These posts are scheduled to resume

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on October 27th. Jesus and His disciples took breaks and we believe in following His example.

The Road to Jesus Leads to an Incarnation – Isaiah 7 & 8

Isaiah is preaching to God’s people during a time when they have recently experienced material prosperity but now they are in engaged in war or potential war. The northern tribes of Israel have allied themselves with Syria (Damascus) against Assyria (Syro-Ephraimite War, 734-32 B. C.).

A famous promise of the coming Branch (Isaiah 4:2) is found in 7:10ff. The only time in biblical history, God gives a man an opportunity to ask for his own sign. In a show of pseudo-piety, King Ahaz declines. Isaiah rebukes Ahaz for his lack of faith in God (vs 13).

So, God gives him a sign: “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.”

There is no doubt that this prophecy was ultimately fulfilled in the coming of Jesus through Mary, a virgin (Matt. 1:23) and that Jesus was the ultimate sign to Israel that they needed to trust God to deal with their biggest problem: (not Assyria or Israel) sin.

The challenge, however, is to see how this prophecy can be a sign to Ahaz with the fulfillment in Jesus not being for another 700 years. This question has vexed Bible students for centuries and I doubt I’ll solve it definitively. However, I’ll share my thoughts. First, based on verses 15-16, I don’t think it is the virgin who will be the sign but the boy who would (one day) be born to her. It is the maturation time frame of the boy that is the sign to Ahaz.

This sign is given to Judah as a whole; the “you” (vs 14) is plural. The virgin would have a son whose nature would be “God with us” (Immanuel). In the time it takes such a boy to learn the difference between good and evil, the threat from Syria and Israel will no longer exist (vs 16).

Isaiah’s own son, Maher-shalal-hash-baz, will also be a sign for Israel with the same message (8:3-4). Before he is old enough to cry “My father” or “My mother,” Syria and Israel will fall to the king of Assyria.

Yet, Jerusalem should not trust in Assyria, because Judah is going to fall to Assyria as well. Yet, she will not be totally devastated because she belongs to Immanuel (8:8). It seems hard to believe, then, that Immanuel, whose people will be devastated, is Isaiah’s son or some other human person. The Gentile peoples will make plans against Judah but they will be thwarted because of Immanuel (8:10).

There are two more references to Immanuel in chapter 8, but not by name. In verse 14, He will be a “sanctuary” for those who fear the Lord of hosts but a “stone to strike and a rock to stumble over” for those who ignore Him (a promise fulfilled in Jesus: Romans 9:33 and 1 Peter 2:8).

Also, the faithful, the remnant, are the Lord’s children, showing that He and they are of the same nature (8:18; fulfilled in Jesus, Hebrews 2:13). That is why the Lord has concern for the faithful remnant.

Isaiah has introduced the Branch in 4:2. In 7:14, this Branch, who will be identified as the new King (chapter 9), has the nature of being “God with us.” But, He will be also made like His children (8:18) so that He can save them from their sins. His person will separate the faithful from the unfaithful (8:14).

Truly Isaiah is the “Messianic Prophet.”

–Paul Holland

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Paul’s Prayer for the Thessalonians

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The church of Christ in Thessalonica was founded in the middle of persecution (Acts 17:1-9). Paul and Silas were quickly ushered out of Thessalonica and sent to Berea. Not too many months afterward, Paul, Silas, and Timothy sat down to write a letter of encouragement to these young Christians, a mixture of Jews and Gentiles.

When you read the entire letter at one sitting, it seems that the key message of the letter is found in 4:1-2: “Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more. For you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus” (NASV).

Periodically we’ll consider some thoughts from Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, all of which should have some connection with those two key verses.

Consider Paul’s first sentence (1:2-5): “We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers; constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father, knowing, brethren beloved by God, His choice of you; for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake” (NASV).

I’ll be working from the NASV because it, among the major translations, represents Paul’s complete thought, all in one sentence.

