Faith And Works (James 2:17)

During our vacation to several national parks, one of our guides was describing her experience participating in the Grand To Grand Ultra Walk. It was definitely not for the novice or unprepared. Over seven days, participants will walk 171 miles, beginning at the North rim of the Grand Canyon, stopping and camping each night, before finishing at the summit of the Grand Staircase. The only gear allowed is what can be carried in one’s backpack.

Grand to Grand Ultra – Course (g2gultra.com) 

Our guide, an experienced hiker and mountaineer, spoke of the fatigue she experienced as she fought through the grueling experience. She brought two walking sticks with her which she named Faith and Works. As she traversed the challenging trails and ascended the heights of the many canyons, she kept saying aloud, “Faith and Works! Faith and Works!” It encouraged her, propelling her forward, allowing her to successfully complete the walk. I did not know the religious background of our guide but it reminded me of the well known Bible verse from the Book of James. 

So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless. James 2:17 (NLT)

A clarification of this verse was given by the great Protestant reformer, John Calvin. “Faith alone saves but the faith that saves is not alone.” A true saving faith will always lead to action. As James wrote in the preceding verses. 

What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? 

James 2:14-16 (NLT)

What good does that do? Truth, indeed! If we confess by faith to accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, only God knows whether our confession is genuine. One unmistakable sign and confirmation is a changed life. 

For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift ​— ​ not from works, so that no one can boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do. 

Ephesians 2:8-10 (CSB)

Faith and works. 

Thanks be to God that He equips us to live a life dedicated to serving Him in gratitude for what He has done for us through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ! By grace alone we have been saved through faith so that we may perform good works for His Kingdom. 

Amen!

Love and trust in the Lord; seek His will in your life.

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How Did He Do That?” (Psalms 8:3-4)

The handsome young man flashed a knowing smile to his audience. With dramatic background music filling the hall, he proceeded to make entire decks of cards disappear, change color, and reappear.

It was Shin Lim.

Most of the world knows of this extraordinary Canadian-American magician. Here is one of his earliest performances which introduced him to world-wide audiences.

Penn and Teller Fool Us // Shin Lim – YouTube

Shin Lim is a master at sleight of hand. In fact, he states in other videos that he taught himself magic by watching other magicians on social media. Many of these techniques are readily available for others to learn. However, as evidenced by the video above, even some of the top magicians are still baffled by the artistry and skill of magicians like Shin Lim. As I watched his performance, I repeated this phrase verbally and in my mind at least a dozen times. 

“How did he do that?”

What people once thought was magic and supernatural occurrences can now usually be explained by knowledgeable observers. The same has been said of God and religion. Primitive cultures once thought the rising and setting of the sun were due to magic and supernatural actions of the gods. Thanks to advances in science, we can now explain many natural phenomena. So confident and secure is man in his knowledge that many think they can explain everything that was previously attributed to God Himself.

When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers—the moon and the stars you set in place—what are mere mortals that you should think about them, human beings that you should care for them? 

Psalms 8:3-4 (NLT)

Science and technology are the tools that God has given to help us to understand His Creation. While we may be able to explain some processes, the unanswerable question is how? We can describe the process that happens at the molecular level where DNA sequences are arranged in genes coding for specific proteins. But how did this occur? The structure of DNA is quite complex and precise. There are billions upon billions of permutations that DNA can be arranged. Simply stringing together sequences of DNA does not guarantee it will be able to convey genetic information. It must be organized into genes which will code for proteins. Multiply that number by at least 25,000, the number of genes each human has. Now, what is the likelihood that all these combinations can precisely come together to form a cell that has proteins and enzymes to control other cellular processes? How about individual cells coming together to form an organ? How about all of these organs forming a plant, an animal, or a human? This process cannot be a piecemeal and sequential process, it must come together at once. It is easy to see that the probability of all this happening so precisely to allow a single cell to evolve to complex life forms is staggeringly high. Nonetheless, some scientists hypothesize it may be possible for simple DNA sequences to come together and even form a simple cell-like structure. How will this evolve to become an intelligent creature? 

How did He do that?

