Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven,
Whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity,
And in whose spirit there is no guile.
When I kept silent, my bones grew old
Through my groaning all the day long.
For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me;
My vitality was turned into the drought of summer. Selah
I acknowledged my sin to You,
And my iniquity I have not hidden. I said,
“I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”
And You forgave the iniquity of my sin, Selah
For this cause everyone who is godly shall pray to You
In a time when You may be found,
They shall not come near him.
You are my hiding place;
You shall preserve me from trouble;
You shall surround me with songs of deliverance. Selah
I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will guide you with My eye.
Do not be like the horse or like the mule,
Which have no understanding,
Which must be harnessed with bit and bridle,
Else they will not come near you.
Many sorrows shall be to the wicked;
But he who trusts in the Lord, mercy shall surround him.
Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, you righteous;
And shout for joy, all you upright in heart!
The story of Jonah and the whale is often dismissed by most as a Children’s story, but it really is not. It is one of the most important stories of redemption in the Bible. When God wanted Jonah to go to Ninevah and warn them to turn back from their ways, Jonah did not want to go.
King James Version (KJV)
2 Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me.
3 But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord, and went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish: so he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.
What we see in Jonah is a man who thought that his way was the best and didn’t not trust in God when He had a plan for the future of Ninevah. Jonah did not believe that Ninevah deserved redemption, and did not want to be the messenger that gave them the opportunity. But one of the most important things that we learn from the story of Jonah is that God is in control!
4 But the Lord sent out a great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty tempest in the sea, so that the ship was like to be broken.
5 Then the mariners were afraid, and cried every man unto his god, and cast forth the wares that were in the ship into the sea, to lighten it of them. But Jonah was gone down into the sides of the ship; and he lay, and was fast asleep.
6 So the shipmaster came to him, and said unto him, What meanest thou, O sleeper? arise, call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon us, that we perish not.
7 And they said every one to his fellow, Come, and let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this evil is upon us. So they cast lots, and the lot fell upon Jonah.
8 Then said they unto him, Tell us, we pray thee, for whose cause this evil is upon us; What is thine occupation? and whence comest thou? what is thy country? and of what people art thou?
9 And he said unto them, I am an Hebrew; and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, which hath made the sea and the dry land.
10 Then were the men exceedingly afraid, and said unto him. Why hast thou done this? For the men knew that he fled from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them.
11 Then said they unto him, What shall we do unto thee, that the sea may be calm unto us? for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous.
12 And he said unto them, Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea; so shall the sea be calm unto you: for I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you.
13 Nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring it to the land; but they could not: for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous against them.
14 Wherefore they cried unto the Lord, and said, We beseech thee, O Lord, we beseech thee, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not upon us innocent blood: for thou, OLord, hast done as it pleased thee.
15 So they took up Jonah, and cast him forth into the sea: and the sea ceased from her raging.
16 Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice unto the Lord, and made vows.
17 Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
We all know this part of the story, this is what we learned as children. But for so many the story stops here. Yet when Jonah gets to Ninevah is more important to the world of Jonah’s day. God warns them through Jonah that if they do not pray for forgiveness and turn from their ways that they will be destroyed.
3 So Jonah arose, and went unto Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceeding great city of three days’ journey.
4 And Jonah began to enter into the city a day’s journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.
5 So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them.
6 For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.
7 And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water:
8 But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands.
9 Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not?
10 And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.
Jonah was one of God’s messengers that rebelled from doing what God wanted him to do, and yet God used that very rebellion to convince Ninevah of His message. If Jonah had been a willing messenger, Ninevah probably would not have taken him seriously. And yet Ninevah still might have gone the other way. They might have refused to listen. If they had not listened God would have kept His promise to destroy them. We see from this story that no matter how bad things are that there are hopes for redemption, that God always keeps His promise, that He is in control no matter what we think, and that no matter how faulty we are as humans, He can use us to save others. We see an example of resurrection and redemption, a forerunner of Jesus Christ Himself.
No matter what we think about this world, we need to remember that things are not always what they seem, and that God is still in control and His plan is in place. We are not aware of what He is doing at any given time, and what we think is a failure, may just be another step in the process to the final goal that He wants. We have read the Book and we know the end. God’s time is His own and our time on earth is only important in fulfilling the objectives that He has given us and that is to “go forth and make disciples.”
God bless you all, have faith and trust in God no matter what you think should be the right path!
If you are thinking about the movie The Runaway Bride featuring Richard Gere and Julia Roberts, I am so far from that! Sorry. Not sure if it is a good movie or not but…… when I get a word from the Holy Spirit I either move in obedience or I don’t. The title came to me out of nowhere. I was sitting down minding my own business when a spoken word came. Things that make you go Hmmmm.
The video will do all the talking for me but as a fellow sister and blogger, I wanted to reach out through typing as well. I’ve missed writing to you all! Please know that I continue to write but I will also be sharing messages through my YouTube vlogs. I’m becoming a bit more comfortable doing it so here we go! Remember that God loves you and adores you. I did not speak or emphasize this portion of scripture on video but I wanted to share it with you here. And the Word tells us in the book of Ephesians:
Instructions for Christian Households
21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her26 to make her holy, cleansing[b] her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”[c] 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. (Ephesians 5:22-33)
So I implore you brothers and sisters in Christ to cleave to Him as the Head of your life whether you are single or married. Be the best bride you can be and do it with all your might and strength in the Lord with love and adoration.