The main verb in this sentence is: “We give thanks.” This verb is present and active. The verb is modified by “to God” (in contrast to the dead idols whom they had previously served; vs 9) and “always” (showing Paul’s constant communication), as well as “for all of you” (Paul prayed for everyone, speaking to God on their behalf). What love we see in Paul.

This main verb is also explained by the use of participles, three in fact: “making mention,” “bearing in mind,” and “knowing.”

The “making mention” carries the idea that Paul specifically talks to the Father about the Christians in Thessalonica, bringing each into memory in prayers.

The “bearing in mind” portrays the idea that Paul is holding these Christians in his hand, in his heart each time he speaks to the Father. This participle has three objects: their work of faith, their labor of love, their steadfastness of hope. You can quickly recognize the three primary Christian virtues: faith, hope, and love. These three motivate and guide the young Christians in their work, their labor, and their “steadfastness.”

All three have the definite article (if you were to use an English/Greek interlinear, you could see that), showing Paul specifically has in mind the Christian faith, the Christian love, the Christian hope. All three virtues are “in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father,” that is, the Thessalonians were working under the watchful eyes of their Savior and Lord.

“Work of faith, labor of love, steadfastness of hope.” What does that mean? The NIV adds some words to clarify the thought: “work produced by faith, labor prompted by love, endurance inspired by hope.” My italicized words were added by the NIV translators. It is easy to see that “work” and “labor” are synonyms. I would suggest Paul is using “steadfastness / endurance” as a synonym for work and labor.

The third participle that completes Paul’s main verb (“giving thanks”) is “knowing.” Through the phrases that complete this participle, Paul writes that he gives thanks for them, knowing that God had chosen them. The biblical idea of “chosen” or “election” is very rich. It was a term used for Israel and key individuals in OT history used by God as well as a term for Jesus Christ. Here, Paul says that Christians in Thessalonica are now part of that choice body.

How does Paul know about their choice? The “because” or “for” at the beginning of verse 5 completes this thought. It was because the gospel was not preached only in words but also God worked “in power and in the Holy Spirit with full conviction.” While Acts 17 does not mention the miraculous element in their preaching, Paul does here.

God worked miracles through Paul, Silas, and Timothy while they were preaching the gospel. By those works, He showed His approval of these men and their preaching so that when the Thessalonians obeyed the Gospel, Paul knew they were responding to God’s choice of them.

Four verses but a wealth of information. How do we pray?

–Paul Holland

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I Do not Trust You

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According to one poll, the least trusted professions (beginning with the least) are: politicians, car salespeople, advertisers, business men, lawyers, and bankers.

Why do we not trust these people? Because they (as a group) have broken their word, violated the trust we placed in them, one too many times. Trust means “firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.”

Certainly there are honest politicians (theoretically, I guess), honest car salesmen, honest advertisers, honest business men, honest lawyers, and honest bankers. I know some in almost all of these categories.

Why do we trust these (the individuals) when we don’t trust those (the group as a whole)? Because, again, they have violated their word, broken the trust, too many times.

The individuals in those groups whom I trust are Christians. That gives me a strong motivation to trust them. If they are serious about honoring Jesus Christ, then they are going to be trustworthy in reflecting His nature – which is Truth (John 14:6). That does not mean they will be perfect but if they mess up, they’ll confess and make things right. That’s how we keep someone’s trust.

People will doubt us because others have broken their trust.

So, what can we do to earn people’s trust? First, we have to be patient. Second, we have to prove ourselves trustworthy.

Proverbs 11:13 – “He who goes about as a talebearer reveals secrets, But he who is trustworthy conceals a matter.” So, prove yourself trustworthy by keeping secrets.

Proverbs 14:5 – “A trustworthy witness will not lie, But a false witness utters lies.” Prove yourself trustworthy by not lying and telling the truth.

Proverbs 20:6 – “Many a man proclaims his own loyalty, But who can find a trustworthy man?” Prove yourself trustworthy by proving yourself trustworthy. Refrain from proclaiming your loyalty and prove your loyalty.

In short, if we want to be trustworthy, then we have to show ourselves worthy of trust. With some people, that will be easy. But with others, especially with some who have had trust broken far too many times, it will take patience.