It is not magic. It is supernatural! God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent! He is beyond understanding for our limited senses. Praise God that we still do not know! Someday in Heaven, all who have accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior will have all the mysteries of God revealed. 

Love and trust in the Lord; seek His will in your life.

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Autographed Guitar (2 Corinthians 3:2-3)

In the frenzied world of the buying and selling of vintage guitars, there is a special category that commands a much higher price than others. These are guitars that were either owned or played by a famous musician. If the guitar was autographed by the musician, it becomes even more valuable. Any other guitar would be severely marked down in value if an unknown person autographed it. It is this unique sign of authenticity that makes the guitar special. The Bible speaks of a similar signature of authenticity. 

The only letter of recommendation we need is you yourselves. Your lives are a letter written in our hearts; everyone can read it and recognize our good work among you. Clearly, you are a letter from Christ showing the result of our ministry among you. This “letter” is written not with pen and ink, but with the Spirit of the living God. It is carved not on tablets of stone, but on human hearts. 

2 Corinthians 3:2-3 (NLT)

If one confesses and repents of our sins and accepts Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, the Holy Spirit immediately dwells within us. Jesus Christ is literally signing our heart with His Spirit. If the autograph of a famous musician will elevate the value of guitar, what will the signature of Jesus Christ upon our heart do for our worth? Precious and priceless!

Others were given in exchange for you. I traded their lives for yours because you are precious to me. You are honored, and I love you. 

Isaiah 43:4 (NLT)

We are so precious to God that He sealed His promise of love by sending His Son Jesus Christ to live on this earth. Our souls were purchased by His blood and redeemed by the power of the Resurrection. Our hearts are autographed by Jesus Christ. 

Praise God!

Love and trust in the Lord; seek His will in your life.

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How Do I Love Thee? (Psalms 106:2)

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

I love thee to the depth and breadth and height

My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight

For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.

I love thee to the level of everyday’s

Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.

I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;

I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.

I love thee with the passion put to use

In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.

I love thee with a love I seemed to lose

With my lost saints―I love thee with the breath,

Smiles, tears, of all my life!―and, if God choose,

I shall but love thee better after death.

Many are familiar with the first lines of this famous love poem penned by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. What is less familiar is the background to this poem. Elizabeth Browning was writing to the man who later became her husband, Robert Browning. She confessed her undying love to him and even beseeched God to grant her the ability to love him even after death. If love can continue beyond death, this would be the ultimate affirmation that love is eternal. Evangelist Ravi Zacharias eloquently summarized this longing. “If relationships bring meaning to life, then the ultimate mockery of life is the reality that all relationships are either ruptured by sin or severed by death. Each of us longs for a relationship that cannot be victimized by sin or destroyed by death. That relationship can only be found with God.”

Who can list the glorious miracles of the LORD? Who can ever praise him enough? 

Psalms 106:2 (NLT)

The Psalmist who penned these words was in love as well, with His Creator. Yet, the Psalmist did not lament that his love would end with this life. He was confident that he would see His Lord even after he died. His words looked ahead to the Savior that God promised He would send to redeem His people. Thousands of years later, God sealed this promise through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. This is the most glorious miracle and act of love that God has bestowed upon His creation. 

How do I love thee?

We can never praise Him enough!

Love and trust in the Lord; seek His will in your life.

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Love Canal (Luke 18:1-5)

I was reading a distressing story about 100 people who were all diagnosed with rare brain tumors. One of the persons who was afflicted reached out through social media and to his horror, discovered other people who were also diagnosed with this same brain tumor. The common link appeared to be they all attended or worked at the same high school in New Jersey over the previous fifty years. There was speculation that some of the soil used to build the school in 1967 may have originated from an area that had previously been used as a landfill for radioactive waste products. A local and federal investigation is now underway.

Source: Fox News

The story evoked memories of another tragedy from an earlier generation. Love Canal is a neighborhood in upstate New York. Unknown to the inhabitants, it was constructed on a landfill that was the site of decades of the dumping of toxic chemicals. Families began raising alarms when many of inhabitants began experiencing health problems including leukemias, cancers, and miscarriages. Reporters picked up the story and wrote an expose in 1976 documenting the disaster. The clamor culminated with then President Jimmy Carter declaring a federal health emergency in 1978 leading to a massive cleanup and a fund to help the afflicted citizens. 

