Christianity 201

August 9, 2017

Initially, Job Got It Right; But Then…

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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One of the consistently finest sources we have used here at C201 is Paul Tautges at the website Counseling One Another. Breaking our six-month rule, this is his twelfth appearance here. As always, click the title below to read this at source.

Four Reasons Job Stumbled

Job started so well. His faith was as invulnerable to Satan’s onslaughts as a turtle snuggled up inside its shell is to the frantic pawings of a dog. Job tucked his head and feet inside his faith in God and said, “The Lord gives, the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). Later, however, Job was rebuked by God for his complaining spirit. What went wrong? There are at least four reasons Job’s trust in God took a tumble. First, he listened to bad counsel.

Avoid Bad Counsel

If you are going to handle your calamity in a wise, God-honoring manner, you must ignore well-intentioned but unbiblical counsel. If Job’s counselors had been from the church in our era, they probably would have said, “Job, look at these terrible things that are happening to you. We have to break the generational curses that have power over your life. We have to cast out the demons of skin disease. You need to send 500 dollars to the faith-healer, I. M. Acharlatan, at Better-for-a-Buck Ministries.” People will say all kinds of crazy things to you when calamity strikes (“don’t worry, God didn’t know this was going to happen.” Really? now I am worried!). Don’t let their well-intended but unbiblical counsel trip you up spiritually and send you sprawling. To handle calamity, you must ignore unbiblical advice with a gentle smile and a thank you. People speak to you because they care; receive their counsel with a gracious attitude, but don’t let their unbiblical advice throw you into a tailspin like Job did.

Time Keeps On Tickin’

A second reason Job went off the rails was that he let the termite of time gnaw at his faith. According to Job 7:3, Job’s grief and the burning torment of his physical ailments had extended for months by the time his friends arrived. Job’s suffering felt eternal; the sheer duration of it was wearing him down. Like an eager marathon runner, Job bolted off the starting line of faith, but as the race of responding to his calamity stretched out mile after mile and day after day, Job’s faith began to stumble and stagger. Time is a killer in trials. Like Job, we start with strong faith, but as we tick off days on the calendar, turn over the page to a new month, eventually buy a new calendar for next year, and then a new one for the year after that, we can easily despair. Time makes trials hard.

The Expectations Trap

A third reason Job stumbled is he had false expectations of God. In chapter 29, Job listed his many accomplishments. For example:

  • He was a respected civic leader: “When I went out to the gate of the city … the old men arose and stood” (29:7–8).
  • He was adored by the poor and disadvantaged because of his philanthropy: “I was eyes to the blind and feet to the lame” (29:15).
  • In summary he declared, “My steps were bathed in butter, and the rock poured out for me streams of oil!” (29:6).

Because of his success and his great kindness to others, Job had built up some expectations—things he believed God owed him because he had been good. In chapter 30, Job had this flash of insight into his confused and angry heart: “When I expected good, then evil came; when I waited for light, then darkness came. I am seething within and cannot relax; days of affliction confront me.” (30:26–27)

Job’s summary is both pathetic and perfect: “When I expected good, then evil came” (30:26). The expectation that God owes me good if I have been good is dangerous because it leads to feelings of betrayal and anger at God. God, however, never promises endless good if we are a devoted mother, a patient father, a faithful taxpayer, or if we don’t run with the wrong crowd at school. To handle calamity rightly, Christians must avoid Job’s mistake of building up the expectation that “God owes me because I’ve tried to be good.”

