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Doug Tweed

LET’S SOLVE TWO CASES OF MISTAKEN IDENTITY

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Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”  Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:13-16)

 

Matthew 16 describes the most significant case of mistaken identity in history. God sent His only begotten Son to earth as the Savior of the world, but most people believed He was just a man. (John 1:1-14, 3:16; Philippians 2:5-11) They crucified Him.

Although there are people today professing Christianity while making the same mistake about who Jesus is, biblically grounded Christians know Jesus is the Christ, the eternal Son of the living God. Unfortunately, there are two other cases of mistaken identity that wreak havoc among us. The first case concerns the Holy Spirit. The second concerns how we view other people.

Every Christian knows you receive the Holy Spirit when you embrace Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. (Acts 2:38-39) Amidst the debates on what that means in terms of supernatural power and spiritual gifts, we have failed to answer the even more important question: Who is the Holy Spirit we have received?

The Holy Spirit is God! The marvelous, mysterious truth of the Trinity is that while we know God as Father, as Son, and as Holy Spirit, we also know there is only one God. (Deuteronomy 6:4; Mark 12:29; Galatians 3:20; James 2:19) The Holy Spirit is the third person of the triune Godhead. He proceeds from the Father through the Son to us but always remains eternally and perfectly one with the Father and the Son. (John 15:26, 16:7-15; Galatians 4:6)

For this reason, the Holy Spirit is also called the Spirit of the Lord, the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ, and the Spirit of your Father. (Luke 4:18; 2 Corinthians 3:17; Romans 8:9; Matthew 10:20) Through the Holy Spirit, our fellowship is with the Father and the Son, and both our Lord Jesus and our heavenly Father can make their home in us. (John 14:23, 15:4; 1 John 1:3)

Nowhere is it said more clearly than this: “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him (or her), and he in God.” (1 John 4:15) I repeat, the Holy Spirit within you is God.

Our second case of mistaken identity involves everyone you know and everyone you don’t know: Christians and non-Christians, Americans and every other nationality, people you like and people you don’t like, people who agree with your theology and politics and people who don’t. These truths about their identity apply to all of them:

  1. They are loved by God.
  2. They are created by God in His image and likeness.
  3. They are sinners who fall short of the glory of God, just like you and me. (Romans 3:23)
  4. They are people Jesus died for when He paid the price for all sins of all people for all time. (1 John 2:2; Hebrews 9:26, 8:12)
  5. If not yet Christians, they are people the Lord desires to see repent and come into everlasting life. (1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9) God does not live within them yet, but He wants to, and your assignment is to witness Jesus and His Kingdom to them so that can happen. (Acts 1:8; Romans 10:14-15)
  6. If not yet Christians, the enemy has blinded them in one way or another to keep them from grasping the truth and love of the Gospel. (2 Corinthians 4:4) Jesus came to give them sight and set them free. (Luke 4:17-21)
  7. If they are born-again Christians, even though they may disagree with your theology or politics, then they are people indwelled by the same God who lives in you (John 1:12-13, 3:3-6)
  8. They are all people God commands you to love in truth and in deed. (Matthew 5:43-48; 1 John 3:18) 1 Corinthians 13 describes the type of love you are to have for them.

 

Imagine with me for a moment what it would be like if all Christians remembered every moment of every day that the Holy Spirit is God living within us. Imagine how Christians could treat each other if we lived with the awareness that the same God who lives in me lives in you.

Now imagine what it would be like if while indwelled by God, we also chose to identify and treat all other people in a manner consistent with His perspective and the biblical truths set forth in this column.

Everything would change. (Romans 12:2)

God bless you, and God bless our community.

THERE IS A BETTER WAY TO LIVE

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Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30 NIV)

Have you even wondered why so many Christians live defeated or, at minimum, partially dissatisfied lives?

For far too many believers, the biblical concept of “abundant life” is something you read about in the book, not something you experience. (John 10:10) New believers tend to fall back into their old problems, and a sizable percentage of long-term believers struggle with stress, frustration, depression, and family problems as much as non-believers.

In short, a great many Christians are not very happy, not very peaceful, not very fulfilled, and not very hopeful things will improve this side of heaven. Why?

Our fundamental problem may be our failure to get past the theology of salvation by grace as “a free gift of God” and understand Jesus calls for those He saves to take on His yoke and learn from Him.

