Living as One Who is Forgiven–King David and the Apostle Paul

Living as One Who is Forgiven–King David and the Apostle Paul

“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation [trials and sorrows], but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

A certainty of life is that we will face many trials and temptations until the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. The life of a believer in God is one of many hardships. Humanity may go through hard times, but biblical stories give us hope because God always brings victory to those who love Him.

There are two men of God in the Bible who experienced the duress of extreme persecution in their earthly lives, King David and the Apostle Paul.

The shepherd boy David began his struggles when he fought off predatory animals to save his sheep. His brothers were jealous when he was anointed by the prophet Samuel to replace King Saul. Once David killed Goliath, Saul became jealous after hearing the song, “…Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands” (1 Samuel 18:7). King Saul abused his power and started persecuting David–“Then Saul sent the messengers back to see David, saying, ‘bring him up to me in the bed, that I may kill him” 1 Samuel 19:15.

Once David became king, the men in his palace who were supposed to be loyal to him possessed murderous hatred in their hearts. David openly expressed his dilemma to God: “I am yours; rescue me! For I have worked hard at obeying your commandments. Though the wicked hide along the way to kill me, I will quietly keep my mind on your laws” (Psalm 119:94-95).

In 2 Corinthians chapter 2, the Apostle Paul gives his account of suffering persecution for Christ.

Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness—besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches (2 Corinthians 2:25-28).

In the New Living Translation Bible of verse 28, we are given a clearer understanding of Paul’s acknowledgment of his ongoing burdens: “Then, besides all this, I have the daily burden of my concern for all the churches” (2 corinthians 2:28).

Both David and Paul suffered lengthy persecution. Yet there is a significant contrast in their reactions to suffering. Throughout the book of Psalms, David mentions the torment of living with enemies who plotted to kill him. His prayers for God’s Divine Intervention are filled with uncontrollable emotions. “The proud have dug pits for me; I am Yours, save me; Do not leave me to my oppressors; Hold me up and I shall be safe.” [Excerpts from Psalm chapter 119].

Although the Apostle Paul was disciplined with his emotions, he also admits to feeling overwhelmed, “Who is weak without my feeling that weakness? Who is led astray, and I do not burn with anger?” (2 Corinthians 11:29). Yet, he also proclaims God’s Divine Intervention: “When I was in Damascus, the governor under King Aretas kept guards at the city gates to catch me. I had to be lowered in a basket through a window in the city wall to escape from him (2 Corinthians 11:32-33).

It may appear that the apostle Paul possessed greater spiritual strength. Yet, we must remind ourselves that David lived with enemies in his home throughout his reign as king. David not only suffered persecution from disloyal men who served him, but his wayward son Absalom sought to kill his father, and another of his sons, the wicked Adonijah briefly proclaimed himself king of Israel during the terminal illness of his father David. Living with enemies in one’s home requires much courage!

We cannot compare the life of one believer to another. Both men lived with continuous hardships, yet, God prevailed and proved throughout their lives that He loved them.

David’s end of life: “So he died in a good old age, full of days and riches and honor, and Solomon his son reigned in his place” (1 Chronicles 29:28). God anointed David and spoke His words to him as evidenced by the book of Psalms.

Paul’s end of life: The apostle Paul was imprisoned for many years and then beheaded by Nero. Still, God used him to write the Pauline Epistles: The books written by Paul: Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, and Hebrews. The letters of Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, and the book of Hebrews were written while he was incarcerated.

Jesus spoke to Saul of Tarsus and when He converted him, Saul was given a new name, Paul. Forever grateful, the anointed apostle Paul acknowledged his acceptance of martyrdom: “But I will rejoice even if I lose my life, pouring it out like a drink [liquid] offering to God, just like your faithful service is an offering to God. And I want all of you to share that joy (Philippians 2:17).

As created beings, whether we die of old age or by becoming a martyr is not our decision to make. God remains in control of our lives even until our last breath of life. Our focus should not be on the manner in which we die, our focus must be on how we live our earthly lives–striving for holiness and righteousness.

Yes, we will suffer, because Christ suffered. Always put God first, by striving to have a steadfast relationship with Jesus Christ. Every day, live as one who has been forgiven by the blood of Jesus Christ.