Environmental tragedies are increasingly common and many undoubtedly are either never discovered, under-reported, or a true causal connection cannot be established. Sadly, it often takes one or more determined individuals to bring attention to the matter and clamor for action before help and justice are received. 

One day Jesus told his disciples a story to show that they should always pray and never give up. “There was a judge in a certain city,” he said, “who neither feared God nor cared about people. A widow of that city came to him repeatedly, saying, ‘Give me justice in this dispute with my enemy.’ The judge ignored her for a while, but finally he said to himself, ‘I don’t fear God or care about people, but this woman is driving me crazy. I’m going to see that she gets justice, because she is wearing me out with her constant requests!’” 

Luke 18:1-5 (NLT)

This parable that Jesus Christ told His disciples illustrates several points. While we are commanded to follow and obey those in government, it is an imperfect system and sometimes requires us to be persistent in bringing demands and problems to the attention of those in authority. The beautiful solution that Jesus gave is how He contrasted the actions of the unjust judge with God, our Heavenly Father. 

Then the Lord said, “Learn a lesson from this unjust judge. Even he rendered a just decision in the end. So don’t you think God will surely give justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will grant justice to them quickly! But when the Son of Man returns, how many will he find on the earth who have faith?” 

Luke 18:6-8 (NLT)

Jesus Christ was emphasizing the importance of persisting in prayer. If even an evil, uncaring judge will listen to a persistent woman and grant justice, God, the Almighty Judge, will surely answer our persistent prayers and grant justice.

We should all continue to pray for the families in New Jersey as well as all who have suffered health problems secondary to environmental neglect or disasters. As Christians, we have a responsibility to advocate on behalf of those who are unable or who have succumbed to these tragedies. It requires persistent prayer and action. Thanks be to God that He continually hears us and promises to answer our prayers for all those who placed their trust and faith in Jesus Christ. 

Love and trust in the Lord; seek His will in your life.

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Perfect Pitch (Psalms 119:96)

Perfect pitch.

It is defined as the ability to recreate a given musical note without a reference tone. Such individuals are also able to identify the pitch of a note played by any musical instrument or the key of a musical piece. I don’t have this skill and for many years, I wished I did. However, recently I discovered an interesting fact that made me reconsider this. Only 2-4% of musicians have perfect pitch. While perfect pitch may be perceived as a desirable skill to have as a musician, it may also be a significant hindrance. If a song is transposed from a different key, it may be distressing for one with perfect pitch to enjoy or play along since they will always perceive the song as out of tune. Perfect pitch sounds like a desirable quality for a musician to have but there are caveats and drawbacks. 

Isn’t perfection always an enviable goal? The world informs us that this should be our goal in life, yet at times, perfection has unintended consequences. What about our spiritual lives? Certainly we should strive for perfection in our relationship with God but are there any drawbacks? What does God say?

Even perfection has its limits, but your commands have no limit. 

Psalms 119:96 (NLT)

While we may seek perfection in the things of this world, ultimately it will fail and leave us frustrated. Instead, the only perfection we should seek is with our relationship with God and His teachings. No limits, no drawbacks, and no unintended consequences. God is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent. True perfection is only realized by realizing and confessing our own imperfections and accepting Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.

Amen!

Love and trust in the Lord; seek His will in your life.

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Big Number (Revelation 5:11-12)

Many years ago, I read a quirky cartoon. A group of visitors were at a science museum. The guide was discussing the fate of the earth and declared, “Within about five billion years, the earth will essentially cease to exist.”

One distressed visitor raised his hand and asked, “I’m sorry, did you say five million or five billion years?”

The guide repeated his statement. “Five billion years.”

The visitor breathed a sigh of relief. “Oh thank goodness. For a moment there, I thought you said five million years!”

