How John the Baptist Set the Stage for Grace

I. John the Baptist calls Some People Vipers

John the Baptist is an interesting Bible character, known for preaching a baptism of repentance for forgiveness of sins. Yet the picture that probably sticks in some people’s minds is him calling Pharisees and Sadducees a brood of vipers. “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Matthew 4:7)

It was a scary message for them, but was it his main message? Does John the Baptist seem to paint a picture of an angry God? Is his a condemning message or does it set the stage for grace?

Let’s start by asking this question: What sort of repentance did John the Baptist preach?

II. John Says Share (Show Grace to the Less Fortunate)

Try this on for size: “He that has two coats, let him impart to him that has none; and he that has meat, let him do likewise.” (Luke 3:11) In other words, show grace and share with those in need. This could be a Christmas message, Charles Dickens style: Let the self-centered Scrooge learn to love his neighbor as himself.

To the publicans (tax collectors) John said, “Exact no more than that which is appointed you.” In other words, do your job and don’t be greedy. In a world where people sometimes cheat for fear of not having enough, John the Baptist promotes self-control, a fruit of the Holy Spirit and gift of God’s grace which enables believers to keep God’s seventh command “Don’t steal.”

III. John Says Don’t Be Violent; Be Content

To soldiers, John the Baptist said, “Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages.” Boy, does our world need that message! We see violence almost everywhere: especially on TV; also via the Internet and even on our phones. Violence is a form of murder, addressed by the sixth command “Don’t kill.” Showing grace and mercy is the opposite of murder.

As for false accusation, it has become the latest rage on social media. God calls it “bearing false witness against your neighbor” (lying or “fake news”). False accusation is mean. God doesn’t like it. Thank God for John the Baptist who struck a blow for telling the truth! Doing God’s will is not drudgery. It’s all about His grace.

Finally, being content with one’s wages is the opposite of coveting and touches on the very last commandment, which is about not envying other people’s stuff. To be content is a positive thing, made possible through Jesus through whom grace and mercy flow. “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” John declares in John 1:29.

In so doing, he sets the stage for grace.

The Problem With Using Reverse Psychology on God

Have you ever used “reverse psychology” to try to get God’s attention? I know I have. I didn’t realize it at the time but I had just gotten used to being around people who would say things like, “It’ll never work” in a way that sounded like, “Now, watch God contradict me. He never gives me what I want and loves to prove me wrong. So I’ll ask for what I don’t want. I told it not to work. Now watch it work.” It was almost as if predicting a bad outcome would make them look humble, thus forcing God to be nice to them.

It’s almost like trying to guilt God into doing something good for you. But you know you can’t make Him feel guilty because He never does anything wrong. Some of us act as if He’s out to get us, however.

In Exodus 34:6 God describes Himself as, “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth. . .”

Why then, do we tend to act as if He’s out to get us, as if He wants to ruin our lives?

Perhaps a better question is, “What god are we serving?” Is it a god who likes to trick us and kick us when we’re down? Do we need to use reverse psychology on him to get his help?

The baal worshipers described in I Kings 18:26-28 seemed to think so. To get their god to hear them, they cut themselves. It was a mess. They beat themselves up to get their god to send down fire, hoping to bring good out of evil they inflicted on themselves.

I know what that is like. One time someone close to me was acting like a bully. So, I hit myself to try to get him to apologize to me. By means of self-abuse, I try to guilt him into caring. It’s like saying, “There, I beat myself up. That should make you happy.”

But all it did was make him angrier, because bullies don’t respond to reverse psychology – at least, not the way we’d like. Nor can we beat ourselves up and expect God to cheer us on.

“But, wait a minute,” some might say. “What about the man who was beating his chest and saying, “God be merciful to me, a sinner?”

Well, he wasn’t exactly beating himself up, for one thing. For another, there’s a big difference between humbly asking God to “Have mercy on me, a sinner” and saying, “I’m so horrible, you must be mad at me. I don’t believe I can expect anything good from you.”

Asking God for mercy is a humble act of faith, but speaking doubt over a situation to try to make God do the opposite is manipulative. It’s like trying to guilt God into giving you your own way.

