Christianity 201

August 29, 2016

We’re Wired for More

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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On July 16, 1969, Apollo 11 blasted off from Florida and would land on the moon just four days later. While the spacecraft had a very sophisticated computer navigation system, this was the 1960s after all and today, I’m told that I have more processing power and functionality in the small smartphone which fits in my pocket.

Similarly, on the day that I trusted Christ as my savior and promised to make him my Lord, I had only limited knowledge of scripture and awareness of the gifts God had given me, but today, as I endeavor to mature in Christ, hopefully I have much more potential spiritual power and ability to be his witness in the world.

Unfortunately, I will never understand everything that my phone is capable of doing. There are things wired into it (even though I realize there are no actual wires anymore) that are beyond my understanding.

Similarly, there are are things that God has wired me for, so to speak, that I can choose to apply or use, or allow those gifts to atrophy. Sometimes, only as I step out in faith will I know the resident potential that exists.

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.  -Ephesians 2:10 NLT

In a world before time, God “planned” us for “good things” and the resident potential within us is great.

but the people who know their God will display strength and take action. -Daniel 11:32b NASB

Other translations have

  • shall do exploits (KJV)
  • will stand strong and will act (CEB)
  • shall stand firm and take action  (ESV)
  • will act valiantly (NET)
  • stand strong and prevail (TLV)
  • carry out great exploits (NKJV)

…he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him… -Ephesians 1:4 ESV

Esther 4.14The challenge of course is that few of us know exactly or entirely what God has wired into us. The story of Esther is a story of someone who finds herself suddenly placed into a position which is really the turning point for the entire nation of Israel. Should she step up and take action or act valiantly? Mordecai says to her,

“For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”
– Esther 4:14 NIV

So she takes action, but not the way I might have done it. I would have walked into the king’s chamber and said, “We need to talk.” But instead she proposes a banquet and then another. Her nation is in peril of extinction and she throws a party! Her internal wiring and predisposition is such that she is able to devise a plan and make a difference.

We will never know what we’re wired for and what potential we have until we put ourselves out there and take action.

It’s also good to remember that we are image bearers of a creator God whose attributes we only scratch the surface of understanding.

For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts. -Isaiah 55:9 NLT

But as it is written, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined the things that God has prepared for those who love him.” -1 Corinthians 2:9 ISV

I don’t believe that we should start claiming a false promise that we can do what only God can do, nor should we buy into the idea of unlimited human potential, but we need to take the encouragement that we were created by a God of infinite capacity.

Are there things in your internal wiring that you haven’t discovered or haven’t used? A gift God has given you which you haven’t tapped into?

August 28, 2016

The Law of the Spirit

by Russell Young

It is knowledge of the working of the law of the Spirit that is the means of the believer’s eternal salvation.  The effectiveness of the law of the Spirit as availed through the New Covenant replaces the ineffectiveness of the law of Moses.  Paul wrote, “Therefore, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” (Rom 8:1-2, NIV)

The “law” must be fulfilled (Mt 5:19) and it can be for those who have confessed faith in Christ and it will be for those who walk in obedience to the Spirit. (Heb 5:9) Christ said that he had not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. (Mt 5:17) Paul wrote, “And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” (Rom 8:4, NIV) It is Christ through his Spirit who will fulfill the righteous requirements of the law as he lives in and through the believer.

The Law of the SpiritThe law of the Spirit is the living law.  It is not fixed in stone.  It comprises the dictates and instructions of the Spirit and is revealed as the Spirit leads the believer in God’s light and in accordance to his will.  Because it is so, it need not bring death but life.  Jesus said that “the Spirit gives life.” (Jn 6:63, NIV) He must be obeyed however, since to knowingly deny his leading results in destruction. “Whoever sows to please the flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Gal 6:8, NIV) A person’s sowing is serious business and its truth is not overruled by the love of Christ or by God’s grace, and the evil doing of a person following his confession of faith is not nullified by the ministry of Christ on the cross.

The believer’s walk must be righteous if he or she is to avoid judgment and the wrath of God. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians “He will punish those who do not know (understand) God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord.  They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day that he comes to be glorified by his holy people.” (2 Thess 1:9-10, NIV) Daniel prophesied, “But at that time [following the Great Tribulation] your people –everyone whose name is found written in the book-will be delivered.  Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake; some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.” (Dan 12:1-2, NIV) Not all will awake to glory even though their names have been written in the book.

The good news for the believer is that Christ is the Spirit (2 Cor 3:17) and he has come, by permission, to live his sinless life in the believer just as he did in the body that the Father had prepared for him in the womb of Mary. “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Col 1:27, NIV) God had tried to have his people achieve the righteousness that would bring him pleasure by starting the human race again with righteous Noah and his family following eradication of life by the flood. He attempted It through the exercise of punishment for disobedience and blessings for obedience, and by providing the written code.  None of these tactics worked because of the evil imaginations of the heart of man. (Gen 6:6) His solution ant that which brings life was for Christ to take the deserved death for all men because of their sin and then to live his life through them.  He is the way, the truth, and the life…and the law of the Spirit.

The law of the Spirit will lead the obedient confessor of Christ’s lordship (the believer) in righteousness and in transformation to his likeness.

The Word presents that faith and belief save.  They do, but that faith (persuasion) must be sufficient that the believer recognizes his or her need and believes strongly enough to obey the law that Christ is presenting to them.  They are to cling to their Lord and to love him with all of their heart, soul, and mind.

The Spirit is to be obeyed; he is not to be denied, quenched, or thwarted.  Those who do not honor his law will find that destruction rests upon their souls. The law of the Spirit sets a person free from the law of sin and death.  It is the law of God and must be appreciated as such. “But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law (of Moses) so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.” (Rom 7:6, NIV)

August 27, 2016

Redeem the Time

clock spiral

Well seize this critical moment, because the days are evil. (A Google Translate iteration of Ephesians 5:16 from Dios Habla Hoy, a Spanish Bible; could also be “this decisive moment.”)

Today’s thoughts continue from a topical article posted earlier today at Thinking Out Loud

…As Christians, the stewardship of our time is important. In the old KJV rendering of Ephesians 5:16, they used the phrase, “Redeeming the time…” More recent translators went with:

  • Make every minute count. (CEV, NASB, and others)
  • Make the best use of your time. (J. B. Phillips)
  • Don’t waste your time on useless work. (Eugene Peterson)
  • Make the most of every living and breathing moment. (The Voice)

The time factor figures into social media [such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, podcasts, etc.] but even more into addictive online behavior such as porn-related and game-related activity…

…While I’ve always used two major arguments in relationship to Christians viewing porn — the Bible’s teaching on lust and its teaching on self control — I think the stewardship of our time really needs to be added as a third reason to walk away from the computer, especially in view of stories about the hours and hours people spend glued to the screen.

Other verses come to mind, such as Psalm 90:12

So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. (ESV)

Other translations render this;

  • Teach us how short our lives are so that we can become wise.  (ERV)
  • Teach us to use wisely all the time we have. (CEV)

Some verses remind us of the brevity of life, such as James 4:13-15

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (ESV; some translations use vapor instead of mist.)

and Proverbs 27:1

Do not boast about tomorrow,
    for you do not know what a day may bring.  (NIV)

These reminders should make us want to consider where we invest ourselves in our daily schedule.

At the website BibleReasons.com, I found a list of Bible Verses About Time Management. I won’t reproduce it here, but encourage you to click through. One that struck me as we close here was about the idea of living with eternity in view:

NLT 2 Cor 4:18 So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.

How are you redeeming the time in your life?

 

August 26, 2016

A Psalm by Herman

NASB Ps. 88: 1 O Lord, the God of my salvation,
I have cried out by day and in the night before You.
Let my prayer come before You;
Incline Your ear to my cry!
3a For my soul has had enough troubles

Okay, it’s actually Heman, not Herman, but if he was around today he’d probably change it to avoid being called He-Man…

…This one needs an extended introduction.