The Shield of Faith

Finally, besides bad counsel, time, and expectations, there was one other reason Job stumbled: he lost his grip on the shield of faith. In chapters 1–2, Job was solidly entrenched behind an impenetrable barrier of faith in God’s wisdom—a perfect example of Paul’s teaching about the shield of faith in Ephesians 6. The soldiers of the ancient world often carried large shields. When enemy archers fired a volley of arrows, they ducked behind those shields and let the arrows harmlessly ricochet off. In Job 1–2, Job had done just that. Satan had fired a barrage of fiery darts at him, but the shield of Job’s faith had deflected them all. That’s how faith works: no arrow of Satan—no matter how hot or deadly—can overwhelm simple, childlike faith: “I’ll trust God whether I understand what he is doing or not.” In chapter 3, Job allowed the handle of the shield of faith to slip from his sweaty fingers. Rather than preoccupy himself with believing trust, Job allowed his thinking to be dominated by frustrated expectations and, later, by the disheartening, untrue accusations of his friends. In the Gospels, the man cried, “I do believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). In calamity, we must voice a similar cry to Christ: “I believe; rescue me from my doubt, fear, anger, and unbelief.”

For these reasons, Job stumbled. But, thankfully, that is not the end of the story. In heartfelt worship, Job returned to a fear-of-the-Lord-faith which enabled him to humbly walk with God the rest of his days.

[This post is a chapter excerpt from Joel James’ helpful mini-book, HELP! I Can’t Handle All These Trials. If you find yourself in the midst of a painful trial, or know a friend who is, you will benefit from reading Joel’s counsel from the life of Job.]

May 9, 2017

3 Wrong Ways to Judge

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment. – John 7:24 NASB

Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.  – Col 3:14 NLT

[Love] bears up under everything;
believes the best in all;
there is no limit to her hope,
and never will she fall. I Cor 13:7 ISV italics added

Over the past eight years, this is our eleventh time returning to the writing of Paul Tautges at the website Counseling One Another. To learn more about his new book, Pray About Everything, click this link. To read today’s post at source and look around the rest of the site, click the title below. This article is also part of a series, other sections are linked at the end.

3 Ways We Judge Wrongly

Jesus instructed His disciples to judge righteous judgment (John 7:24), but He also said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Matt. 7:1). Is this a contradiction? No. We are called to use biblical truth and wisdom to discern rightly, but we are foolish when we make judgments based upon appearance or only one side of the story. We are called to maintain a balance of grace and truth, but avoid a judgmental attitude. This bad attitude is, as Matt Mitchell defines it, “a heart disposition meant to be condemnatory and censorious.

So, where do we go wrong? When and how does judging become sinful? Mitchell explains three ways.

  1. Rush to Judgment – To form a conclusion about a person based upon hearsay, without going to him to hear the other side, is utterly foolish and destructive. It is folly and shame to answer before listening, to rush to judgment about another person without loving them enough to take the initiative to start a conversation (Proverbs 18:13). Instead we should believe the best about the other person, rather than assume the worst.
  2. Prideful Judgment – The deeper problem behind and beneath judgmentalism is pride. Pride is the elevation of oneself not only above other people, but above God’s law (James 4:11). But there “is only one Lawgiver and Judge,” and it’s not us. When we rush to judgment, we play God; “we act as if we are omniscient when we are not.”
  3. Unloving Judgment – The opposite of being judgmental is the virtue known as charitable judgment. “Charity” is the old word for love (1 Cor. 13:4-8), which compels us to believe the best about another person. Therefore, Mitchell counsels us well with these words: “If you and I are loving people with this kind of charity, we won’t sinfully judge or gossip about people. We won’t delight in the evil that we hear has befallen someone else. We won’t believe the worst about others. We will always hope for something better. Love is tenacious. Love does not pretend that all is well and sweep things under the carpet, but it does hang onto hope for others and believe the best.”

Instead of sinfully judging others, and then tearing them apart through gossip, the gospel obligates us to put on love, which bonds everything together perfectly in harmony (Col. 3:14).