But, if we are persistent and consistent, trust will come.

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Islam is the fastest-growing of the major world religions

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The growth rate of Islam, according to the U.S. Center for World Mission, at 2.9% is higher than the 2.6% growth rate of the world’s population. Thus, the percentage of Muslims in the world is growing on the order of 0.6% per year . . . Islam is the fastest-growing of the major world religions. This is driven by the higher birth rates in the third world . . . It is estimated that the number of Muslims will grow from 1.22 billion in the year 2000 to 1.89 billion by 2025.

– via Samuel Huntington, “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order”

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The Age of Debates

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Be a Blessing – Matthew 20:28

The 19th century (1800s) was the “Age of Debates.” This was a time, before television and radio were so widespread, when Americans would come out to hear men debate religious topics. The Lord’s church grew and thrived during this period of time because people were interested in truth and they benefited from having truth set out and explained in direct contrast to error.

The 20th century (1900s) was the “Age of Gospel meetings/revivals.” This was also a time when many Americans were interested in religion, in truth, and in hearing the Gospel preached with enthusiasm and passion. The church grew during this century as many Americans accepted our invitations to come hear the Gospel preached by visiting evangelists.

The 21st century (2000s) is the “Age of Service.” We all know that we are living in a “post-Christian” society, a society that largely believes that Christianity (or “church”) is no longer relevant. This is especially true when you consider how few Americans actually worship anywhere on a regular basis.

According to the most recent Barna research report, 49% of Americans say “church” is “somewhat” or “very” important. Millennials (those 30 or under) are the most likely to find church irrelevant – only 2 in 10 believe it is important. In fact, 35% of Millennials are basically “anti-church.”

Is the church relevant? From a theological perspective, of course, the Bible teaches that the church is the body of Christ on earth; it is that body made up of people who have been saved by the blood of Christ (Col. 1:24). But from a practical perspective, again, people (largely speaking) just aren’t interested in the theology of the church.

Part of the preparation Christ did in getting people to listen to His message was to prepare their hearts by serving. Take a look at Matthew 20:20-28:

HUMANITY’S ISSUE – 20:20-21:
Self-centeredness! You know, we are all centered on self in one way or another. That’s not entirely wrong because I have needs that I know need to be met. But our society has moved into a “me-first” and “me-only” phase in so many ways.

James and John’s issue here is humanity’s issue – What’s in it for me?

JESUS’ ANSWER – 20:22-23:
Jesus responds to Zebedee’s wife by pointing out that He did not have the authority to put James and John on thrones in the kingdom of the Father. That decision would have to come from the Father Himself.

Jesus’ question is: “If you want to be great, are you ready to suffer?”

Hearing this request by James and John, the other disciples feel indignant! Why should these two have such an honorable position in the kingdom of Christ? Peter had his reasons why he should be first. Andrew had his reasons. Philip had his reasons. Matthew had his reasons. Perhaps even Judas had his own reasons.

BE A BLESSING – 25-28:
Jesus never let a crisis go to waste in teaching His disciples important lessons about what it means to live a holy life.

Vs 25 – People who have no concern about God demand first priority. They have ambitions that walk over other people.
Vs 26 – In contrast to people who have no concern about God, those who are spiritually minded have to learn this lesson: If you want to be great, you’ve got to be a servant.
Vs 27 – If you want to be first, be the slave. The slave has no rights. The slave exists simply to serve. Serve. Serve. Serve. In what way are we going to serve?
Vs 28 – Then Jesus gives us the highest motivation to serve – The Son of Man did not come to serve but to give His life a ransom for many.

So, here’s the question. In seeking to help our compatriots see that the church is relevant today, who are we going to serve? How are we going to serve?

Who are in need in our community? Who are the ones who are the most likely to need friends? The Millennials (47%), Hispanics (47%), and never-married singles (44%) are the most likely to say they need friends.

But, of course, there are other groups who are easily overlooked in our society who need to see the church’s relevance as the body of Christ: Widows & widowers, those overcoming alcohol and drug addiction or other addictions, those with special needs children, the deaf, the blind. Who am I forgetting? Who are we forgetting?