Be blessed and encouraged always in the Lord,
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. (Colossians 3:23 ESV)
“The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face shine upon you, And be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, And give you peace.” Numbers 6:24-26 NKJV
There are moments and days when I personally have to make quiet time to be with the Lord. I need His peace. I seek His peace so that my thoughts and my walk will align with His.
Do you ever find yourself seeking peace in the most war waging times in your life?
How easily it becomes getting caught up in our thoughts especially when it’s on a battlefield. We cannot always give the adversary credit for a wandering mind filled with thoughts that may turn unpleasant. At times we do this to ourselves. (time for a self check)
Scripture plainly tells us about taking our thoughts captive in II Corinthians 10:5 NKJV:
“…… casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ,”
I encourage you dear reader as I encourage myself, to do some kneeling of prayer and seeking of the Lord when you arise each morning, throughout the day and upon going to bed. We cannot have peace where strife is taking up residence. Get up, grab your Bible and apply it. Call on the Lord and speak His word into your life and the burden that you are carrying.
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7 NKJV
As we begin to close out the year 2013, I pray we all begin to take more self evaluations as we learn more to lean not to our own thoughts and understanding. They are to be in sync with the Lords. (Proverbs 3:5-6) Things may not always be as they seem. If they are, I urge you and myself to go to the throne more often so that our walk with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit be in unison. Be blessed and be encouraged.
Peace to the brethren, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. Amen. Ephesians 6:23-24 NKJV
King James Version (KJV)
3 O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?
2 This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?
3 Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?
4 Have ye suffered so many things in vain? if it be yet in vain.
5 He therefore that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?
6 Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.
7 Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham.
8 And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed.
9 So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.
10 For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.
11 But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith.
12 And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them.
13 Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree:
14 That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.
15 Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; Though it be but a man’s covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth, or addeth thereto.
16 Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.
17 And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect.
18 For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise.
19 Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator.
20 Now a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one.
21 Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.
22 But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.
23 But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed.
24 Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.
25 But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.
26 For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.
27 For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.
29 And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
I simply cannot explain these feelings that have been welling up in my soul lately as we approach Christmas. While Jesus is the reason for the season, like a flower blooming petal after petal, a swarming of love and adoration for Christ has covered me like an abundance of sweet honey reserved just for the best. Jesus Christ is our best. He is the greatest gift we could ever receive. Not just for Christmas, but for all time.
All I need for Christmas is Jesus.
Teaching my children why we celebrate Christmas is very important. While decorating for the holidays, giving and receiving gifts comes with tradition, the main focus is on Christ and His coming to earth in the form of man. (starting off as a baby of course). Lately I have being drawing closer to Him asking that my eyes be opened like never before and that my ears be tentative to my surroundings. Having a little talk with Jesus is like chicken noodle soup for the soul. That’s just my opinion.
I remember some years ago that I would become overwhelmed with the Christmas season approaching. It was more emotional than physical. I would become saddened and somewhat lethargic. I say this because my eyes were set on the wrong things and I was always “thirsty”.
I’m not one to do the Christmas shopping in my house for the most part. Thankfully it has always been my husband because no one would get anything most likely had it been left up to me to go out in the chaos and mass of people rushing, shoving, cursing and just flat-out been mean-spirited. Plus, I don’t have that kind of patience. Having 5 babies back to back kept me busy so it just became easier for my dear husband to do. I digress but for a moment!
My thoughts always went back to my childhood. While I had a pretty decent life growing up, I always felt something missing.
Jesus wasn’t there.
Feeling confused and happy at the same time was just weird. Plain old strange and yet I managed to get through another holiday season. I could not wait for the holidays to pass.
Recently, my heart was on a couple of senior citizens who were in need of some items that they needed. It was an article I caught in the newspaper that came from the aid of the Salvation Army. I told my husband about it and that I wanted to sponsor the people’s needs. While my eyes glazed over the many people young and old with a wish list, I wondered even more about those lost. The lost who needed Jesus; the very One who is our ever-present help, comfort and aid.
I began to cry. Not just because some cannot afford material needs and wants, but that many go lacking without a Savior.How often we walk daily without Him. As Christians and sinners alike ,but first as human beings, we find ourselves at times trying to do things on our own. We try to make things happen within our own power and might. We fix our eyes on higher prizes and treasures beyond our means. Some are just desires to want, want,want. Fleshly things. Things that will pass. Treasures that will not go with us on a U-Haul when we leave this old world.
Getting caught up over-shopping and over-spending will give anyone a headache and then possible regret for debt than may take a while to pay off when we “rob Peter to pay Paul”. That’s a saying I got from my Mom. Maybe you’ve heard of it before.
Nevertheless, we need peace and true joy. It can only be found in Christ Jesus. He will make us whole. He can satisfy our deepest needs. Will you invite Him into your life? Will you allow God to direct your life, your finances, your will, wants and your plans that they will align with His?
While I am not attempting to take away your joy of shopping for your friends and loved ones, I just want to provide you with the opportunity to receive the greatest gift of all this year as we bring 2013 to a close. Health may have fallen, bills may be behind and loved ones may have turned their backs on you but know that there is a risen Savior who is waiting to receive you today.