As we continue to work through the book, Resisting Gossip, please consider reading and growing along with us. Previous posts include:


Here’s a song from 40 years ago. The lyrics are really relevant to today’s post. “Lord I want to cut him down to size / Help me see that brother through your eyes…”

January 31, 2017

As Moses Lifted up the Serpent

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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This is one of my favorite Old Testament passages and one which I think is strongly tied to New Testament salvation. We’ve discussed it before here in the context of the idea of an invisible transaction; that there’s nothing tangible or quantifiable that one does at the moment of crossing the line of faith. Today’s thoughts are more directed to the source of our salvation.

We’re paying a return visit to the blog, Counseling One Another by author and pastor Paul Tautges. Please click the link below and read this at source.

4 Lessons from the Bronze Serpent

The book of Numbers contains the account of a strange event which took place during Israel’s time of wandering in the wilderness. It is most often referred to as Moses and the bronze serpent. Let’s take a few minutes to think about this unusual biblical story, see its significance to Israel, and then learn from Jesus’ interpretation and application in the Gospel of John. First, read the original account.

From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.

There are four truths God wants us to understand and embrace.

Saving faith realizes the guilt of one’s sin and the justice of God to punish the sinner (Num. 21:7a).

Just as personal admission of one’s sickness is a prerequisite to being helped by a physician, personal admission of sin is a prerequisite to receiving forgiveness from God. Before the sinning people could be forgiven they had to admit “we have sinned.” The snake bites brought them to the place of personal conviction and then they were ready to make a plea for forgiveness.

One of the two guilty thieves hanging next to Jesus had a similar response. While one thief joined the crowd in launching accusations at Jesus, the other realized his sinfulness—he knew he deserved to die for his sin. So, before he died he looked to Jesus with the look of faith (Luke 23:39-42). As a result, he joined Jesus in Paradise that very same day. When we honestly face our sin and guilt then, and only then, our heart is prepared to confess to God and look to the Savior for mercy.

Saving faith recognizes the need for an intercessor between the guilty sinner and God (Num. 21:7b).

When the people realized the guilt of their sin they immediately turned to Moses saying, “Pray for us.” Instinctively, every guilty sinner knows he cannot simply waltz into God’s presence on his own. He must have a representative, an intercessor, a mediator. The sacrificial laws and prescribed rituals found in the book of Leviticus made this clear to God’s people.

Thankfully, God has provided the one and only perfect priest to intercede for us, to reconcile us back to Himself. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time (1 Timothy 2:5-6). When we confess our sins to God, while at the same time looking to Jesus, we have an advocate with the Father (1 John 1:8-2:1).

Saving faith looks to God alone to provide the necessary remedy (Num. 21:8-9).

The bronze serpent could not save the people. Only God could provide the remedy. In looking to the brazen serpent on a pole their eyes of faith looked to God. Sadly, the bronze serpent eventually became an idol that was worshiped during the time of Hezekiah’s reign (2 Kings 18:4). But true saving faith does not look to religion, statues, or human priests. It looks to God as the only one who can rescue us. We are desperate sinners who cannot save ourselves; we must be saved by God’s grace, as the apostle makes clear in Romans 5:6-10.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.

Saving faith looks to Jesus to be the Mediator, propitiation for sin, and the entrance into eternal life (John 3:14-18).

In the Gospel of John, Jesus makes it crystal clear that the bronze serpent was a type of Himself. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life (John 3:14-15). The word “as” indicates that Jesus was making a comparison. As God provided the means whereby the bitten people could be healed through faith, so He has provided the only means by which our souls may find healing and restoration—through faith. When we turn in faith to look to Jesus, as the only one who can intercede for us before a holy God, we are redeemed from sin and receive the gift of eternal life.

Saving faith looks to God alone. It does not look to self. It does not look to any goodness in one’s own heart, nor to the works of religion. There is only one way for the soul to find its healing—and that is in its return to God. To be reconciled to God we must first see our sin for what it really is—an offense to God’s holiness. Because our sin is offensive, God must punish it. But thanks be to God that He has already punished His sinless Son in our place. Are you looking to Jesus to save you?