The humor in this cartoon, of course, is that it would not make a difference to anyone in that museum or living today whether the earth would end in five million or five billion years. Big numbers. We casually use them but sometimes it is difficult to comprehend the magnitude even if we think we are able. The Bible records a scene in heaven when the Apostle John first beheld the throne of God, the Father. In it, he witnesses a big number of angels worshiping and praising God. It is an awe-inspiring sight!

Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, And strength and honor and glory and blessing!” 

Revelation 5:11-12 (NKJV)

I don’t know what number describing the angels surrounding the throne of God represents but I am confident that it is a big number! Other Bible translations have used the word millions. Regardless of the translation, the number is uncountable and incomprehensible for mere mortals to fathom. 

Here is another big number. The universe is estimated to be about 14 billion years old. God created the universe and existed before it ever came into existence. Like the numbers of angels that continually surround His throne in Heaven, the time frame that God has existed is incomprehensible. Trillions times trillions? Only God knows and thanks be to Him that only He can truly comprehend it.

We live in God’s Creation and only experience the smallest fraction of our existence on this earth. If we have confessed and repented of our sins and accepted Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we will have all of eternity to experience God’s unlimited blessings. 

And THAT is a big number!

Amen!

Love and trust in the Lord; seek His will in your life.

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Doing It In Person (1 Kings 10:6-7)

In this age of video conferencing and smartphones, it may seem that we do not have to meet in person to discuss important issues. Even world leaders have chosen to have many virtual meetings because of the immediacy, ease, and the concern for the transmission of COVID and other infectious diseases. While it is true that many important meetings occur virtually, we may learn that people eschew the convenience of a virtual meeting or phone call, opting for an in-person meeting. Even in this day of technological advances, nothing can absolutely substitute for doing it in person. In fact, if one chooses not to, it sends a very powerful message that the issue may not be that important or one may be trying to avoid the issue and potential confrontation. 

Several years ago, I had the unfortunate experience of a long-time dermatology client ending our professional relationship of nearly 20 years. Like every business, costs have skyrocketed and he decided it was cheaper to hire a dermatopathologist as part of their staff rather than outsource the services to someone like myself. While it was understandable, I wished that he informed me with a phone call or an in-person meeting rather than by an email. It was awkward since he already hired the dermatopathologist and made the decision. He was embarrassed and wanted to do this impersonally with an email, rather than with a face to face meeting. 

There were no cell phones or video conferencing when the Bible was written. Nonetheless, the principle of meeting and seeing someone in person was very real. The Queen of Sheba heard stories of the magnificence of King Solomon’s kingdom. She traveled hundreds of miles to meet King Solomon in person and see the splendor of his temple and the riches of the Kingdom of Israel in person. She was not disappointed. 

She exclaimed to the king, “Everything I heard in my country about your achievements and wisdom is true! I didn’t believe what was said until I arrived here and saw it with my own eyes. In fact, I had not heard the half of it! Your wisdom and prosperity are far beyond what I was told. 

1 Kings 10:6-7 (NLT)

The Queen of Sheba knew that it was important to see for herself if all the things she heard about King Solomon and God were true. 

How happy your people must be! What a privilege for your officials to stand here day after day, listening to your wisdom! Praise the LORD your God, who delights in you and has placed you on the throne of Israel. Because of the LORD’s eternal love for Israel, he has made you king so you can rule with justice and righteousness.” 

1 Kings 10:8-9 (NLT)

For an important meeting or decision, I always prefer doing it in person. Our Lord Jesus Christ cited the example of the Queen of Sheba and praised her that she took the extra effort to see for herself the splendor and majesty of God. However, he chastised the Jewish leaders who failed to recognize the great works that Jesus had performed, proving that He is the Messiah. Their Lord and Savior was standing within their midst but they made no effort to verify His claims and dismissed His teachings and miracles which they heard and witnessed. As Jesus sternly warned the Jewish leaders:

The queen of Sheba will also stand up against this generation on judgment day and condemn it, for she came from a distant land to hear the wisdom of Solomon. Now someone greater than Solomon is here—but you refuse to listen. 

