Jesus

Do You Know the Fish?

This photo (below) is of an early Christian ichthys symbol carved into some marble in the ruins of Ephesus, Turkey.

Briefly, the fish symbol is based on a Greek acronym for the phrase Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior. In Greek, the phrase is Ίησοῦς Χριστός, Θεοῦ Υἱός, Σωτήρ. When we take the first letter from each word in that phrase, we have ΙΧΘΥΣ, which happens to be the Greek word for “fish” (ixthus or icthus—the spelling can vary in English).

Got Questions

Do you know the Fish?

During the first 300 years, Roman persecution of Christians required a way for Christians to find each other. When a Christian came upon a stranger, the Christian would take their staff and draw an arc in the dust. If the stranger were a Christian, they would take their staff and complete the symbol by drawing the opposite arc, thereby creating a fish symbol.

The fish is an apt symbol for Christianity since Jesus, during His earthly ministry, used and referred to fish in many places (Matthew 12:38-45, John 21:11, Mark 1:16-18). And the Greek acronym for the phrase Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior, spells the word Fish. Fish is the Gospel of Jesus in just five words. There is a lot packed into just two arcs and five Greek letters!

We need to learn what the early Church knew

We should learn the invaluable lesson that the early Church has taught countless believers throughout the past two-thousand years. This lesson is critical for Christians today. The lesson is this: No matter how tough it gets, no matter what the cost, no matter how great is the risk, Christians need other Christians. Our challenge is not too much, our cost not too great, our risk not too high for you and I to fellowship together in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.

Romans 1:16

So, do you know the Fish?

Feature Photo: User: MufunyoCC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Image by meneya from Pixabay

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Boast in the Lord

football players tumbles on each other

Boast – an act of talking with excessive pride and self-satisfaction. – Oxford Languages

Boast in the Lord

There’s a running feud between my son-in-law and me. He is deeply afflicted, for he is a Chicago Bears fan. As for me, I prefer “professional” football teams, like the Colts.😉

To ridicule me, he sends me pictures of my precious grandchildren dressed in some profane Chicago Bears apparel. It may be a sock hat with a Bears logo or a Bears t-shirt, or countless other heinous jabs. He’s even gone so far as to coach my grandkids to boast about the Bears and demean the Colts. He merciless since I can’t retaliate; how can I tell my grandson that he should be ashamed of wearing a Bears t-shirt!

Boasting about favorite teams is an integral part of sports. Boasting is also part of our Christian walk. Really? Within our life in Christ Jesus, we are told in 1 Corinthians 1:31, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.

Jesus is the Lord

The apostle Paul’s discipline about boasting is within the context of theology. We can tell this from the previous thirty verses of 1 Corinthians, chapter one. But, let’s take a moment to consider Paul’s defense for only boasting in Jesus – by “Lord,” the readers could only understand Christ, already five times thus titled (Expositor’s Greek Testament).

Our boasting in Jesus is not something that is to be considered unimportant or something secondary to salvation. No! When we boast in Jesus, it is not like sports. He is not the best of many, and He has not helped us to be saved. What Paul is saying is the bedrock of salvation. We boast in Christ, for it is Christ alone, devoid of human contribution, by which God created the way for people to be saved. I especially like 1 Corinthians 1:29:

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.

Only Jesus saves

Within God’s plan of salvation, which He planned before His creation of everything (2 Timothy 1:9), there was God’s intent to deny humanity any scrap pride in our salvation. We, as children of Adam, have nothing to boast about. God did everything for salvation; everything except force us to receive it. Only we can receive salvation and then only by faith in Jesus. And let me tell you, that is something to boast about!

Photo by Keith Johnston on Unsplash

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You Can Be Holy

brown mountains with forest

The goal of holiness is realistic because God has already changed their hearts . – R.C. Sproul, Reformation Study Bible

I heard a statistic last week that floored me. The survey said that 43% of evangelicals believe that many religions lead to God. This belief is the precise point of contention that occurred between the Roman empire and the 1st century Church. Rome said, “There are lots of gods. We are happy to include yours.” But the Christians said, “There is one God and one way to God, and that way is exclusively through Jesus Christ. All other ways are lies.” This chasm between the Church and the world was an irreconcilable difference; it still is.