To “take on His yoke” means we submit to Jesus as Lord. We live each day the way He wants, not the way we think we want. (John 14:6)

To learn from Jesus means we continually let Him teach us about this new way of life so we can live it better and better. As we mature as Christians, we see our lives gradually transformed from glory to glory. (Ephesians 4:13; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Hebrews 5:11-14)

Our ticket to heaven may be a gift we receive by faith and not by works, but “rest for our souls” on earth comes through this process of submitting and learning. The blessings that come from living life God’s way is a principle proclaimed throughout scripture. (Exodus 33:13; Deuteronomy 5:32-33; Psalm 119; Isaiah 30:18-21; Matthew 28:18-20; John 14:21-23)

Please, therefore, let me suggest a brief list for living the way Jesus wants:

  1. Start each day with at least 15-30 minutes of prayer. Submit your day to the Lord. Tell Him you love and trust Him, remembering you are a child of your heavenly Father indwelled by God’s Holy Spirit. Pray for your loved ones, your community, your workplace, your nation, the Church, and whatever God puts on your heart.
  2. Seek to remain attentive to God’s Presence throughout your day. Bless places you go in the name of Jesus because every blessing you speak pours out living water onto this world. Refrain from harsh and judgmental words because they pour out curses on people who God loves. (James 3:3-10)
  3. End each day in prayer. Review the day. Repent and receive forgiveness where necessary. Submit your sleep and dreams to Him.
  4. Own a study bible in a translation you can understand. Read it often. Read it cover to cover so you know the whole of it, not just parts.
  5. Commit to living a life of unconditional love. (1 John 4:7-21) Focus on humbly serving others, not yourself. (Philippians 2:3-11) Consistently forgive those who hurt or disappoint you, including yourself. (Ephesians 4:30-32)
  6. Spouses – pray together every day. If you do this one simple thing, less than 1% of you will divorce.
  7. Parents – pray with your children every morning, including prayers for blessing and protection. Spend one half hour with them every day sharing prayer and bible stories. You will grow closer to God and each other – something much more important than sports or academics.
  8. Do not neglect gathering for corporate worship. Expect to encounter God. (Hebrews 10:19-25)
  9. Actively share your faith – what Jesus has meant in your life – with family, friends, and the struggling people God puts in your path. Invite others to know Jesus and encourage fellow Christians to know Him better.
  10. Stay involved in a ministry that trains you in Christian discipleship. Be involved as well in a team ministry to others: food pantry, prison ministry, hospital visitation, intercessory prayer, etc.
  11. Have at least one or two friends in Christ with whom you can be transparent, and who can encourage you and hold you accountable.

Your first reaction to this list may be, “That’s too hard,” or “I don’t have time.”  But Jesus calls this yoke easy and light. It is just radically different because it is His way, not the world’s way we have always known.

And as to time, do not let the devil deceive and distract you with your busy-ness, TV, and social media. Simply reprioritize your time and energy according to what God says is important.

There is a better way to live. In truth, He is the only “Way” to go. (John 14:6; Matthew 7:13-14)

God bless you, and God bless our community.

   

WE DON’T DO WHAT WE ARE TOLD

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“They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” (John 14:21 NRS)

