Flee from sin

The story of Sodom and Gomorrah is truly an odd one. We have the twin cities standing during Abraham’s time as terrible symbols of rebellious sins against God. The Lord said “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grave,”. (Genesis 18:20) He was speaking to Abraham and informed him that He was about to bring destruction on them. Abraham would plead before the Lord, who informed Abraham that He would not destroy the cities if He found at least ten righteous men. History would show that ten were not found. (Genesis 18:32)

Later the Angels would appear to Lot and his family, who lived in Sodom to warn them so that they could flee. The men of the city were so depraved that they demanded to have the Angels to satisfy their sexual hunger. (Genesis 19:5-4) Fortunately the Angels blinded the men before they could cause any harm.

When the morning came Lot and his family fled the city. They had been warned not to look back. It is a message that still speaks to us.

God desires a better life for us and demands that we flee from evil and sin. He demands that we remove them from our lives and distance ourselves as much as possible from their temptations. However evil and sin seem to have a bizarre hold on us even when we see their evil faces. Such was the case of Lot’s wife.

Lot’s wife ignored the warning and longing looked back and instantly turned into a pillar of salt. (Genesis 19:26) Perhaps she truly did not want to leave this evil city and was already thinking of all the many wonderful things she was leaving behind. In our lives we must push on, looking forward to the promises of Christ, our eternal future with Him and the many blessings of our new life with Him. We must contemplate on that which is good and resist longing for those things we left in our sinful past.

 

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A new life!

Later, at my church at around 2 pm we will be celebrating life; a brand new life in Christ. Thirteen newly committed Christians who have made a decision for Christ will be baptized. This is a life paid for by Christ and it was a heavy price of pain, torture and blood. But why do Christians get baptized?

The simple answer is that Jesus commanded us to be baptized. In Mark 16:15-16 Jesus tells his disciples, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” But why did Jesus instruct us to baptize new believers?

Jesus made a commitment to come to this world, and gave his life in the most horrific and public way possible. He suffered the crucifixion and the entire world witnessed. When we give our life to Christ He wants us to also make that commitment in a public way for the world to see that we are his disciples and now He is our Lord.

Romans 6 helps to explain that the baptism also provides a powerful visual of how our old life without Christ is put to death in the water and when we rise out of the water we are now starting a new life with Christ. It is also a powerful reminder that like Christ we will be resurrected and live forever with Him.

Our new life is certainly an abundant eternal one and we will celebrate!

 

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Faith and a flood

In a world that had forgotten God, a world filled with violence, there was one man who God considered “perfect.” His life was a story of faith. There were no bibles or churches. No place to go to strengthen your faith. No group to seek comfort in. It was an entire civilization that had turned its back on God. Somehow Noah had managed to stay faithful to God. He was proof that even when we must stand alone it is possible to keep the faith.
God challenged him even more. He told Noah that he was going to do something that had never been done. He was going to destroy His own creation with a flood. Imagine what the naysayers said. “Noah you’re mad. You’re just hearing voices.” Perhaps they said “But God created us and loves us. He’ll never destroy us.”

However Noah was a believer to the end. He built an ark that was 450 feet long, 50 feet wide and 30 feet tall. It included 3 stories and was built to occupy his family and a multitude of animals. How he managed such a feat the bible does not explain. In the long time it took Noah to build the ark his faith never diminished. (Genesis 6)

Due to his unwavering faith Noah and his family were saved. This is the faith that is necessary today. Many have lost faith. Those that believe in God, the bible and see Christ as their savior appear to be fewer with each generation, however Paul prophesied a “falling away in the last days” (2 Thessalonians 2:3) or a falling of the faith. Like in the time of Noah, Paul also prophesied a coming destruction (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9). Like in the time of Noah most are not concerned. However Christ is faithful to His word and will surely return. Therefore like Noah we must strive to keep the faith even in the most difficult of circumstances; a storm may be on the way!

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Forsaken

Jesus hung on the cross, fulfilling the will of the father and paying the price we were all supposed to pay for our sins. His suffering to this point had been horrific. What else could He possible endure, only the most painful experience of His eternal existence.

John explained rather clearly that Jesus had always existed. (John 1). Jesus was the eternal word and everything that was ever made was made through Him. He then became flesh, also known as Jesus. What should be realized is that Jesus had always been with the father from the eternal past until the moment He was nailed on the cross. His relationship with the father was one of perfect unity and love. Jesus said on many occasions that the Father and Him were one. (John 10:30, John 17:21). Such a relationship was truly incomprehensible by human standards, a level of oneness and unity that can only be attained by the trinity.

Then all the love, strength and comfort that such a relationship created, for one moment in time, would feel completely lost. Jesus said “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?) (Matthew 27:46) Jesus felt alone. He felt abandoned. He was carrying all the sins of Humanity past, present and future. In that moment covered in sin he felt forsaken by the Holy Father. It may have been the worst that He had to endure. We must never forget, He did it for us. He became forsaken so that we would not be forsaken! He did it so that we could be saved, forgiven and be with Him for all eternity.