The author of this devotional is frustrated, even to the point of calling Psalm 88, “This stupid Psalm.” (Not necessarily a recommended approach, but…) Artist and illustrator Jackson Ferrell writes a lighter devotion and is looking for an illustration to get things going and then realizes twice that some of the stories from his own life he thinks would be applicable, aren’t really what the Psalmist is saying.

Too many times we simply place the illustration too quickly, we think it fits and we don’t take the time to really slow down and read the passage. Perhaps sometimes our stories have nothing to do with the text.

Start by reading Psalm 88

…Today’s devotional is taken from the rather unusually named Chocolate Book. Each day the author has a chocolate flavor of the day and a reading for the day. (Seriously!) To read this at source, click the title below, and yes, the author of this Psalm is really named Herman…

Psalm 88 – Life in the Grave

This stupid psalm is resisting introduction. I’m about to ask “Have you ever thought you were going to die?” and recount the time I got stuck upside-down in a pool floatie as a toddler or the time the family Camry got hit by a semi truck when I was eleven, but then I realize: this psalm is about an extended period of being on the edge of the grave. It’s not about watching your life flash before your eyes in a moment. So then I’m about to ask “Have you ever wished you could die?” and talk about lying in the upstairs hallway overwhelmed by pain on the third day of having chicken pox when I was eight, but then I realize: the author of the psalm wants God to rescue him from his perpetually near-death state. He has no desire to die. So here’s the question: have you ever gone through a time in your life where, day after day, you felt like the living dead?

The psalm (which judging by the epigraph appears to have been penned by Heman the Ezrahite, one of the sons of Korah) is about being close to death in a particular way. The man compares himself to a corpse: “I have become like a man without strength…like the slain who lie in the grave, whom You remember no more” (4-5). He’s not even the walking dead; it’s like he’s going through his life just lying there. It’s like he’s gotten the Joseph treatment or even been buried alive: “You have put me in the lowest pit, in dark places, in the depths” (6). And who is it that’s put him six feet under? The psalmist contends that it’s God.

Chocolate Psalm 88Like David in Psalm 38, Heman the Ezrahite sees himself as an object of God’s wrath. He pleads to God, “You have afflicted me with all Your waves” (7) and “Your terrors have destroyed me” (16). Not only has God left him ostensibly drowning in judgment, it would seem he’s isolated him. “You have removed my acquaintances far from me” (8), the psalmist states. God has taken away the people he knew; moreover, God has made him an object of derision. It may be that Heman is being melodramatic, an unreliable narrator who cannot see God carrying him through this trial. I’ll entertain that possibility. But the fact remains: this is how it feels to Heman. To dismiss him as a histrionic drama queen would be a cruel disservice both to his inner state and the external pressures he’s suffering.

When he pleads his case to God in the middle of the psalm, it’s on grounds we’ve seen before. “Will You perform wonders for the dead? Will the departed spirits rise and praise You?” (10) he asks. How can God get any meaningful praise out of a corpse in the grave? His argument recalls one that David made in Psalm 30, one that might be construed as a bargain for rescue, offering to trade your praise for God’s salvation.

By the end of the psalm, nothing has changed, except that Heman has finished a song about his afflictions. He remains troubled to the last note of the last bar, and what happened afterward we can only imagine. But we know this much: even in the depths of the pit, he still called out to God. He still believed God might release him.

 


Curious to read more Psalms commentary like this one? Or maybe you just want to check out some other chocolate flavors! Either way, take a few minutes to read more at Chocolate Book.

August 25, 2016

Do You Have a Heart for God?

1 Samuel 13:1–14 NLT

Continued War with Philistia

Saul was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned for forty-two years.

Saul selected 3,000 special troops from the army of Israel and sent the rest of the men home. He took 2,000 of the chosen men with him to Micmash and the hill country of Bethel. The other 1,000 went with Saul’s son Jonathan to Gibeah in the land of Benjamin.

 Soon after this, Jonathan attacked and defeated the garrison of Philistines at Geba. The news spread quickly among the Philistines. So Saul blew the ram’s horn throughout the land, saying, “Hebrews, hear this! Rise up in revolt!”  All Israel heard the news that Saul had destroyed the Philistine garrison at Geba and that the Philistines now hated the Israelites more than ever. So the entire Israelite army was summoned to join Saul at Gilgal.

The Philistines mustered a mighty army of 3,000* chariots, 6,000 charioteers, and as many warriors as the grains of sand on the seashore! They camped at Micmash east of Beth-aven.   The men of Israel saw what a tight spot they were in; and because they were hard pressed by the enemy, they tried to hide in caves, thickets, rocks, holes, and cisterns.  Some of them crossed the Jordan River and escaped into the land of Gad and Gilead.

Saul’s Disobedience and Samuel’s Rebuke

Meanwhile, Saul stayed at Gilgal, and his men were trembling with fear.   Saul waited there seven days for Samuel, as Samuel had instructed him earlier, but Samuel still didn’t come. Saul realized that his troops were rapidly slipping away.  So he demanded, “Bring me the burnt offering and the peace offerings!” And Saul sacrificed the burnt offering himself.

Just as Saul was finishing with the burnt offering, Samuel arrived. Saul went out to meet and welcome him,   but Samuel said, “What is this you have done?”

Saul replied, “I saw my men scattering from me, and you didn’t arrive when you said you would, and the Philistines are at Micmash ready for battle.   So I said, ‘The Philistines are ready to march against us at Gilgal, and I haven’t even asked for the Lord’s help!’ So I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering myself before you came.”

“How foolish!” Samuel exclaimed. “You have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you. Had you kept it, the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever.   But now your kingdom must end, for the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart. The Lord has already appointed him to be the leader of his people, because you have not kept the Lord’s command.”

This is an article from earlier in the year by Chuck Swindoll which came recommended. We’ve included the full text of the scripture because the reading itself is shorter. If you have a devotional you want to recommend be sure to contact us. Click the title below to read at source.

Chuck SwindollHow’s Your Heart?

When God scans the earth for potential leaders, He is not on a search for angels in the flesh. He is certainly not looking for perfect people, since there are none. He is searching for men and women like you and me, mere people made up of flesh, bone, and blood. But He is also looking for certain qualities in those people, like the qualities He found in David.

The first quality God saw in David was a heart for God. “The Lord has sought out . . . a man after His own heart.” What does it mean to be a person after God’s own heart? Seems to me, it means that you are a person whose life is in harmony with the Lord. What is important to Him is important to you. What burdens Him burdens you. When He says, “Go to the right,” you go to the right. When He says, “Stop that in your life,” you stop it. When He says, “This is something I want you to change,” you come to terms with it because you have a heart for God. That’s bottom-line biblical Christianity.

When you are deeply spiritual, you have a heart that is sensitive to the things of God. A parallel verse in 2 Chronicles confirms this: “For the eyes of the LORD move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His” (2 Chronicles 16:9, emphasis added).

What is God looking for? He is looking for men and women whose hearts are completely His—completely. That means there are no locked closets. Nothing’s been swept under the rugs. That means that when you do wrong, you admit it and immediately come to terms with it. You’re grieved over wrong. You’re concerned about those things that displease your heavenly Father. You long to please Him in your actions. You care about the motives behind your actions. That’s having a heart for God, and that’s the first quality David had. Do you have a heart for God?

God is looking for men and women whose hearts are completely His—completely.

— Charles R. Swindoll

Excerpted from Charles R. Swindoll, Great Days with the Great Lives (Nashville: W Publishing Group, 2005).

If you would like a shorter devotion, perhaps to start the day or end the day, consider signing up for Chuck Swindoll at Insight for Living. They are currently in the book of Esther. To learn more, click this link.