God can’t be guilted into doing anything, but Jesus paid the price to cover our guilt and sin. His blood shed on the cross enables us to come boldly to the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16). We don’t need to use reverse psychology in order to find mercy and grace from Him to help in our time of need.

 

 

Through the Roof: Taking the Limits off Your Faith

Four men ripped apart someone’s roof one time and in so doing helped to take the limits off his faith (see the story in Matthew chapter 9). The paralyzed man’s malady had placed many limits upon him. He could not elbow away the people who crowded him out. The only way his friends could help him was by lowering him through the roof to see Jesus.

That’s because the house had limits as to how many it could hold. The crowd also had limits as to how much room it could make for the man and his friends.

Imagine seeing a body everywhere you turn,  blocking your view of the only one you really wish to see. But as Jesus once explained, all it takes is a mustard seed of faith to move a mountain – or, in this case, a crowd. And what happened did move them – not to tears but to cheers.

A mustard seed of brilliant inspiration enabled the paralyzed man to get his miracle. Such wisdom comes from looking up because it descends from God, the source of all true faith. But, like any other seed, it doesn’t do you any good unless you plant it. To plant that seed, these four friends really had to STRETCH their faith – all the way up to the roof and back.

What a ruckus they must have made as they tore off the tiles! The owner must have frowned as they tore his roof apart. But the paralyzed man’s friends were willing to go the distance to stretch their seed of faith into a tree – the sort that pushes past all barriers in order to bear much fruit.

Sometimes that’s what we have to do too. We may not have to tear apart a literal roof, but we may need to dismantle old mindsets (strong man-made opinions). Otherwise they may prevent God’s Word from sinking into our heads and producing faith inside our hearts.

For “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” (Romans 10:17).

The shoots that spring from one faith seed require air to breathe. That air equates to a spiritual atmosphere, for the air of heaven is what causes faith to flourish. Earthly ways of thinking tend to bog faith down, however. That’s because faith springs from truth (for if  we know something is God’s will then we know we will receive it – I John 5:14-15). But carnal thinking rests on lies: lies we believe about God, ourselves, and others.

We must strip away those lies like tiles on a roof, that faith might be extended through us from the top on down. Lies such as, “God can only help me so much,” and “I’ll only get so far with God,” evaporate like mist when we lay the paralyzed man at Jesus’ feet.

Jesus told the man to be of good cheer because his sins were forgiven. In so doing, He pinpointed the root of the man’s problem: the feeling that he must be worthy in order to be healed.

Apparently this guy had been feeling condemned, which naturally would make it very hard for him to receive healing. But as Romans 8:1 states, There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. If Jesus (through His forgiveness) sets you free from sin, then you are free indeed (John 8:36).

Jesus freely forgave the man and told him to rise up and walk. It was clearly a gift of God’s grace because the man did not deserve it. But he received it through faith – in this case, other people’s faith. That’s because they took the limits off their own faith and in so doing took the limits off of his.

When People Pull Your Strings, Abide in the Vine

I. Controlling People Know What Strings to Pull

Controllers like to pull people’s strings to make them move. Instead of dangling like strings from a branch, Jesus invites us to live as branches as we draw upon Him, the vine. In so doing, we’ll bear good fruit. Do you see the difference? Strings are flimsy but a vine is strong. But people tend to come with strings attached. The question is, who pulls those strings?

When someone knows what strings to pull to get their way with you, then maybe they have too much control over your life. If they know that pushing certain buttons makes you jump, they’ll just keep pushing them until they drive you mad.

There’s a word for that. It’s called “emotional manipulation,” which is a form of abuse.  Abusers take advantage of needy people who are desperate for affirmation. With a smile for a lure and a hug to reassure, they draw their little “fish” into a cozy little nest.

The “s” inside the nest stands for “security.” If your security is in man, then the “s” will fall out of the nest, leaving you with nothing but a net.

It doesn’t feel like a net, though, until you realizing that you’re gagging. Then you see that the relationship is not as nearly as strong as it first appeared to be. The flimsy threads have become a trap for you, because to please the person you must follow their rules. Like a robot, when they pull your strings you must obey.