What can we do to show our community that the church is relevant because the church serves. The sacrifice of Jesus Christ is the highest motivation to love others and serve them. Jesus did it. We should too.

–Paul Holland

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Elders and self-willed

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1) Jer. 44 – 30 verses – broken down into three sections.
a) First we read about Jews in Egypt who “persisted in idolatry” (verses 1-14).
b) Then we come to what God’s people were saying (verses 15-19).
c) The chapter concludes with information about divine destruction in Jer. 44:20-30.

2) Jer. 44:4 – READ
3) God said through His prophet, “Do not do some things.”
4) Verse 5 – READ
5) Verses 2-3, 6 – READ
6) The sin Jeremiah was speaking about (idolatry) was literally destroying God’s people – verse 7.
7) The people of Israel liked what they were doing, they did not want to change, and they didn’t change.
8) Notice verse 10 in this chapter – READ
9) Jeremiah said (verses 11-12) that God would “set His face” against these stubborn people.
10) God said His people would be “cut off.”
11) These so-called people of God were going to die.
12) Some would lose their lives due to “famine” (v. 12). Others would perish by the “sword.”
13) Verses 11-12 say the “least” and the “greatest” were going to die.


1) Verse 17 – the “Queen of Heaven.”
2) This “Queen” was a false God and likely a fertility god.
3) Jer. 44:16 – READ
4) Verse 18 – READ
5) The people of God believed life had been good while they worshipped “the Queen of Heaven.”
6) God’s people said idol worship had blessed them. Idol worship has met all their needs.
7) In verse 19 some Jewish women had a few choice words for God’s prophet.

1) In verse 23 – indictment – “because.”
2) “Because” the people had involved themselves in pagan worship 5 things were true:
3) Jer. 44:25 – READ
4) Jeremiah told God’s people what was coming in verses 29-30; verse 29 – READ

5) In this chapter we read about idol worshippers who were stubborn and selfish.
6) These men and women refused to change their ways; they were “self-willed.”
7) In the New Testament we find the words “self-willed” being used two times. Tit. 1:7; 2 Pet. 2:10.
8) In Tit. 1:7 Paul said an elder is not to be “self-willed.”
i) This word describes someone who wants to “please himself.’
ii) This person is stubborn and obstinate; he maintains his own opinion because he really likes it.
iii) Are we “self-willed” or like Jesus (“Let thy will be done?).

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Man is lost because his sin repels him from the holy nature of God

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The Road to Jesus Leads to Humility

As we study through Isaiah, we see man is not lost because God cannot save. Man is lost because his sin repels him from the holy nature of God just as darkness is repelled by light. God is holy. How is sinful man going to stand in the holy presence of God? That is the perpetual question asked throughout the Old Testament and only answered in Jesus Christ.

We come to chapter 6 and three things are made evident in chapter 6. First, and foremost, is the holiness of God. Yet, this holiness is pictured in contrast with the sinfulness of man, epitomized in God’s own prophet, Isaiah. So we see here that the prophet of God is no more holy or righteous than the nation of Israel. He is a sinner preaching to sinners. But, also we see, in contrast with Israel at large, Isaiah has the humility to submit and obey the Lord’s commands.

Chapter 6 is God’s call to Isaiah to be a prophet, to be a light to his nation, to be a witness of God’s work in the world and Isaiah says, “Here am I. Send me.” This is the attitude that God wants and needs Israel itself to have. The question is: Who will echo Isaiah’s submission?

In Isaiah’s vision, a seraphim called out in praise to God: “Holy, holy, holy. The whole earth is full of His glory.” This is the only place in the Old Testament where a quality is raised to the third power, indicating that God’s holiness is “so far beyond anything the human mind can grasp that a ‘super-superlative’ has to be invented to express it” (Motyer, 81).

Isaiah was overwhelmed just as any humble God-fearer would have been, in the presence of God. Compare Peter in Luke 5:8. To be blunt, until a man sees the holiness of God, he is not ready to preach the Gospel. I fear there are a lot of people claiming to be servants of the word who have not yet seen the holiness of the Lord.