 

August 24, 2016

How Idols Take Us Out of the Race

by Clarke Dixon

What is the harm in a few idols? As long as you keeping coming back to do “the God thing” from time to time, right? Some church attendance, some Bible reading, some prayer, some sort of religious something. As long as we do that a little idol worship in our lives is not a bad thing, right? In Ezekiel chapter 14 we learn of some idol worshipping leaders who come to Ezekiel to “do the God thing.” We can paraphrase God’s response with one word: “really?” Said with a very sarcastic tone of course. Idolatry  is a ridiculous thing to do and in Ezekiel chapters 14 and 15 we learn of three reasons why God’s people in Ezekiel’s day should commit themselves fully to the Lord. These three reasons still hold true for us today. So what are they?

First, idolatry creates distance in our relationship with God. Consider:

Therefore speak to them, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Any of those of the house of Israel who take their idols into their hearts and place their iniquity as a stumbling block before them, and yet come to the prophet—I the Lord will answer those who come with the multitude of their idols,  in order that I may take hold of the hearts of the house of Israel, all of whom are estranged from me through their idols.
  Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: Repent and turn away from your idols; and turn away your faces from all your abominations. For any of those of the house of Israel, or of the aliens who reside in Israel, who separate themselves from me, taking their idols into their hearts. . .  (Ezekiel 14:4-7 emphasis mine)

Keep in mind that as Christians we are under a covenant of grace, and so no matter what kind of distance we may put between ourselves and the Lord, we can no more change our child-of-God status any more than a spat with my Dad would make my Dad no longer my father. Through Jesus God has given us the right to become children of God. But estranged children we can surely become through idolatry.

Distance between ourselves and the Lord is most unfortunate. The way many Christians treat their relationship with God is like an athlete, a runner, who goes to a newly assigned coach and says “can you give me money for new running shoes please? That is all I want from you.” We do this when we have an attitude of “Lord, just get me to heaven please, Oh, and make life perfect until then too.” The coach responds with “I have something far greater for you: my time, my attention, my attentiveness to how you are running, my expertise in training and running, my wisdom, indeed I offer you me. I offer you a relationship with me.” The Lord offers us a relationship and all the while we cry out “just get us the shoes.” Idolatry makes us content with the hope of heaven as we miss the fact that we are missing out on God.

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. (John 15:9)

Second, idolatry leads us down a path of evil. Consider:

Mortal, these men have taken their idols into their hearts, and placed their iniquity as a stumbling block before them; shall I let myself be consulted by them?  Therefore speak to them, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Any of those of the house of Israel who take their idols into their hearts and place their iniquity as a stumbling block before them, and yet come to the prophet—I the Lord will answer those who come with the multitude of their idols,  in order that I may take hold of the hearts of the house of Israel, all of whom are estranged from me through their idols.
  Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: Repent and turn away from your idols; and turn away your faces from all your abominations.  For any of those of the house of Israel, or of the aliens who reside in Israel, who separate themselves from me, taking their idols into their hearts and placing their iniquity as a stumbling block before them, and yet come to a prophet to inquire of me by him, I the Lord will answer them myself. (Ezekiel 14:3-7 emphasis mine)

IdolsIdolatry makes us comfortable with the abominable. It makes what is awfully wrong seem OK, or even good. Like, an athlete that cheats. Cheating through drugs seems OK, good even, if winning is the only thing. But if winning with integrity is important, then that is a different story. Idols kill our perspective on sin. Consider how the idol of Social Darwinism makes the elimination of a particular race seem OK, good even if you are Hitler. People become comfortable with the abominable. Consider how the idolatry of sex makes some comfortable with adultery or even rape. Consider how the idolatry of people can make a person comfortable with stalking. Though we need sensitivity here, consider how the idolatry of personal rights makes people comfortable with terminating life in the womb.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us . . . (Hebrews 12:1)

Third, idolatry makes us useless. Consider:

The word of the Lord came to me:

 O mortal, how does the wood of the vine surpass all other wood—
the vine branch that is among the trees of the forest?
  Is wood taken from it to make anything?
Does one take a peg from it on which to hang any object?
  It is put in the fire for fuel;
when the fire has consumed both ends of it
and the middle of it is charred,
is it useful for anything?
  When it was whole it was used for nothing;
how much less—when the fire has consumed it,
and it is charred—
can it ever be used for anything! (Ezekiel 15:1-5)

While I am enjoying the pre-teen and teen stages my boys are in I must admit to missing certain things from their younger years, like Thomas the Tank Engine. I do not, however, miss the Teletubbies. Thomas was not a fast engine, or a big engine, or even a pretty engine, but he was a useful engine. Practically every episode had some reference to Thomas being or becoming “a very useful engine.” As Christians we are called to be useful, to be fruitful:

Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:4,5)

Idolatry keeps us from fully abiding in the vine, in Christ. Idolatry makes us fruitless, and useless. Idolatry would be like Usain Bolt running his competition in dress shoes, or Michael Phelps competing with water wings. It does not help get the job done.

So what if we find ourselves more like spiritual couch potatoes than spiritual Olympians? Is there any hope for us when idolatry has sidelined us form the race? Yes, there is opportunity to get back on track. God wants us on track:

I the Lord will answer those who come with the multitude of their idols,  in order that I may take hold of the hearts of the house of Israel (Ezekiel 14:4-5 emphasis mine)

When we are on the wrong track the opportunity is given to “turn around”, a Hebrew word in the Old Testament often translated as “repent”. Consider:

Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: Repent and turn away from your idols; and turn away your faces from all your abominations. (Ezekiel 14:6 emphasis mine)

When some people hear that word “repent” they automatically  respond with something like “how dare you tell me I need to repent! How dare you not accept me as I am!” In fact the call to repentance has nothing to do here with acceptance of who you are. It has to do with you not accepting the horrible situation you are in, not accepting that you are estranged form God, not accepting that idolatry has led you down a path of evil, and not accepting that being useless has become your status quo. Repentance is a very positive opportunity to re-evaluate and make positive changes. Athletes do it all the time as a matter of getting back on track. When idolatry takes hold, perhaps you and I should listen to God’s Holy Spirit and do likewise?

Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. (1 Cor 9:24)

All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV

Source for this article
Link to Clarke’s website

August 23, 2016

For Many of Us, September is a New Start

In North America at least, September marks the beginning of a new season. So I’m taking the liberty of using an early January article from a very popular Christian writer, and importing it into the present calendar situation. Because I’m currently reading Intercessory Prayer by Dutch Sheets, I decided to see what online writing by him was available, and found this at his ministry blog. He posts a new article about once a month. Click the title below to read this at Dutch Sheets Ministries.

Strengthen Yourself In The Lord … sharing a personal lesson

The new year is such a wonderful time, offering us the opportunity to look back on the road we’ve walked, and then dream with God to set bigger goals and tread higher ground. As this pivotal year has drawn to a close, troubles abound in our nation and abroad; even so some still find themselves joyfully celebrating great victories in the Lord. God has blessed us with His goodness and hope for what lies ahead. While reflecting upon these things, the Lord reminds me of a paramount principle He long ago seared upon my heart. It is a fundamental truth that can help us stay in God’s will and fulfill His intended purpose for our life.

Horses and Chariots

When an alliance of enemy armies threatened Joshua and the people of Israel in their quest to possess the land promised to them, God encouraged them not to be afraid, promising to deliver the enemy into their hands. But the assurance of victory was accompanied by a set of critical instructions for maintaining their success. The Lord told them to hamstring the horses and burn the chariots they had acquired as spoils of war (Joshua 11:6). To hamstring a horse is to cut a particular tendon so as not to kill or completely maim the horse, but certainly render it useless for engaging in battle or pulling chariots of war. Disabling the horses and destroying the chariots was God’s way of ensuring Israel would not become self-sufficient and dependent on their own military strength and ability for winning future battles. Instead, they would be reminded to trust Him.

The Lord set this safeguard in place because there was a tendency among the people of Israel, as there is within all of us, to lean on Him in times of great need, yet fall back on our own abilities and strengths when our struggles wane. Psalm 106 illustrates this unfortunate truth. After God so powerfully delivered Israel from slavery, they quickly forgot His miraculous works and did not seek His counsel (verse 13).

