This is my dog Nikki. More on her later.
In Matthew 13 Jesus gives a very short illustration about the Kingdom of God:
“The Kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls.
When He found one of great value, he went away
and sold everything he had and bought it” (v. 45-46).
Sometimes I have a hard time with this concept - selling EVERYTHING so that you might have ONE thing. In some ways it seems almost foolish, until you realize that THIS was what the pearl merchant had been looking for all of his life - and he would give anything and everything to possess it.
Jesus tells us that the Kingdom of God is that thing you have been looking for all of your life, and it is worth giving anything and everything to possess it.
So many of us have struggled with this concept when we realize it means surrender of our talents, money, rights, time - everything we have and are. Sometimes we bristle at the thought that God would ask us to give up EVERYTHING to follow Him.
In the UNSHAKABLE KINGDOM AND THE UNCHANGING PERSON,
E. Stanley Jones reminds us that Jesus doesn’t just call
us to a life of full surrender - He modeled it for us.
“Though He was God,
He did not think of equality with God as something to cling to.
Instead, He gave up His divine privileges;
He took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When He appeared in human form,
He humbled Himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8 NLT).
He surrendered everything for us and He invites us to humble ourselves in obedience to God, to surrender all that we have and are, that we might gain the Pearl of Great Price - the Kingdom of God.
And what does that mean, exactly?
Forgiveness of sin, fellowship with God, inner peace, joy, love, life purpose, truth, heaven, a code to live by that teaches us how to be our very best selves - all this and so much more! Whether we realize it or not, this is what we have been looking for all our lives.
Nikki is my 9 year old poodle. She’s a sweetie.
You might think she looks ridiculous in her flower cone in the picture, but I don’t put it on her for looks. She’s allergic to grass (I know, right?) and when the grass is really healthy she chews her feet constantly.
We’ve tried medicines, ointments, herbal supplements, frequent bathing - everything we heard that might work, but this year has been the worst year ever for her.
So she’s wearing a cone so that her feet can heal.
The first time our grandchildren saw her in the cone they fell over in fits of laughter. She does look kind of silly - in a cute way. I was talking about it with our 7 year old granddaughter who is familiar with Nikki’s allergy. I’ve been so surprised that Nikki doesn’t fight me about putting it on her. She comes over, sits at my feet, waits for me to put it on, and hasn’t tried to take it off even once.
Our granddaughter said, “That’s probably because she knows you love her.”
A lesson in love and trust from my dog and my granddaughter.
When Jesus asks us to give up everything, we can trust Him because of His love for us. Anything He asks of us us for our good.
The analogy breaks down at this point because He doesn’t MAKE us submit to Him. It’s not something He does TO us like when I put Nikki’s cone on her, it’s a lifestyle He INVITES us to if we are interested in gaining
the Pearl of Great Price - the Kingdom of God.
He demonstrated His willingness to surrender everything that He might have a love relationship with us, and asks if we are also willing to surrender everything to have a love relationship with Him. There is nothing He asks us to surrender to Him that He hasn’t already surrendered for us.
Except, of course, our sin.
When I was a young woman, I had some challenges in my life that I couldn’t handle on my own. Inside, I was filled with anger and hatred and unforgiveness. Inside of me there was no light, only darkness.
Someone invited me to their church one Sunday morning, and there I heard about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He was a great teacher, but because He was the Son of God, He could also forgive sins and make light shine in the darkness. As I thought about this and asked questions, I found out that Jesus loves people who realize they have needs in their lives that they can’t handle on their own. So, I told the Lord I was tired of the shame and the darkness in my life, the hatred and the anger; and I asked Him to forgive me and let His light shine in my heart. And in that instant He took that broken and confused young woman that I was and transformed my life. He replaced the hatred and anger with love and forgiveness, and flooded my soul with His Light. People who knew me could see the change immediately on my face.
But He gives even more than forgiveness and light. To everyone who believes that Jesus is the Son of God, and repents of their past life, and determines to follow Him, He gives His Spirit to be with them always, and His Word to teach them the way to live.
What an incredible gift! Forgiveness of my sins, Light in my Darkness, the Holy Spirit to be with me always, the Word of God to teach me His ways. God wants everyone everywhere to know His love and the forgiveness that He offers through faith in Jesus Christ. Maybe you’ve heard about Jesus, but don’t really know what makes Him different from any other person who ever lived.
To answer that question, we have to go back to the beginning of time. In the beginning God created the universe. He created human beings in His image to live joyfully in His presence. The Scriptures tell us that God walked and talked with these first humans each day, and in the beginning they had a close, intimate relationship with God because they trusted Him.