[Adapted from last Sunday’s sermon at Cornerstone Community Church in Cleveland, OH, Look to Jesus]


Related: Story in Numbers Foreshadows the Crucifixion

November 19, 2016

Do the Proverbs Come with an Iron-Clad Guarantee

Yesterday’s reading took us briefly into the book of Proverbs which we said weren’t hard and firm promises but statements of general principles. We quoted Paul Tautges and said we’d return to all six of the interpretive guidelines he gives for this book. This is his tenth time quoted here at C201; click the link below to read this (and more) at the website Counseling One Another.

Are Proverbs Sure-Fire Promises?

Last week, a church member emailed me this question:

I was having a discussion about a couple of Proverbs that I was reading with a friend and it came about in the discussion that he believed that Proverbs are promises. I had asked what his basis for believing that was. He told me because of the defined word “will’ which means it “will” happen if you do this or do that. Are the Proverbs indeed promises?

One of the ways I answered was to direct him to one of my top-three favorite commentaries on Proverbs, the Mentor Commentary, by John Kitchen. Here is how he helps us understand six principles for interpreting the book of Proverbs.

6 Principles for Interpreting Proverbs

“Proverbs can appear overly mechanical in its description of the universe, God’s sovereignty over it, and His dealings with man in it. Its observations are often stated in absolute terms, apparently leaving little room for variance. For example, consider the sequence in Proverbs 3, which demands that if one fears the Lord he will experience great health (v. 8), material prosperity (v. 10), peaceful sleep (v. 24), and protection from calamity (v. 26). How should we view such sweeping statements? Are these guarantees? Is any lesser experience a sign of moral and spiritual failure? To arrive at God’s intention, several observations should be kept in mind as one interprets and applies Proverbs.

First, the proverbs are consistent observations, not categorical absolutes. The proverbs are not always intended as promises, but only as observations of repeated phenomena. Take Proverbs 22:6: ‘Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.’ Many a parent has been told that, in this verse, God guarantees their wayward child will return to the fold. But, like so many other proverbs, its author is making an observation of consistent behavior and outcomes (i.e. normally children raised in godly homes end up walking with God themselves), not issuing an inviolable law.

It will take discernment to carefully draw the line between divine guarantee and divinely inspired observation. A helpful path to such wisdom is the balancing of individual proverbs with the fuller witness of Scripture. This leads to a second principle of interpretation.

Second, the proverbs must be read in context. Many view the aphorisms as individual nuggets of gold scattered randomly along the path of wisdom. There is, they assert, little help to be found in the context. However, each proverbial saying does reside within the whole of Proverbs and its teaching. They must be read against the balancing treatment of wisdom in Job and Ecclesiastes, as well as the fuller span of the poetic books. Then, too, the inspired Scriptural circle must be drawn to include the whole of the Old Testament and, ultimately, the entire Bible.

Third, we must understand that, by their very nature, the proverbs are truth stripped to the essentials. They are seldom qualified, balanced by surrounding statements, or extensively defined. They are stripped down, stated, and left to stand – all with the goal of arresting our attention and engaging our minds.

A proverb is truth in its most concentrated form, and thus expects us to add Spirit-illuminated reflection to come to full understanding. A proverb is designed to be ‘unpacked’ through much meditation, comparison with life, and with other Scriptures. Murphy well says:  ‘The proverb’s declaratory nature catches our attention, but it also conceals, for it achieves only a slice of realty…. The truth of a saying – call it a partial truth – usually needs another saying to counterbalance it.’

Fourth, though Proverbs can appear simplistic to the uninformed reader, we must realize that Proverbs does not intend to present life as void of ambiguities. Consider the juxtaposition of the seemingly contradictory words of Proverbs 26:4-5:  ‘Do not answer a fool according to his folly, lest you also be like him. Answer a fool as his folly deserves, lest he be wise in his own eyes.’ The one who comes to Proverbs for simple answers requiring little thought will leave disappointed. We want to know, ‘Which is it!?  Do I answer him? Or do I not?’ Proverbs was written not merely to tell us what to do, but also to make us think. Pure pragmatists may find themselves frustrated, if unwilling to pursue reflective, Spirit-guided meditation.