I want to share with you a song I heard on the radio yesterday. I don’t drive much if I can help it but when I do, I tend to listen to uplifting music to carry me throughout my day. This song about had me in tears. No matter what we are going through, we must know that we cannot do anything in this life without the Lord no matter how hard we try. I know for myself that I cannot walk without Him holding my hand. This song has become one of my favorite and it lingers within me to the point of praise.
All we NEED for Christmas is Jesus Christ. If we trust God, He will provide all that we need and bless us with our wants. By His grace we have what we have. May we be thankful for the little and great. Be blessed one and all. You are loved, cherished and prayed for.
“Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” Matthew 6: 26, 33 NKJV
To God be the glory now and forevermore,
EVERYWHERE, EVERYWHERE, CHRISTMAS TONIGHT!�
That there were in the world multiplied millions who had never heard of Christmas did not matter to our poet for the purpose of his poem. He was expressing an emotional fact, not a statistical one.
Throughout the Western world we tend to follow the poet and approach Christmas emotionally instead of factually. It is the romance of Christmas that gives it its extraordinary appeal to that relatively small number of persons of the earth�s population who regularly celebrate it.
So completely are we carried away by the excitement of this midwinter festival that we are apt to forget that its romantic appeal is the least significant thing about it. The theology of Christmas too easily gets lost under the gay wrappings, yet apart from its theological meaning it really has none at all. A half dozen doctrinally sound carols serve to keep alive the great deep truth of the Incarnation, but aside from these, popular Christmas music is void of any real lasting truth. The English mouse that was not even stirring, the German Tannenbaum so fair and lovely and the American red-nosed reindeer that has nothing to recommend it have pretty well taken over in Christmas poetry and song. These along with merry old St. Nicholas have about displaced Christian theology.
We must not forget that the Church is the custodian of a truth so grave and urgent that its importance can not be overemphasized, and so vast and incomprehensible that even an apostle did not try to explain it; rather it burst forth from him as an astonished exclamation:
Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great:
He appeared in a body,
was vindicated by the Spirit,
was seen by angels,
was preached among the nations;
was believed on in the world,
(1 Timothy 3:16)
This is what the Church is trying to say to mankind but her voice these days is thin and weak and scarcely heard amid the commercialized clangor of �Silent Night.�
It does seem strange that so many persons become excited about Christmas and so few stop to inquire into its meaning; but I suppose this odd phenomenon is quite in harmony with our unfortunate human habit of magnifying trivialities and ignoring matters of greatest import. The same man who will check his tires and consult his road map with utmost care before starting on a journey may travel for a lifetime on the way that knows no return and never once pause to ask whether or not he is headed in the right direction.
The Christmas message, when stripped of its pagan overtones, is relatively simple: God is come to earth in the form of man. Around this one dogma the whole question of meaning revolves. God did come or He did not; He is come or He is not, and the vast accumulation of sentimental notions and romantic practices that go to make up our modern Christmas cannot give evidence on one side or the other.
Certain religious teachers in apostolic times refused to believe that Jesus was actually God come in the flesh. They were willing to exhaust the language of unctuous flattery to describe His glorious manhood, but they would have none of His deity. Their basic philosophy forbade them to believe that there could ever be a union of God and human flesh.Matter, they said, is essentially evil. God who is impeccably holy could never allow Himself contact with evil. Human flesh is matter, therefore God is not come in the flesh.
Certainly it would not be difficult to refute this negative teaching. One would only need to demonstrate the error of the major premise, the essential sinfulness of matter, and the whole thing would collapse. But that would be to match reason against reason and take the mystery of godliness out of the realm of faith and make of it merely another religious philosophy. Then we would have rationalism with a thin Christian veneer. How long before the veneer wore off and we had only rationalism?
While faith contains an element of reason, it is essentially moral rather than intellectual. In the New Testament unbelief is a sin, and this could not be so if belief were no more than a verdict based upon evidence. There is nothing unreasonable about the Christian message, but its appeal is not primarily to reason. At a specific time in a certain place God became flesh, but the transcendence of Christ over the human conscience is not historic; it is intimate, direct and personal.
Christ�s coming to Bethlehem�s manger was in harmony with the primary fact of His secret presence in the world in preincarnate times as the Light that lighteth every man. The sum of the New Testament teaching about this is that Christ�s claims are self-validating and will be rejected only by those who love evil. Whenever Christ is preached in the power of the Spirit, a judgment seat is erected and each hearer stands to be judged by his response to the message. His moral responsibility is not to a lesson in religious history but to the divine Person who now confronts him.
�Everywhere, everywhere, Christmas tonight.� But Christmas either means more than is popularly supposed or it means nothing.
We had better decide.
There are many different thoughts on celebrating Christmas, and I find it something that seems to bring conflict to many who follow Christ! While many believe that practicing what originally began as a pagan celebration is wrong, the fact is that Christians turned it into a day to celebrate the birth of Christ. Others find it wrong that we celebrate birth at all. The birthday was not something that was celebrated by early Jews.
