The Apostle John wrote his first epistle to the church at Ephesus. The main purpose he wrote this epistle was to give them assurances of their salvation in Jesus Christ.  

1 John 5:13KJV 

These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.

The word “know” in 1 John 5:13 means knowledge gained by observance or perception.  John did not want them to have an emotional knowledge of their salvation.  Our emotions are fluid and constantly adjustable to a variety of external events.  There are circumstances when my emotions tell me that I am not saved. These times are usually associated with having a bad day or being depressed.  John wanted their confidence in salvation to be more concrete than their emotions by giving them an overall view of someone who has been converted. Assurances of salvation are not decided by one moment in time (praise the Lord) but an overall change that occurs over a period of time.

There were two ways John could assure his audience of salvation: he could go back in time to the day they confessed their love and loyalty to Jesus Christ; or, he could demonstrate the validity of their confession by showing proof of their love and loyalty since their confession.  Many Christians choose the first avenue to assure someone of their salvation but John chose the second avenue.  A changed life is the best evidence of someone being authentically saved. 

I gauge the value of gifts by the relationship with the one giving the gift, the thoughtfulness involved, and the cost.  With these three items as my foundation, the most valued gift I have ever received by anyone was grace.  God provided me with the gift of grace in spite of the non-existent relationship I had with Him.  I wanted nothing to do with God but praise God for his amazing love.  There has never been a gift more thoughtfully giving than grace.  God made preparations for grace in the very beginning.  Finally, the wonderful gift of grace cost God more then we could ever imagine.  His Son, Jesus Christ became our sacrifice and substitute.  He gave us His righteousness in exchange for our unrighteousness.  No gift compares with the gift of salvation.   

However, the gift of salvation should never be treated the same way we treat other gifts.  God desires us to cultivate this gift. Growing the gift of salvation is to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12).  By working out our salvation with fear and trembling, God can begin using us to magnify Jesus Christ.  In working out our salvation on cultivating the gift of God, we should learn two lessons from Joseph, the husband of Mary, the mother of Jesus.  

1 Samuel 4:11 - And the ark of God was taken; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were slain.

I grew up in the ’70s and knew a lot of people who had a rabbit’s foot as a good luck charm.  If something good happened throughout their day, they would credit the rabbit’s foot.  As if the good luck did not come from their hard work, discipline, study habits etc.…I have talked with many sports fans who believe their jersey or blue socks is/are the key ingredient in their team’s success.  In the summer of 88, my brother, friend, and I drove from Cincinnati, Ohio to Washington D. C. for the weekend.  I remember when we finally made it back home and parked the car in the lot of the apartment complex we lived in, patting the car on the hood and praising the car for a job well done.  Even now, I laugh at my ignorance believing that 1986 Ford Escort was able to rise above having no oil change, tune-up, or new breaks and get me to Washington D. C. and back safely.  Evidently, twentieth and twenty-first century America is not the only ones that lived with good luck charms.  During the time of the Judges, the Israelites viewed God as a rabbit’s foot or their lucky blue socks.  They thought they could pull God out whenever they needed a victory.  The Lord in 1 Samuel 4:11 took umbrage with the Philosophy of being used as a good luck charm.  

A lawyer came to Jesus asking Him what was the greatest of all the commandments.  Instead of giving the lawyer the greatest commandment, Jesus gave him the two greatest commandments.  Jesus said “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment.  And the secondislike unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.  All the commandments in the Bible rest on these two commandments.  The only way we can faithfully live any of the commands of Jesus is to first live out these two commands.  All commands are not created equal.  These two commands set the stage for all the other commands in the Bible. Or better yet, all the other commands in the Bible are fulfilled in these two commands.  