Fifth, we do well to unearth the assumptions inherent to a proverb. Because a proverb is truth stripped to its irreducible minimum, all helpful qualifying and clarifying statements are implicit rather than explicit. Bullock helpfully observes: ‘The first hermeneutical principle is that the theological assumptions of the book are often more important than the textual context.’ For example, until we have carefully absorbed the instructions of Proverbs 1-9, we are not well positioned to rightly interpret the aphorisms of Proverbs 10ff. The theology of Proverbs 1-9 sets the stage for understanding the wisdom of the later sentence literature.  We must ask ourselves not only what is stated, but what is assumed about God, His relationship to, and role in, the world around us, and His purposes.

Sixth, while Proverbs is not highly prophetic in nature (though see Prov. 30:4 and the commentary there), it ultimately finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ, who is the wisdom of God (Isa. 11:2; 1 Cor. 1:24, 30). ‘Lady wisdom’ in Proverbs 8 is probably best understood as a personification of a divine attribute for didactic purposes, rather than a reference to the second Person of the Trinity specifically (see the commentary at 8:1, 22). Yet, it is only as we embrace Christ through faith that we are then able to enter into the wisdom that His Spirit sets forth here. When Christ becomes our very life (Col. 3:4), we find Him to be the One ‘in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge’ (Col. 2:3). We should, therefore, look to the New Testament not only for clarification and balance, but for fulfillment of the wisdom so gloriously set forth in Proverbs.”

 

November 18, 2016

The Elder as Spiritual Parent

leading-by-example

BSB Titus 1:6 An elder must be blameless, the husband of one wife, having children who are believers and are not open to accusation of indiscretion or insubordination. 7 As God’s steward, an overseer must be above reproach—not self-absorbed, not quick tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not greedy for money. 8 Instead, he must be hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. 9 He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it was taught, so that by sound teaching he will be able to encourage others and refute those who contradict this message.

Titus 1:6 heads a list of qualities that a local assembly of believers should look for in someone who will give leadership to the church. But the last half of the verse, which deals with the elder’s children has been used to eliminate some otherwise worthy candidates or in some cases have an elder removed from their responsibility.

Translations agree (we used the Berean Study Bible today) but use a variety of adjectives to describe this:

  • a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient.  (NIV)
  • his children must be believers who don’t have a reputation for being wild or rebellious. (NLT)
  • his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. (ESV)

As indicated by today’s title, it’s important that those who are going to be spiritual parents to many prove themselves in the parenting role in their nuclear family.

In my own life, a man who had a profound influence on me spiritually was also removed from the office of elder in a denomination which was very swift to practice church discipline, and passed that legacy down from generation to generation.

What if someone who has a strong spiritual gift — pastor, teacher, evangelist, apostle, prophet — but their kids are a little unruly (KJV)? Our usual default here is to say that the first rule of Bible interpretation is that everything that can be taken literally should be taken literally. Some will argue how this is doubly so in the case of something the Bible says twice and Paul’s words to Titus are echoed in a possibly more familiar passage in 1 Timothy 3:

4 An overseer must manage his own household well and keep his children under control, with complete dignity. 5 For if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how can he care for the church of God?

But doesn’t that verse in Proverbs (22:6) suggest there are going to be times of rebellion?

Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it.

First of all, Prov. 22:6 is not an iron-clad promise. It’s a proverb, a general directive of how things ought to work and perhaps even usually work.  The Quest Study Bible notes in reference to Proverbs 3:

Proverbs are principles of right living and general descriptions of life’s realities, rather than sure-fire promises or guarantees. For example, Proverbs 3:1 appears to promise a long life and prosperity to those who do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart. Yet some godly people live in poverty and die at a young age.