We are not instructed in the Bible to celebrate the birth of Jesus, but it is notable that the birth was noted in the Bible itself with the honoring of the baby by Angels declaring His birth, by Wise Men looking for Him and bringing gifts to celebrate His coming and recognizing the importance of His future Kingship. The gospels do not give us a date of His birth, and yet they do emphasize the importance of His birth. Without His birth, we have nothing. He had to come to earth as a human to fulfill the prophecy and give the sacrifice. It stands to reason that His birth is one of the most important days in history. And while we are also told to celebrate death over birth, without the birth, you can not have the death.
As for the fact that Christmas itself began as a pagan holiday, people ceased to associate the day with the worship of a pagan god and began to associate it with the birth of the Savior of the world. For ministry, is that not what we want? For people to disregard pagans and remember Christ’s coming?
One of the biggest problems with modern day followers of Christ is that all to often the celebration becomes more about themselves than it is about Christ. We don’t truly celebrate the birth of Jesus so much as we take the opportunity to party and feed our own desires, whether with food, friends, presents or other indulgences. Do we really spend enough time in reflection on the reason for His birth and thanksgiving for it?
While we may or may not agree on whether we should celebrate Christmas, I decided that I would include a few others thoughts on that very thing. God bless!
“Christmas now means that we mark, in Christian ways, the birth of Jesus Christ. I think the birth, death and resurrection of Christ are the most important events in human history. Not to mark them in some way, by way of special celebration, would be folly it seems to me.” From: Should Christians Celebrate Christmas? John Piper
Charles H. Spurgeon on Christmas from Founders Ministries Blog:
He had little patience with his Protestant brethren who made much of the day out of religious devotion. Yet, Spurgeon was far from a Scrooge. Nor did he think it some violation of Scripture to utilize the inevitable emphasis of the season to preach the incarnate Christ. So it is easy to find sermons on the birth of Christ that he preached around Christmas time.
In December of 1855 he preached on “The Incarnation and Birth of Christ” from Micah 5:2. His opening words were these:
THIS is the season of the year when, whether we wish it or not, we are compelled to think of the birth of Christ. I hold it to be one of the greatest absurdities under heaven to think that there is any religion in keeping Christmas-day. There are no probabilities whatever that our Savior Jesus Christ was born on that day and the observance of it is purely of Popish origin; doubtless those who are Catholics have a right to hallow it, but I do not see how consistent Protestants can account it in the least sacred. However, I wish there were ten or a dozen Christmas-days in the year; for there is work enough in the world, and a little more rest would not hurt laboring people. Christmas-day is really a boon to us, particularly as it enables us to assemble round the family hearth and meet our friends once more. Still, although we do not fall exactly in the track of other people, I see no harm in thinking of the incarnation and birth of the Lord Jesus. We do not wish to be classed with those“Who with more care keep holiday
The wrong, than others the right way.”
By Paul Ravenhill
300 years after Jesus’ death the church set December 25th as the day of commemoration and celebration of His birth.
Was Jesus born December 25th?… Possibly not!
Does the exact date matter? I don’t think so! Some people have a problem with December 25th because it was the date of the heathen celebration of the mid-winter festival. As Studdert-Kennedy (to whom I am indebted for his notes which lay the basis for this writing) has pointed out, for the heathen it was based in a time of dread
(dread of the winter cold which had taken the life from the trees and plants and
touched the waters and the fields with frost,
dread of the darkness which had taken over a greater portion of every day,
dread of the scarcity the uncertainty, the unrelenting attack of winter) from this fear was born the custom of lighting fires and burning logs to “warm up the sun” lest he flicker out and die and never rise again….. Read the rest at Christmas
By Paul Ravenhill
From Billy Graham
“I don’t think we ought to stop celebrating Christmas, but I do agree that we’ve lost sight of its true meaning. All too often, I’m afraid, we have left Christ out of Christmas, and yet (as the popular saying goes) He truly is “the reason for the season.”
Instead of focusing on what Christmas has become, however, let’s focus instead on what it can become for us, no matter what others do. Christmas celebrates the coming of Jesus Christ into the world, which set in motion the greatest event in human history. What better time to stop and reflect on what God did for us by sending His only Son into the world?
Why is Christmas important? It’s important first of all because it reminds us of our greatest need: to be forgiven of our sins and reconciled to the God who created us. If we could solve this need by ourselves, Christ wouldn’t have had to leave heaven’s glory and come to earth. But He did — because God loves us, and He wants us to know Him and spend eternity with Him.
Christmas reminds us too of what God has done for us. We could never save ourselves — but Christ came to save us by His death and resurrection. Make Christ the center of your Christmas this year — and then you’ll begin to understand the greatness of God’s gift to us that first Christmas. As the Bible says, “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23)”. Billy Graham Evangelistic Association
From A.W. Pink:
To you the Word of the Lord is, “Be THOU AN EXAMPLE of believers in word, in deportment, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12). Is it not true that the most corrupt “churches” you know of, where almost every fundamental of the faith is denied, will have their “Christmas celebrations?” Will you imitate them? Are you consistent to protest against unscriptural methods of “raising money,” and then to sanction unscriptural “Christmas services?” Seek grace to firmly but lovingly set God’s truth on this subject before your people, and announce that you can have no part in following Pagan, Romish, and worldly customs.