But eventually, these first humans began to wonder if God’s way really was the best way to live. They began to believe that God was keeping something good from them; and they began to distrust God’s love for them. And so they disobeyed God, their relationship with Him was broken, and sin entered the world bringing both physical and spiritual death. We can’t blame the condition of the world on these first humans alone, because all of us have rebelled against God and, in consequence, we must suffer the punishment of our rebellion which is: death and separation from God.
Thankfully, God initiated a rescue plan, He promised a Savior who could rescue humankind. This Savior would pay the price for their sin and bring reconciliation between mankind and God. God said that if the people would trust Him to provide this Savior, God Himself would forgive their sins and count their faith as righteousness.
In ancient times God chose the nation of Israel to display His glory in this fallen world. The Bible describes how God acted mightily on Israel’s behalf, rescuing His people from slavery and then giving them His holy law. But the law could not rescue them from the punishment their sin deserved. It could only teach them God’s perfect standard and show them how far away from that standard they really were.
Then, when the time was right, God Himself came as the Savior in the Person of Jesus Christ. Jesus was able to perfectly obey the law given to Israel because He was without sin. Though innocent, He willingly allowed himself to suffer the consequences of our sin and rebellion by His death on a cross. He became the perfect, sinless sacrifice that was necessary to pay the price for our sin. But the cross is not the end of the story.
Three days after being crucified on the cross, Jesus rose from the dead, proving that He was who He said He was – giving authority to everything He taught and the miracles He performed. Philippians 2:5-11 (NIV) tells us about Jesus, the Savior:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Jesus came to teach us about God, yes, but so much more. He came to offer forgiveness of sins to all people everywhere who repent of their sin and who trust in Christ alone for forgiveness. Repentance and faith in Jesus Christ restores our relationship with God and results in a life of ongoing transformation.
Only those who repent and believe in Christ will escape God’s judgment and live joyfully in God’s presence for all eternity. God’s message is the same to all of us whether we live in the United States or in some other country, whether we are male or female, young or old: repent and believe.
If you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. 11 As the Scripture says, "Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame." 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile--the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved" (Romans 10: 9-13).
I heard one time about a man who did not believe that Jesus, the Son of God, would lower Himself to become human like us. He thought it was a ridiculous story. One day as a violent storm blew in, he saw a flock of chickens running here and there, afraid of the storm and trying to find shelter. The man had compassion on the chickens and wanted to help them find shelter and get out of the storm. He opened the doors, hoping they would notice and go inside, but they just kept squawking and flapping their wings and running around in circles. The man tried to lure them with feed. He tried shooing them inside. Nothing helped. The chickens could not be lured into the place of safety.
Feeling totally frustrated, the man said to himself, “Why don’t they follow me? Can’t they see this is the only place they can survive the storm? How can I possibly save them? If I could become like one of them they would follow me and I could lead them to safety.”
At that moment he stopped and considered what he had said: “If I could become like one of them, then I could save them.” At last he understood God’s heart toward humankind and why Jesus would humble Himself to become human like one of us.
16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son" (John 3:16-18).
Some people believe that God could never forgive them for all the sins they’ve committed in their lives. But the Bible is full of stories of murderers and adulterers, people who worshipped other gods, betrayers, thieves, doubters – people whose lives were transformed by the forgiveness and the grace of Jesus Christ. The Scripture we just read says that “WHOEVER believes in Him” will have eternal life. “Whoever” includes men and women, children, people from every country, tribe and language, rich, poor, educated, uneducated. It also included murders, adulterers, liars and thieves. “Whoever” includes EVERYONE who believes that Jesus’ death on the cross paid the price for their sins. This is the gift of salvation.
The Christian life is a life of faith. There is nothing we can do to make God love us more, and nothing we can do to make ourselves acceptable to God.
God asks you only to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. You will be forgiven of your sins. Your darkness will be turned to light. Your life will be transformed by the power of Jesus Christ. Your relationship with God the Father will be restored. You will be adopted into His family and become His son or daughter. His Holy Spirit will come live in you and you will never be alone. His Word will come alive to you and give you direction for your life. And you will receive eternal life. A home in heaven when you die. Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.
I don’t know what kind of challenges you face in your life. But I want you to know that God loves you and would like to have fellowship with you. I invite you to allow Jesus Christ to change your life – forgiving your sins, bringing light into your darkness, being present with you at all times, and teaching you how to be your very best self. The way to do this is to simply acknowledge that Jesus Christ is the Savior, the Son of God; ask Him to forgive your sins and come into your life; and then begin to follow Him as He leads you.