This proverb isn’t offering immunity from illness, accidents or financial troubles. Rather, proverbs such as this point to a general principle, which if applied consistently to our lives, will save us from unnecessary pain and suffering. While we aren’t guaranteed we’ll never contract cancer or go broke, we can avoid the foolish choices that can prematurely cut our lives short or cause financial ruin.

While Proverbs observes the way life works time after time, exceptions to the general rules are evident in the books of Ecclesiastes and Job.

Paul Tautges, who we’ve featured here before, notes:

…[T]he proverbs are consistent observations, not categorical absolutes. The proverbs are not always intended as promises, but only as observations of repeated phenomena. Take Proverbs 22:6: ‘Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.’ Many a parent has been told that, in this verse, God guarantees their wayward child will return to the fold. But, like so many other proverbs, its author is making an observation of consistent behavior and outcomes (i.e. normally children raised in godly homes end up walking with God themselves), not issuing an inviolable law.

It will take discernment to carefully draw the line between divine guarantee and divinely inspired observation. A helpful path to such wisdom is the balancing of individual proverbs with the fuller witness of Scripture. This leads to a second principle of interpretation.

You can click this link to read more in a 2013 article, but we’re going to feature all six of his interpretative guidelines to the Proverbs tomorrow.

But we’ve digressed from our opening topic. Should a great Bible teacher or counselor be removed from their position if their kids are party animals?

If the Proverbs principle is true, then generally speaking we can say the children will return to the faith they have been taught. I would say that in order to be obedient to the words in Timothy and Titus, that leader should be sidelined for a season, and I think they would probably welcome the break from their leadership responsibilities to focus on their family issues.

The person in my example however was never restored to ministry in that denomination. He was dismissed instead of being sidelined. As it turned out, his kids did indeed return to faith, and a couple of them that I’m aware of accomplished great things in ministry.

But what about the sheep who wander from the fold and simply don’t return and show no sign of returning? Should those elders (or pastors) be forever exiled from ministry life?

That’s a tough one to answer.


NIV I Peter 5:3 Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example.

 

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]

June 16, 2016

Losing It

No, I didn’t lose it with somebody, but I heard a story today that got me thinking...

But the fruit of the Spirit is…self-control.  (Galatians 5: 22-23)

Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless…not quick-tempered… (Titus 1:7)

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.  (James 1:19)

Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him. (Proverbs 29:20)

Control your temper, for anger labels you a fool. (Ecc. 7:9)

But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.  (Matthew 5:22a)

“In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry (Ephesians 4:26)

Some of you reading this are fairly even-tempered people. You don’t have a problem with controlling your temper. But for some of us, all types of situations can trigger a rise in blood pressure which results from an undercurrent of anger.

Your trigger might be handling long line-ups. Dealing with bureaucracies. Interacting with service-industry staff. Frustration over your own incompetence in a particular situation.

What gets you riled? Can you avoid those situations? Do other people or family members see you at your worst?

Today’s thoughts continue with an article by Lisa Harper at Christian Bible Studies on a similar topic, righteous anger:

What is “Righteous Anger”?

How can I know whether I’m feeling that or just being a hothead?

I grew up believing anger was a “bad” emotion. So I’ve needed several years of Christian counseling even to admit I get angry, much less to learn I can express those feelings righteously! Thankfully, God’s Word sets clear parameters for getting peeved.

What does God say about this? The bad news for hotheads is that Scripture contains many more verses warning believers against blowing their cool than verses advocating such behavior. The writer of Proverbs connects anger with foolishness: “Fools quickly show that they are upset, but the wise ignore insults” (Proverbs 12:16, NCV). And the apostle Paul recommends letting our heavenly Father fight our battles: “My friends, do not try to punish others when they wrong you, but wait for God to punish them with his anger. It is written: ‘I will punish those who do wrong; I will repay them,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:19, NCV).