History repeated itself after Israel’s conquest of Jericho when they set out to take Ai, a small and seemingly weak city. Having become overconfident and self-sufficient after miraculously winning the battle at Jericho, they did not seek the Lord’s counsel for taking Ai. Attempting to go against the enemy in their own strength and ability, they suffered a most humiliating defeat.

Friends, especially after we’ve experienced times of great success, breakthrough, or promotion, we cannot forget our source of strength! We must rely on the Lord even more, with all the “more” He entrusts to us.

Lean On The Lord

In this season, God is attempting to give us a greater understanding of His authority and strength for breakthrough in our personal lives and family, for all of our labors, and for this nation as a whole. But we won’t grasp the concept of operating successfully in God’s delegated authority if, even unconsciously, there is any form of self-sufficiency in us. We must recognize that each day we need God’s wisdom for our decisions and His strength for everything we undertake.

There are times in life when we are traveling upon what seems to be familiar ground. In those instances, it is important that one not give place to presumptuous self-sufficiency with a “been there, done that” mentality. Even in the seemingly easy times, we must be careful to heed the words of Proverbs 3:5-8:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.

In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight.

Do not be wise in your own eyes;
Fear the Lord and turn away from evil.

It will be healing to your body
And refreshment to your bones.

Boast In The Lord

There are other times when the Lord will take us into situations where we feel a degree of intimidation, facing challenges that seem beyond our natural abilities. Following the example of the Apostle Paul, we go to the Lord and say, “Lord I want to glory in my weakness, because You then can be strong in me,” (2 Corinthians 10:17; 12:10; Psalm 20:7; Joel 3:10b).

Our greatest asset can be our area of weakness if we allow it to drive us to God, His vast wisdom, His limitless ability and His magnificent strength, rather than trust in our own.

“Thus says the LORD, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me.”Jeremiah 9:23-24a

“…The people who know their God will display strength and take action. Those who have insight among the people will give understanding to the many…” – Daniel 11:32b-33a

The Lord desires to accomplish great exploits through those who take time to know Him intimately and hear what’s on His heart. He will cause them to rise up in great strength and take bold, strategic action that leads from victory to victory, bringing glory to His name.

New Strength For The New Year

Let’s make this simple yet vital principle our plumb line for moving into the New Year: trust God, not ourselves. In doing so, we won’t forget the Lord after witnessing great miracles. We won’t let our guard down or act in presumption after experiencing victory. And we won’t become like a weakened Samson who awakened from sleep thinking, “I will shake myself free and overthrow my enemies as I’ve always done,” not realizing that the Lord had departed from him (Judges 16:20).

In this New Year, God is releasing grace to trust Him more. Lean into it, take hold of it. As you strengthen yourself in the Lord, He will add strength to your abilities and release creative thoughts, wise solutions, divine appointments, great favor, good contracts, and timely sales. Struggling ministries will soar in God’s strength and families in need of help will experience breakthrough. The Lord will even bring good from your past defeats. In this coming year, let’s work hard and be diligent, being mindful of His faithfulness, and look to Him for all we need.

My friend, put your trust in Him!

August 22, 2016

Freedom and the Ministry of the Spirit

This is a continuation of yesterday’s post

by Russell Young

There is another aspect concerning freedom in Christ that needs to be considered and is expressed in the manner in which the Spirit ministers in the believer’s heart.  Sin is lawlessness; for the believer it is failure to obey the law or the rule of the Spirit.  “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it sins.” (Jas 4:17, NIV) There are several important revelations in this passage.  The believer must know or must have been informed concerning that which the Spirit expects of him and for sin to have occurred he or she must have rejected the command of the Spirit.  Further, the command or knowledge is specific and personal to him or her.

The Spirit does not convict of all sin at one time.  If he did, the believer would be overwhelmed.  Christ is for us, not against us. He said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Mt 11:28-30, NIV) and John wrote: “This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome.” (1 Jn 5:3) Like anyone undertaking a cleaning project, one part is tackled at a time and the Lord will persist in his heart and mind-cleaning endeavours within the believer until he has accomplished his goal or until rebellion takes place to the point that the Spirit’s call and ministry is quenched.  The Lord will even discipline and punish those who are rejecting his cleansing ministry. “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” (Heb 12:5-6, NIV)

It is important to appreciate that the believer is no longer subject to completing the law as given to Moses; however, he or she is required to complete the law as given to them by the Spirit who will fully satisfy the same righteous requirements of Moses’ law, if he is obeyed.  Therefore, it is the commands of Christ though his Spirit that are law for the believer. As stated, the commands are specific and distinct for each person as the Spirit ministers to accomplish the personal transformation of each believer.  The commands of Christ are made known through the Spirit to each who would have ears to hear.  That which is a command for one person may not be for another at that point in his or her transformation.  In this way Christ can work gently and efficiently in each believer’s life.

All sin is offensive to God however, even those not revealed by the Spirit.  There are sins about which the believer is aware and which he knowingly commits or has been informed by the Spirit that he has committed (known sins) and those about which he has been left uninformed. “Known sin” is to be confessed and forgiveness sought. (1 Jn 1:9) Unknown sins are also offensive to God, and Christ as high priest will mediate these.  A mediating ministry of the high priest is to offer a sacrifice for sins committed in ignorance. (Heb 9:7) Consequently, revealed sin is to be confessed and stopped; unknown sin will be mediated by Christ as high priest. Accordingly, the burden placed upon the believer is light.  When he is convicted of sin, he is to repent and confess so that he might gain forgiveness.

The issue of judging other believers can be clarified at this point.  One believer is not to judge another-to do so leveling judgment at Christ.  His Spirit is working in each believer individually for that one’s cleansing and transformation; he or she is Christ’s “workmanship” (Eph 2:10), not another’s. Therefore, while the Spirit may have revealed sin in one person’s life, he may not yet have revealed that same sin in another’s. A brother or sister in the Lord needs to be encouraged but they do not need to be burdened by the convictions of another. “For why should my freedom be judged by another’s conscience?” (1 Cor 10:29, NIV)

The freedom that comes to those in Christ is great.  The one who confesses faith in him and who has pledged his lordship has been relieved of the burdens of his or her past sins and of the Old Covenant laws and he or she has been given the Spirit of righteousness and is to be led by him, confessing sin when it occurs and avoiding it when alerted. He is not freed from obedience to Christ, however. It is through obedience that eternal salvation is gained. “Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves.” (1 Pet 2:16)

August 21, 2016

Freedom in Christ – An Often Misunderstood Concept

by Russell Young

The nature of the freedom enjoyed by the believer in Christ is sometimes confused.  Some accept it to mean that they are free of consequences regardless of their behaviour.  There are many compelling Scriptural evidences that reject such thinking (Rom 8:13; Gal 6:7-8; 2 Cor 5:10; 1 Pet 1:17; Mt 7:21) In fact, this understanding might be what the Lord referred to as the teaching of the Nicolaitans (Rev 2:6, 15) that he strongly rejected.

The truth about freedom has best been revealed by Paul to the Galatians. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  Stand firm then and do not let yourselves be burdened by a yoke of slavery.” (Gal 5:1, NIV) His address to them was concerning the return of some to Jewish practices and to the covenant of the law.  He had stated that Sarah and Hagar, the wives of Abraham, “represent two covenants.” (Gal 4:24, NIV) Freedom comes through release of enslavement to the Old Covenant which required the law to be fully lived through a person’s own resources.  The second covenant is the covenant of the Spirit.  The son of Sarah was born by the power of the Spirit (Gal 4:29); he was the son of promise and enjoyed right to the New Covenant or the Covenant of the Spirit. (2 Cor 3:6). Freedom belongs to those who are re-born by the power of the Spirit.