To take this one step further, we cannot love people the way we ought to until first, we are loving God with all of our heart, soul and mind.  Loving God with everything we have energizes us in loving others in a Christ-like way. Without loving God with our all, anything we do will be in vain towards cultivating our relationship with God.  Jesus wrote a message to each of the seven churches in Revelations 2 and 3.  The first church He wrote to was Ephesus. Even though there seemed to be more wicked and immoral churches within the seven churches Jesus wrote to, the church at Ephesus received the greatest potential judgement, if they did not repent. Jesus would remove their candlestick (Their authority, power and His presence) from the seven. Whatever they needed to repent from must have been excessively egregious and offensive to God.   Our minds would drift from immorality to absolute chaos within the church. Jesus did write to those sorts of churches within the seven churches, but those issues did not plague the church at Ephesus. The church at Ephesus egregious sin and offense towards God was they left their first love. Ephesus became so mechanical towards church life, ministry and worship of God that loving God supremely was missing in action. Church life, ministry and worship is meaningless without loving God supremely. 

Isaiah 6:1-6

We have federal elections every two years. With each election, politicians make promises to fix the problems with America. Yet, no matter how much legislation politicians pass or money spent, we seem to still have enormous problems. Legislation and/or money cannot fix America’s problem. We spend billions of dollars on education, law enforcement, welfare and military every year. This money has allowed us to invest in better buildings, more programs, and hiring additional people to help meet the enormous needs. Still, we are reminded by politicians every two years, regardless of how much money spent, how there new plan and additional money will fix the broken system. The truth is no amount of money, energy or plans will fix America. What is ailing America is not social needs, crime, budgetary problems or foreign threats. These are manifestations of the real problem plaguing America. We need to see God high and lifted up, in His holiness and glory.

The problem with America is we do not view ourselves accountable to a holy God. He does not have a prominent place in our homes, schools, places of employment, hobbies or down time. We have successfully excluded God from our daily lives. In fact, more and more people see God as part of the problem with society, instead of the solution. What has exacerbated this false notion is Christians are not living up to their name. We have excluded God from the daily grind of life. We do not have any time to spend with God, or do not have confidence in God answering our prayers, or He is to blame for some of our problems. Ultimately, we have put too much stock in secularism’s philosophy and works to be a difference maker for the Kingdom of God. If we love this nation and are patriots, willing to die for our country then submission and surrender to the King of glory must happen!

Joshua 9:14KJV 1900

And the men took of their victuals, and asked not counselat the mouth of the Lord.

Joshua and the Israelites had conquered Jericho and Ai.  They were now prepared to move further into the Promise Land. This was the land that God had promised them since the days of Abraham.  However, to inherit the land of promise they would have to conquer and destroy their enemies within the land.  The Gibeonites’ was a small mountain kingdom within the Promise Land.  Fearing Israel’s success, fame and their God, they decided to come up with scheme to ensure their preservation

Joshua 9:3–5KJV 1900

And when the inhabitants of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done unto Jericho and to Ai, They did work wilily, and went and made as if they had been ambassadors, and took old sacks upon their asses, and wine bottles, old, and rent, and bound up; And old shoes and clouted upon their feet, and old garments upon them; and all the bread of their provision was dry andmouldy.

In effect, they would trick Israel into thinking they were a distant kingdom that lived nowhere near the Promise Land.  Before moving forward, there is a sad testimony from the Gibeonites. They knew there was something special about Israel, their plans and God.  There seemed to be an understanding among the Gibeonites that Israel’s God was more powerful than any other god.  Instead of repenting from their false gods and religious systems to Israel’s God, they decided to trick Israel into believing they came from a far country. Jesus was absolutely right when He told His disciples that the world hates Him.

Deuteronomy 32:1-4

Give ear, O ye heavens, and I will speak; and hear, O earth, the words of my mouth. My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distil as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass:Because I will publish the name of the Lord: ascribe ye greatness unto our God. He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: A God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he.

Most of us might not know that Moses was more than the person who wrote the first five books of the Bible, and leader of Israel during the exodus of Egypt and their forty years in the wilderness, he was a song writer. Deuteronomy 32:1-4 is a song that Moses wrote about Jehovah God. Moses began this majestic and powerful song about our wonderful God by calling attention to the song and giving this song enormous importance. He called the entire creation, not just the Jews but everyone that has breath, to “give ear…and hear” the words that flowed from his mouth. 