 

II. Pulled Strings are Tied to Fear

When people strings get pulled, they often have knee jerk reactions. Such reactions may come in the form of an automatic “I’m sorry” which pops out of one’s mouth before the other can explode. Knee jerk reactions usually cause more harm than good, however. It’s like throwing grease on a fire, because such reactions spring from fear:

Fear of what the person thinks;

Fear of what they’ll do;

Fear of any and all repercussions resulting from their anger (repercussions the Grim Reaper cannot cushion).

Fear attracts more fear and makes anger escalate. People try to placate anger, thinking  they can make it stop. But it simply doesn’t work that way.

 

III. The Fear of Man says “Man Will Save Me,” Breeding Insecurity

The fear of man lays a snare (Proverbs 29:25).  When we look to people to make us feel secure, we put way too much pressure on them to provide for us.

There’s an old country song where a man pleads with a woman, “I’ve got to know if your sweet love is going to save me.”

Is he kidding? God’s word is clear: no mere human love can save us. Salvation comes from God alone, in the form of His only Son Jesus Christ whose blood shed on a cross paid for our sins to be forgiven. He didn’t come to pull our strings or push our buttons. His goal was not to manipulate us into obeying God’s laws in order that we might somehow earn our way into heaven. On the contrary, He became THE bridge that draws us near to God. He didn’t come to take from us but to give us abundant life (John  10:10)

Instead of commanding us to, “Do God’s will or else,” he invites us to abide in Him so we might bear much fruit: the fruit of His grace.  (John 15:1-5; Ephesians 2:1-9;  Galatians 5:22-23).

Isn’t it time we as believers found our identity in Him instead of looking to man to tell us who we are?

Anointed: The Box Versus The Horn

                              Part I. The Anointing That Didn’t Last

             A. The Anointing of King Saul

Anointing for ministry is only as powerful as the sacrifice behind it. How well do ministers understand that sacrifice?

I Samuel 10:1 tells us that the prophet Samuel poured a box (or flask) of oil on Saul’s head when he anointed him to be king. Oil in scripture can serve as a symbol of the Holy Spirit, who came upon Saul mightily. The Holy Spirit empowered Saul to do his job as king. David, who succeeded Saul, acknowledged this fact continually.

David had great respect for God’s anointing on Saul’s life. Many times in scripture he refers to Saul as “The Lord’s anointed.” David did not dare harm Saul, because He knew God’s prophet Samuel had indeed anointed Saul.

Saul started out strong, following after God. His anointing didn’t last, however. That’s because he didn’t appreciate the truth supporting his anointing. As a result, he acted foolishly. This happened as he prepared to do battle against the Philistines. Samuel, the man God chose to make the sacrifice prior to waging war (I Samuel 13:8-10), had not arrived within the set time limit. As his men scattered from him, Saul panicked. He took matters into his own hands and sacrificed the burnt offerings and peace offerings himself. As a result, the Holy Spirit left him (I Samuel 16:14).

             B. The Failure of Man-made Sacrifice

Like Cain, Saul discovered the hard way that you can’t earn God’s favor through your own labor. Think about it: Cain offered to God the fruit of the ground over which he had labored with his own blood, sweat and tears.  Saul pretty much did the same thing – not by offering fruit and vegetables contrary to God’s law – but by stepping into the priest’s role. Saul, who was not a priest, made the sacrifice himself. Did he take the time to ponder the meaning behind the sacrifice? Not likely.

The point is this: Forgiveness of sins requires the shedding of blood. The Jews knew this. To escape Egypt, they had to sacrifice a lamb and place its blood upon their door posts. Moreover, the lamb must be spotless, without flaw or blemish. For Saul to offer such a lamb rashly – and improperly as well, was a foolish thing to do.

In Matthew chapter 25, Jesus tells a parable of ten virgins preparing for a wedding feast. Five, he says, were wise. They had plenty of oil. But five were very foolish. They let their oil run out.

This parable leaves much to ponder. For example, if oil represents the Holy Spirit, how could the foolish ones let it run out?

Saul, I believe, was like one of the foolish virgins. He started with the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit left him because of his disobedience.

