Strength Through Fasting

After being baptized by John in the Jordan River, Jesus began His ministry not by healing, not by teaching, not by turning water into wine or calming the storm and the sea. He began it by allowing the Spirit to lead into the wilderness, where He fasted for forty days and forty nights (Matthew 4:1-2). Although Jesus was the Son of God and therefore fully divine, He was also fully human. So, after not eating for forty days, He was hungry and He was weak. And while Jesus was in that place of weakness, Satan came on the scene to tempt Him.

Three times Satan tried to tempt Jesus, and three times he failed. Jesus overcame the tempter and his temptations. Why? Not because Jesus was the Son of God and beyond temptation but because He used the power of the Holy Spirit and the power of the Word of God. Remember, He was fully human. Satan wanted Jesus to use His divine power to overcome, but instead, Jesus used the resources that are available to us even now as followers of Jesus. Jesus was full of the Spirit when He entered the wilderness (Luke 4:1). And throughout those forty days, as He fasted, He allowed the Holy Spirit to lead Him.

Led by the Holy Spirit and with the Word of God hidden in His heart, Jesus came through His forty day fast stronger than ever. He was able to overcome the temptations of Satan and continue to follow the Father’s will for Him. But that spiritual strength that Jesus received as a result of His fast, as a result of letting the Holy Spirit lead Him, did not just enable Jesus to resist the enemy’s temptation, but it also filled Him with the power of the Holy Spirit, which was evident as His ministry began. Look at Luke 4:14-15:

And Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about Him spread through all the surrounding district. And He began teaching in their synagogues and was praised by all.

After fasting for those forty days and overcoming temptation, Jesus began His ministry in earnest. With Holy Spirit power, He began teaching in the synagogues and, as a result, was praised by everyone who heard Him or heard of Him. When we find ourselves floundering in ministry, or floundering in our spiritual lives, we should follow the example of Jesus. I’m not saying we need to fast for forty days. Any time of fasting will help us to focus on what we need to have the strength that Jesus had. Our time of denying the flesh by fasting will help us to tap into the power of the Holy Spirit and the power of God’s Word.

Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Sent

The good news is that, through His mercy and grace, God has provided the means for the salvation of mankind. All of us are sinners and fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23), but thanks to the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, the penalty for our sins has been paid. Salvation is ours and all we need to do is confess with our mouths that Jesus Christ is our Lord and believe in our hearts that God has raised Him from the dead (Romans 10:9). Believing with our hearts results in righteousness and confessing with our mouths results in salvation (Romans 10:10).

What’s even better news is that this gift of salvation is available to everyone. In giving the gift of salvation, God does not make a distinction between people. He does not make a distinction between Jew and Gentile. He is the one true God and Lord of all and God gives generously to all who call on the name of His Son, Jesus (Romans 10:12). As the prophet wrote in Joel 2:32 and Paul reiterated in Romans 10:13, everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. Everyone who confesses Jesus as Lord receives God’s gift of salvation. So, the good news is for all people, for everyone on the earth that God created.

It is God’s will that no one should perish but rather that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). And all it takes is for them to call on Jesus in faith. But in order for someone to call upon the name of Jesus in faith, in order for them to believe the good news of salvation that He brings, they have to know who He is. In Romans 10:14 (NLT), Paul writes, “But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?” It’s hard for people to believe in someone or something that they have never heard of or about!

Someone must tell people about Jesus. Someone must go and bring the good news to those who have not heard it. Someone must take the gospel across the street and around the world. In Romans 10:15 (NLT), Paul asks, “And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent?” The gospel needs to be sent and it needs to preached. But who is to preach it and who sends them to do so? That’s a very good question, and one that is answered quite clearly in Mark’s gospel:

And then he told them, “Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone. (Mark 16:15, NLT)

These are the words spoken by Jesus to His disciples. So it is Jesus who does the sending. And whom does He send? When He spoke those words, He was sending His disciples, but His words apply to all who choose to believe in Him and follow Him. It is not just the responsibility of evangelists, pastors, preachers, and missionaries. It is the responsibility of each and every believer to bring the good news of salvation to those who have not already heard it, whether they are next door, across the street, or around the world. We have been sent so that all may hear and believe.