Isaiah’s answer is very similar to Peter’s: “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips. For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”

We saw back in 4:4 that the Branch would bring a “spirit of burning” that would purify Israel and take away the filth of the daughters of Zion and purge the bloodshed from Jerusalem, making the survivors “holy.” So it is here that the fiery creature comes to Isaiah with a burning coal from the altar and touches Isaiah’s mouth with it. Through this symbolism, Isaiah’s iniquity is taken away and his sin is forgiven.

Standing pure and holy in the presence of God, Isaiah is now in a position to represent the holy God to an unholy people. The Lord calls out, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And Isaiah, humbled and purified, responds, “Here am I. Send me.” Please observe that Isaiah does not yet know what God wants done but for an humble servant of the word, it does not matter. He stands ready to serve His Lord.

If/when Judah will be holy, it will take the God of heaven to make them holy. Their responsibility will be to open their eyes and ears and understand His expectations for them (6:9-10).

–Paul Holland

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My Favorite Bible Verse

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“And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified” Acts 20:32.

I do not have a favorite Bible verse. If I did, it might be Acts 20:32. Here is what this verse teaches me.

“I” – Paul has himself in mind as a preacher of the Gospel. Paul was a servant of the word, a minister, an evangelist. Paul endured everything and anything to see that the Gospel got into the hands of anyone who would listen. Paul knew, as he taught in Romans 10:13ff that a person can’t call on the name of the Lord unless someone is sent to preach.

“Commend” – This English word means “to entrust for care or preservation; to recommend as worthy of confidence or notice.” Both sentiments would be true from a preacher’s perspective relative to what Paul says further. He entrusts others to God and His word for care and preservation and he recommends to them both God and His word as worthy of their confidence and notice.

The Greek word is paratithemi and means “to set or put.” The second most frequent translation is “to entrust,” the primary definition of the English word. So, Paul entrusts His audience into the hands of God for care and preservation.

“You” – Paul’s message was focused on other people. He was outward focused. While Bible study is an important use of a preacher’s time, he only does it to share its message and hope and encouragement with others. My role as a preacher is focused on others.

“To God” – God is our Creator and our Sustainer. Everything begins and ends with God. That’s why He is the One into Whose hands I entrust others. When all of life comes and goes, God is still there. Through all the vicissitudes of life, God is still there. That’s why we all need to put our lives, our souls, and our trust in Him.

“And to the word” – You and I communicate through words. God has always communicated through words. Adam and Eve received God’s message through words and it was in those words that they should have trusted and obeyed. You cannot separate God and His words for they are the exact expression of His heart.

“Of His grace” – Grace is the gift of God that we do not deserve. We do not deserve anything. Everything good we have and enjoy is by God’s grace. Here in particular, the grace taught through His word is specifically related to salvation. We do not deserve to be with God in heaven but He will give it to us because He is gracious.

“Which is able to build you up” – The “which” (actually “being able” is a participle) is masculine and refers to the “word” or to God but, again, you can’t separate the two. The message of the Gospel is able to build us up, to encourage us, to build and strengthen our faith, to prepare us for this life and for eternity. That’s why you can’t live life without the word nor make it to heaven without it. How can you learn of God’s grace without the Gospel message? Even without the Old Testament.

“And to give you an inheritance” – The word of the Gospel is also able to give us the inheritance that belongs to Jesus Christ, God’s Son by nature. To us, His brothers and sisters, it is obtained through grace. As the older Son, He may get the double portion, but He will share with us more than what is sufficient for our needs. You may not get much inheritance in earthly terms from your parents but the inheritance from God is out of this world. It is available by submitting to (obeying) the Word of His grace.

“Among those who are sanctified.” Enter Jesus Christ. He did no sin. He was never contaminated by sin. He lived an entirely sanctified life. To emphasize to us that Jesus took our sins on His own body, in 2 Corinthians 5:21 Paul says that God made Jesus to be sin for us. That is blunt. But, to emphasize that Jesus Himself was sinless, Paul goes on to say clearly that Jesus knew no sin. But, He became sin for us so that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. So we can become sanctified through washing in the pure blood of Christ.