At the heart of salvation is the notion of loving God with all our heart, mind and soul, and as Jesus said, to love our neighbor as ourselves. It is impossible to pass this test and break any of the commandments. We can visualize the latter concept as a package of virtue, consisting mostly of love, acceptance & forgiveness. I cannot imagine being like Christ, while lacking one of these traits.
I would like to introduce you to my grandson, Dylan. He is also one of my best friends. He calls me Papa. He is a model of acceptance for me, because he never rejects me, is always happy to see me, and lets me know this with a greeting and a big hug. He is impressive. He embodies the meaning of the Apostle Peter, where he says,
“Most of all, love each other as if your life depended on it. Love makes up for practically anything.” 1 Peter 4:11 [MSG].
[Picture above: Love doesn’t begrudge one an extra glass of milk at Denny’s!]
Love is essential to relationships, in order for them to endure. People tend to shun relationships that have no payback. Acceptance is also important to all of us. We fold to peer pressure because we are looking for acceptance, but Dylan is pure in his love and acceptance. He doesn’t put any conditions on it; like the love and acceptance we get from Jesus – unconditional! It’s too bad that some others are not as loving and accepting of Dylan. They are missing out on a terrific relationship.
As you can tell from his picture, Dylan has Down ’s syndrome; thus he has not been blessed with a totally ideal life. He has faced challenges from birth. Despite this, he has great compassion for others.
Some time ago, I had some minor surgery on my leg. Dylan saw the bandage near my knee and demanded to see beneath it. ”Poor Papa,” he exclaimed, asking if it hurt. He insisted on monitoring the progress of the “scar” every time we were together, until you could hardly notice it any more. This is a level of caring that you do not see in others that often.
I Corinthians, chapter 13 describes love in certain ways, some of which are particularly characteristic of Dylan.
- Cares more for others than for self.
- Trusts God always,
- Never looks back, but keeps going to the end.
Dylan has learned to operate in this world in a way that illustrates clearly to all who know him, that the nature of Christ is transcendent to all of us, if we dare to embrace it. Love and acceptance needs to be cherished and celebrated, because it is rather rare. I am very fortunate to receive these gifts from Dylan.
It costs nothing to experience the love and acceptance of Jesus. He did it all! But I would like to be a disciple of Jesus. Stopping at (free) salvation and an eternity in Heaven is OK for some, but I want to be like Jesus. Part of the cost of discipleship is to give the gift of love and acceptance to others, like Dylan, thus emulating Jesus, who gave so freely to us!
Pray for me, I have a long way to go. It’s hard to love and accept some people, but I am trying to let The Holy Spirit work through me to accomplish things in my heart that I could never do!
Forgiveness also seems inherent to some of us.
It has been several weeks since I wrote about the remarkable capacity for love and acceptance demonstrated by my grandson (and best friend) Dylan. A lot has happened since. Unbeknownst to me at the time I first wrote the article, there was a controversy at Dylan’s school concerning a teacher that he used to have. He had been in her class about 2 1/2 years, but not currently. [Dylan attends a public school and takes special needs classes.]
This teacher and Dylan were in the same school district for over ten years, as Dylan took pre-K classes there. That is where Dylan met her. It came to the parents’ attention that all was not right in her current classroom. Reportedly, loud voices could be heard whenever approaching the classroom. A student with Down’s syndrome was found wandering alone out in the school parking lot. Someone inside the classroom stated that the teacher was upset with an autism student, because he would not join the group at a table; She reportedly went to him and yanked him out of the chair, where he fell to the floor. Accordingly, she kicked him several times.
Even more was to come to light, as it turns out that there was a poorly documented history of incidents with this teacher. It is suspected that the pattern went back to the time Dylan attended her class. Dylan has not said anything about any incident. One wonders what he possibly went through. This is a hard thing for parents/grandparents to forgive. I believe it is a test for us to see if we can walk the walk we have been talking! Can we separate the “sin” from the “sinner?” I am proud of my daughter-in-law, who went to the public meetings, concentrated on change, not punitive measures and helped point others that way also. This was hard for her, because the authorities moved this teacher around and did not fix the problem while it recurred, over and over.
At one of several meetings held to remedy the matter, when it was time for Dylan’s mother to speak, focusing on the heart of the issue, she took 1 1/2 of her three minutes at the podium in total silence. She explained, “That is all my child could do while witnessing events such as this.”
It is part of the prophet Isaiah’s message to help the helpless (loose translation). What should the role of the Parent/Grandparent/Concerned Citizen be in a situation such as this? Good Question…it will not be totally answered on this blog. But I would like to point out what I do know, so that we can at least head in the same general direction in unity. The Lord’s Prayer has us ask God to forgive us, “as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Ouch! I want to be forgiven, because I am certainly in need of that, but when someone else (deliberately?) wrongs me, I want justice. No world can be equitable, where certain people are always judged with mercy, and others always face the sword of justice. I’ve chosen to err on the side of mercy and let God balance it out. I trust Him more than the courts, anyway.
Then there is the account of Christ on the cross as recorded in Luke 23:34 (NKJV) Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” I do not know the mind of Dylan’s teacher, but I suspect she did not know the impact of her continued disrespect for her students. And as much as it goes against the grain, I have to fall on the side of Jesus’ guideline; from the cross where he was dying He encourages us to forgive the offenders. How powerful is that?