Countless times I have heard someone say from the pulpit or in Sunday School or in small groups that we should strive to be holy, for God is Holy. I fully agree with these pithy exhortations, but usually, the silent message is, “but you really can’t be holy.” Well, I am not able to say that I have attained holiness, yet we read in 1 Corinthians 1:2-3:

Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes, To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Notice that Paul states, “to those sanctified in Christ Jesus.” – The standard Christian definition of sanctification is:

Sanctification is God’s will for us (1 Thessalonians 4:3). The word sanctification is related to the word saint; both words have to do with holiness. To “sanctify” something is to set it apart for special use; to “sanctify” a person is to make him holy. – Got Questions

Paul’s statement on sanctification runs counter to modern teachings. Most American Christians don’t think in terms of “being set-part to God or being holy.” Holiness, sanctification, the narrow way (Matthew 7:14), Jesus as the only way (John 14:6); many modern Christians have exchanged these for political correctness and social acceptance.

So, to make sure we are all on the same page of the hymnal, God said, “but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:15-16) God did not leave wiggle room. Nowhere in Scripture does He tell us that it’s okay to reject the torture and death of God’s beloved Son and choose an alternative way to salvation. We’re either “all in” or we’re out.

Holiness is the bar that God set for each one of His children. We need to be like the apostle Paul when he wrote:

I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. – Philippians 3:12 

Now, as Christians, we know the main thing. So the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing! Be holy because God is Holy.

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Three Farmers

country lane

There’s an Eastern European folklore story that goes something like this:

The Three Farmers

Three farmers were walking together down a country lane when they spotted an oil lamp. One farmer picked it up and rubbed the mud off of it. Suddenly, a genie popped out! The weathered, old farmers showed no surprise but demanded that they receive three wishes.

The genie said, “Since there are three of you, you will each receive one wish.” The first farmer said, “I have three sheep. Give me three more!” The genie said, “Done.” The second farmer said, “I have two ewes (female sheep). Give me a ram (male sheep)!” The genie said, “Done!” The third farmer said, “I have one sheep so kill all but one of the sheep these other farmers have!”

The grip of resentment

This story reveals the heart of resentment. Do we entertain bitterness? What walls have we built to hide the bitterness we hold from the Spirit of Truth (John 16:13)? Have we tucked it away but not turned it over to our Lord? Do we hide this thing that harms us? Have we allowed resentments to colonize their poisonous thoughts in us? 

When we receive Christ Jesus as our Savior, we are reborn, but our flesh is still with us. We should not be surprised when we unexpectedly become aware of earthly thoughts, feelings, or memories that need to be surrendered to Christ Jesus. The Holy Spirit searches our hearts and compels us to deal with our wrongs and surrender our sins to God.

Revealing and repenting our sins to Jesus is a life-long process. That is why God’s Word states, “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) And in Colossians 3:5, we find, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” 

Pleasing God

As children of God Almighty, He calls us to better thoughts and actions than this world’s ways. Let’s embrace justice, mercy, truth, grace, forgiveness, and such things that please our Father. Then we can find our rest in Psalms 16:7, “When a man’s ways please the Lord, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.” We have a new life in Christ Jesus, so let’s live it to the full! 

Photo by Alisa Anton on Unsplash

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On Whose Shoulders do we Stand?

woman in brown sweater standing beside girl in red jacket

If I have seen further, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants” – Sir Isaac Newton.

Hall of Heroes

We, as Christians, stand on the shoulders of giants. The eleventh chapter of Hebrews is often called the “Heroes of Faith” or the “Hall of Heroes” chapter. In this chapter, we discover some giants of faith. These heroes were people who lived before Jesus. They lived before the highways and messenger services of the Roman empire. Their worlds were small, hostile, and volatile. Yet, in their community, in their time, they heard and obeyed God by faith.

Hebrews, chapter eleven, starts with Abel, the son of Adam and Eve. It traverses through Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Moses, and Rahab. And it goes on through David and Samuel, with an acknowledgment to countless others. They all took action based on their faith in God. Yet, Hebrews 11:39-40 states:

And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.