It needs to be understood that the requirements of the New Covenant have to be completed and in this regard, Paul wrote to the Romans: “He condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit. (Rom 8:3-4, NIV) There is clearly a requirement for the believer to live according to the Spirit’s leadership and through his power in order to satisfy the righteous requirements of the law.  Freedom is from the first or Old Covenant and the consequence of sin committed while under its requirements but not from the consequences of all sin that might follow confession of faith. Once placed under the jurisdiction of the New Covenant the believer must still strive for righteousness.  Further in his letter to the Galatians Paul wrote: “But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope.” (Gal 5:5, NIV) The Spirit must produce the needed righteousness, but that comes through living according to his leadership.  The believer cannot engage in those unlawful practices about which he is being convicted. “Those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires…the mind controlled by the Spirit is life.” (Rom 8:5…6, NIV)

If believers have to live in accordance to the Spirit, where is their freedom?  They have been freed from the death sentence that awaited them for the sins committed while under the first covenant, and they have been freed from having to live out the law through their own resources.  They have been released or freed from these two impossible burdens.

The Lord also addressed the issue of “freedom.”  “Jesus replied. ‘I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever.  So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (Jn 8:34-36, NIV) Further in the discussion he has stated, “If anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” (Jn 8:51, NIV) He has been addressing the issue of slavery to sin and was talking to some Jewish believers.  The issue of his concern related to the nature of their slavery and his teaching is that they have been set free from slavery to sin because they now have the Spirit to gain victory over it. Freedom in Christ is freedom from slavery to sin.

The Lord is the Spirit.  “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom.” (2 Cor 3:17) He had gained victory over sin while in the body that the father had prepared for him in the womb of Mary and he can provide freedom from sin while in the body of the believer, if obediently followed. Jesus said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.” (Jn 10: 27, NIV)

James spoke of “the perfect law that gives freedom.” (Jas 1:25, NIV) The perfect law is the law (commands) given by Christ through the Spirit to the believer.  The one who obeys his law-his Spirit- will be free from slavery to sin.  Sin need not have dominion over the person who is committed to Christ.


Russell Young returns tomorrow with part two of our look at freedom.

August 20, 2016

When Christians Bear the Sweetest Fruit

“But the land into which you are about to cross to possess it, a land of hills and valleys, drinks water from the rain of heaven, a land for which the LORD your God cares; the eyes of the LORD your God are always on it, from the beginning even to the end of the year.

Deuteronomy 11: 11-12 (emphasis added)

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.

Philippians 1:6 (both verses are NASB)

Today we are again paying a return visit to Katherine Harms at the blog Living on Tilt. One thing I really like is how she bridges topical and Bible study material, and sometimes in the same article! Click the title below to read at source.

More Than Survival

I just finished reading a long essay by a man who believes that everyone should acquire the knowledge that enabled people to survive and thrive before electronic technology existed. I agree. Electronics are seriously vulnerable, but the ways of pre-electronic society can and will enable a good life to anyone. God’s earth will still be here, even after the EMP or a hurricane or a world war.

People in today’s world need another “tool” in their “survival kit,” too. They need faith in Christ who redeemed humankind and all creation when he died and rose again.

Many people believe that it is “all up to me” and there is no help other than their own wits and strength. Self-sufficiency is an important and valuable character trait that keeps us from being needy and dependent on our fellow man and on government, but it is not enough to give us real health and long life. Only faith in Christ and a life lived in relationship with him will enable us to thrive in utterly destructive circumstances.

The first principle of a successful life before, during, or after disaster is to put all your hope in God alone.

Contemporary culture rejects the existence of God, and that stance means that one must be completely self-sufficient. God cannot help a person who denies his existence. God sends rain on the believers and the unbelievers alike, but only believers see God’s hand at work in the blessing of the rain. Unbelievers see a water control problem that they must fix. Unbelievers see no blessing in the seeming randomness of the rain, or in the gradual increase in the size of a desert, or in the transitions of natural climate change. Unbelievers see Inequality in the difference in rainfall, paychecks, or intellectual gifts. Unbelievers think that only equal pay, equal rain, and equal intellect is equality, and therefore unbelievers are always at war with God’s diversity and inclusiveness. God loves all people equally, but his gifts are distributed according to his perfect plan, not according to the ability of humans to measure equality.

To put your hope in God alone is to accept his work and his administration without fear. If you hope in God alone, for example, then when voters choose a tyrannical president as wicked and faithless as the ancient king Ahab, you do not lose faith in God. You recognize that a purpose and plan bigger than yourself is at work. When that godless tyrant begins to disassemble legal and moral structures that were God’s gifts delivered through leaders obedient to God’s direction, you recognize God’s judgment on people who chose the tyrant who hands out bread and circuses rather than a Godly leader who focuses on protecting opportunity for all. God has not stopped caring about the nation; the nation has stopped caring about God.

If you put your hope in God alone, then you trust God’s guidance and care for the nation and for you as an individual. You don’t despair when God’s will for the nation results in pain for you; rather, you give thanks to God for the privilege of suffering for His Name’s sake, in the same way the disciples suffered from human evil: “Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.”  (Acts 6:41)

This is why Christians who mourn the collapse of Constitutional government and the moral rot perpetuated by government mandate in public schools do not, nevertheless, despair. The church, Christ’s body on earth, was not made for the easy times; it was born of inhuman suffering and it thrives in the most inhospitable times and places.

Christians thrive and bear the sweetest fruit when nourished by being like Christ — despised and rejected by men.

It is wise for Christians to prepare for disasters. A wise person will be ready for war, civil unrest, hurricanes, or whatever hard times he can foresee. However, all that common sense wisdom can be made worthless by disasters nobody could have foreseen. When that happens, it is good to be able to testify with Job, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21) Only those who put all their hope in God alone will thrive in times like that.

August 19, 2016

Traits of an Encourager

After six months, we appreciate returning to the writing of Paul Tautges at the website Counseling One Another. Click the title below to read this at source.

3 Qualities of an Encourager

Have you ever experienced the power of encouragement? I can remember many times over the years when God provided faithful believers who were “others-focused” enough to come alongside and strengthen my hands for His work. The Apostle Paul had such a man by his side, by the name of Onesiphorus. He is one of the “forgotten servants” in the biblical record. His name says it all. Onesiphorus means, “profit bringer,” and that is exactly what he was. As Paul sat in a Roman prison, considering the last words he would pen under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the name of his faithful friend could not help but come to mind. Here we learn three qualities of a faithful encourager.

An encourager dispenses refreshing motivation in the midst of ministerial rejection.

This you know, that all those in Asia have turned away from me, among whom are Phygellus and Hermogenes. The Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain” (2 Timothy 1:15-16). As a preacher of the biblical gospel and the whole counsel of God, Paul was accustomed to abandonment. Like Jesus, he had many people who wanted to come along for the ride, but when commitment to the ways of God and the Word of God meant discomfort and even persecution, the crowd departed and he was left with a faithful few. Onesiphorus was one of those faithful servants who refreshed Paul. This is the only occurrence of the word refreshed in the New Testament. It paints a picture of one who provides a cool refreshing breeze for one about to faint. Our day is not much different than the one in which Paul lived. Many are looking for a free ride and will “follow” Jesus, until disappointment walks through their door or dying to self becomes a harsh reality. May God develop in each of us the perseverance required to be a faithful dispenser of encouragement to others over the long-haul.

An encourager devotes himself to the refreshment of others with great eagerness.

The next verse says, “but when he arrived in Rome, he sought me out very zealously and found me” (2 Tim. 1:17). Onesiphorus did not sit around waiting or even praying for opportunities to serve. As soon as he learned of a need he acted on it, even if it meant searching a Roman prison to find his brother. We must not allow our ministry mindset to be dictated by our “culture of convenience.” Being a faithful encourager requires that we be people of initiative who search out ways to refresh other believers, even if it means personal sacrifice or inconvenience.

An encourager displays loyalty in the face of adversity.