Three weeks from now, we will celebrate Easter weekend, remembering that incredible turning point in human history almost 2,000 years ago when Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died for our sins and rose from the dead as King of kings with all authority in heaven and on earth. (1 Corinthians 15:1-24; Revelation 19:16; Matthew 28:18)
Many things, both good and bad, have happened over the course of those 2,000 years. The world population has grown from 200 million to 8 billion. Our average life expectancy has risen from 35 years to 72.8 years. But countless millions have been killed in countless wars, including two world wars, with 238,000 people killed in 2023 alone. Industrial and technological revolutions have put man on the moon and computers in our pockets while enabling the creation of weapons of mass destruction that can obliterate all of humanity.
As to Christianity, a Church birthed in Jerusalem with 120 people has grown worldwide to 2.4 billion people. (Acts 1:12-15, 2:1-47) However, the percentage of professing Christians in China and India, our two most populated nations, is less than 3%. The Church in Europe, where professed Christianity was once the exclusive faith for every nation, is in such extraordinary decline that two thirds of the population believe religion is unimportant. And over one third of our United States population feels the same way. The percentage of professing Christians in our nation, including those who consider faith unimportant, has dropped from 85% to less than 65% since 1990, and it continues to drop every year.
Isaiah prophesied an ever-increasing rule of the Lord on earth. (Isaiah 9:7) Jesus declared the gates of hell would never prevail against His Church. (Matthew 16:18) He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world. (1 John 4:4) So why is the coming of His Kingdom taking so long? Why are we losing ground?
The answer is simple. We don’t do what we are told.
Almost all of us can remember times in our childhood when our mother or father said, “Just do what you’re told!” They were adults who loved us, and we were in the beginning stages of learning about life. At the time, we didn’t like it, but looking back, we know doing what we were told was for our own good. And the Fifth Commandment – honoring our parents – is really a training ground for how we are to honor, love, trust, and obey God. (Exodus 20:12)
The amazing grace of God is neither a license to sin nor permission to keep living according to your own agenda. (Romans 6:1-18; Matthew 16:24-27) The cross did not erase our need to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. (Mark 12:28-34) As disciples, we are to learn and obey all our Lord’s commands. (Matthew 7:24-27, 28:20; James 1:22-25) Grace came to cover the sin that separated us from God, and it remains there for when we stumble, not when we ignore and defy Him. (1 John 1:8-2:6)
For centuries, the empire-building nations of Europe commingled faith and political ambition, subjugating their own people and their so-called colonies to their will. Subjugation is the opposite of evangelism and discipleship because it violates the law of love expressed in the Golden Rule: treating others the same way you want them to treat you. (Matthew 5:43-48, 7:12-14) Europe is now reaping what they sowed, and the Church in America must avoid taking the same blind path. (Galatians 6:7-8; 2 Corinthians 9:6; Matthew 15:14)
God tells us to make our loving obedient relationship with Him our highest priority. (Matthew 6:33; Jeremiah 29:13) God tells us to be a royal priesthood modelling the humble, selfless, serving love and goodness of Jesus to friend, stranger, and foe. (Matthew 5:43-48; Philippians 2:5-11; 1 Peter 1:9-10) God tells us to be a house of non-stop prayer. (Mark 11:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:17) God tells us: “All hands on deck”, because all Christians are to be equipped, rightly connected to each other, and doing their part. (Ephesians 4:11-16; 1 Corinthians 12:4-27)
God tells us faith works through love and that truth must be spoken in love to set people free. (Galatians 5:6; John 8:31-32; Ephesians 4:15) We are not conceding ground to evil when we do this. We are overcoming evil with good – the only “way” that works. (John 14:6; Romans 12:21)
My friends, we can hasten the day or get in the way. (2 Peter 3:9-12) For God to awaken and revive us as His Kingdom children, we need to do what we are told.
God bless you, and God bless our community.

JESUS REVEALS HOW TO BE BLESSED

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“Blessed are the poor in spirit … those who mourn … the meek … those who hunger and thirst for righteousness … the merciful … the pure in heart … the peacemakers … [and] those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3-10)