While I do not have all the answers, I know that the path of forgiveness is the answer for me. I am earnestly following that path, because there are some obstacles in the path of true forgiveness. I will face them honestly and adjust my attitude to meet God’s expectations. As for Dylan, just like his love and acceptance, he is a whole-hearted forgiver. And although he has not mentioned anything about abuse, if it happened or even if he witnessed abuse of others, Dylan is passed it. He is much more advanced in the fine art of forgiveness than many of us.
Finally, I am not saying that all of this should go unpunished. But if God takes care of it, any judgment will be appropriate and those of us who refrain from judging will not be destroyed in the process.
My prayer for you today, is that those of you who are seeking forgiveness will find it and that every one of us will be as liberal with our forgiveness as Jesus is with us!
P.S. The Brentwood Unified School District subsequently announced that the teacher in question has had her credentials revoked. The superintendent was placed on administrative leave and three other employees were fired. I take no special joy in this except to note that the battle was The Lord’s all along. He took care of it, so I didn’t have to worry about it. And that, my friends, is known as grace! Amen!
Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about
with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us,
and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,
Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith;
who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God….
For ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched,
and that burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest, And the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words;
which voice they that heard intreated that the word should not be spoken to them any more: (For they could not endure that which was commanded, And if so much as a beast touch the mountain, it shall be stoned, or thrust through with a dart: And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake:)
But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God,the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect,
And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel… Whose voice then shook the earth: but now he hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven.
Thou art my God, and I will praise thee:
thou art my God, I will exalt thee.
O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.
”Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us” Check your heart and your life for anything that may be slowing down your walk with the Lord. Has anything crept in that has taken the place of the Almighty in your life? Ask the Lord to show you anything that needs to be changed. Have I become lukewarm? Do I put Christ first or the things of this World? Check your heart today. Everything you do and say and all your motives are being recorded. Let your words be pleasing unto the Lord this Thanksgiving weekend. Pray for Israel and all God’s people around the world.
(A Thanksgiving Psalm)
Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands.
Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing.
Know ye that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.
For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.
(A psalm of thanksgiving)
O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: because his mercy endureth for ever.
Let Israel now say, that his mercy endureth for ever.
Let the house of Aaron now say, that his mercy endureth for ever.
Let them now that fear the Lord say,
that his mercy endureth for ever.
I called upon the Lord in distress: the Lord answered me, and set me in a large place.
The Lord is on my side; I will not fear: what can man do unto me?
The Lord taketh my part with them that help me: therefore shall I see my desire upon them that hate me.
It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man.
It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in princes.
All nations compassed me about: but in the name of the Lord will I destroy them.
They compassed me about; yea, they compassed me about: but in the name of the Lord I will destroy them.
They compassed me about like bees: they are quenched as the fire of thorns: for in the name of the Lord I will destroy them.
Thou hast thrust sore at me that I might fall: but the Lord helped me.
The Lord is my strength and song, and is become my salvation.
The voice of rejoicing and salvation is in the tabernacles of the righteous: the right hand of the Lord doeth valiantly.
The right hand of the Lord is exalted: the right hand of the Lord doeth valiantly.
I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord.
The Lord hath chastened me sore: but he hath not given me over unto death.
Open to me the gates of righteousness: I will go into them, and I will praise the Lord:
This gate of the Lord, into which the righteous shall enter.
I will praise thee: for thou hast heard me, and art become my salvation.
The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner.
This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvellous in our eyes.
This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.
Save now, I beseech thee, O Lord:
O Lord, I beseech thee, send now prosperity.
Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the Lord: we have blessed you out of the house of the Lord.
God is the Lord, which hath shewed us light:
bind the sacrifice with cords, even unto the horns of the altar.
Thou art my God, and I will praise thee:
thou art my God, I will exalt thee.
O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.
Thou art my God, and I will praise thee:
thou art my God, I will exalt thee.
O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.
Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: For our God is a consuming fire.
1 Chronicles 16
King James Version (KJV)
7 Then on that day David delivered first this psalm to thank the Lord into the hand of Asaph and his brethren.
8 Give thanks unto the Lord, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the people.
9 Sing unto him, sing psalms unto him, talk ye of all his wondrous works.
10 Glory ye in his holy name: let the heart of them rejoice that seek the Lord.
11 Seek the Lord and his strength, seek his face continually.
12 Remember his marvellous works that he hath done, his wonders, and the judgments of his mouth;
13 O ye seed of Israel his servant, ye children of Jacob, his chosen ones.
14 He is the Lord our God; his judgments are in all the earth.
15 Be ye mindful always of his covenant; the word which he commanded to a thousand generations;
16 Even of the covenant which he made with Abraham, and of his oath unto Isaac;
17 And hath confirmed the same to Jacob for a law, and to Israel for an everlasting covenant,
18 Saying, Unto thee will I give the land of Canaan, the lot of your inheritance;
19 When ye were but few, even a few, and strangers in it.
20 And when they went from nation to nation, and from one kingdom to another people;
21 He suffered no man to do them wrong: yea, he reproved kings for their sakes,
22 Saying, Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm.
23 Sing unto the Lord, all the earth; shew forth from day to day his salvation.
24 Declare his glory among the heathen; his marvellous works among all nations.
25 For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised: he also is to be feared above all gods.
26 For all the gods of the people are idols: but the Lord made the heavens.
27 Glory and honour are in his presence; strength and gladness are in his place.
28 Give unto the Lord, ye kindreds of the people, give unto the Lord glory and strength.
29 Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name: bring an offering, and come before him: worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.
