Your Vision for 2020 – Part Five: Our Blessings in Christ.

God wants to bless you. He says so in Deuteronomy 28:2, “And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you…” and the verse continues, “…if you obey the voice of the Lord your God” (ESV). You may say, “YAY! God wants to bless me! But uh oh, there’s a catch!” And you would kind of be right, except that God doesn’t ever trick us, so there isn’t really a “catch”. But God is telling us something about how and why he wants to bless us.
Moses wrote the book of Deuteronomy near the end of his life, when the people of Israel were under the Law. Chapters 4 through 26 recount what God expected from his people as they prepared to cross over the Jordan river into the promised land. Deuteronomy 28 describes the blessings that God desired to shower on his people when they showed themselves to be obedient, and the curses that would follow their disobedience. Under the Law, God’s blessings were contingent on the people’s compliance, and his curses followed rebellion. God had laid down the Law through his servant Moses, and he expected his people to keep it (See Exodus 19 and 20).
But remember, God has always had a plan for the redemption of humanity, and each book of the Bible fits together to build up a blueprint for that plan. For example, Genesis 1 begins with creation, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (1:1), and John chapter one begins with a description of Jesus as the Word of God at the time of creation, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (1:1).
Let’s read on and see what else John wrote about Jesus: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth… For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:14,16-17 ESV). The Greek word for grace is charis, which means loveliness, merciful kindness, favor, liberality, a reward, and a gift. The unearned favor of God is for those who believe in salvation by faith. The Law was given through Moses, but God’s grace comes through Jesus Christ.
In Matthew 5:17 Jesus said ““Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (ESV). Jesus did not come to destroy the Law. He came to fulfill all its requirements. He went on to explain, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (5:20). The scribes and Pharisees were sticklers for their interpretation of the letter of the Law – but even they could not keep it perfectly. And, Beloved Friends, neither could we, or any other human who has ever lived except for One, and that One is Jesus. Not only was he sinless, and not only did he keep the Law perfectly, but Jesus himself received the whole punishment that was coming to humanity for the breaking of the Law in his death at the cross. His righteousness far exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees.
Since this is true, we have the right through Christ to claim and enjoy all of God’s blessings and we do not need to fear that God will strike us with any kind of curse (See Galatians 3:13). However, we must understand that God will not bless sin, because sin is always harmful. Instead, as John wrote, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 ESV).

God’s blessings and the unique talents he designed for each of us are intended to work in harmonious partnership. To illustrate this, we can picture all the skills of the Proverbs 31 Woman fitted together with all the blessings of Deuteronomy 28:2-14. We imagine her working with her hands, while God blesses her basket and her pantry. We can picture her planting and harvesting, while God blesses the fruit of her ground. We see her as a merchant, a teacher, a homemaker, a mother, while God blesses her going in and coming out. We can picture God blessing her ministry in the city and the country. We find God taking a personal interest in her home, her work, and her family, because God says, “And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 28:2 ESV).
Unlike under the Old Covenant, receiving God’s blessings doesn’t depend on our personal righteousness, or on how well we keep God’s laws. Today, under the New Covenant, God says yes and amen to all his blessings for us because we are in Christ Jesus (See 2 Corinthians 1:20). God doesn’t give us gifts and talents and expect us to go it alone. He desires us to come to him like Solomon did, with a listening heart, seeking wisdom and understanding. God wants to bless the work that he created us to do because he wants to help us grow, prosper and succeed as a testimony to his goodness. God works with us and through us. Jesus said, “My Father is working right now, and so am I” (John 5:17b GW).

When we place all our trust in him, then like he did with the Proverbs 31 Woman, God will redeem us from poor choices we’ve made in the past. As he did with David, God will lead us through trial and testing to find the way forward. As he did with Solomon, God will establish our hearts in wisdom. He will teach us to live and work and love and prosper in his ways, that are full of grace and truth.
As King Solomon wrote in Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (ESV).


Comfort for Today – We are Loved!

After his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, just a few days before the crucifixion, a Pharisee came to Jesus, wanting to test him. He asked, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” Jesus responded, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:36; 37-40 ESV).
Jesus made it clear that everything written in the Law and all the words delivered by the Prophets depend on love. Love of God and love of others. But have you ever felt like all the love-giving depends on you? After all, Jesus said that the biggest and greatest commandment is that we love God with everything we’ve got, and once we do that, we are supposed to scrape together whatever is left over and use it to love our neighbors! Have you ever felt like you’re in a one-sided love affair with God and you’re trying your best to love him with all your heart and soul and mind, and it’s so exhausting you just don’t have any love left over for everybody else?
If so, Beloved Friends, take heart and rejoice because you’ve got it backwards! Listen, 1 John 4:19 says, “We love [God] because he first loved us.” God’s love is not stingy, and it never runs out. God does not need us to love him first so that he can love us back. That is not what Jesus was saying to that doubting Pharisee!

Let’s examine what Jesus was talking about. Remember, he spoke to the Pharisee before the crucifixion happened, and the Pharisee – literally a lawyer – was trying to trick him into saying something that would contradict the Law. But Jesus had already proclaimed, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17 ESV). Jesus fulfilled the Law because he was completely without sin: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV), and the very last chapter of Luke tells us that Jesus explained the fulfillment of all the Law and the Prophets concerning himself to the two disciples who walked with him on the road to Emmaus after the resurrection (Luke 24:27). And finally, Jesus told Nicodemus, a different Pharisee who visited him under the cover of night, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17 ESV).
God the Father sent God the Son into the world to save us. Not because God needs us to love him, but because he first loved us. God sent his Son into the world to save us, because he loves us. Jesus came to take the punishment for our sins to set us free from the curse of sin and death, because he loves us. We did not have to love him first. We couldn’t love him first, because we were lost in sin! Jesus had to bring the love of God to the world, before the world could even begin loving him back. “For God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son!”
You see, the Pharisee came to Jesus and asked him a question in terms of the Law. A question about commandments. Jesus answered the Pharisee in terms of Love. We can understand Jesus to have said something like, “Love fulfills the Law, and I am about to show you, in action, exactly what that means at the cross.” God is not demanding love from us. That idea is Pharisaical, based on the legalism of the Pharisees. That is why Jesus answered the Law in terms of Love. Because the greatest of these, is Love (See 1 Corinthians 13).