There is nothing more wonderful than God’s blessing: the state of happiness and well-being you enter when God bestows His favor upon you.
God blessed humanity when He first created us and assigned us stewardship of the earth. (Genesis 1:22, 28, 2:8) After sin separated us from God and His blessings, God blessed Abraham as the man through whom God would bless a nation and ultimately all nations. (Genesis 12:2-3, 22:17-18) This ultimate blessing is, of course, Jesus Christ, through whom we receive every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 1:2-6)
The blessing of our eternal heavenly reward as Christians cannot be surpassed. (Matthew 25:34, 46; Revelation 21:1-7) But there are also blessings God wants to bestow upon us while we walk this earth. For the Hebrew people under the old covenant of the law, those blessings came through careful obedience of all God’s commandments. (Deuteronomy 28:1-14) But Jesus brought a new covenant to us with a new path to blessing that He describes in the opening remarks of His first sermon. We call these opening remarks the Beatitudes. (Matthew 5:2-12)
I want a life blessed by God. Even more important, I want those blessings for my family, my community, my nation, and the Body of Christ. And I want those blessings for our leadership because biblical history makes it clear a people will not be blessed if their leadership is not blessed. (Proverbs 29:2, 12; 2 Kings 21:2, 9-12)
Jesus speaks to the condition of our hearts, not just efforts to obey, when He reveals the path to divine blessing:
Step #1: Understand that without God, you are spiritually destitute. Self-reliance, self-centeredness, self-indulgence, and self-righteousness are all paths to disaster. (Matthew 16:24) A life dependent on the Lord and led by His Word experiences the kingdom of God on earth: righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Romans 14:17)
Step #2: Grieve for the sin and brokenness in the world and the sin and brokenness in your own life. (2 Corinthians 7:10-11) God will then comfort you with the revelation He is working to make things better and has a role for you to play in His plan. Failure to care about others and failure to see or be concerned about your own sin are both paths to disaster. (1 John 3:17; Revelation 3:15-17)
Step #3: Be meek, humble, gentle, and kind. These are the traits of the two strongest leaders of all time: Jesus and Moses, and if you follow their example, you will join them in the inheritance of the earth. (Matthew 11:29, 21:4-5; Numbers 12:3; Romans 8:17) God despises arrogance, hardheartedness, and cruelty, and warns us to avoid such people (2 Timothy 3:2-5; Proverbs 8:13, 11:17, 16:18; 1 Peter 5:5; Ephesians 4:29-32)
Step #4: Passionately desire to live a righteous life – right relationship with both God and others. (Romans 12:11) When righteousness is your first priority, God transforms your heart, begins to fill you with His righteousness, and in the process, also meets your other needs. (Matthew 6:33; 2 Corinthians 3:17-18) Remember that the foundation of righteousness is unconditional love of God and everyone God loves. (1 John 4:7-12)
Step #5: To receive God’s mercy, be merciful toward others, treating them as you wish to be treated and forgiving them in the same way you want God to forgive you. (Matthew 6:12-15, 7:12) We reap what we sow, and God judges us according to the way we judge others. (Matthew 7:1-5) Woe unto the Christians today who forget this divine principle. (Luke 6:24-26; Matthew 23:13-28)
Step #6: Keep your heart pure, always making your relationship with God your most important relationship and repenting of sin whenever God makes you aware of it. (Jeremiah 29:13; Luke 14:25-33; 1 John 1:9; Proverbs 28:13) If you do this, you will experience God’s presence and see Him at work in the world around you. (John 5:19-20)
Step #7: Be a peacemaker, not a person who sows discord, distrust, or dissension. (Galatians 5:19-20) God is love and God’s Son Jesus is the Prince of Peace. (1 John 4:8; Isaiah 9:6) As a peacemaker, you reveal to others that you are God’s son or daughter as well.
Step #8: Be neither surprised nor discouraged when your godly heart and life attract not only divine blessings but attacks from the devil and people deceived by the devil. We live in a warzone on earth, and we overcome evil with good. (Ephesians 6:10-20; Romans 12:21)
If we walk this path of blessing together, and choose leaders who walk this path, God will bless us all. This is my prayer.

EMBRACE GOD’S WORD IN THIS ELECTION YEAR

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“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” (Colossians 3:12-14)