30 Fear before him, all the earth: the world also shall be stable, that it be not moved.
31 Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice: and let men say among the nations, The Lord reigneth.
32 Let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof: let the fields rejoice, and all that is therein.
33 Then shall the trees of the wood sing out at the presence of the Lord, because he cometh to judge the earth.
34 O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good; for his mercy endureth for ever.
35 And say ye, Save us, O God of our salvation, and gather us together, and deliver us from the heathen, that we may give thanks to thy holy name, and glory in thy praise.
36 Blessed be the Lord God of Israel for ever and ever. And all the people said, Amen, and praised the Lord.
This is a must watch video as I fear too many brothers and sisters in Christ are believing in the Word-Faith Movement due to taking “ministers” and TV preachers at face value and not exercising discernment as they ought. I used to be involved in this cult. I have a John Hagee Prophecy Study Bible filled with notes from Kenneth Hagin’s, Kenneth and Gloria Copeland’s and Joyce Meyer’s teachings, to name a few. I have been “slain in the Spirit” (this is Kundalini and its evil!). I’ve spoken in tongues, too, but not in the scripturally correct way. But one day I asked our Lord and Savior, Jesus, to please reveal to me all of the lies I was believing to be the truth and He did just that. It took time but I saw all of the errors I had been believing to be biblically right be revealed as man’s false teachings and not God’s. I thank God that He was merciful to me during the time I was believing errors as truth and that He showed me scripture verses which said, “…I never knew you.”and “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Your Son whom You have sent.” See, I was believing a different Jesus. And I fear many Christians are believing a different Jesus. I did a purging of all of my heretical books and tapes which took a few weeks to do-though I was constantly running across more findings of false teachings on my bookshelves. I stopped watching TBN and TLN and any preacher/teacher on TV. And I finally quit giving to the 700 Club, Joyce Meyer Ministries, TLN, and others. This was hard because I was experiencing the Law of Reciprocity (sp)! Ofcourse, none of the purging was easy and I had to experience the loss of friends who believe to this day that I am in error. But they love their experiences of slayings and tongues talking too much because they truly believe it is of God, Himself. May God open their spiritual eyes! Anyway, I hope this video edifies everyone who watches it. God bless you~
‘Complete Anarchy’: Famed Pastor Issues Major Wake-Up Call for Christians About the Dire State of American Culture
TheBlaze’s Carly Hoilman contributed to this report.
The centerpiece of Driscoll’s new book titled, ”A Call to Resurgence: Will Christianity Have a Funeral or a Future?,” is that we’re living in a “post-Christian culture — a culture fundamentally at odds with faith in Jesus.”
Culture Is Quickly Shifting
The pastor recently told TheBlaze that he believes cultural norms are rapidly shifting in American society and that these changes come at the same time that Christianity is losing its place of prominence.
“A commitment to secularism to pluralism has really come very, very rapidly, and certain issues like gay marriage have accelerated and highlighted that,” Driscoll said. “More biblical, conservative traditions…values have gone from being respected to really despised in very short order.”
Driscoll explained that 40 years ago, homosexuality was still listed in psychological manuals and textbooks as a mental disorder, and now it is considered a civil right. He added, “That’s a quick flip.”
“We are living in a post-Christian culture — a culture fundamentally at odds with faith in Jesus.”
He believes that there’s been a paradigm shift in society from “morality to personality.”
Rather than moral absolutes governing what’s right or wrong, Driscoll said that there’s a general view that people should be true to themselves — that they should essentially stand by their feelings and desires.
“We’ve shifted from a worldview where there is a God who makes laws, and they apply to you, to whether or not there is a God it does not matter — ‘I don’t recognize any laws external to me. The only thing that guides me is my own internal convictions,’” he said. “Authority has shifted from external to internal, from God to me. And what you end up with is not a discussion of morality but a defense of personality. And that’s the world we live in.”
Driscoll believes that there is “a culture of complete anarchy in the name of tolerance and diversity.”
“One in four women sexual assaulted, one in six men, people that are sexually addicted, sexually assaulted, sexually abused, rampant debt, broken families, suicidal,” he told TheBlaze. “The number one category of prescription medication is antidepressants. Somebody’s gotta stand up and say, ‘This ain’t working — we gotta try something else.’”
One of the Big Questions Facing Christians
One of the big questions facing Christians, the pastor said, is how to peacefully exist in this context of change without compromising values and theology.
“Christians need to understand that Christians and non-Christians just disagree about a lot of things,” he said. “We disagree about where we come from, we disagree about why we’re here, we disagree about what we’re supposed to do, we disagree with what we’re supposed to do with our pots and our pans and our genitals and our wallets — we just disagree on all kinds of things.”
Driscoll went on to say that one of the biggest threats to Christians is the assumption that compromising on what they believe will help them or serve a positive purpose for the non-believers they interact with. Doing this, he said, simply doesn’t work for anyone
With the changing cultural dynamics, Driscoll warned that Christians need to start getting better at understanding suffering and dealing with pushback, as they’re poised to receive more of it.