So, Beloved Friends, we don’t have to struggle to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, spirit, body or anything else, because God created us to be empty vessels. We are meant to be filled with God’s love, and an empty vessel cannot pour out. Before we can love God, or our neighbors, first we must be filled with the love of God – which we receive from God – so that his love in us is overflowing! We love from the overflow, not the emptiness! Therefore, loving God with all our might means bringing our empty selves to him to be filled with his love. God doesn’t need us to pour into him, he desires us to come to him so that he can fill us with his love, so we can then pour out to others. Come to God empty and go forth filled! To us it has been freely given so we can freely give! (See Matthew 10:8).
The apostle John wrote, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God…So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (1 John 4:7,16 ESV).
We don’t have to struggle to love God. Our part is to know and believe the love that God has for us. And we have the proof of God’s love at the cross where the Law was fulfilled, by Love, Himself.
So, for today, and every day, we can take comfort in knowing that we are loved, for all time, no matter what. Because God is Love.
Happy Valentine’s Day from all of us at Speak Comfort. We love you!

Your Vision for 2020 – Part Four: Begin with the Heart.

Deuteronomy 28 begins with this promise: “’And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God’” (v. 1-2, ESV).
The phrase “faithfully obey” is translated from the Hebrew word shama, which means to listen and understand in order to know how to be obedient. In this, God was not speaking of a kind of blind obedience, but that he should be approached with a hearing and obedient heart. We find an example of a hearing heart in the story of King Solomon’s accession to the throne of Israel:

Solomon showed his love for the Lord by walking according to the instructions given him by his father David… At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”
Solomon answered, “You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day.
 “Now, Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”
 The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both wealth and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings. And if you walk in obedience to me and keep my decrees and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life.” Then Solomon awoke—and he realized it had been a dream. (1 Kings 3:3-15 NIV)
What do we know about King Solomon from the verses above? First, that he loved God, and he put that love into action by being obedient to the principles his father King David (who was a man after God’s own heart) taught him. Second, Solomon understood that it was his destiny to step into the position that God had promised. Third, Solomon admitted that in relationship to God and his plan, he was both a servant and a child. Fourth, Solomon comprehended that ministering to God’s people was the focus of God’s plan for him. And finally, the new king realized that he could not accomplish this daunting task without God’s help.
Because all of these things were apparent to Solomon, when God asked him what kind of assistance he wanted the king didn’t ask for wealth or might, but wisdom. He asked God for an understanding heart.
Sometimes when we picture God, we have the incorrect idea that he is sitting on his throne up in heaven, scrutinizing our every move and just waiting for us to make a mistake so he can smite us with a heavenly hammer. But this could not be further from the truth! As we can see from the verses above, the desire of God’s heart is to bless us! He’s not a cranky old man, he is our good, good Father, and not only does he desire to bless us, he also wants to teach us and develop us. Why? Because he loves us and has already created a plan for us that will bring glory to his name and demonstrate his grace to the world. God’s desire is for us to succeed and not to fail, to be the head and not the tail!
Notice that when Solomon asked God for a discerning heart, not only was God pleased with his request, but he also said that he would give him wealth and honor, as well as wisdom. Jesus says this in another way in Matthew 6:31-33:
“Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.  But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (ESV)
Jesus was describing what Solomon demonstrated. When God asked him what he wanted, Solomon replied, “But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties.” Solomon realized that there was no way that he could do what had to be done in his own strength. He knew he had to depend on God every step of the way. Because God has already built into his plan everything we need to accomplish it, we begin each day and each task by asking God for wisdom, discernment and guidance. Contrary to how things operate in the world, God is not teaching us to become self-sufficient. He is teaching us to depend exclusively on him. When we begin by seeking wisdom, then God provides everything we need to keep his plan moving forward. To succeed, we must surrender.
Paul wrote about this in his first letter to the church at Corinth:
…but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (ESV)
By worldly standards, Solomon was not of noble birth. His father was a shepherd boy, an adulterer and a murderer and his mother was an adulteress. Those ignoble beginnings could have canceled God’s plans for Solomon before they even got started. BUT Solomon had something in his favor! He knew that whatever God asked him to do, he didn’t have the ability to do it, and he was humble enough to ask God for help. The destinies that God had planned for David, and Bathsheba, and Solomon were much bigger than they could manage. But God called them anyway. God asks us to do things that are too big for us, because he never intended for us to do them alone.
We don’t have space to add it all here, but when you have a few minutes, please turn in your Bibles to 1 Corinthians and read what Paul (who before his conversion was a fire-breathing, church persecuting Pharisee) wrote  in chapter 2 about how he came to preach the gospel in weakness, fear and trembling, and notice how he instructs the church that “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” (v. 9 ESV).
When our hearts are right with God, when we seek first his kingdom, his wisdom, and his righteousness, he will supply what we need to fulfill his design for us. King David gives us a picture of this in Psalm 23 as Christ, the Shepherd of our souls, leads us on paths of righteousness, for his name’s sake.
In Part Five of our series, we will explore how our blessings in Christ help us accomplish our God-given destiny. God Bless and please stay tuned!