In 2024, every Christian can, by their prayers and vote and other support, help to select those who will be the presidential and congressional candidates for our two political parties. We will then choose among those candidates who will govern our nation.
I urge all Christians to embrace God’s Word as you participate in this process.
“Let all that you do be done in love.” (1 Corinthians 16:14) Without love you are nothing and gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3) Love is patient and kind, never arrogant or boastful, and does not insist on its own way. (1 Corinthians 13:4-5) Love rejoices in the truth, and never wrongdoing, but speak the truth in love because faith works through love. (1 Corinthians 13:6; Ephesians 4:15; Galatians 5:6)
Love is for friend, foe, and stranger – everyone God loves. (Matthew 5:43-48; Luke 10:27) “… Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” (Luke 6:27-28) God wants all people to come to salvation, and so it is not God’s desire for anyone to “rot in hell”. (1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9) You will be judged with the measure you use to judge others. (Matthew 7:2)
Follow the Golden Rule by treating others the way you wish to be treated (Matthew 7:12) “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4) “Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be conceited. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12:16-18)
God created all humankind, male and female, in His image and likeness. (Genesis 1:26-28) All who believe in Jesus are one in Christ and heirs of God. (Galatians 3:28-29) Racism, sexism, and transgenderism are contrary to God’s Word and will.
Human life is precious to God and children are a heritage from Him. (Genesis 9:6; Exodus 20:13; Psalm 127:3) God knits every person together in their mother’s womb. (Psalm 139:13-14; Job 31:15) Both child and mother are loved by God, and certain difficult situations require divine wisdom, but treating abortion as a “reproductive right” is contrary to God’s Word and will.
“Everyone who is arrogant is an abomination to the Lord….” (Proverbs 16:5) Godly leadership comes from a servant’s heart. (Matthew 20:25-28) “It is an abomination to kings to do evil, for the throne is established by righteousness.” (Proverbs 16:12)
Seeking what you want by a lying tongue is a deadly snare. (Proverbs 21:6) “Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord….” (Proverbs 12:22)
“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil ….” (Isaiah 5:20) Was January 6, 2020 “a beautiful day” for our nation? Are violent riots and looting a godly solution to inner city problems? Those who approve of evil participate in it. (Romans 1:32) “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21)
“… In the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.” (2 Timothy 3:1-5)
“Who is wise and understanding among you? By his (or her) good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” (James 3:13-18)
“When a man’s (or woman’s) ways please the Lord, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.” (Proverbs 16:7) “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons (and daughters) of God.” (Matthew 5:9)
God bless you, our community, and America.

Friday’s Kingsport Times-News Column

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Dear friends of the King,
            Attached is the column that will appear in this Friday’s Kingsport Times-News. I pray all of you and all your loved ones will have a blessed and merry Christmas! Doug Tweed

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.7Of the increase of His government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over His kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.
(Isaiah 9:6-7)

LIVE IN THE JOY OF JESUS!

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And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11)

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4)

“Joy to the world, the Lord is come!”  We have been singing this Christmas carol for three hundred years because of what the angel said to the shepherds on that first Christmas day.

The shepherds rejoiced. The magi also rejoiced with great joy as the star led them to the long-awaited King of the Jews foretold by Daniel. (Matthew 2:10; Daniel 7:13-14) Seventy-two disciples would later rejoice as Jesus empowered them to minister healing and deliverance to people. (Luke 10:17) The women who followed Jesus reacted with great joy to the angelic news of His resurrection. (Matthew 28:10)

The apostles were filled with great joy at the ascension of Jesus and their commission to be His Holy Spirit-empowered witnesses in the world. (Luke 24:45-53) Great joy later broke out as that witness of Jewish Christians began bringing Gentiles into God’s Kingdom. (Acts 13:52, 15:3)

Forms of the words, “joy” and “rejoice”, appear over 440 times in the Bible.  Long before Jesus arrived, God told His people to be glad in the Lord, rejoice, and shout for joy. (Psalm 32:10-11) The apostle Paul says followers of Jesus are to “rejoice always”. Yet for far too many Christians in our nation today, joy, and most particularly abiding joy, is elusive. Why?

The most obvious answer to explain our lack of joy is the condition of the world around us: international wars and rumors of war; ever-increasing divisiveness in our nation; and every local family wounded by addiction, abuse, sexual sin, suicide, divorce, or other trauma. There is no joy in any of that.

However, as is often the case, the most obvious answer is not the correct answer. Scripture makes it abundantly clear Christians are to have joy even in times of persecution and tribulation because our Lord has overcome the world. (Matthew 5:11-12; Luke 6:23; 2 Corinthians 7:4, 8:2; 1 Thessalonians 1:6; John 16:33; 1 John 5:4)

Scripture also tells us how to achieve this joy, but first we must understand what joy is. Dictionary.com defines joy as “the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying”.  Merriam-Webster.com defines it as “the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune, or by the prospect of possessing what one desires”.