On Whose Shoulders

These heroes of faith did not, and could not, have God living within them, though, no doubt they longed for Him. God’s promise was/is in Jesus. So now we live on the other side of God’s most important event of all of eternity, the Word of God made flesh. 

Today we live after Christ’s death, burial, resurrection, and ascension to heaven; after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Church; after the scattering of Christ’s first followers for the planting of the Good News of Jesus Christ; after the Church counsels, led by the early Church fathers. 

Now here we stand. Indeed we stand on the shoulders of giants, and those shoulders are Jewish. No matter how you parse the New Testament, Christianity is Jewish. Most people think that Christianity is Gentile. This perception is because we are living in the Gentile dispensation. A time will come when Jesus closes this chapter. He will again turn His attention fully upon his blood kindred, the Jews.

More than history

Okay, you may say, this was a nice little history lesson, but what does it have to do with me? I go to church, pay my tithe, and contribute to my church’s annual yard sale. 

Those activities are good things to do, but we need to act different (a nod to Steve Jobs). We are standing upon the shoulders of giants. And these giants of faith in Hebrews, chapter eleven, are Hebrews. Gentiles, myself included, owe a great debt to the nation birthed from Abraham, Issac, and Jacob, and to the saints of the first church, located in Jerusalem. Their ministers were the apostles of Jesus, and the congregation was Jews from Jerusalem’s community. So, what is the nature of our debt? It is the same as the one that the apostle Paul spoke of in the book of Romans:

Romans 15:26-27For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. For they were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings.

The debt

There’s a false axiom within the Church: don’t mess with my money. Still, we owe a material debt to the saints in Jerusalem. I have no intention of telling you whom you should give, how much you should provide, or when you should give. I can say with confidence that we are not more significant than the church in Macedonia. Though poor, if they gave out of their lack, how much more should we give out of our prosperity?

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You and I Are in This Together

yellow Volkswagen van on road

4×60 Cooling

When I was a boy, once or twice a year we would make the long drive from our home to visit Mom’s parents and relatives. Cars didn’t have air conditioning; at least our car didn’t, so our summer trip was always miserable. Dad drove hundreds of miles with 4×60 cooling – four windows rolled down driving 60 miles per hour. He had a valid reason for being bald; 4×60 air and whiny kids. It’s a wonder I reached adulthood.

The thing is, we couldn’t visit Grandpa and Grandma without suffering through that miserable drive. So many times during those treks the sweltering heat caused me to feel like it was beyond my ability to withstand it. Of course, one of Mom’s “looks” would quickly remind me that things could get worse, much worse!

Just when Jesus planned

The odd thing about those trips is that the discomfort never caused my parents to change their minds, staying home. The reward was worth the struggle. This memory came to mind today because yesterday my wife received news that a dear second cousin of hers passed away. The cousin’s journey was over and we’re quite confident she arrived in heaven just when Jesus planned.

If you have accepted God’s gift of salvation through Jesus then, right now, the Holy Spirit is watching you read this word, and this word, and this word (1 Corinthians 3:16). ☺️ Why? Because you were paid for (redeemed) with a very high price (1 Corinthians 1:30); the blood of Jesus. You are precious to God (1 Peter 2:9). And He has a people, a place, and a purpose specifically for you. He planned this before He began Creation (2 Timothy 1:9). Just think about that!

You and I Are in This Together

Now you may be between a rock and a hard place. You may be doubting God’s Word. You may be yelling at God, saying, “Why me!? Why me!?” But that won’t change a thing. Do you believe that God is sovereign (Psalm 115:3)? Do you believe He knows the number of hairs on your head (Luke 12:7)? Do you believe that He cares for you (1 Peter 5:7)? If so, then why worry?

You and I are on a journey. We started this journey at different times and probably in different places, but we now share the same path and the same destination. Be encouraged. We are in this together. We will make it. Jesus doesn’t start anything that He doesn’t finish. In fact, we have this testimony:

 And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it.  And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”Mark 7:36-37 (emphasis added)

You and I are part of Christ’s work. He does everything well. We will lose nothing that He didn’t anticipate and we will suffer nothing that He didn’t plan. Let your soul rest in Jesus. We are precious to God.