Adversity has a way of revealing who your true friends really are. In contrast to all who were in Asia that turned away from Paul, Onesiphorus was “not ashamed” of Paul’s imprisonment (1:16). He knew the meaning of Proverbs 17:17: “A friend loves at all times.” Later, Paul wrote, “At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me” (2 Timothy 4:16). Yet three verses later, he asked Timothy to greet Onesiphorus (4:19). His courageous spirit and devotion to Paul stood in stark contrast to the infidelity of so many others. Being a faithful encourager requires loyalty that endures through difficult times. The refreshing example of Onesiphorus is worthy of imitation. May God grant us grace to be “others-focused” so that fellow believers around us may truly experience the power of encouragement.

Today, who will you refresh?

[Excerpted from Delight in the Word: Spiritual food for hungry hearts]

August 18, 2016

Passing Through the Valley of Baca

Andy ElmesI couldn’t help but take a second look at the passage below several times, as UK devotional writer Andy Elmes, to whom I am subscribed, has spent over a week in these three verses. To get these sent to you by email, go to Great Big Life and click on Breakfast of Champions.

Psalm 84:5-7 (NKJV)
Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage. As they pass through the Valley of Baca, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools. They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion.

August 9:

I have been thinking of these verses a lot recently and have been considering how pilgrimage affects so many areas of our lives; also how it is not a bad thing but, more often than not, a God-designed thing for our lives. Here are some thoughts for you.

What is it to pilgrimage, you may ask? The word pilgrimage means ‘to journey’, so when God speaks of pilgrimage in this Psalm He is saying, “Blessed is the person who sets his heart on journeying”, and that is so true, especially when it comes to our walk or journeying with God. “Blessed [daily] is the person who sets his heart on journeying with the Lord”. Other faiths in the world have a spiritual pilgrimage mentality but theirs are always to physical places and landmarks, like Mecca and Lourdes, but it is not to be that way for us. Our pilgrimage is to a person – the person of Jesus – ever towards a deeper relationship with Him.

Christianity is not meant to be something or somewhere you totally arrive at instantly. Yes, when we believe, we receive from God everything we are going to get (of His fullness we have received, John 1:16). But we are called to spend the rest of our days (till we appear before Him in Zion) journeying into everything He has given us, to understanding and embracing all that He has done and given to us in Christ. God wants us to “keep on movin'”.  We are not to be parked vehicles, but ever-moving ones that walk, like Abraham, into all the promises and intentions of God for our lives.

So, our pilgrimage (journey) does not end when we reach a historical landmark, because if it did, how sad would that be. You would be left thinking, “What next?”. No, God commits to walk with us each and every day on this pilgrimage that He has called us to and every day it gets better and better. It’s when we set our hearts to journey with the Lord that we learn all that we need to and He is revealed to us so we know Him closer and more intimately as the miles of our days pass by.

Think about those two disciples that walked with the freshly risen Jesus on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24). For some reason Jesus had not allowed them to recognise Him, but appeared as someone they did not know. It was as they walked (journeyed) with Him that He made the mysteries of the scripture easily understood, and then it was during the journey that He revealed Himself to them. As we set our hearts to journeying with the Lord He helps us to daily understand His mysteries and daily reveals Himself to us, as He did to those two disciples, and He causes our hearts to burn within us as theirs did…

August 10:

…This verse then makes a strange statement that caught my attention: “as they pass through the valley of Baca they make it a place of springs”. I wondered where Baca was and after a short search discovered that no one really knows where this valley was, but most live by the interpretation rather than a physical place: its most common interpretation is ‘valley of weeping’. We all, at one time or another on our pilgrimage, will go through valleys or ‘times of weeping’ but God promises, as we journey (stay) with Him through these seasons, He will cause them to be places of refreshing springs.

When you walk daily with Jesus He causes life and joy to break out in the saddest or seemingly driest places. He causes rivers to flow in what are the dessert times of our life. He does not call us to avoid or by-pass these valleys but walks with us through them – remember He promised, “I will never leave you or forsake you”. He is not a ‘good-time God’, only there for the good bits. Rather He remains a good God in all the seasons we experience on this pilgrimage called life. Remember, David in Psalm 23 said, “though I walk through the valley”. He included valleys in his great ‘pilgrimage with God’ Psalm because he knew we all go through them! …

… He is the God that causes springs to flow in dry places with us, in us and through us!

August 11:

Psalm 84 teaches us that journeying with the Lord causes your life to go from strength to strength, not from strength to weakness. As we dare to daily journey with Him He causes us to become strong where we are weak and fully developed in the areas of our life that we are not. Each stage of our pilgrimage causes our lives to be enhanced and empowered for the road and journey that still lies ahead. Remember what we learn about David’s pilgrimage when it came to the moment he needed to take down a giant (Goliath): his life was prepared and ready, his life was more than strong enough. Why? Because the pilgrimage (God-journey) of his life had brought him to, and through, the defeat of bears and lions; Goliath was the next logical victory and he was destined to win that encounter too.

It was his ongoing journey that made him strong for what God had for him next, and so will yours as you daily commit to journey with the Lord; through things that may seem big He builds you up for the victories that lie further ahead. As the disciples walked with Jesus over the three years of their discipleship they went from strong to stronger in their ability, knowledge and confidence. We don’t have just three years: we have a lifetime! As you commit to walk with Him daily, as they did, your life will also go from strength to strength too.

August 12

…We love the destination and the arriving bit. God loves the journey just as much, because in the journey He does a whole lot of stuff in us which is always good for our long-term life. He is looking at the book of your life, not your present chapter. Let’s face it, when it comes to the promises of God and seeing them manifest in our lives we are all like a bunch of kids in the back of the car on the way to a summer holiday.

Independent of whether we are on route to Torquay or Disneyland, the question that comes from the kids in the back is always the same – come on, you know it, you have either heard it or were the one that said it when you were younger. Yeah, that’s the one: “ARE WE THERE YET?” Kids do not appreciate journeys: they like instant arrivals! Meanwhile, the parent is enjoying the journey (except for the kids keeping on) and the journey is actually producing patience and appreciation in the life of the kids (when they finally get there they will love it).

God has promised we will arrive – and arrive we will, but we, like the kids in a car, need to remember that God is not in a hurry. He knows that the journey can produce a whole lot of good and effective stuff in us that would never be produced if we had a Tardis-type experience (instant arrival) with our destinies. It is often on the journey that we learn and gain valuable things like appreciation. When you have journeyed toward somewhere you really appreciate it when you get there. One common example would be if you save up for something: you appreciate it a lot more than if you put it on the credit card! Journeying towards something really does cause appreciation and value…

August 15:

The journey will create appreciation. It will also create faith as you continually trust in God while still on route. When we talk of faith we should always look around for its best friend, patience. I like faith more and would like to hang out with it on its own! The problem is that God most often sends them as a team, because patience produces a lot, too – and together they produce greatness. Let’s think about the power of patience this morning (the art of waiting for something).

Galatians 5:22–23 (NIV)
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Remember, patience is a fruit of the Spirit not a gift – it is grown, rather than given. Like any fruit it grows slowly, not suddenly appears.

Hebrews 6:12 (NIV)
We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.

The Bible tells us to imitate people of faith and patience – not just those who are full of faith, but those who can trust God and wait for His perfect timing. When we choose to walk in faith and patience we will inherit everything God has promised. Remember, God works in the delay and the things He has promised are so worth waiting for. Keep away from shortcuts that produce look-a-likes, and hang out for the genuine which comes from the very hand of God. Hey, to be honest with you, patience was never my favorite fruit – I would have loved for God to give it to me as an instant download! Trouble is, He would not. Why? Because He knows that patience does us good, and when we have it and mix it with our faith incredible things start to happen.

 

August 17, 2016

Foolish Prophets Then and Now

God has spoken in Christ and the Christian Church is called to a prophetic role in speaking on His behalf to the world.

…The full title of today’s article is found in the link below:

Out of Their Own Imaginations and Out of Their Minds: Foolish Prophets Then and Now

by Clarke Dixon (Welcome back, Clarke!)