“In the West we’re not really familiar with suffering [and] Christendom and Christians have tended to be in a position of power, a respected position, and so all the issues surrounding suffering and criticism and such — we’re not very good at that,” he said. “And it’s something we’d better get better at pretty quickly because it’s just going to get harder to stay true to what we believe.”
Driscoll said that it’s becoming increasingly difficult for people to be Bible-believing — and practicing — Christians and that there are “no social perks to being a Christian” in today’s society.
Issues Facing Churches
The decreasing role and reverence for churches is also noticeable, Driscoll said. While houses or worship were once much-respected, today he believes that this dynamic has profoundly changed.
“The churches, for the most part, held a very respected place in society — and if you’re going to be a good business leader, a good citizen, a moral person, well obviously you believe in God and you’re involved in some religious community,” he said. “So what that led to was really a lot of people who weren’t committed to their religious beliefs — they didn’t really live them out — but they would sort of wave the flag because of the social benefits that came with it.”
Driscoll believes the social benefits and connotations the church once offered are decreasing. Being ostracized or marginalized for being in the pews makes it somewhat less appealing to participate in church. While he doesn’t necessarily believe that there are fewer Christians, he said “the teams have gotten very clear.”
“Somebody’s gotta stand up and say, ‘This ain’t working — we gotta try something else.’”
Fewer of those who went or go to church mainly to bask in these benefits are now doing so and for obvious reasons; the purported benefits are diminishing.
With the changing dynamics, Christians have to find a balance, Driscoll argued. What battles will they choose to fight? Which will they choose to ignore? Of these concerns, Driscoll said, ”You can’t fight over everything, and you’re not very courageous if you won’t fight for anything.”
The pastor said it’s important to decide what’s worth fighting for and then to be prepared to deal with the consequences of speaking out.
Driscoll expounds upon these themes in “A Call to Resurgence: Will Christianity Have a Funeral or a Future?”
“Now I do not think that Satan much cares to destroy us Christians physically. The soldier dead in battle who died performing some deed of heroism is not a great loss to the army but may rather be an object of pride to his country. On the other hand the soldier who cannot or will not fight but runs away at the sound of the first enemy gun is a shame to his family and a disgrace to his nation. So a Christian who dies in the faith represents no irreparable loss to the forces of righteousness on earth and certainly no victory for the devil. But when whole regiments of professed believers are too timid to fight and too smug to be ashamed, surely it must bring an astringent smile to the face of the enemy;
The devil’s master strategy for us Christians then is not to kill us physically (though there may be some special situations where physical death fits into his plan better), but to destroy our power to wage spiritual warfare. And how well he has succeeded. ” A.W.Tozer
10 Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.
11 Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
13 Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
14 Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness;
15 And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace;
16 Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.
17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:
18 Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints;
19 And for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel,
20 For which I am an ambassador in bonds: that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.
Wonderful day with no rain and many dedications!!At Uttlapalli Village, we dedicate church given by Vinita AG. Here last year we baptized in 55 gallon drum behind a tarp because hindus were upset. We gave to start church and it now runs over 50 adults and 40 children and growing weekly.One crippled girl from birth, 4 weeks ago can now walk.We prayed for infilling of Holy Spirit and heaven was so real and a couple got their heavenly language. Gave matching gift to put stone floor and extend the church–no more room…Srinivas Nagar–we dedicate well, Melody gave in memory of her late husband who passed 7 years ago. It has sweet water and 40 church members and all neighbors were so thankful. One pump of handle and water comes!!Narsapuram–so truly blessed me!! This church built by Tula Rosa NM and well by the Haymes family, has grown from 50 to 70 with added 50 children. This is an alive church.last year we prayed for a boy Krishnan, 18, who was born deaf-mute.I had forgotten, but his father Hamu Niak, a stone polisher, brought him up and both were so so excited. They shared how after the prayer last year—now Krishnan can hear and speak. He had such a huge smile as he told his name, what village he is from, his fathers name … PRAISE THE LORD!Last year, his father pledged to do marble floors stones in the church and it is beautiful job as a stone polisher…In the churches where God is showing signs and wonders–which are so many churches, they are growing much.In Keshavapuram, we dedicated a church and plaque given in memory of Judy Henry of Muscogee-a friend who so encouraged and prayed and is now with the Lord!Nice church that we gave today for flooring etc.One woman was one of many who stood and told of God’s grace and love.She was some 55 and a widow since age 26. She shared she was widowed and both of her daughters husbands also had passed and they were widows…She shared how now she has no debt and God is taking care in spite of all the challenges…she set down.I asked: “sister, is your name Naomi?” All said, “YES, that is her name.”I am so thankful for God’s goodness and grace. He does do miracles and so so many are testified about in everyday here:TB, leprosy, deaf-mute, babies given etc…He sees us thru daily and keeps us covered in blessing and protection!!Just crossing many rivers the past week with so many low water ”bridges”? has been so challenging with so many bridges washed out and bumper deep waters… having to throw stones in holes on bridges to make it across… HE PROTECTS and does “Signs and Wonders”!!Thanks for your prayers!! 2 more days in villages…Kerry, Melody, Jim and Joshua