Posted in My Journey

How Great Is Our God?

Out of nothingness came life. Out of the emptiness and the void, came we. God formed us out of the dust of the ground, breathed into us the breath of life and made us living beings. How great is our God?

“When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalms 8:3)

We mere humans are dust. Yet God loves us so much that he was willing to sacrifice his only son Jesus so that we may live, live free from the penalty of sin, and live forever. How great is our God?

From edge to edge of this deep vastness called the universe, God has set the foundations of our firmament. He gave us dominion over all things on the earth. He provided us food with which to feed ourselves, and clothes to keep our fleshly bodies warm. How great is our God?

We are but bones, sinews, flesh and skin covering it all. We have seventy years given to us, eighty by reason of strength. Our lives are like a vapor, but even King David asked: Who are we that God should be so mindful of us? How great is our God?

Out of the emptiness, God made us, and through Jesus, he fills us with the Holy Spirit and saves us. God is great.

Posted in My Journey

Forgive as God Forgives

Our nature dictates that we ought to hold a grudge against anyone who would slight us. Should we find ourselves angry with someone, our nature would want us to take it further. It is within us not to want to forgive.

But God showed us what forgiveness really is. In everything we do, no matter how awful, no matter how horrible, no matter how ugly it is, God will forgive us, if we wholeheartedly repent of our sins. It is within His nature to want to forgive.

No greater sacrifice had anyone made than that made by Jesus when He gave His life on the cross for us sinners:

“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” (1 John 3:16)

How much more would His sacrifice mean to us if we had seen with our own eyes Jesus bound, whipped, tortured and nailed to the cross, if we knew that cross was meant for us?

In the same way, we have to let go of grudges, slights and anger. Instead, we have to love those who cause us hurt. Bless those who want us harm. Forgive those who wish to do us evil. And even if others did not mean to offend us in any way, but in our old nature, we might want to do them evil, we must allow the Holy Spirit to lead us to change. Our nature will then be as God’s nature; and through this, we will have the power to forgive as God forgives.

Posted in My Journey

Believe in God’s Promises

God promised He would never leave us or forsake us. That is a promise from God Almighty, the creator of heaven and earth. His power is beyond measure. His strength is without end. And his mercy never fails. As His children, we ought to seek every opportunity to honor our Father whenever He makes good on His promises. His Yes is as sure as the sunrise:

“For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.” (2 Corinthians 1:20)

Of all the promises given, the one most important is the gift of the Holy Spirit (John 14:15-17). If we love Jesus our Savior, keeping His commandments, giving God the glory in all things, He will impart the Holy Spirit to us and He will dwell in us forever. We will know God and He will know us. Our sins will be no more, and even when our flesh ceases to exist, we will live again. We will put on a new body, without defect, and it will be perfect in every way. We will be perfect in every way.

It all starts with believing Jesus is the Christ, who died for us on the cross. When we accept Him as our personal savior, God promises we will rise again to new life, filled with glory, honor, and joy, brimful and running over.

Now is the time to believe. Now is the time to claim those promises.

Posted in My Journey

Strive for Patient Endurance

The ability to persevere through a trial only comes from God. He will provide the strength to overcome. And through his spirit, we have the power of longsuffering. Dark days become light, tidal waves become calm waters, and our belief in God never leaving us or forsaking us supplies us with patient endurance that ultimately quiets us. The Apostle John in the Book of Revelation mentions how God will protect the church during tribulation:

“Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth.” (Revelation 3:10)

Having patience is waiting, waiting on God, and waiting on his promises for deliverance. If the fiery trial (1 Peter 4:12) is temptation, God will provide a way of escape, for he will not allow us to be tempted beyond our ability (1 Corinthians 10:13). When we fix our eyes on him, his mind will lead us to have the endurance to continue in our righteous walk. No one can take that away from us. Our times of sorrow are opportunities for God to perfect us in the image of his glory. Once we accept Christ Jesus as our savior, the unbearable becomes bearable because no one has suffered more than his son has.

Therefore, let us strive for patient endurance, giving to God the glory for being the creator of all things, the sustainer of all things, and the God Almighty of all things.

Posted in Guest Contributor

Take Off the Mask

[Note from Jack Flacco: Erica Hedtke Barreto attends Hoboken Grace in New Jersey and is this week’s guest contributor for Looking to God.]

My husband and I had an interesting conversation the other night when he came home from his men’s dinner group. He explained how the group’s discussion centered on sharing God’s message with others. The group consensus was that each of them was hesitant to talk about who God is, not only in their workplace, but also with the people who were not within their church circle. They admitted their fear of people’s judgement and the labels they would inherit, for instance “Jesus freak”. While we were sitting on the couch together talking about this, I knew I had to have this same conversation with you.