Matthew 12:42 (NLT)

The most important question everyone must answer for themselves is what is their eternal destiny? Are we simply animals that have evolved from a single cell organism with no soul? When we die, does everything cease to exist? Or is there something more, something greater than the wisdom of Solomon, something greater than a meaningless existence? God has given us the answer. If we confess and repent of our sins and accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we will have salvation and eternal life. It must be a personal decision. No one else can make this decision. We must do it in person.

Will you accept the challenge?

Praise God!

Love and trust in the Lord; seek His will in your life.

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Nothing Personal (Acts 18:1-3)

Several years ago, my wife and I were seeking a designer to remodel our home. We had asked several friends who had recently done a remodel and one of them used a designer whom we both knew and were mutual friends. He had an excellent reputation so we were surprised to learn that our friend did not use him. When we inquired about the reason, he replied, “He is an excellent designer. However, because we are friends, in case something goes wrong, I didn’t want anything to come in between our friendship. So we opted to go with another designer. It was nothing personal.”

I understood. Many of us turn to our friends for assistance, especially if they have an occupation or skill that can help us. However, even in the best of situations, problems and conflicts may arise. As the old adage states, sometimes it is better not to mix business with pleasure. Perhaps the Apostle Paul may have even experienced this. In the Book of Acts, Dr. Luke records that Paul’s occupation was a tentmaker. 

Then Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. There he became acquainted with a Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, who had recently arrived from Italy with his wife, Priscilla. They had left Italy when Claudius Caesar deported all Jews from Rome. Paul lived and worked with them, for they were tentmakers just as he was. 

Acts 18:1-3 (NLT)

The Bible does not record any incidents when Paul may have run into conflict between his relationships with his business associates and those with whom he ministered the Gospel. However, relationships have not radically changed in over two thousand years and it may have happened. Relationships with others may be fraught with personal misgivings because we may not want to share intimate personal details or jeopardize a friendship. This is never the case with God. He is intimately involved in everything we do. He is there when we make business decisions as well as implementing personal decisions. Why? He knows us better than we know ourselves! He created us and wants us to experience the richness of a life that He has prepared for us. 

Nothing personal?

Thanks be to God that He is always personal with us!


Amen!

Love and trust in the Lord; seek His will in your life.

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Purity (Ezekiel 8:7-10)

A clean room is an ultra-sophisticated chamber which minimizes air-borne contamination. Clean rooms are important in many industries including the manufacture of semiconductors, life sciences, and nuclear engineering.  An international standard (ISO) has created levels of cleanliness ranging from 1 to 9. A level 1 ISO room, the highest level, must achieve a level of purity allowing 12 particles for each cubic meter of 0.3 μm and smaller. For comparison, most outdoor areas contain 35,000,000 particles for each cubic meter in the size range 0.5 μm and larger. With such stringent parameters in place, it is surprising when contamination is found. Recently, NASA researchers were chagrined to discover that their clean room was contaminated with mold, undoubtedly introduced by the researchers themselves!  The clean room was used to store rocks and particles obtained from space and other planets. Of the many experiments that were performed in this room, one of the most critical was the search for extraterrestrial life. The implications were profound. Cloaked under the guise of purity was a situation that threatened to upend our very understanding of extraterrestrial life. 

Then he brought me to the door of the Temple courtyard, where I could see a hole in the wall. He said to me, “Now, son of man, dig into the wall.” So I dug into the wall and found a hidden doorway. “Go in,” he said, “and see the wicked and detestable sins they are committing in there!” So I went in and saw the walls covered with engravings of all kinds of crawling animals and detestable creatures. I also saw the various idols worshiped by the people of Israel. 

Ezekiel 8:7-10 (NLT)

What a sordid scene this was! In the holiest and purest sanctuary of the Jews, their chief priests were worshiping false gods. They felt secure and hidden, naively thinking they could hide their carnal actions from the all-knowing and all-seeing God they claimed to honor and worship. Purity may sometimes hide a very impure situation. In our spiritual lives, we must always remain diligent to keep ourselves pure, alert to anything which may infiltrate and contaminate our lives, like the mold that infiltrated the clean room. If we have accepted Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, His Holy Spirit continues to purify and sanctify us.

Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. And all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure. 

1 John 3:2-3 (NLT)

Amen!

Love and trust in the Lord; seek His will in your life.

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