God’s Promise: I will never leave you or forsake you. Amen.

Prayer: Thank You, Heavenly Father for Your love, grace, and mercies. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

The Call to Witness to Others

Devotional–The Call to Witness to Others from The Struggle of Sanctification by Sonya Johnson

The Call: Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying: Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; Before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations. –Jeremiah 1:4-5

The Response: Then said I: Ah, Lord God! Behold, I cannot speak, for I am a youth. –Jeremiah 1:6

God’s Response: But the Lord said to me: Do not say, I am a youth, For you shall go to all to whom I send you, And whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of their faces, For I am with you to deliver you,” says the Lord. –Jeremiah 1:7-8

Accepting Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior requires the daily surrender of our hearts. Our desire to faithfully trust and obey God is evidenced by our lifestyle. To be in righteous standing with our Heavenly Father, we must pray for God to speak to us and reveal His plans for our purpose-driven lives.

Many obstacles keep us from fulfilling our spiritual calling of discipleship. Willful disobedience, too many distractions, and the busyness of everyday life are some of the things that separate us from God. Yet, the lack of knowledge of God’s expectations [from not studying the Bible] remains the number one obstacle to actively living as a disciple and witnessing to others. Still, God will hold us accountable for not fulfilling Matthew 28:18-20.

Living as a Spectator: Whether we attend or stream sports events, we are merely spectators who sit and watch the players. Without the diligent study of the Bible and daily prayer for God to reveal His will and purpose for us, we are merely religious spectators. Attending weekly church services is considered Inreach ministry. We listen and receive the spoken Word of God. The error happens when we only receive to benefit ourselves. Believers not only hide the Word in their hearts, but they also take the message of truth and witness to others. Spectators do not experience a transformation of their hearts because of the willful and intentional desire to do nothing.

To serve God requires active participation. In John 17, verse 4, Jesus prayed, “I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do.” Yes, we have a duty to God and humanity. Serving God requires action. In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus tells us to Go! It is the Outreach ministry of witnessing to others about the love and salvation of Jesus that indicates whether or not we are obeying Jesus’ command to make disciples.

For Christians, making disciples is not an option. Regardless of our daily responsibilities, God must be first! And he expects that we will faithfully fulfill The Great Commission with eagerness and obedience.

God has given everyone a measure of faith and at least one spiritual gift. Some individuals have received multiple gifts and talents. We will be judged by the use or disuse of our spiritual gifts and talents. What did we do with what we were given? Did we utilize our time and gifts to glorify God, witness, and help others?

“Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be ignorant…There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all.” (1 Corinthians 12:1,4-6)

The other obstacle to using our gifts and talents is that we desire to use them when we feel like it. When Jeremiah gave God the excuse that he was too young, He did not want to commit himself wholeheartedly to his spiritual calling. Yet, in submission to a Great God, he became a powerful prophet.

Yes, Jeremiah experienced imprisonment, rejection, and threats to his life. But God kept his promise to lead, guide, and protect him. God never gives us an assignment and leaves us alone. The same promise that God spoke to Jeremiah, ” ‘Do not be afraid of their faces, For I am with you to deliver you,’ says the Lord.” applies to today’s believers.

The Holy Spirit is creative. Pray for spiritual guidance before witnessing. One day, I went to the store with a heavy burden on my heart. The empty shopping cart felt as if I was pushing a load of bricks. Deep in my thoughts, a man with a smile looked at me and stated, “It’s going to be alright. God loves you.” And he walked away. Those words gave me comfort and strength for that day.

We live in a world full of overwhelming distress. Many need to know that we have a loving Savior. We are nearing home! Jesus is coming soon! Accepting our spiritual assignment is an outward sign of dedication and faithful obedience to God. We are called to live righteous, holy lives and to be messengers who witness the love of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Witness to at least one person every day!

Prayer: God, we ask for forgiveness for not using our spiritual gifts and talents to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. We ask You to speak to us and reveal our spiritual assignments. In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.

How to Receive God’s Abundant Mercies

Devotional–How to Receive God’s Abundant Mercies–From The Struggle of Sanctification by Sonya Johnson

Through the Lord’s mercies, we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning, Great is Your faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, says my soul, Therefore I hope in Him! The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, To the soul who seeks Him. It is good that one should hope and wait quietly For the salvation of the Lord. –Lamentations 3:22-26

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Hebrews 13:8

Who else can proclaim that they will never change? God favors the righteous even during the greatest trials of our lives. We serve a dependable and loving Heavenly Father.