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From in to out

Photo by Gabriel Alenius on Unsplash

Modesty or Decorum

The Dick Van Dyke Show was a TV comedy back in the 1960s, and it was very popular; it still is with my wife. The show’s producers had the TV set’s bedroom configured with two single size beds with a nightstand between them. Why? Because they did not want to show the TV couple in bed together. That was called modesty or decorum.

Stores were closed on Sundays, at least in the morning, to show respect to Christianity and to enable their employees to attend their local church if they so desired. Here in the Midwest, many supermarkets, grocery stores, and such didn’t sell beer or liquor. If they did, they put those products in a corner at the store’s back. Gas stations didn’t sell beer or liquor; that idea seemed stupid since they would be selling alcohol to people driving cars! Church services, even on Sunday nights, were usually well attended.

The best institutions were Christian

Society was impacted for the better by respecting Christianity. During the 18th and 19th centuries, people like William Wilberforce, a Christian in England, successfully led the movement to eradicate the slave trade. At about the same time, here in the States, Christians such as Charles Finney, Theodore Weld, Theodore S. Wright, and Harriet Beecher Stowe worked diligently to end slavery. They believed what the Bible says in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

There was no concern in America that universities (HarvardYalePrinceton), hospitals (St. Jude’s Medical Center and many, many others), youth programs (YMCA/YWCA), and countless Christian societies were Christian. People appreciated these institutions because they significantly contributed to improving education, health, and wellbeing at all levels of society. Why were these institutions effective? They positively impacted our country because Christians obeyed Jesus.

Being a Christian was respected

Even I can remember when being a Christian garnered respect within their community, by their government, and even tepidly, by the media. Most people had a church affiliation. Even if a person wasn’t a believer, they still attended church because they wished to be perceived as Christian; people are sinners, so there has always been sin in the Church. But, when I was young, Christians were generally honest, hard-working, and trustworthy. And I remember when local churches worked to ensure that the membership didn’t just talk the talk, but they walked the walk.

Christianity has gone from being in to out

My point is that I’ve seen Western Civilization transition from valuing the Church and Christians to hating both within my lifetime. Christianity went from being in to being out within society. A precursor to this shift was when many Christians began abandoning Christ’s teachings and became indistinguishable from everyone else. Now, many people have lost respect for Christians and are increasingly creating laws to diminish, contain, and eliminate Christianity. Is this unexpected, and should we fear it? Of course not! Jesus said:

Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved…– Matthew 24:9-13

So, we need to be as the apostle Paul was:

I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.Philippians 4:12

Photo by Gabriel Alenius on Unsplash

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We’re on Stage!

red cinema seat number 23

Marvel

Marvel® Entertainment has unintentionally coopted the word “marvel.” I am an adult – my wife may differ, but I enjoy some Marvel movies. Still, there is so much more to the word “marvel” than graphic novel characters. I recently read a commentary on Ephesians 3:21, and the author painted such a beautiful picture of this verse that I sat back and marveled at God’s word. It so impressed me that I want to share it with you.

The passage of Scripture

20 Now to Him [God] who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, 21 to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen. – Ephesians 3:20-21 NASB

Here is what I found from the commentary on verse 21 by Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary: “in the Church – The Church is the theater for the manifestation of God’s glory.” Isn’t that a beautiful picture? And more importantly, this commentary is accurate. When we look for it, we can find it right in Ephesians 3:10 (NLT):

God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.

We’re on stage

God is the God of purpose. Jesus, the Son of God, came from heaven to earth (John 6:38to provide the means for salvation and to train the first ministers and missionaries (the apostles) of His Church. But His Church is more than the people of His Church. His Church is a stage, it is the theater where God presents the work of salvation and ensuing results through redemption. This means, for Christians, we’re on stage!

Who are the spectators of God’s glorious works which are presented in His theater? Some of the spectators are, “To the unseen rulers and authorities in heavenly places.” God’s presentation of the act of salvation and the works that flow from salvation centers in Christ Jesus. This phrase, “in Christ Jesus,” is understood to mean that all of this glory centers in Jesus. Jesus is of the One God who has made salvation and the Church available to humanity. And all of the glory of this is in Christ Jesus, the One who paid for (redeemed) salvation and the Church.