Do Christians have the prospect of possessing something exceptionally desirable? We have salvation – the forgiveness of our sins and the divine promise of everlasting life! All of us should live every day in the joy of our salvation. (Psalm 20:5, 51:12; 1 Peter 1:8) Our problems are temporary, but our blessings are forever. (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)

Likewise, Christians have the right to feel they are achieving well-being. The Lord desires our salvation on earth, not just in heaven. (Jeremiah 29:11) If we seek His Kingdom, He will provide for our earthly needs. (Matthew 6:25-33) He uses even our trials and suffering to produce the fruit of good character. (Romans 5:3-5; James 1:2) We can rejoice that all things work for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28)

Just beyond the joy of our salvation is our joy in the God of our salvation: joy in the Lord. (Habakkuk 3:17-18; Philippians 3:1, 4:4) Our all-good, all-powerful triune God has drawn us into an eternal intimate relationship of love. (1 John 4:7-19; John 17:20-23) This loving God now lives inside us as the One greater than all our enemies. (John 15:3-11; Colossians 1:27; 1 John 4:4) What an incredible reason for rejoicing!

Finally, just beyond our joy in the Lord is the greatest joy of all – the joy of the Lord. Jesus promises that if we love Him by obeying His commandments, He will manifest Himself to us and pour His own divine joy into us. (John 14:21, 15:11) The Lord wants to give us His love, His peace, and His joy as an expression of His Kingdom on earth. (Romans 5:5, 14:17; John 14:27; Galatians 5:22-23) Wow!

A life filled with joy does not eliminate our compassion or our calling. We will continue to stand against evil and weep with those wounded by evil even as we pray for and encourage them. (Ephesians 6:10-20; Romans 12:15) In doing so, the joy of the Lord will provide strength for both us and the ones we care for. (Nehemiah 8:10)

Read the many scriptures cited here. Ponder the biblical Christmas story. (Luke 2:19) The joy of our salvation, our joy in the Lord, and the joy of the Lord – this is the abiding joy of Jesus where we are invited to live.

Have a blessed and merry Christmas!

GIVE THANKS IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES – EVEN TODAY’S!

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… Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

Today is my 75th birthday, and next Thursday is Thanksgiving, one of my favorite holidays, because with our focus on family and gratitude, we often behave more like Jesus on Thanksgiving than we do during the Christmas and Easter seasons.

It had not been my plan to celebrate my 75th birthday without my beloved Christie, who has been with the Lord for the last three years. And I had not expected Israel to be invaded this fall by an army of Hamas terrorists who, amidst their killings and kidnappings, beheaded and burned children and the elderly.

I never expected antisemitism to reappear so forcefully in our nation and around the world, or to hear Israel labelled as the “bad guy” when they chose to respond forcefully to this invasion. What would we do in America if instead of immigrants fleeing their own troubled countries, we had an army of terrorists cross our border with Mexico, kill and kidnap our people and children, and then go back across the border to hide – particularly when we know their army’s goal is to annihilate our nation?

I had not expected to see Russia invade one of our European allies, while threatening everyone else with the use of nuclear weapons, and I never expected that after we and our other European allies helped the incredibly brave Ukrainians resist this invasion, some of us would want to quit helping and let Russia prevail.

I never expected to be told gender is a multiple-choice question rather than a biological fact. I never expected our two national political parties to project the present frontrunner candidates for President in 2024 as the best we can do. And I never expected to hear that people were using artificial intelligence to write term papers, songs, and even sermons.

Yet amidst all this, it is God’s will for me to be thankful, and I am.

I am thankful for 47 years with my beloved Christie, and for the knowledge I will see her again; and I am thankful for the two beautiful daughters we raised together and their wonderful families.

I am thankful that through the Bible and His relentless engagement in my life, particularly through other people, our eternal Creator God has revealed to me His character: unfailing goodness, faithfulness, truthfulness, knowledge, wisdom, justice, mercy, power, generosity, grace, and above all, unconditional love. I am thankful that He loves me, and you, and every other person on this planet, including those struggling and suffering on both sides in Gaza and Ukraine.

I am thankful beyond words for how God has expressed His love to us through the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ, and the gift of His Holy Spirit. I am thankful for His desire that everyone receive these gifts of God from God and enter everlasting life with Him.

I am thankful for God’s plan through Jesus Christ to totally conquer evil and reconcile all things in heaven and earth back to Himself – a plan God will fully accomplish. (Isaiah 46:9-11; Colossians 1:15-20; Ephesians 1:9-10) I am thankful that I can rejoice always, even in times of great difficulty, because God’s strength is perfected in my weakness, He will use those difficulties to make me more like Him, and in the end, we win! (John 16:33; James 1:2-4; 2 Corinthians 4:7-10, 12:9-10; Philippians 4:4-7, 11-13)

I am thankful that I can enter God’s gates and presence with thanksgiving. (Psalm 95:2, 100:4-5) With thanksgiving for all my Lord has done in the past, I can have peace in my heart and pray faith-filled petitions for my Lord to move in our world today, because He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. (Philippians 4:4-7; Hebrews 13:8)

Finally, I am thankful that I can share this column with all of you. And I am going to make a birthday request.