Do you believe in God? Without faith, it is impossible to please God or to receive His promises.

The human effort of praying keeps our relationship with Christ steadfast. We remain hopeful and courageous when we stay connected to the Source of Life.

The Holy Scriptures are the cure-all for all mental and emotional distress. Studying the Bible is the treasure map that provides all the knowledge we need about God, the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit.

The unexpected and greatest tribulations of loss of employment, a home, a marriage, or even a loved one are never too hard for God if we only believe. Whether we need healing from a broken heart or the provisions to live, God always provides.

God’s Promises

  1. You will never be forsaken! “I have been young, and now am old, yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.” Psalm 37:25
  2. When provisions are scarce. God will preserve what you have. “During the forty years that I led you through the desert, your clothes did not wear out, nor did the sandals on your feet.” Deuteronomy 29:5
  3. God opens doors for the diligent. “Do you see a man who excels in his work? He will stand before kings; He will not stand before unknown men.” Proverbs 22:29. “All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.” Proverbs 14:23
  4. You will reap where you sow. “He who is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and He will reward him for what he has done.” Proverbs 19:17
  5. His supply is more than enough. “And my God will supply all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:19

In Matthew chapter 6, verses 25-34, Jesus promises to give us an abundant life. God’s definition of abundant life does not mean receiving excess–beyond our daily needs. God’s provisions include everything we need to sustain our life for the given day including His grace and mercies. Living for the day eliminates unnecessary worry and anxiety that originates from the lack of faith.

We must not think about the things that we lack beyond today. “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles [who are unbelievers] seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things” Matthew 6:31-32.

God will never change which means we have to change. From doubt and disbelief, we intentionally choose to exercise the faith to believe and rely on Christ to fulfill His promises. And from that decision, we will not be shaken when hardships arise. Yes, we can reap the abundant benefits from our Dependable and Good, Good Heavenly Father. Amen!

Prayer: God, we believe, please help our unbelief. Thank You for always being faithful even when we stumble and fall. We love You and praise Your Holy Name. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

In Harmony with God

Sabbath Devotional–In Harmony with God From The Struggle of Sanctification by Sonya Johnson

“Do you desire eternal life?” was the question in the Pastor’s appeal at the end of His sermon. Surrender, Commitment, Faith, Trust, and Obedience to God are the human effort required to do our part in maintaining a relationship with Christ. Daily praise and worship strengthen our ability to stay on the narrow Path of Righteousness. Yet, we cannot fulfill the requirements to live, think, and act in harmony with God unless our hearts belong to Him.

“Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” Matthew 22:37-39

Love for God is the catalyst that changes our mindset and posture of living to satisfy ourselves. Humility and obedience are the fruits [characteristics] produced by a loving heart. Love causes us to strive to stay on the Path of Righteousness and to put God first.

Many individuals will make substantial contributions and accomplishments in their earthly lives, yet, we will never receive eternal life based on our achievements. Divine Intervention is required daily for us to remain steadfast in our high-maintenance relationship with Jesus Christ.

Most human beings can fast from eating food for several days before their bodies are negatively impacted. But spiritual food obtained through prayer and study of the Scriptures is required daily to achieve and maintain spiritual growth. Because we face continuous spiritual warfare our only resources against Satan are Divine. Humanity cannot fight the evil forces [Satan and his angels] that dwell on this earth without the intervention of our Spiritual Team.

To stay in harmony with God we require help! Today’s believers face many distractions that keep us from abiding in Christ. Our favorite program that we look forward to watching suddenly contains profanity or sexual immorality in the current episode. Do we overlook the sinful content? Our temptations are custom-made for us. Never forget that we are fighting against a fallen angel and his army.

“Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the strategies of the devil.” (Ephesians 6:11)

We receive mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual strength from God through much prayer and additional reinforcement from the Holy Scriptures. It’s the Old Testament stories of humanity’s defeats and God’s divine intervention that gave fallen human beings victorious outcomes. The Bible was written for us to learn who God is and to provide hope through His promises.