Moses did not sing this song for his benefit only. He believed this song would become a difference-maker in the lives of others. Notice how he described the quality and effect this song would have in the lives of others: as rain that drops from the clouds; as dew that rests on the grass; as small rain that nourishes a tender herb; and as showers upon the grass. Moses had assurances that his song about God would penetrate, refresh, grow and develop others in their faith

We live in a Christian atmosphere where the commandments of God are dismissed at the expense of liberty, faithulness to God and truth.  Christians respond to the commandments of God in the same way we respond to the posted speed limit.  Posted speed limits are suggestions, rather than absolute.  In the same way, we view the commandments of God as suggestions in cultivating our relationship with God, rather than essential and necessary in maintaining a healthy relationship with God. 

One of the reasons Christians struggle with the commandments of God is we understand their purpose in the same way as the world.  Instead of the commandments of God giving us opportunities to show the world how devoted we are to Him and how much we love Jesus, they are a burden.  Even though many Christians believe the commandments of God are a burden, they are not.  The commandments of God give us opportunities to love God, which is never a burden.  John wrote: “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous” (1 John 5:3).  

Mark 1:1, “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

I have a friend who enjoys bringing up topics for discussion or debate.  One of the problems he has is staying on point.  Without fully addressing a point of emphasis, he quickly transitions to another point.  He transformed the original discussion into chaos, going nowhere.  So, I do my best to keep the discussion on the topic at hand, and not moving to other areas until fully exhausting the previous point. 

This is what Satan has done with the Gospel.  He does not want us to fully explore the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  So, he transitions the Gospel message into other areas, moving the Gospel into chaos.  The problem is everything that we believe in must link back to the cross. Without a clear understanding of the Gospel, nothing else makes sense or matters.  Therefore, it is up to us to keep the discussion on the Gospel according to Jesus Christ.

Mark laid down the foundation of the Gospel according to Jesus Christ in the first eight verse of his gospel.  This foundation is vastly different than the Gospel that is being preached in many churches today.  For us, the importance is not producing a message that is “based upon our enlightenment of culture” but God’s word.  

First, the Gospel message is a rejoicing message.  In the Roman world of Mark’s day, the Romans often used this word “gospel” as an announcement that the transcendent, great, era changing Caesar was soon arriving in their town.  This announcement would produce joy and rejoicing by the inhabitants of the town because this larger than life Caesar is visiting their town.  Mark used the word “gospel” to let his, primarily Roman audience know that a larger than life, transcendent, and era changing King has arrived and His name is Jesus.  Jesus Christ, not Caesar is the only person who can give people real, meaningful, impactful and eternal hope and life.  This announcement should produce joy and rejoicing in our hearts.  God has condescended in the person of Jesus Christ to visit us where we are so that we can live eternally with Him, where He is.  

The prophet Hosea wrote: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children.”  God did not destroy His people because of a weak military or not having a gold standard to stabilize their economy; instead, God rejected them because of their rejection of Him.  Similarly, God does not care about our constitution, gun rights, health care, military, tariffs, taxes, or immigration.  None of these are the reasons we experience God’s judgement.  God’s judgment upon this nation is squarely centered on our willful rejection of knowing Him.  If we want God’s judgement turning into blessings then we must return with zeal in our desire to know God.  Knowing God is the chief form of knowledge.  As King Solomon wrote: “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13)  

Last week my sister and I went to Pensacola, Florida to attend a Principles Clinic hosted by Pensacola Christian College.  We left shortly after the Sunday morning service and arrived in Pensacola late Monday afternoon.  The drive time was 19 hours, divided over two days. We arrived in Pensacola exhausted.  Unfortunately, we were not finished.  The clinic ended Wednesday afternoon so we had to make the 19-hour drive back to our homes. Driving 19 hours had a negative effect on my body; especially my lower right back and legs. There was a time when I could drive from Cincinnati to California without any negative impact on my body.  Those were the days.  The point that I am driving home is I am not young anymore and life is flying by me quicker than I want.  Even at the age of 48, I cannot do the same activities I did in my 20’s.  I am reminded what Peter wrote regarding this transition: “For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away” (1 Peter 1:24).  Regardless of how great we are today, there is coming a day in which our greatness will fade away.