Spirituality seems to now be what you want it to be. This has many implications, both obvious and subtle. Let me give an example. As a pastor I do not receive as many phone calls from people looking for a wedding officiant anymore and just this summer it dawned on me as to why. Google. I am old enough to remember the days when an unchurched couple looking for a wedding officiant would phone around the churches. Now they just Google it. So I tried Googling “wedding” [plus the name of our town] and must admit that it was somewhat of a reality check. There is no lack of officiants in the area willing to marry you, or fulfill some of the other celebrations that we clergy once almost exclusively took care of. What dismayed me most was that in the typical “hire me to marry you” blurb, there were no offers of pre-marriage guidance, no promises of talking with and walking with the couple through what the Bible has to say about love and marriage. Instead there were offers to individualize and personalize the wedding, so that the wedding could be exactly as you want and so that you will be happy at the end of the day. It seems that the means has become the end. The “perfect” wedding ceremony has become the goal when a wedding ceremony ought to point beyond itself, indeed beyond even the happy couple, to God’s gift of, and plan for marriage. It is fascinating and sad that “personalize” and “individualize” are words, but “Godize” isn’t. Many a wedding, not to mention a marriage, needs “Godized.” Many a spiritual or religious leader needs to take a lead in this.

In the prophet Ezekiel’s day there was a tendency for prophets to individualize and personalize their messages, rather than “Godize” them:

1 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 Mortal, prophesy against the prophets of Israel who are prophesying; say to those who prophesy out of their own imagination: “Hear the word of the Lord!” 3 Thus says the Lord God, Alas for the senseless prophets who follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing! Ezekiel 13:1-3 (NRSV)

The “prophets” were prone to saying what they thought the people wanted to hear rather than what God had to say. So they went about telling people to relax, that there was no danger. Ezekiel on the other hand heard God’s message, and then delivered it. Judgement is coming. Tough times are ahead. Not a message people wanted to hear, but it was true.

Ezekiel chapter 13 has much to teach a prophet, one who would presume to speak on God’s behalf. Let us consider some points. You may want a Bible handy (or click on the link above):

  • In verse 2 Ezekiel is to say to the prophets “Hear the word of the Lord.” This is not something you would normally say to a fellow prophet, who should be dependable in speaking the word of the Lord. We would hope that all teachers of religion are hearing and understanding the Word of God before teaching it.
  • In verse 4 the foolish prophets are likened to “jackals among the ruins”. In other words they are opportunistic just like the wild animals that would enter a city once it has been destroyed by an enemy. We would hope that religious teachers are leading from a place of servanthood rather than opportunism.
  • In verse 5 the foolish prophets are said to have left breaks in the walls. That is, they do not help people defend against evil. We would hope that religious teachers are part of how God answers the prayers of the people “deliver us from evil.”
  • In verses 6 and 7 the prophets are straight-up called liars. We would hope that religious teachers are honest and seeking, speaking truth.
  • In verse 8 God tells the prophets “I am against you”. We would hope that all who are religious teachers never get into such a sorry place of having God against them. Therefore they should avoid being against Him like the plague.
  • In verses 10 and following the prophets are said to be using “whitewash” to hide problems with the walls. I have come to learn that you can hide a multitude of renovation sins under a “whitewash” of drywall mud. However, a solid frame underneath is far more important than a good looking wall. We would hope that religious teachers are involved in some solid framing work.
  • In verse 18 the prophetesses are spoken of as magicians and they are likened to those hunting for birds with nets. They trap people. We would hope that religious teachers are in the ministry of freedom, not entrapment.
  • In verse 19 the prophetesses are spoken of as acting purely out of self interest, and worse they pervert the justice of God. We would hope that religious teachers are not in it for themselves, and point to the wonderful justice of God.
  • In verse s22 and 23 the prophetesses accomplish the opposite of what God wants. We would hope that religious teachers are serving the will of God.
  • In verse 23 it is assured that false prophecy and divination will come to an end. We would hope that religious teachers understand that anything false will not last, but the Word of God will stand forever.
  • Also in verse 23, people need saved from the prophets. We would hope that people do not need to be rescued from religious teachers.

As we contemplate the above let us keep in mind that anyone who speaks their mind on spirituality and religion in effect becomes a “religious teacher” no matter their claimed religion or lack thereof. So this includes me, but probably also you. However, Ezekiel 13 pertains especially to prophets who claim to speak on behalf of the God of Israel. God has spoken in Christ and the Christian Church is called to a prophetic role in speaking on His behalf to the world. We want to be sure we are being consistent with what God has said, not what we might want God to say, or what people might want to hear. We run the risk of becoming foolish prophets when we try to make Christianity palatable. I forget who said it, but we are called to be salt, not sugar. We are called to shine a light, when people who have something to hide would prefer the dark. Light is not welcome everywhere by everyone.

But as we consider the trap of making Christianity palatable, let us remember that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is beyond palatable. God’s expression of love, justice and grace through Jesus is a most wonderful truth. It is the admission of sin that is the unpalatable part. No amount of whitewash, drywall mud, sugar, or darkness can make that part go away. And thankfully, in God’s faithfulness, nothing can make His grace in Christ go away either. With the wonderful truth of God’s love we would be out of our minds to speak out of our own imaginations.

 

August 16, 2016

The Baptismal Formula; The Discipleship Formula

As we did last year at this time, yesterday and today we’ve been re-visiting the website GCD (Gospel-Centered Discipleship) and this time around the featured writer is Pittsburgh young adults pastor Austin Gohn. Click the title which follows to read this at source, and then spend some time looking at other articles.

In the Name of the Father, Son, & Holy Spirit

“In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”

Whatever the format—swimming pool, font, bathtub, or baptistery—this simple, rhythmic phrase has “stirred the waters” (Jn. 5:4) of baptism since the Great Commission (Mt. 28:18-20). As a second grader, I remember hearing these words at my own baptism while trying to catch one more breath. Now, as a pastor, I pronounce them over young adults as I baptize them in my church’s small and under-heated baptistery (complete with its own Bob Ross worthy Jordan River mural).

As we step into discipleship, though, we often leave this phrase (and the reality it proclaims) in the water. We attempt discipleship in the name of the Father or the Son or the Holy Spirit, but not in the name of the Holy Three. We might confess the Trinity at a doctrinal level, but we forget, sideline, or ignore the Trinity at a practical level. As Eugene Peterson noted, “We know the truth and goals of the gospel. But we have haven’t taken the time to apprentice ourselves to the way of Jesus, the way he did it. And so we end up doing the right thing in the wrong way and gum up the works.”[1] Instead of living “life to the fullest” (Jn. 10:10), we end up stuck, smug, or spent somewhere in the course of discipleship.

But, what if Jesus intended baptism “in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” to set the tone for discipleship? Listen to the way Dallas Willard paraphrases the Great Commission:

“I have been given say over all things in heaven and in the earth. As you go, therefore, make disciples of all kinds of people, submerge them in the Trinitarian presence, and show them how to do everything I have commanded. And now look: I am with you every minute until the job is done.” (italics mine)[2]

The Trinity is not a mere entry point into discipleship but the ongoing environment for discipleship. This means that gospel-centered discipleship is only as gospel-centered as it is Trinity-centered (please read Fred Sanders on this). Perhaps, this is what St. Paul meant when he prayed for “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit” to be with the Corinthian church (2 Cor. 13:14).

If we want our discipleship to bear fruit, sometimes we need to be pulled aside like Apollos and have explained to us “the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:24-28). We need to uncover the areas where we only lean into the name of the Father, Son, or Holy Spirit, and recover discipleship in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Discipleship in the Name of One or Maybe Two

When we attempt discipleship in the name of one or two persons of the Trinity, it’s like attempting to live on only food or oxygen or water (or two out of three). Sooner or later, you are going to feel the effects of forgetting to eat, drink, or breathe. It’s a life or death matter. Discipleship is no different. Without the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, disciples (and even entire communities of disciples) start to shrivel up.