Staying on the Path of Righteousness requires total surrender and commitment to follow Jesus Christ. And that is the toughest assignment we will ever face in our earthly lives. Our Heavenly Father demonstrated His agape love when He gave Jesus for our redemption [John 3:16]. We have everything that we need to receive the reward of eternal life if we choose to accept God’s plan and will for our lives. With a do-right mind, we can decide to Abide in Christ and with our commitment to trust and obey Him, Jesus has promised to finish the work in us [Philippians 1:6]. Have a blessed and happy Sabbath!

Human Effort plus Divine Intervention equals Victorious Outcomes!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we confess that many times we lose our desire to wholeheartedly commit to trust and obey You. We desire to live a sanctified and holy life and cannot do this without Your divine intervention. Search our hearts and reveal anything that hinders us from abiding in You. Hear our prayer that we ask in the Worthy name of Jesus. Amen.

What is Grace?

Devotional–What is Grace? From The Struggle of Sanctification by Sonya Johnson

Grace: The unmerited [unearned] Divine favor of God. Grace is evidence of God’s unconditional love for humanity.

The nation of Israel is an example of a people who continuously received the gifts of God’s grace [along with God’s promise of blessings] for many generations. Yet, God’s law requires that we meet the conditions of faithful obedience to Him.

“Now if you faithfully obey the voice of the LORD your God and are careful to follow all His commandments, I am giving you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth.” (Deuteronomy 28:1)

Abuse of God’s Grace: We know the story. From Israel’s emancipation to the time of Jeremiah, idol worship was their first love, not obedience to the Almighty God. The Israelites loved God but viewed His laws [commandments] as too restrictive–they desired to enjoy the pleasures of sin over the promised and future blessings that they did not understand.

God’s Divine Intervention: “This is what the LORD says: ‘You will be in Babylon for seventy years. But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again.’ ” (Jeremiah 29:10).

What does God’s grace look like? Jeremiah the prophet was chosen to deliver God’s message of 70 years of captivity as punishment for the pagan practices of the Israelites. We can agree that for their continuous rebellion against God that they deserved God’s judgment and sentence. Still, God’s plans following their 70-year sentence are words of hope, which indicate God’s grace–His divine favor upon them.

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all who were carried away captive, whom I have caused to be carried away from Jerusalem to Babylon:

Build houses and dwell in them; plant gardens and eat their fruit. Take wives and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, so that they may bear sons and daughters—that you may be increased there, and not diminished. And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Lord for it; for in its peace, you will have peace. (Jeremiah 29:4-7).

What does God’s grace look like? Not everyone was taken to Babylon. “But Nebuzaradan [the captain of King’s army] left behind in the land of Judah some of the poor people who had no property, and at that time he gave them vineyards and fields” (Jeremiah 39:10).

Not only did God extend mercy to the poor who lived a life of suffering, but He also used King Nebuchadnezzar’s army captain to give them provisions–vineyards and land. While the remainder of Israel was in captivity, God’s grace was shown to the poor by giving them a way to sustain themselves.

What does God’s grace look like? Our Heavenly Father desires that all who love Him will receive eternal life. With love, He uses discipline to rescue us from the second death of destruction. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God [that is, His remarkable, overwhelming gift of grace to believers] is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23, Amplified Bible).

“Blessed is the man You discipline, O LORD, and teach from Your law…” (Psalm 94:12).

In studying the book of Jeremiah, God’s promises were ignored by His chosen, disobedient people. Yet, He did not give up on them. God uses discipline for those who love him but are distracted by their heart’s desires. His punishment is not meant to crush us, it is to redirect our focus to God, to produce a righteous character and a grateful heart filled with love, faithfulness, and obedience to a gracious Heavenly Father.

Grace in Action: The Babylonian captivity did not include their ancestors’ harsh treatment or imprisonment in Egypt. In Jeremiah chapters 29, 30, and 31, God promised that He would bring restoration to Israel and Judah. The history of the Nation of Israel proves that God’s loving heart attempts to save those who do not deserve the gift of His Grace. Our Heavenly Father never forsakes the righteous or leaves us hopeless even though our hearts are wayward and disobedient.

“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” (Romans 6:1).