Paul can pack a lot into a little space. That’s why Acts 20:32 might be my favorite verse.

–Paul Holland

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The new heavens and the new earth

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The Year Without a Winter

In April 1815, Mount Tambora erupted on Sumbawa Island. This was the largest volcanic eruption in the history of mankind (at least recorded history). The eruption lowered the mountain from 13,000 feet to just over 9,000 as the volcano spewed a million and a half tons of dust and debris into the sky, spreading over a million square miles.

The dust blocked out light and heat from the sun for over a year. The New England states in America were especially hard hit the next year. Those states had snow and ice in April, half an inch thick ice on their ponds in May, up to 10 inches of snow in June, more ice in July and August and frost through September, October, and November.

Crops were destroyed and livestock died. What was left skyrocketed in price. Everything was not a total loss. Mary Shelley was spending the summer of 1816 in Switzerland. The eruption of Mount Tambora created torrential rains and marvelous lightning storms the June night when she and friends told ghost stories. Shelley was inspired to write a novel that began, “It was on a dreary night of November…” She finished her book and entitled it Frankenstein.

First, if the eruption of Mount Tambora could create that kind of havoc worldwide, what impact would numerous eruptions of numerous volcanos during Noah’s flood have (Psa. 104:7-8)? Second, following Noah’s flood, God promised He would not destroy the world with water again (Gen. 8:22). Third, storms ought to remind us of the power of God (Isa. 50:2-3). Fourth, using Noah’s flood as a paradigm, God will one day destroy the whole world with fire (2 Peter 3:10).

Finally, the “new heavens and new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13) – a figure of speech called “merism” referring to our eternal home in heaven – will be a place where there is neither summer, fall, winter, or spring (Revelation 21:23).

Are you looking forward to the (eternal) year without a winter?

–Paul Holland

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David Earp, a deputy with the Durham County Sheriff in North Carolina

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By Instinct

“Instinct” is defined as “an innate, typically fixed pattern of behavior in animals in response to certain stimuli.” Sometimes, however, we use the word to refer to skills that have been learned and internalized to the point that, when we are under pressure, these skills take over and we perform them without much forethought.

Recently, David Earp, a deputy with the Durham County Sheriff in North Carolina, heard some crying coming from an apartment complex. He rushed to the scene and saw in the pond close to the apartment complex a 5-year-old girl floating and crying in the water but her 3-year-old sister was fully submerged. “After I was informed that there were kids involved, instinct took over just to go out there and rescue them,” Earp said.

The water was about 5’ deep. The sheriff’s deputy concentrated on saving the girls’ lives, particularly the one who had been submerged, doing CPR until the paramedics arrived. Earp has no children of his own.

The deputy jumped into action saying his “instinct took over.” This is not the instinct of a father since he was not a father. It was the natural instinct of a human being to come to the rescue of a fellow human being. No doubt, however, that his police officer training also was a part of that “instinct.”

You have heard many people use the same terminology. Servicemen who jump into action to save the life of a comrade will say things like, “I didn’t think. I just did it.” Instinct and training took over. That’s why the military and police officers, fire fighters, and other first responders have to continue their periodic training – to keep those “instinctual skills” honed so that they will take over when the situation demands.

Christians need to spend as much time with their Lord as possible so that the “Christ-instinct” will take over. If we spend time in His word, feeding on it, studying it, praying about it, talking about it to others, worshiping with fellow saints, then when the situation demands, Christ will “take over” in our lives.

By that, I mean when religious discussions come up, we can share our knowledge of the Bible with ease and comfort. Instinct will take over. When a heated situation occurs at the office, with our family or neighbor, Christ will come through in our speech and behavior. Instinct takes over.

If people do not see Christ in our speech, topics of conversation, tone of voice, control of temper, patience, and so forth, it’s likely that we are not spending enough time with Him. “Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). Instinct took over for Peter and John.

Are you living the Christian life by instinct?

Paul Holland

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