 

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Today you will be with Me in Paradise

Jesus had been tortured mercilessly and finally nailed on the cross. He was practically drained of all His blood and breathing His last few breaths. This was not enough torture. One of the criminals crucified with Him blasphemed Him and said, “If you are the Christ, save Yourself and us.” (Luke 23:39) There is no record of a response from Jesus. He does not condemn the foolish criminal. That was pretty remarkable. However something rather surprising follows. The other criminal crucified with Jesus who also was witnessing the death of the Christ, and could plainly see that Jesus had done nothing to save Himself, displayed faith. He is not dissuaded by the bloody and dying Christ. He holds firmly to the belief that this Jesus, who appears helpless on the cross, is the son of God, the Messiah, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He believed that Jesus will be returning to His celestial Kingdom and made a plea before his dying King “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” (Luke 23:42). Did this criminal, two thousand years ago, understand the plan of salvation? Did he understand that the Messiah had come into the world to die so that all who believe in him could be forgiven of their sins and saved? Apparently he did.

However the criminal did not have time to change his life. He did not have time to pay for all he had done wrong. He did not have time to show the good fruit of the Spirit and produce many good works in the name of Christ. This was not a problem. Jesus saw to the heart of the man and had this to say “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:40) He was instantly saved. The criminal was saved because he believed. The criminal had recognized his sins when he said “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” (Luke 23:40-41) He recognized that he deserved to be crucified. This was no small deal. The Romans reserved the crucifixion for the worst criminals. This criminal was not some misunderstood misfit. He was truly a bad guy. However he recognized his sin and humbled himself before Jesus. He also believed in Jesus.

For some it is difficult to see Christ for who He is; like many who abandoned Christ when he hung on the cross. However, like this criminal, if we can see the true Christ. Then regardless of our state in life, salvation is always near. It does not matter what we have done. All we have to do is sincerely repent of our sins, recognize the sacrifice on the cross and accept Jesus as our Lord. In that moment we are instantly saved, nothing else is necessary.

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Father forgive them

If we were arrested unjustly, stripped, beaten, made fun of, whipped until our skin was ripped from our bodies, and had the strength to speak, what would we say? What if after losing a great deal of blood, we were made to climb up a hill, and nailed to a cross, what would we say? Perhaps we would cry for mercy. Another logical response is to exclaim our innocence. We might have enough energy or voice to condemn those who tortured. Now imagine if for some magical reason we all of a sudden had the power to escape. All the pain could end suddenly. All the wounds healed and we could reappear in paradise. What would we do? What if we had the power to get immediate revenge? We could zap to death all those responsible for our capture and pain.

Jesus went through everything mentioned above. He had the power to stop the pain anytime he wanted to. He had the power to destroy his enemies with just a simple word. The Mountains would have certainly obeyed and swallowed them all, the seas could have been commanded to come upon them or a legion of Angels would have defended him. But Jesus did none of these. He certainly could have condemned the soldiers responsible for his torture. But Jesus spoke no such words. Instead these were the first words he uttered on the cross “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)

This is truly the loving God that did not come into the world to condemn it but to save it. (John 3:17) While going through all that pain and injustice all he thought of was mercy. Mercy was his mission and purpose. It is the reason why he gave his life. It was the price paid for our sins; that we might be saved from eternal condemnation. He is still saying “Father forgive them”. All can be forgiven, all we need to do is believe in Christ as our Savior and Lord, and repent of our sins.

 

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Joy in Prison

To be accused unjustly of doing something you are innocent of is a painful experience.  Imagine living your life trying to do what is right only to be labeled as guilty and criminal.  It is enough to depress us and discourage us. I cannot begin to imagine how it must feel to be imprisoned for crimes you have not committed; looking at four walls knowing there is little chance you will ever be set free, knowing you might never walk freely among those you love and enjoy all the simple pleasure a free man has, such as the enjoyment of walking across a field of grass on a spring day or dipping into the ocean during the heat of the summer.  This was the case of the apostle Paul who was imprisoned unjustly for exercising a basic human right, freedom of speech. But Paul was not dissuaded. He was not discouraged in preaching the gospel. He showed no sign of depression.

Paul writes to the church in the town of Philippi while he was imprisoned. Instead of complaining about how unfair life was and how corrupted the government was or how cruel his enemies have been he tells them that being imprisoned is a great thing.  He claimed it as a victory because he saw it as an opportunity to preach the gospel. But Paul was already preaching the gospel before he was in prison.     Couldn’t Paul have reached more people outside of prison?  However Paul did not consider any of these arguments instead he saw an opportunity to reach people he would have otherwise not reached. (Philippians 1:12-13)

Paul also notes that many Christians were encouraged by his imprisonment. They were embolden because they saw that Paul was not depressed, or discouraged.  They too saw that Paul had not surrendered the gospel and others decided to follow his lead. (Philippians 1:14)

There are many circumstances in our lives that may seem unfair, even painful. It is often not easy to see opportunities in these times. However scripture does say “…all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) Regardless of what we are going through we must try our best to see the purpose or trust that God will show us His purpose in due time. It will certainly be for His glory and for our benefit if we can remain encouraged. We also cannot measure the benefit it will provide countless others to witness our faith in practice.