Metamorphosis

The butterfly is perhaps the most beautiful creature in the insect world. But that beautiful creature that soars with its beautifully colored wings began its life as a caterpillar that crawls along the ground until one day, through a process called metamorphosis, it wrapped itself in a cocoon from which it emerged transformed. Similarly, when we accept Jesus Christ as Savior, we are transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit. In Romans 12:2 (NASB), the apostle Paul begins by writing, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…”

The word transformed comes from the Greek verb, metamorphoo, the same word from which we get the word metamorphosis. It’s a word that refers to a radical change in character and nature. Just as the caterpillar is drastically changed from a crawling insect to one that soars on beautiful wings, so we are transformed from our sinful nature to the image of Christ when we accept Him as Savior. But while the process of metamorphosis for the caterpillar is a relatively short one, the process by which we are transformed is a lifetime process.

When we receive Christ as Savior, we are born again and have eternal life. But the process continues from there because God wants to do more in our lives. He wants to make us into the image of His Son. We begin the process conformed to the pattern of the world (Romans 12:2), but when we receive Christ as Savior, through the power of the Holy Spirit, our minds are renewed, with the ultimate goal of being conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). The Holy Spirit transforms us, enabling us to live a godly life. And He does this so that, as Paul goes on to say in Romans 12:2 (NASB), we “may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Our part in this process of transformation is to resist the pattern of this world. The Passion Translation (TPT) paraphrases Romans 12:2 this way: “Stop imitating the ideals and opinions of the culture around you, but be inwardly transformed by the Holy Spirit through a total reformation of how you think.” We do the resisting, but God does the transforming. We are not called to transform ourselves, but to be transformed. That is the work of the Holy Spirit. He will renew our minds, changing the way we think so that we more fully understand the will of God and can translate that understanding into living our lives according to His will. He does this through God’s Word.

Since the Holy Spirit uses the Word to renew our minds and help us to see things from God’s perspective, it is important that we saturate our minds with His thoughts and His ways by reading the Word, by memorizing it, and by meditating on it. We need to hide God’s Word in our hearts as the psalmist says in Psalm 119:11. As we are at the beginning of a new year, what better time to begin doing so?

So, how can we hide the Word in our hearts? We can read the Bible aloud, which allows us to use not just our eyes but also our ears and our mouths to put the Word in our hearts. We can copy key verses on index cards and carry them with us so that we can review them from time to time throughout the day. We can record Scripture and listen to it or use the listening features on apps like the You Version. And we can meditate on the Word and memorize it. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you this year to become more deliberate and more intentional about hiding the Word in your heart as you seek to renew your mind and grow in God’s grace.

Scripture quotations marked NASB are taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Scripture quotations marked TPT are from The Passion Translation®. Copyright © 2017, 2018 by Passion & Fire Ministries, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ThePassionTranslation.com.

Grace

Jean Valjean was desperate. His sister and her family were starving and they had no money to buy food. So, out of that place of desperation, he stole a loaf of bread, a crime for which he was sentenced to five years in prison. That five-year sentence stretched into nineteen as Valjean, feeling that his punishment did not fit his crime, made numerous attempts to escape. In 1815, Valjean was released from prison but, due to another petty theft of a small amount of money from a 12-year-old boy, he was once again a fugitive of the law. Valjean assumed a new identity and became both a prosperous factory owner and mayor of a town. Years later, another man was mistaken for Valjean and arrested. As that man awaited sentencing for a crime he did not commit, Valjean appeared in the courtroom and the man was set free. It was an act of grace that went beyond thanks.

The word “grace” is an important one in the life of a follower of Jesus Christ. The definition of grace as it applies to us is the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners. It was through God’s grace that Jesus came to earth and paid the penalty for our sins. Unlike the man mistakenly arrested in Les Miserables, who did not deserve the punishment he was about to receive, we are all sinners and the punishment for our sins rightly belonged to us (Romans 3:23). But God sent Jesus to take our punishment. He who was without sin became sin for us. He became our salvation (Romans 3:24-25).

Titus 2:11 (NASB), says, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men.” Jesus is the grace of God made flesh. When Jesus went to the cross and died, the penalty for our sins was paid in full. It was not something we deserved but rather God’s gift to us, given out of His great love for us. As John wrote in his gospel, “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16, NLT).”

The gift of eternal life, the gift of God’s grace, is ours. It is not something that we can attain on our own. God freely gives this gift when we place our faith in Jesus Christ. As Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8-9 (NASB), “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Thank God for His amazing grace!

Fall Prevention

Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; (2 Peter 1:10, NASB)

Among the most serious and common medical problems that face older adults are falls and the injuries related to those falls. In the United States in 2015, over 3 million older adults visited emergency rooms to be treated for fall-related injuries. And over half of those 3 million people ended up being admitted to the hospital due to the extent of their injuries. For these and many other reasons, fall prevention measures become important for those 65 and older. One of the best and most common measures of preventing falls is exercising to build strength, increase endurance, improve balance, and promote flexibility.