Fitified

I enjoy live theater, but if the show runs too long, I get fitified. I become eager to leave the confines of a packed audience – this is no longer a problem, thanks to COVID.😞 Still, how long is the manifestation of God’s glory in the Church? It is “to all generations forever and ever. Amen.” I know I won’t be fitified in His Church; ever!

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It’s Going To Be Okay

lake between trees and mountains

I am writing this on the morning of Tuesday, November 3rd. It’s Election Day. I have no clue which candidates will win and which will lose. I’ve purposely chosen to publish this brief devotional without any external data or bias.

Proverbs 28:26 is shocking

We know that the person we talk to the most and share our most intimate thoughts with is ourselves. Of course, this carries a danger; our feelings influence our thoughts. Our thoughts can be incorrect and our feelings lie to us. It’s shocking to read in Proverbs 28:26, “Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.” Well, I’ve been a fool on more than one occasion.

Being in a funk

Most of us have been in a funk before. When we’re grumpy for no reason, we’re snippy with our closest loved ones, and obtuse when our friends call, then we’re in a funk. Perhaps you use a different word, but the mood is the same. Our attitude is noxious to all who come in contact with us.

It’s going to be okay

When we discover our emotions are tumbling towards the abyss of pity, it’s time to sit ourselves down and have a serious talk. The psalmist said to himself,

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation (Psalms 42:5).”

If we are feeling out-of-sorts, then we need to lean into Jesus and worship our God. A great hymn to sing to ourselves is, “It is well with my soul (youtube).

When peace like a river attendeth my way, 
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot Thou hast taught me to say,
  “It is well, it is well with my soul!”
It is well with my soul!
It is well, it is well with my soul!

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
  Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
  And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

My sin—oh, the bliss of this glorious thought—
  My sin, not in part, but the whole,
Is nailed to His Cross, and I bear it no more;
  Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live;
  If dark hours about me shall roll,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life
  Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.

Photo by Jack Anstey on Unsplash

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Self-Awareness

delete key on keyboard

Self-Awareness

My wife has written many times on her blog, “My Daily Treasures,” about her love for the “delete” key. She will often read a Facebook post that makes her so angry that she’ll write a scathing reply. But before she clicks “reply,” she reconsiders – she is self-aware – so she hits the delete key.

If we are Christians, then we must practice self-awareness. There are copious reasons for self-awareness, not the least of which is that satan is against us. I don’t just mean in some ethereal, universal sense. I mean, he wants to kill you and me.

And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser [Satan] of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. – Revelation 12:10

Our failures do not justify our failing

Yes, day and night, the enemy of God is saying bad things about you and me. I’m sure that some of what he says is true, for none of us is perfect. But our failures do not justify our failing. Failures are a natural characteristic of people.

You and I are people. We fail. When we sincerely repent (1 John 1:9) then God forgives. But let me repeat this. Just because we have failed and God has forgiven does not make it okay for us to fail again. Will God forgive again? If we have a contrite (repentant) heart, then yes. But the point is that we need to walk circumspectly.

See then that you walk circumspectly [watchful and discreet; cautious; prudent], not as fools, but as wise, – Ephesians 5:15

We are to be self-aware, which means we are cautious about what we think and say. We are to do this so that people and the enemy of God have nothing real for their accusations.

The prophet Jeremiah is generally believed to have written the Old Testament book of Lamentations. Jeremiah was deeply acquainted with vicious verbal and physical attacks by the false prophets of Israel and King Zedekiah. He is known as the “weeping prophet” because of the messages God had him prophesy against the Israelites, but we find a message to be self-aware in a prophetic message that God gave him.

But this I call to mind,
    and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end;

 Lamentations 3:21-22

Calling to mind

By remembering what God has said and what He has done we become stronger and more effective in God’s hand. The psalmist wrote: 

I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. – Psalm 119:11

As we fill our roles in God’s calling, I pray that we are continually self-aware and not afraid to hit that “delete” key when our acid tongue demands that we lash out at others. Let’s not give satan any ammunition for the constant attacks he brings to God against us.

Photo by u j e s h on Unsplash

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