Today, at some point when you can give God your undivided attention, will you please pray this prayer with me: “I give thanks to the Lord, the God of Gods and Lord of Lords, for all good things come from Him, and He is good, and His steadfast love endures forever.” (Psalm 136:1-3; James 1:17)

God bless you, and God bless our community.

BE CHILDREN OF LIGHT IN THE INCREASING DARKNESS

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…[F]or at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. (Ephesians 5:8-11)

Jesus Christ was the light of the world while He walked the earth. (John 1:4-9, 8:12) The ascended Jesus Christ calls His disciples out of darkness and into His marvelous light so we can be the light of the world. (Acts 1:8; 1 Peter 2:9; Galatians 2:20; Matthew 5:14) We are the children of light because Christ lives in us, the hope of glory. (1 Thessalonians 5:5; Colossians 1:17)

This contrast of light vs. darkness is the contrast of good vs. evil, truth vs. lie, and sin vs. righteousness. (Isaiah 5:20; Psalm 119:105, 130) To be the light of the world, we must do more than just claim Christian faith. We must live our daily lives as children of light who no longer take part in works of darkness.

I was recently invited to speak at a Central Baptist Church men’s conference titled, “Living by Faith in Challenging Times”. As the first speaker, I was assigned to describe the challenges we face: the increasing darkness in our nation and world. My research revealed more than I have room to discuss here, but I offer the following examples.

There are about thirty active wars in the world today. Putin invaded Ukraine and has his Russian troops target civilians and kidnap children while he restrains Ukraine’s allies with the threat of nuclear weapons. Hamas invaded Israel, targeting civilians and beheading children, and will now seek to portray Israel as the “bad guy” when the Palestinian civilians Hamas hides behind are harmed. The Mexican drug war, just across our porous border, has killed 350,000 people in the last fifteen years. Our news media are too preoccupied with ratings to even report on the war tragedies in Ethiopia, Yemen, Somali, Sudan, Myanmar, the Congo, and elsewhere.

Less than a generation ago, 2-3% of Americans identified themselves as homosexual. Today, in the wake of our cultural decision to endorse homosexual marriage, 16% of Americans in the age group 10-25 identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

The average American teen spends seven hours per day in screen time for entertainment and social interaction. Adults do not do much better.

The percentage of Americans who identify as Christian has dropped from 78% to 63% in the last fifteen years. Only 37% of Americans say they have confidence in the Church. In today’s age group 18-29, 23% believe in an absolute standard of right and wrong. In that same age group, only 51% are certain there is a God.

Our polarized political system is so broken we have most people in one party showing no concern for a leader’s competence while most people in the other party show no concern for a leader’s character.

Amidst this increasing darkness, fortunately, I have been blessed to see groups of Christians arise and shine as children of light. (Isaiah 60:1) At the men’s conference I mentioned were many men, both black and white, who are “daring to be different” as bible-believing, Christ-following men in their homes, workplaces, and wherever the Lord leads them.

A week before that conference, I was with members of the Tennessee Prayer Coalition at an event on Nashville’s legislative plaza titled “Worship City Repent”, where a loving, faithful group of men and women prayed and worshipped around the clock for three days in intercession for our state, nation, and world.

And during the weekend following that men’s conference, I was a spiritual director on a Walk to Emmaus where over fifty men gave three days to the Lord, without cell phones and watches, while over one hundred other men and women prayed for them. Every man was touched in a transforming way by Jesus, and they all declared their commitment to proactively serve and represent the Lord in their homes and in the world. Children of light!