Fall prevention is also important in our walk with the Lord. And this is true not just for older adults but for everyone who follows Jesus Christ. We have an adversary whose goal is to cause us to stumble and to fall away from our faith. He is looking to trip us up in every step we take. The apostle Peter knew well how our adversary looks to cause us to stumble. It was that very adversary who caused Peter to stumble and deny even knowing Jesus on the night that He was arrested (John 18:25-27). In his first letter, Peter warns that we need to be on the alert for this adversary, as he prowls around like a roaring lion seeking prey to devour (1 Peter 5:8).

In his second letter, Peter addresses fall prevention. He gives us some measures that we can take in order to keep ourselves from stumbling and falling away. The key to standing firm in the faith is to be certain of our calling, to be secure in Christ. It is our faith in Christ that guarantees that we are saved, and it is our growth in that faith that gives us the confidence that we need to keep from stumbling. In 2 Peter 1:10, Peter writes that we will not stumble if we “practice these things.” What is it that we must practice? What are these things that Peter is referring to? The answer to these questions is found in 2 Peter 1:5-7 (NLT):

In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone.

By developing the character virtues that Peter lists in these verses, we honor the sacrifice that Jesus made for us on the cross. When we practice these things, these virtues, in the way in which we live our lives, our character and our conduct become evidence to the world and to ourselves that we are children of God. When we live a life of faith that is governed by moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, patient endurance, godliness, brotherly affection, and love for all, then we will walk in the assurance of our salvation in Christ. And that blessed assurance is what will keep us from stumbling. It is our spiritual fall prevention.

Scripture quotations marked NASB are taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Is God for Us?

The serpent was the shrewdest of all the wild animals the LORD God had made. One day he asked the woman, “Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?” “Of course we may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,” the woman replied. “It’s only the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden that we are not allowed to eat. God said, ‘You must not eat it or even touch it; if you do, you will die.’ ” “You won’t die!” the serpent replied to the woman. “God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.” (Genesis 3:1-5 NLT)

Since the creation of the world, Satan has placed doubt in the minds of men and women as to whether or not God is truly for them. He has placed seeds of doubt as to whether God truly cares for them and wants what’s best for them. When we find ourselves thinking or asking whether God is for us or against us, we can be sure that the source of that thought, that the author of that question is Satan himself. But here’s the thing about Satan: he is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44). His desire is to cause us to lose faith, to doubt God’s love for us, by making us think that God is not for us but against us. When things become difficult and anxiety creeps into our lives, that’s when this enemy of our souls will pounce. But, as the apostle Peter wrote, we must remember to cast all of our anxiety on God. Why? Because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7).

Scripture is quite clear that not only is God for us, but He cares for us and truly wants what is best for us. His plan for us is always to prosper us and never harm us (Jeremiah 29:11). He causes all things to work together for good to those who love Him (Romans 8:28). When we cast our burdens on Him, He will sustain us (Psalm 55:22). The God who cares about the birds of the air and the grass of the field cares even more for us (Matthew 6:26, 30). We can be sure that if we commit our lives to God, when we trust in Him, He will give us the desires of our heart (Psalm 37:3-5). God Himself has told us that He will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).

And so, we can be sure that, no matter what the enemy may try to make us believe, God truly cares for us and is for us. And if God is for us, then no one can stand against us (Romans 8:31). Not even the father of lies.

Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Christmas: God’s Love Letter

Christmas is God’s way of saying to all of us, “I love you.”

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6, ESV)

Love letters. I’m sure that most of us would say that we love receiving them. Some even save them throughout the years, pulling them out occasionally to read them. They come from our spouses, from our children, or from others who have occupied a special place in our hearts at some point in our lives. And we treasure them because they are tangible expressions of the love that person had or has for us.

Today, we celebrate Christmas, remembering the birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was born into this world so that we may have eternal life. Christmas is God’s love letter to us. It is God’s way of saying to all of us, “I love you!” It is the tangible expression of the love that comes to us from our heavenly Father, the God who is love Himself (1 John 4:8, 16). Through the birth of a little baby in a stable in Bethlehem, God’s Son who would one day pay the penalty for our sins, God was showing us how much He loves us (1 John 4:9). He was saying, “I love you so much that I am sending my only Son into the world so that, if you believe in Him, you will have eternal life (John 3:16).

As we celebrate the birth of the Savior of the world today, my prayer is that each of us will pause to reflect on God’s love letter, Jesus Christ, the greatest love letter ever written. And let our lives and our hearts be our love letters to Him!

A blessed and merry Christmas to all!

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