Trinitarian DiscipleshipAlthough there are many angles from which we could consider this (e.g. overemphasis on one person of the Trinity), let us consider what happens when we neglect one person of the Trinity and attempt discipleship in the name of two, but not the other. If we attempt discipleship apart from the Son, we might begin to equate our progress in the faith (or lack thereof) with our status before God (Eph. 2:8-10, Gal. 2:15-16). If we attempt discipleship apart from the Father, we might attempt to live like Jesus without knowing the fundamental knowledge about the Father that made his life the logical overflow (as expressed in his Sermon on the Mount, especially Mt. 6:25-34).[3] And, if we attempt discipleship apart from the Spirit, we might burn out as we try to overcome our sinful habits through own insufficient power and discipline (Rom. 8:12-13, Gal. 5:16-25). Whether through ignorance or intention, each of these mistakes can be deadly for discipleship.

In my own life, I tend to lean into the Father and the Son but forget the Holy Spirit. Even if I believe (and teach) that transformation is not possible apart from the Holy Spirit, my own discipleship growth often centers on correct motives (the finished work of Christ) and correct knowledge of the Father.  Borrowing the language of A.W. Tozer, it’s possible that 95% of my own discipleship would go unchanged if the Holy Spirit were withdrawn. As a result, I am prone to feeling burned-out, tired, and exhausted.

Since these kinds of oversights are difficult to notice on our own, we need a community of disciples who can gently point out where we need some course correction. This is not something that can be figured out with a Trinity survey or checklist, but by careful listening to our brothers and sisters in Christ. In our church, this happens best in discipleship communities (our equivalent of missional communities). While we are eating together and talking, I’ve heard phrases like:

  • “I don’t feel like I can change.”
  • “I feel like I am letting God down.”
  • “I don’t understand why Jesus would tell us to do that.”

These phrases act like signposts that clue us into areas where we need to be reminded of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They are an open door to talk about the Trinity-centered gospel.

Discipleship in the Name of All Three

The best way to get back on track is to remember that we are already locals in the neighborhood of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Discipleship is not a way into the neighborhood, but something we do as part of the community. As St. Paul made clear in Ephesians 1:3-14, our participation in the life of the Trinity is thanks to the saving work of the Trinity in the first place. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit chose, loved, predestined, redeemed, sealed, and adopted us (just for starters!). At baptism, the Trinity became our home.

With this confidence in the saving work of the Trinity, we are free to explore how discipleship in a Trinitarian shape might look. Although there are many possibilities, we can start by considering some of the implications of John 13-17 (which is arguably the best discourse we have on life with the Triune God). Here are a few implications from Jesus’ conversation with his disciples:

  • Discipleship in the name of the Father is dependent on the Father’s provision (15:16) and love for us (16:27).
  • Discipleship in the name of the Son is made possible through him (14:6), looks to him to see what the Father is like (14:9), converses with the Father through him (14:24; 16:23), and trusts him to bring about the fruit of discipleship (15:1-4).
  • Discipleship in the name of the Holy Spirit relies on the Spirit to remind us of what the Son taught (14:25-26), convict of us sin (16:8), and teach us how the truth applies in present circumstances (16:12-15).

This is just a taste of discipleship in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Alongside this and other Trinity-soaked texts, read authors like St. Augustine, John Owen, Eugene Peterson, Susanna Wesley, Dallas Willard, Fred Sanders, and Wesley Hill—people who have both written about and experienced life with the Triune God. Steep in these for a few minutes and the possibilities for discipleship in a Trinitarian shape really start to open up.

It’s Missional

As a final note, doing discipleship in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is not just about us. It’s for the sake of everyone else. The process of discipleship is just as critical to God’s mission as the product of discipleship. In a culture that is looking for the next self-improvement strategy, discipleship in a Trinitarian shape offers people a transformative relationship.Discipleship itself is an opportunity to show the world not only different goals to pursue, but also a different way in which to pursue them—in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And that’s good news.

[1] Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005), 300.
[2] Willard, The Great Omission, (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2006), xiii.
[3] I am thinking here of the way Jesus deals with anxiety. He doesn’t say, “I’m not anxious, so you shouldn’t be anxious.” Instead, he says, “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them” (italics mine). Anxiety is rooted in wrong ideas about the Father.

 

August 15, 2016

An Earlier “Great” Commission

As we did last year at this time, we’re going to spend two days at the website GCD (Gospel-Centered Discipleship) and this time around the featured writer is Virginia Pastor Joey Tomlinson. Click the title below to read at source, and spend some time visiting the rest of the website.

Dominion Commission

As Christians, we understand that every single person on the planet is created in the Image of God. The Genesis account of man’s creation communicates this truth (Gen 1:26-28).

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Even though most Christians are familiar with this passage, many are confused about what it actually means. In other words, what are the implications of being a man or woman created in the Image of God?

According to Genesis 1, God’s image bearers were called to express their identity by having dominion over the earth. This dominion commission is accomplished in two ways—filling the earth with children (28) and by subduing the earth (26, 28).

Dominion Commission
Think for a moment about this place in history. God created man and woman in his image and they are unhindered by sin and enjoy perfect fellowship with God, each other, and all of creation. God gives them the gracious task of ruling, and they found joy in the opportunity to procreate little image bearers and subdue the earth. They had everything they needed to be obedient to God’s dominion commission. And they were to do it for the glory of their Maker.

Think about this commissioning in light of Psalm 8:4-9:

What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?
Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.
You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
You have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen,
And also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,
Whatever passes along the paths of the seas. O LORD our Lord how majestic is your name in all the earth.

Therefore, as Image bearers we are to have dominion and this is good. However, man’s ability to be obedient to this commission to have dominion has been paralyzed because his relationship with God is severed.

Christians are all too familiar with the dreaded Genesis 3 account of the fall of man:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, You shall not eat of any tree in the garden? And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’ But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate and she also gave some to her husband who was with her and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.

In three short chapters, Adam and Eve go from being naked and not ashamed to being naked and ashamed and unable to enjoy a relationship with God and fulfill the task God has given them to have dominion over the earth.

The story doesn’t end there, though. God does something incredible.

Pay close attention to Genesis 3:15:

“I [God] will put enmity between you [the serpent] and the woman [Eve], and between your [the serpent’s] offspring and her [Eve’s] offspring; he [Jesus] shall bruise your head, and you [serpent and his offspring] shall bruise his heel.”

What is God doing here?

God is preaching the gospel. In one verse, we come to understand that God has graciously saved the newly depraved Eve (puts enmity between her and the serpent); he divides the world up into two communities: those who love God and those who love self (Eve’s offspring vs. the serpent’s offspring). He foretells of a Deliverer we know in this verse as the snake-crusher, which is Christ.

Ephesians 1:7 states, “In him [Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.” God through Jesus Christ has and is restoring the image of God to his church. This restoration was his plan before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4).

After Christ died on the cross and bodily and eternally rose from the grave, securing salvation for his church, he gives this commission to his disciples:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:18-20

Do you understand the significance of this truth? Because Christ has secured our salvation, we now have the ability to be obedient to the dominion commission.

The Great Commission is a dominion commission just as Genesis 1:26-28 is a dominion commission. Because of the authority of Jesus and the Holy Spirit indwelling believers we can joyfully make disciples of all nations, baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and teach them obedience.

God through Jesus has restored his image to his church and has reconciled us to himself for his glory. Furthermore, he has reasserted our purpose to have dominion on the earth—for his glory. We do this by faithfully heralding the good news of the gospel in the authority of Jesus Christ.

Christ won’t return until all of his children from every tribe, tongue, and nation proclaim his kingship (Ps 110:1). He has appointed that glorious day, long ago (Mk 13:32; Acts 17:31). Our commission to spread the glory of God to all nations will be successful. Christ died so that it would be. Embrace your identity and find fulfillment and joy in the task that God has graciously called and equipped you for.

 

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