But the Holy Spirit never left David.

Both kings were anointed. What was the difference?

               C. Saul Got the Box; David Got the Horn

Well, we might want to consider the difference in symbolism, because Samuel used a box (or flask) of oil to anoint Saul. However, he used a horn of oil to anoint David. The story behind the horn, of course, goes all the way back to Abraham and the sacrifice that saved the one God called his “only son.”

It all points back to Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, foreshadowed in the symbolism of this story. How well do ministers of this gospel understand the meaning behind that sacrifice? Do we rest on Christ’s finished work for us or choose to take matters into our own hands?

 

To Disarm Harm They Meant (“Dis-harm-a-meant”)

To disarm harm they meant: that was Joseph’s role,

To disarm the harm they meant when they threw him in the hole.

What his brothers meant for evil, God would use for good,

Though it clearly involved suffering, as God knew it would.

 

To disarm harm they meant, he must submit to slavery,

A process which most certainly required bravery.

He had to learn new customs and a different language too.

But God blessed him with favor and showed Joseph what to do.

 

To disarm harm they meant, he endured false accusation

By the one who really loves to hit the saints with condemnation.

While Potiphar’s wife held the robe that sent Joseph to jail,

His father thought that he was dead. The loss he did bewail.

 

To disarm harm his brothers meant, the innocent man must suffer,

Because God gave him wisdom so that he could be a buffer

Between them and the future famine that was sure to hit.

But to help his brothers he must first be proven fit.

 

In prison he would hunger. He would thirst. He would have stress.

Perhaps in that dark place grew a desire for righteousness.

For though his dreams lay dormant, forgotten they were not,

Because God had a plan for him and knew the entire plot.

 

To disarm harm they meant: That was clearly Joseph’s role,

Similar to Christ who suffered harm to make us whole.

Then threw him in a prison pit. He felt the condemnation

That comes when people’s lying tongues dispense false accusation.

 

To disarm harm the devil meant, he felt the slavery

That comes when one is doomed to death and cannot be set free.

To disarm fiendish harm, this innocent man came to suffer.

He died to save us thoroughly, not just to be a buffer

 

Between us and a righteous God who cannot look on sin

Without pronouncing judgment on it. (There’s no sin in Him).

To disarm harm, He sacrificed Himself upon a cross,

So that those who trust in Him will no more suffer loss.

 

Our life is in His blood. His broken body gives us healing.

And from His heavenly throne, His purposes He is revealing.

All harm has been disarmed now, and there’s no reason to dread,

For Jesus Christ our gracious Lord has risen from the dead.

 

https://miracle-times.com/wisdom/ditch-unkind-advice/

 

 

 

 

 

Shake Off All Shame, Blame, and Pain

Why fret when you can shake off all shame and shake off all blame?

Shake it off, shake it off. Shake off all pain in Jesus’ name.

 

Have you ever had just a really tough day,

When nothing ever seemed to go quite your way?

People made you mad and you reacted in sin.

There seems to be no way out of the mess you’re in.

 

Well, then, you’ve got to:

 

Quit your fretting and begin to shake off all shame and shake off all blame.

Shake it off, shake it off. Shake off all pain in Jesus’ name.

 

There’s really no reason to get all uptight

If you believe that God can make things all right.

He’ll help you forget the hurts of the past

And shake off the blame for a life that will last.

 

I believe that you can have a blast if you’ll just

 

Take the time and try to learn to shake off all shame and shake off all blame.

Shake it off, shake it off. Shake off all pain in Jesus’ name.

 

Stop blaming others for your misery

Because you know forgiveness is the only key

Out of your dungeon of gloom and doom.

So, take hold of God’s joy, for there’s plenty of room to:

 

Leave the past behind, so why not shake off all shame and shake off all blame?

Shake it off, shake it off. Shake off all pain in Jesus’ name.

 

Jesus doesn’t want you to moan and complain

When you can know the power of His mighty name!

So, throw off every dead weight that’s been dragging you down.

Rise in faith and spread the good news all around.

 

For that is the best way to shake off all shame and shake off all blame.

Shake it off, shake it off. Shake off all pain in Jesus’ name.