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Resisting sin

Jesus taught his disciple many lessons. He knew that he was going to leave them with a great mission; to go into the entire world spreading the gospel, changing lives, seeking the lost and making more disciples. (Mark 16:15-16) One important lesson was the Our Father. This was intended to be a model for them to follow. One of the lines is “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” (Matthew 6:5-14) He knew the disciples and all of us were destined for failure and in need of constant forgiveness. Jesus knew he was about to leave them and that soon after they would be filled with the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:4) The Holy Spirit would give them great power and yet Jesus knew that they and all of us as well would find it difficult to remain perfect at all times. (Acts 1:8)

Paul also explained this problem. He said that sin was in us. (Romans 7:13-20) No matter how strong we are, no matter how much we try, we are still in this world and must contend with our flesh. Therefore we are still capable of falling into sin. This is a constant danger. The devil like a lion is looking for who he can devour. (1 Peter 5:8) That would be us, he is looking for.

What can we do? Our desire is to live a life that is pleasing to God. Should we wait around waiting to fail? Should we live however we please and just repeat the “Our Father” every night?

Since we are sincere Christians it is imperative that we be on the offensive. We must live our life aware of the devil’s attacks. How can we do this? First and foremost we must diligently work every day to increase our understanding of what pleases God. This happens as we study scripture. When we study scripture our faith increases as well. (Romans 10:17) We therefore become stronger Christians.

Jesus also gave us another solution. He once spoke of the power to rebuke demons and he told the disciples “This one only comes out through prayer and fasting.” (Matthew 17:21) If prayer and fasting can give a servant more power to contend with the devil then certainly it will help us in all matters. It too will draw us closer to Christ. How do relationships grow stronger? They grow stronger with communication. This is what prayer means to us. Prayer is our vehicle to communicate with God, strengthening our relationship with Him.

We also know that idle time is a dangerous time. It is when we allow the devil to tempt us and fill us with thoughts that are not pleasing to God. Idle time allows us ample opportunity to focus on what we don’t have. Consider David who casually walked about his temple with nothing to do only to be tempted by seeing the naked Bathsheba bathing. (2 Samuel 11:1-5) We should look to close the door on the devil by occupying ourselves in productive tasks, primarily serving God and the needy.

Remaining sinless is impossible. We have all fallen and will fail again. But sin certainly does not have to consume our lives. We can greatly reduce its hold on us and the likelihood of failing God, through much prayer, study of scripture and occupying ourselves in worthy endeavors.

 

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Elijah against 450 Priests

It was truly a spectacle for all of Israel. Elijah had challenged the king and the god Baal. He stood alone against 450 of Baal’s priests and all the people of Israel who had already turned from God. Baal’s priests placed a bull on an altar of wood. Elijah instructed them not to set a fire but to call for fire from their god. It seemed like a small thing for a mighty god to do. Four hundred and fifty priests called upon their god, Baal. They called and called from morning until noon. But he did not answer. Perhaps he was on vacation or asleep. Perhaps Baal was busy. Elijah, the prophet of God even made fun teasing the Baal prophets. (1 kings 18:27) In any case no fire. They began to get desperate and decided to cut themselves with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out. (1 kings 18:29)

Elijah had enough and decided to end the game. He called the people of Israel close to him. He wanted to make sure they didn’t miss a thing. Elijah the prophet was not just out there having fun. He desperately wanted his people to know the true God. He built his own alter and it included a trench which he filled with water, to make the burning of the sacrifice that much harder. Elijah did not mutilate himself. No bleeding necessary. He did not scream. He was calm and made a short simple prayer.

“O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. 37 Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” (1 Kings 18:36-37)

Then without a moment wasted a powerful flame descended upon the soaked alter and consumed everything, the bull, the wood and even the water. It was all gone. Elijah got his wish, as all the people fell on their faces and proclaimed, “The LORD, he is God; the LORD, he is God.” (1 kings 18:39)

Elijah may have been only one man. But He knew he had to stand by the truth and do what was right even if it wasn’t popular. It is troubling to feel alone. We would all like to be popular and have many followers. It we would be great if all our ideas were well accepted by everyone. Life would sure be easy if we never had a disagreement. But when believing in God is not popular we have no choice but to stand alone. When everyone around us says the bible is just a fable, we must be willing to be different. Saying that Jesus is lord and Savior may not be the most acceptable belief but like Elijah we must stand by the truth. I cannot promise that we will see fire fall from Heaven, but I know that you will not be completely alone. Christ said He would be with us until the end. (Matthew 28:20) He also said “everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:33)

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My treasure

My treasure
It is a treasure some cannot see
It is eternal, wait patiently
I did not buy it with wealth
Didn’t steal it with stealth
Nor was the splendid hope by accident
But planned from old by the ancient
See now it is the greatest gift
My soul without end to uplift
For it was He who died
Beaten, whipped and crucified
By faith I accept the Lord
Forgiven to God restored
With Him forever I will be
It is my treasure, do you now see?
© Samuel Melendez. All rights reserved
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