We live in a time when many people love darkness rather than the light, and many call the darkness light and the light darkness. (John 3:19; Isaiah 5:20) We cannot shine as children of light while yoked to people, socially or politically, whose behavior or character represents darkness. (2 Corinthians 6:14-18; 1 John 2:9-11)

However, we can be children of radiant light when, as our Ephesians 5 passage requires, we are God-pleasers rather than people-pleasers because God is light and the Father of lights, and in Him there is no darkness at all. (Galatians 1:10; Romans 12:2; 1 John 1:5; James 1:17)

These are the people that darkness will never overcome. (John 1:3; Isaiah 60:1-3)

God bless you, and God bless our community.

IMAGINE GOD’S KINGDOM IN OUR COMMUNITY

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Asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He replied to them by saying, “The kingdom of God does not come with signs to be observed or with visible display.  Nor will people say, ‘Look! Here it is!’ or, ‘See.  It is there!’ For behold, the kingdom of God is within you [in your hearts] and among you [surrounding you].” Luke 17:20-21 (AMP)

At Friends of the King, we spend much time discussing foundational truths.

What is the gospel of the kingdom of God?  Who is Jesus Christ?  Who are we once we become disciples of Jesus?  What does it mean to know God as our Father? Who is the Holy Spirit, and what does it mean for the Holy Spirit to live in you?

All these questions are crucial to our understanding of reality.  And our scripture studies reveal many facets of truth to each one – facets not in terms of different points of view, but in the sense of a beautifully cut diamond.  Jesus is Lamb of God and Lion of Judah, suffering Servant and King of kings, Son of God and Son of Man, the One who hung on the Cross and the Risen One revealed in Revelation with a face that shines like the sun.  Wow!

Twelve years ago, we examined what the Lord’s Prayer says, to wit: that our prayer is not to go to heaven, but for the kingdom of God to come to earth.  The Kingdom exists wherever the rightful rule of King Jesus is honored and embraced. So we asked ourselves, “What would the Kingdom look like if it was here in our greater Kingsport /Gate City/Tri-Cities community?”

In other words, can we imagine (visualize) the outcome of what we continually pray for?

The answers we came up with were, in my opinion, breath-taking both then and now.

Everyone in the community would know what it is to love and be loved, both by God and neighbor.  Everyone would be valued.

There would be no pride and self-centeredness, no more people trying to force their own agendas onto others.  Our humility would empower the selfless nature of our love, including our healthy love of ourselves and our appreciation of what God made when He made “me” and “you”.

There would be no unbelief.  Our faith in God would match His flawless faithfulness.  Through our great faith, the Lord would work miracles and move mountains.

We would grow daily in truth, wisdom and understanding as, led by the Spirit of truth, we meditate daily on God’s Word.  We would be set free from the countless lies of Satan that have been imposed upon us.

Hope would abound.  No one would suffer from depression, cynicism, or low expectations.  Disappointments, if they did occur, would heal quickly.

We would all find God’s kingdom purposes for our lives on earth: no more aimlessness and no more focus on being great at unimportant things.

Everyone would know the peace of God.  There would be no fear, and no more dissension or division, because we would all live together in God’s perfect love.

Marriage would be a sacred institution of God joining a man and woman together for the rest of their lives.  Sex would be a sacred element of marriage.  People not led to marriage would live rich, celibate lives filled with faith, close friends, and family. Broken homes and broken children would be no more, and, after one generation, sexually transmitted diseases would be no more.   

There would be no poverty.  Those who have would share with those who need and help them find opportunity.

Each person, young and old, would walk in joy with the Lord throughout every day.  And our community’s prayers for the rest of the nation and world would bear much fruit.

After twelve years, l am still gripped by the awareness this “imagining” we had done is achievable, not by politics but by prayer, discipleship, and evangelism.  This isn’t false hope.  This is what God wants for us.

Isn’t there at least one person in our community who could draw so close to God these Kingdom realities become their lifestyle?  Of course there is.

And if one person could do it, could not two, or a family, or small group of friends, or congregation, and beyond?  God is for us.  Who can stand against us?

Perhaps the greatest lie imposed upon the Church is the lie of low expectations.  The Lord would never ask us to pray for something He was not ready to do.  He told us the Kingdom was among us and within us.  He told us to pray for His Kingdom to come here just like it is in heaven.  Do we believe Him or not?

I urge us all to pray “Thy Kingdom come…” with faith, deep desire and eager expectancy.  Then seek each day to be part of that prayer’s answer.

Imagine!

God bless you and God bless our community.