I remember how a few years ago I listened to a sermon telling us that we should be the same person in every moment of our lives. I did not understand this at first, but once I started paying attention, I could see that I would say and do different things at church than I would when hanging out with friends. I would be one Erica in my dinner group and another Erica at work. I would talk about my love for God to certain people, but then to others I would stay quiet. I could feel this conflict in my heart, and it bothered me that I could not be the real Jesus-loving me in every situation, even if I knew what it was that was holding me back. That it was the fear of others judging me for my faith. I was afraid of how people would look at me, treat me, and maybe go so far as to exclude me from activities all because they found out that I am more spiritual than I let on.

There is another side to the coin, though.

God calls us to be His stewards here on Earth. He does not say, “Talk about Me when you feel comfortable.” He does not say, “Praise My name only on Sunday morning surrounded by other Christians.” No, God calls us to be stewards every single day we are on this Earth. Look at what it says in the book of Mark:

“Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” (Mark 16:15)

That is, to the whole creation. Not just some, not just when no one is around or paying attention to you, not just when you have an extra ten minutes to spare, not just when you feel like it, and not just to those like you, but to the whole creation.

If that sounds difficult to do, imagine what it was like for Jesus. He put himself in all kinds of uncomfortable situations with lepers, prostitutes, the high priest and the council, regardless of people not accepting Him and regardless of people hating Him; the latter of which ultimately led to His death on the cross. This is the type of surrender that verse is talking about. This is the kind of disciple God was looking for when He set out to create each one of us.

Therefore, why are we throwing ourselves under a cape, hiding our true identities? Is it to make others feel comfortable? If so, let us take off the mask of the image we are projecting, and live the real life God called us to live.

Posted in Guest Contributor

Rise Up

[Note from Jack Flacco: I have known Erica Hedtke Barreto for several years now. Her love for Jesus and the bible is beyond measure. When I asked if she would like to submit one of her articles to me for publication, she jumped at the chance. Below is the result. Please join me today in welcoming Erica as a guest contributor for Looking to God.]

What do these three entities have in common: Voldemort, Beetlejuice and the devil? All are evil and all their names are not to be spoken aloud. However, just because we may choose not to say their names, does not mean all of them are fantasies.

Not saying “Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice” does not change the fact that in fictional reality, this utterance would cause him to appear. In the same way, ignoring the devil’s presence will not change the fact that in our reality he very much exists and very much interferes in our everyday life. By ignoring his presence, we end up giving him power. We are like a parent who looks the other way as the child steals the piece of candy off the shelf. Rather, what we should do is call him by name and catch him in the act. Otherwise, we let him win. He goes about his time thinking that he owns us and knows exactly how to mess with us. We let him wreak havoc on our days, on our confidence, and on our relationships.

We need to recognize that the devil is as real as God is. We need to be okay with saying his name. We need to remember that he is that evil, little monster whose job it is to play mind games and to manipulate us into thinking we are not good enough for anything. From that point on, you call him on it. Do not allow him to sneak into your thoughts; he does not deserve any power over you. Confess in that moment, “The Lord is my light and my salvation,” as it says in Psalms 27:1. And if you notice that he is using his number one warfare tactic—fear—then continue that verse by saying, “whom shall I fear?” We are children of the King and our God Himself told us that if we are His, then we have no reason to fear anything.

So listen up devil: we see you. We hear you. And we are not afraid to put you back in that rightful place our King has sent you!

Let us rise up in 2019 not to be afraid to speak our salvation aloud. Let us not be afraid to take down these evil enemies. Jesus already won the war. Now, with His help, it is up to us to win the battles.

Posted in My Journey

Thankful for Miracles

Yesterday I completed my “Year of Thanks” project I had begun in 2017. During this same time last year, I had resolved to think about one thing I was thankful for daily and tell people about it. I wrote it all out on Twitter as one long conversation. Some days I was thankful for the simple things, like eating a cheeseburger. Other days, my appreciation extended to knowing just how incredible a life I live having God there to support me.

Several things I did not mention, for which I am also grateful: I am on the Board of Directors of my church. I am on the Leadership Team, as well, delivering sermons on a regular basis. And I am a Youth Leader giving messages. Lastly, I have written a book called When Forgiveness Is Enough, which I now realize God had led to publication.

Of course, the biggest of all events I am thankful for has to be the Christmas gift God had given my family when my son broke from his Autistic Shutdown. Our appreciation could not be any larger than when we later found out that the cause was anxiety.

But nothing compares to what I feel whenever I think about the salvation I now have through Jesus. The apostle Paul expressed it so well when he related his thanksgiving regarding the grace given to others:

“I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus” (1 Cor. 1:4 ESV).

No matter how small or how large of a miracle that takes place in our lives today, or this week, being thankful for all of it gives us the opportunity to know just how much God loves us. With every little miracle God grants, he demonstrates his love.