The Apostle Paul warns us not to abuse God’s gift of grace. We do not intentionally and continuously sin because we serve a God who freely extends grace. Certainly, God deserves our utmost praise. Just the thought of having a Heavenly Father who gifts us unmerited favor should motivate us to strive for righteousness.

Human Effort: It is possible to live sinless lives!

We can live every day in spiritual alignment with the plans and will of God for our lives which requires intentional surrender and commitment. By praying daily for the anointing of the Holy Spirit, we receive spiritual reinforcement and the strength to overcome temptation. Worship includes taking the time to meditate so God can speak to us. For the faithful and obedient, the blessings of grace from a Righteous and Loving God will be extended to us in a thousand ways that we can never know of.

What is Grace? God’s never-ending flow of love and favor upon the lives of the righteous.

Prayer: God, we thank You for the historical stories of humanity’s weaknesses and your divine intervention. Lord, we pray to never take You for granted. We understand that grace is a gift only needed and given to those created in your image. Thank You for loving us. Thank You for your grace and mercy. We surrender our hearts, minds, and souls to You. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

Too Much Stuff

Devotional–Too Much Stuff from The Struggle of Sanctification by Sonya Johnson

Last month, I decided that a couple of changes were needed to simplify my life. And after thinking for too long, I decided that I would declutter. What else did I need to get rid of? I did the Big Chop when I relocated to Florida. I am not a hoarder, but realized that I could never go to the extreme–is minimalism a learned behavior?

The battle of the mind started when I opened my closet, dressers, and cabinets. As I looked at my possessions, an internal war raged because everything I own is affectionately loved. No, I am not sentimental. The things that make my home cozy and my bohemian clothing were not impulsive purchases. I fell in love with every eclectic thing that I own while looking at them in the store.

Although my possessions would be of little monetary value to others, they were hand-picked and remain priceless to me. As a tsunami wave of sorrow passed through my mind, body, and soul, I decided to close the closet door and the kitchen cabinets. I did not have too much stuff. 95% of the items I own are for practical use. Yet, I knew that something was wrong. My mind was constantly working overtime.

“A large part of our brain is devoted to processing the sensory inputs that we receive from the world.”

Every day we face unavoidable sensory input. Staying current with our dynamic world requires a lot of time and mental energy. Whether we are employed, stay-at-home moms or dads, or retired, most of us strive to keep up with the current tech advancements, political and social issues, the news, and unexpected life events. Yet, many fail to realize the impact that the additional noise [from the busyness of our lives, continuous stimuli of social media and electronic devices] has on our minds and bodies.

The endless streaming of daily newsworthy events, online games, social issues, DIY programs, and research on the chemicals in our foods and skin products resulted in a cluttered mind that robbed me of a peaceful existence. My sleep pattern changed and I began suffering from insomnia again–a condition known to accelerate premature aging and weaken the Immune system.

After many sleepless nights of staying awake until 6 am, I prayed for God’s help. God always answers prayers immediately when we are in harm’s way. Later that evening, a sermon appeared in my YouTube recommendations and the pastor spoke on the things that clutter our minds, leaving us exhausted and eventually separating us from God.

When the activities of daily living leave us feeling overwhelmed, it is difficult to determine the root of the problem. Societal norms force us to embrace the advancements of technology and electronics, the daily updates of social media, and the news which negatively impacts our health by leaving our brains cluttered. Most people utilize electronic apps to relax and fall asleep.

Our brains were not created to absorb the excessive screen time of daily electronic usage.

Even more devastating, the never-ending stimuli interrupt our spiritual connection with God. We are so bombarded that we [unintentionally] place God last on our list of priorities. At the end of the day, mental and physical exhaustion prevents us from having meaningful worship with our Heavenly Father. Our concentration is weakened and we cannot focus to study the Bible or communicate with God through prayer. Often though the trade-off is watching the nightly news and then falling asleep.

Too much stuff will always be the norm of today’s lifestyle. Yet, we can decide to identify, prioritize, and eliminate the over-stimuli, especially if it keeps us from a meaningful relationship with our Heavenly Father. Go ahead and change your habits and life by decluttering the stimuli you love.

Prayer: God, we pray for Your Divine Intervention. Please reveal the stuff that is keeping us mentally and physically exhausted and from experiencing daily spiritual growth. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.