Notice then the real demonstrative power of your words as described in James 3:4-6. I like how The Message brings this thought home in plain simple language.
“A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything—or destroy it! It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell. This is scary: You can tame a tiger, but you can’t tame a tongue—it’s never been done. The tongue runs wild, a wanton killer. ” 3:4-8
A wanton-killer. He’s not next door, or sneaking around the corner, he’s literally in your mouth. He’s called the tongue. Knowing how serious your words are and with the fact that you nor I can tame the tongue, what can we do? We need a supernatural force to help us. That force is called the wisdom of God. That is the only way to truly step up and be a blessing and have an impact on those around us.
We will cover that in Life and Death Part 2.
Elder, inspirational writer
Has someone ever told you a habit can be formed in 21 days? I have. In fact, I think I’ve repeated this little nugget of wisdom a few times. Book after book adopted this mantra. Change your life, adopt highly successful people's habits, practice their discipline, courage, hard-work, within 21 days, voila, you have arrived. But the 21 days is a myth gone wild. There is no magical number. The truth is, it’s all about repetition, determination, and a worldview or mindset.
Really this last point, your worldview is a huge factor. Without a proper worldview/mindset, repetition and determination lose their meaning, failure is almost certain or at best you live a marginal existence.
A follower of Christ has a worldview that is best summed up by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:2, “For I have determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” This mindset may seem over-simplistic but that truth firmly defines every decision and every act. How? By Christ’s amazing grace, sacrificial love, forgiveness, and mercy. The crucifixion illuminates and illustrates these powerful truths thus becoming the driving force for all believers. From dead lives to restored soaring lives. Changed lives and touched lives are the single greatest demonstration of this worldview.
You would think that based on Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 2:2 he was preaching on a major theological point. Not what he was after. In fact, his point was to underscore a major sin-problem, one that many of the believers in Corinth were seemingly unaware. Notice how Paul addresses their real issue, “ And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ.” Something had happened to their worldview of Jesus Christ. To emphasize what that problem was he said, “...for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?” 1 Corinthians 3:1,3.
Later Paul would say, “I do not write these things to shame you, but as my beloved children I warn you.”
Paul was describing this special bond he had with the followers of Christ in Corinth. You are like my very own children! I love you! This is not about shaming. This is all about warning! Why a warning? There is one who is perfectly familiar with all the things we have been addressing- habits, worldviews, repetition, and determination. He has all this and then some. He is called the devil. One of his most powerful weapons in called a stronghold. 2 Corinthians 10:4-6.
Why is a stronghold such a powerful weapon? Because a stronghold is developed through repetition. Remember in our last study we discussed the fact that a stronghold is a castle built by massive impenetrable walls. That takes time, repetition, determination. These walls/castles are built in the mind and heart to keep out the influencing effects of God’s word. When you give place to the devil you allow him to gain a foothold in your heart. When this is done satan doggedly secures his territory. The result? Your worldview becomes sidetracked or over time redefined. As with the Corinthians this has terrible and disastrous effects.
Like those in Corinth you are unable to see how worldly you have become. You need to be warned how serious a threat a stronghold is to a believer. In the gripes of a stronghold the productivity and influence of a believer is minimised.
God provides a solution. Jesus Christ. He is the only power to pull down these strongholds in your life. Here’s how.
Expose satan lies- This means identifying and confessing your sin-problem. Be specific.
Shut the door- Confession leads to repentance. Repentance is telling satan I’m with Jesus now get behind me.
Resist the devil- Daily submit to God, recognizing you are powerless without Him.
Pray- Never forget the model prayer of Jesus, “And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen”
Elder, Inspirational Writer
By: Bruce Kessler
If you came upon a black-and-white beetle, about the width of your pinkie about an inch long, with bluish legs and two banded antennas that curved back over the length of its body, what would you do? Scream and run? Squash the thing out of revulsion or fear?
This little creature is not from a distant planet but is one of the most devastating forest pests in existence, destroying millions of trees. Known as the Asian long-horned beetle they feed on leaves, twigs and young barks, producing larvae that tunnel into the very heart of the tree. Over time they choke off the tree's supply of nutrients and kill it.
You may breathe a sigh of relief for not coming across one of these creepy beetles but you need to be warned. If you are a believer you are facing a greater risk and something even more dangerous. Sin.
Your heart and mind is under severe supernatural attack, the devil seeks to penetrate your mind and heart via sin and over time rob you of your spiritual nutrients with the sole purpose of killing your spirit.
This is how.
"For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds." (2 Corinthians 10:3-4).
The writer makes this statement to Christians not unbelievers. He uses an image of a stronghold which carried the idea of a castle or a fortress.
My wife and I vacationed in Germany, Austria and Italy recently. While in Germany we toured the Neuschwanstein Castle built in the nineteenth-century by King Ludwig. Here's the thing about these castles. They typically took 21-25 years to build. Massive walls were designed to fortify a city or a community/family to keep an invading army out. Notice the powerful imagery penned by Martin Luther, "A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing; our helper he, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing. For still our ancient foe does seek to work us woe."
But the author's use here of a castle was a negative one. Instead of keeping an invading army out the sole purpose of a stronghold is to resist the presence of God and His word's influence.
This is the war that is going on in the mind of a believer. Jesus warned that the devil's goal is to kill, steal, and destroy. Peter speaks of Satan as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. Paul warns in Ephesians 4:27, "and do not give place (territory/foothold) to the devil. "
You see, unchecked and unresolved sin is an invitation for the devil to build strongholds in your heart and mind. This is serious stuff. Why? Well, are you suffering from a form of addictive behavior? Drugs? Alcohol? Lying? Porn? Cheating? Stealing? Perhaps there is some secret sin in your life that has made you bitter, resentful, hateful, or spiteful? The list just adds up.
A stronghold is by its very nature designed to keep you locked in a cyclical pattern of sin while offering no real genuine way out. This just adds to defeat, disappointment, shame, and hopelessness. I'm sad to say a great number of believers have allowed strongholds to take root in their heart.
The church is filled with sick people in need of a heart revival.
There is good news.
"But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house." Matthew 12:28-29
Jesus Christ is the only power to bind the strong man (Satan) and plunder the castle.
Notice as well that "the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds." Mighty in God. There is hope and there is promise here that these strongholds can be cast down.
The question is do you trust in this mighty power of God?