 

 

 

 

 

Forgive Uncaring Critics and Blog Hogs

Forgive the blog hog who devoured your slice of cyberspace

And stole the wondrous spot you picked as your new domain place.

Forgive the person who debunked your subtle rise to power

By gobbling up the parking place you chose for this fine hour.

 

Because they know not what they do –

       At least, not as well as you,

       Or maybe they’re just feeling rather blue.

Therefore they have no space to share with you.

So, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

And while you’re at it…

 

Forgive the critic who just gave your book a bad review,

Requiring you to work much harder five stars to accrue.

To you, his words cut deeply, though for him they might ring true.

Perhaps he had a bad day where his website went askew

And could find nothing better than to take it out on you.

 

       Perhaps he knows not what is true,

       Or what the right thing is to do.

And has no idea how his words hurt you.

Or maybe he cannot see what is true,

And therefore he has no grace to share with you.

No matter why he wasn’t kind,

Try to forgive him, for he’s blind.

      And while you’re at it…

 

Forgive the ones who said they’d read your manuscript,

But it seems somehow as if they flipped the script,

Because you never got a firm rejection slip.

And now, as a result, you feel quite gypped,

As if you once stood on firm ground but then you slipped.

 

(As the scripture says, “Confidence in an unfaithful man in time of trouble is like a broken tooth, and a foot out of joint.” – Proverbs 25:19. “However, “When I said, ‘My foot is slipping,’ your mercy, O LORD, held me up.” – Psalm 95:18).

 

So forgive them, for they know not what they do,

And perhaps, concerning friends, they have too few.

Regardless of the reason they neglected you,

You really needn’t worry, fret or stew,

But should allow God’s grace to make things new for you.

 

(“Cease from anger, and forsake wrath:  fret not yourself in any wise to do evil. For evildoers shall be cut off: but those who wait upon the LORD, they shall inherit the earth.” – Psalm 37:8-9.  “Say not, ‘I will recompense evil; but wait on the LORD, and he shall save you.” – Proverbs 20:22)

 

https://miracle-times.com/poetry/dont-bully-remember-grace/

https://miracle-times.com/poetry/sound-advice-times-crisis/

https://miracle-times.com/poetry/gods-miracle-power/

 

 

 

The Cup of Forgiveness

This cup of forgiveness He handed to me

Is a cup that brings healing, so rich and so free.

It cost me no money, this vessel of joy.

But I must share it carefully. This is no toy.

 

It cost my Lord dearly, this wine of His love.

He said “Give this freely, this gift from above.

It isn’t for those who would cast it aside

Or scoff at its contents, awash in self pride.”

 

“It is for the humble who treasure its worth,

A drink for contrite ones who know little mirth,

The desperate ones who are too thirsty to spurn it,

And wise to know they have done nothing to earn it.”

 

So, when the man came to me, tortured in mind,

And I recalled all the ways he’d been unkind

To me and my loved ones, the things he had done,

Neglecting our needs as he sought his own fun,

 

I struggled inside, and I asked was it wise

To give drink to one so despised in my eyes?

I know it can heal him, but is he for real?

Or is this his trick? Is he cutting a deal?

 

Has he truly repented for stealing from me,

With actions that he performed so callously?

He says he does not care how it breaks my heart.

He’ll do what he wants. His has made this an art.

 

Though seven times seventy I may forgive,

It’s tearing me up inside. How can I live?

Whenever I see him, I’ll try to be kind,

To bless when he curses, with his good in mind.

 

I’ll offer this cup to him. That much I’ll do,

But, also, I pray, his misdeeds he will rue.

For I cannot trust him. I’ve lost all respect.

Lord, please, for his own sake, don’t let him reject

 

The path that will bring him back on the right track.

Until then, I pray, let him suffer attack

Until he gets desperate enough for this cup.

For you’re my avenger and I am fed up

 

With tactics that bully. I need peace inside.

Please make your Word real, because for me you died.

I cannot live feeling unloved every day.

So then, first let me drink of this cup now, I pray.

 

Let me feel forgiven and then I can give

The love that you gave me, that others might live.