I’ve been posting a lot this year about the love of God because it seems as if Christians, even those who have served God for years, are so keenly aware of our own shortcomings and failures that we imagine God is disappointed in us. Sometimes we feel that this disappointment is so great He eventually will throw up His hands in disgust and turn His back on us. We read those judgment verses in the Old Testament and fear that God’s wrath is going to be poured out on us because we just couldn’t get our act together in our Christian life.
And then we read Romans 8:1, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (NIV) and wonder why the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament seem so different; we don’t understand how God’s love and His wrath fit together.
I’m reading through Jeremiah right now, and there are a lot of those wrath and judgment verses; but what I notice is that God is sending a message of warning and a call to repentance to those who ignore and disregard Him, not those who love and serve Him. It’s been approximately 850 years since God delivered Israel out of Egyptian bondage in response to the covenant He made with Abraham, a man who followed and worshipped God in a land and time where God-worshippers were hard to find.
God delivered Abraham's descendants, protected them, provided for them, demonstrated His faithfulness time and time again, and gave them a code of living that taught them how to be in relationship with Him and with their fellow man. He displayed His love, grace and mercy and poured out blessing on Israel, but though there were individuals who loved and served Him and tried to faithfully follow Him, the nation as a whole continually turned away from Him to seek their own way, to seek other gods, to blend in with the society around them, to practice lifestyles that eventually led to their own destruction.
Sometimes the nation tried to hang onto their favored nation status as “God’s Chosen People” by continuing to “worship” God while ADDING the worship of other gods to their lives. We see this in Ezekiel 8 when they set up images of other gods in the Temple of the One True and Living God. I imagine their thinking went this way, “Let’s have all our gods in one place so people can choose to worship whichever god they feel will best serve them.” Whoa.
Through all of these 850 years the Lord continued to call to them, express His love for them, demonstrate His faithfulness. Finally, Jeremiah records this message from God: There’s an enemy coming who wants to destroy you. If you repent of your sin and follow me, I will continue to bless you, provide for you and dwell with you, but if you do not repent and turn to me, “disaster you cannot escape” will come upon you (11:7-11). The nation of Israel ignored this message just as many people who hear this message today ignore it. Disaster did come upon Israel. The northern kingdom of Israel was invaded by the Assyrian army and completely destroyed. The southern kingdom of Judah, who had broken off from Israel years earlier, was later invaded by the Babylonian army who destroyed everything of value and carried off her citizens to a land 900 miles away. All because the people rejected the offer of a relationship with the faithful God of holy love.
“Have you not brought this on yourselves by forsaking the Lord your God when He led you in the way?” (2:17).
This is how we understand these 2 aspects of God’s character, His love and His judgment. Through *Jesus Christ God offers His love freely to everyone, often showering even those who don’t yet believe with His grace, mercy, and blessing. He knows that His desires for our lives are what will bring us the greatest joy and blessing. He knows we find true treasure when we experience a daily walk with Him. But for those who continually say, “I’m not interested,” He will eventually allow them to have what they’ve asked for – a life without Him.
Many of God’s people have been praying faithfully for a revival in the hearts of God’s people and a spiritual awakening in the hearts of those who do not yet follow Him. We see so many parallels between the United States and the Israel of the Old Testament. America has been a blessed nation for a very long time, but in many areas of our culture evil is rampant. We fear for those who continue to reject Him, and His message to them is still the same: There’s an enemy who wants to destroy you. If you repent of your sin and follow me, I will continue to bless you, provide for you and dwell with you, but if you do not repent and turn to me, “disaster you cannot escape” will come upon you (11:7-11).
I read somewhere that there are approximately 8,810 promises in the Bible! Here are two of God’s promises to His followers: “I will never leave your nor forsake you … Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:5, 9; Hebrews 13:5). And “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness” (Jeremiah 31:3). This is the life we want others to know – a relationship with the God who loves us and promises His constant presence with us. This is what we pray for when we pray for Revival. We pray that people would know God. We pray for others and testify about God’s goodness so they will see what they’re missing, repent of ignoring and disregarding God, and embrace the One who is waiting for them with outstretched arms.
*In my next post: a simple explanation about how Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection and His offer of salvation fit in with the Old Testament story of God and God’s people.
Beth Marie Bearden gave her heart to Christ when she was a young teenager and soon after felt God calling her to ministry.