I Peter 1:8-9 ” Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

The world can’t comprehend the meaning of the Scriptures above, let alone how a intelligent person could put their faith in something they can’t see or touch. But Believers around the world would beg to differ. Yes, we are a peculiar people… our blind devotion may seem curious, our confidence based only on the invisible is rather strange…but the biggest oddity is the joy we derive from it all…the world finds this really weird. But it’s that unspeakable joy of knowing we’ve been saved from our sins that presses us on in righteousness, which leads to holiness, the result being eternal life. (Romans 6:22) And as the resurrected Jesus told Thomas, “Because you have have seen Me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29) The world will always scoff and mock what they don’t understand…but that only means we need to be salt and light in that darkness.

II Thessalonians 1:3-4 ” We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing. Therefore, among God’s Churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring.”

Paul wrote this letter to the Persecuted Church in Thessalonica, offering comfort and exhorting them to continue to serve the Lord in spite of the hardships. He urged them to be “Imitators of the Lord in spite of their severe suffering.” (I Thessalonians 1:6) Living in the United States I have no idea what it would be like to be part of a Persecuted Church. My Church has never been harassed, oppressed, or banned from meeting. We have never had to put our utter trust in God because our corrupt government is denying Corona Virus vaccines to only the wealthy and powerful…leaving the vast majority of us vulnerable. God help the Persecuted Church…may they never surrender to the circumstances or succumb under the trials…may their zeal and ardor in the faith be not only an encouragement but an example to us all…and may they take comfort in the Lord’s mercy and grace as they continue to endure.

Psalm 51:1-2 ” Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your unfailing love; according to Your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.”

Mercy, kindness, and love are central to God’s character and what makes repentance possible for us. But we must have the desire for repentance…for forgiveness, purification, and restoration – and it all starts with confession. But admitting we’re wrong is hard, and admitting our rebellion, alienation, and disobedience to God isn’t easy. But as Romans 2:4 reminds us, it’s God’s kindness, tolerance, and patience that leads us toward repentance and makes the way possible.

Psalm 73:2-3 ” But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.”

At least once in every Christian’s life will come a Crisis of Faith…it may happen with a devastating personal medical diagnosis, after the loss of a spouse, or with pending financial ruin. We look at others and wonder why we can’t have an easier time…and we start to doubt God. It’s during this Crisis of Faith we can go one way or another, and many times it’s our emotions that are driving us. For depression and anxiety play a large part in this crisis, or as Psalm 69:2 says, “I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold. I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me.” So what can we do at this very critical moment in our lives? We need to seek His Word and His perspective by getting into the Bible and praying for enlightenment and guidance…and then we need to rest in His Presence. For if you notice in these verses it says that Asaph, the writer of this Psalm, did not allow his feet to slip entirely. Yes, there was momentary doubt, but He never turned away, for he knew the goodness of the Lord.

Hebrews 10:24-25 ” And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

Last year in the blink of a eye the Pandemic changed how we did Church. Many Churches were closed for months, conducting Online or Zoom Services for their congregants…but it wasn’t the same as being together in person. And as the months wore on apathy and disinterest grew…for watching Church on a screen just wasn’t the same as being there. So I look forward with eager anticipation this evening as our Church meets together for the first Prayer Meeting of the year. Why? Well, because it’s Biblical, as the Scriptures above tell us. We are to encourage, exhort, and console one another by praying for each other. Now I know we can pray for each other without being physically close…but there’s something powerful and anointed when you can lay hands on someone and pray for them.

Ezekiel 34:15-16 ” I Myself will tend My sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.”

Within these verses lies the Gospel Message…echoed by Jesus in Luke 19:10 when He said, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” For we all, at one time or another, wandered aimlessly and were lost morally until we accepted Jesus Christ into our lives. But it doesn’t stop there, for it says here that He is continually searching for those who have strayed off, binding up the wounds no one else sees and encouraging us as we journey with Him. But the Lord also warns the stubborn and insolent of the consequences of forsaking Him in these verses. To paraphrase Proverbs 11:2…A prideful heart will only bring ruin, for if you think about it, all sin is rooted in pride… and we know that “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6)

II Corinthians 13:5 “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you – unless, of course, you fail the test. “

Many throw the title Christian around without really understanding what the name means. Maybe they were brought up in the Church with their parents taking them every Sunday…but they haven’t attended for years, but still claim the title. Or they consider their Godly Grandmother as their free ticket to heaven. This verse exhorts us to test and evaluate what we believe and trust in, and who we actually are inside. It means testing our “Christian” validity not by sentiment or religious form, but by sound Biblical Doctrine and moral purity. Or as Lamentations 3:40 says, “Let us examine our ways and test them…” Thus the testing of our faith is the beginning…but our faith needs to be then proven through demonstration.

Psalm 32:7 ” You are my hiding place; You will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.”

God’s forgiveness is a blessing and He wants us to be joyful in the receiving of that forgiveness. But instead of joy we often have fear and oppression (many times self-inflicted) because guilt, shame and just plain distrust of God hinders us from believing Him. We can’t imagine God completely forgiving us for the terrible mess we’ve made of our life. But a few verses later in this Psalm it says, “Many are the woes of the wicked, but the Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the man who trusts in Him.” (Psalm 32:10) God’s promise of forgiveness to the repentant soul is only because of His infinite faithfulness and mercy towards us…and all we have to do is simply trust and believe Him…and in that will come the unspeakable joy of forgiveness.

Isaiah 60:20 ” Your sun will never set again, and your moon will wane no more; the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your days of sorrow will end.”

Are you more of a morning person or a night owl…a sunrise seeker or a sunset lover? I’m a morning person that loves sunrises and the house the Lord gave us in Idaho had a whole bank of windows facing East …and I enjoyed every early morning there as the sun would peek up over the mountains. So when we decided to move back home I was hoping for the same setup, but because our house sold so quickly in Idaho we ended up buying a house sight unseen. I was somewhat dismayed when I toured the house the first time, for there wasn’t the early morning light I had wanted…but God had another plan. But it wasn’t until we actually moved in that I discovered our new home was located on Sunrise Street! This verse tells of the time when we will no longer need the sunrise or the light of the moon, for the Lord Jesus Christ will be our everlasting light. He will wipe away every tear from our eyes, (Revelation 7:17) and gladness and joy will overtake us as sorrow and signing flees. (Isaiah 35:10)

Matthew 6:12 ” Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”

Only God can pardon sin, (Luke 5:21) and we are told in Colossians 3:13 to, “Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” But what if the biggest culprit is yourself? What if guilt, shame, invalidation, and fear has piled the offenses up against yourself so high you can’t see anyway of forgiving yourself? In Matthew 18:21-35 we read the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant, where the king wanted to settle his accounts. He called in a servant who owed him 10,000 talents (millions of dollars in today’s market) and asked for payment. The servant begged for time and instead the king took pity on him and forgave the entire debt. That servant then went out and found a fellow servant who owed him 100 denarii (a few dollars by today’s standards) and demanded payment. This servant also begged for time, but the man refused to listen and had him thrown into prison. When the king heard what had happened, he called the servant in and asked him, “Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?” (Matthew 18:33) We are that servant who received the gracious and merciful gift of a cancelled debt from our King. In turn, we must then implement the same clemency and compassion to others…and that includes ourselves.