Sometimes, however, God allows his people to fuss and remain faithful. Such is the case when King David furrows his brow and huffs:

God, I wish you would kill the wicked!
Get away from me, you murderers!
They say evil things about you.
Your enemies use your name thoughtlessly.
Lord, I hate those who hate you;
I hate those who rise up against you.
I feel only hate for them;
they are my enemies (Psalm 139:19–22, NCV).

Or when Nehemiah gets upset after learning about the wealthy Israelites’ exploitation of the poor: “Then I was very angry when I had heard … these words” (Nehemiah 5:6, NASB).

What’s noteworthy in these situations is that David called down curses on sworn enemies of God, and Nehemiah directed his irritation at the “haves” repressing the “have-nots.” Both men were angry because of ungodly people or activities.

And Jesus expressed anger—at the Pharisees who exhibited such hard hearts (Mark 3:1-5) and at the crass commercialism that sullied the temple (Matthew 21:12-13; Luke 19:45-48)—to convey extreme displeasure over sin. Those reasons are the key to righteous anger.

How does this affect me? As Christ-followers, we’re totally appropriate getting upset over sin, too. Evils such as abuse, racism, pornography, and child sex trafficking should incense us.

But no matter how reprehensible the people or activities we’re condemning, we still aren’t justified to sin in our responses…

…continue reading the entire article at this link


Going deeper:

 

 

February 27, 2016

Scripture Provides a Model of Being an Encourager

NLT Phil 1:4 Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now...

So it is right that I should feel as I do about all of you, for you have a special place in my heart. You share with me the special favor of God, both in my imprisonment and in defending and confirming the truth of the Good News.

Today we pay a return visit to the blog, Counseling One Another by author and pastor Paul Tautges. Click the title to read at source, and if you have time, at least do a quick overview of another resource by him which is linked at the bottom of today’s reading.

Write a Letter of Affirmation & Encouragement

It is difficult to exaggerate the value of an encouraging letter, a letter which affirms the value of a person made in the image of God, and which affirms the work of God in others. In his excellent book, Practicing Affirmation, Sam Crabtree writes:

Even with the Bible’s emphasis on humble self-denial and its warnings against pride, the Bible praises people—to the glory of God, ultimately. The chief end of God is not to glorify man, as humanistic thought would have it; the chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying him forever. Meanwhile, the praising of people does not necessarily preclude the praising of God, if the people are commended ultimately for his glory. God is glorified in us when we affirm the work he has done and is doing in others.

As Christians, we are too often light on commendation, and heavy on criticism. We sometimes have the strange idea that if we praise a person for their work, character, and love then they will become proud. And we somehow think that it’s not God’s job to keep a person humble—it’s ours. So we tend to be light on praise and heavy on criticism, light on commendation and heavy on complaining.

But the apostle Paul did not think that way. Instead, his mind’s eye looked for that which was praiseworthy in people. Now, mind you, he was also not afraid to give rebuke when it was necessary. But his habit was to look for evidence of grace in the lives of others, and praise them for it.

For example, just in this little letter called Philippians, we find the apostle commending the recipients no less than seven times. Paul praised them for:

  • Their partnership in the gospel (1:5)
  • God’s saving and sanctifying work in them (1:6)
  • That they were partakers of grace in his imprisonment, in contrast to those who forsook him, or those who were enemies of Christ (1:7)
  • Their love and prayers (1:19)
  • Their progress and joy in the faith (1:25)
  • Their kindness in meeting his $ needs, and supporting the work of the gospel. Their gift, he said, was a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice to God (4:15-20)
  • The spiritual fruit that was increasing to their account because of their love and generosity (4:17)

This is a cheerful letter of encouragement.

How about you? Are you heavy on criticism and light on praise? Instead of looking for evidences of God’s grace in the lives of your fellow believers, do you more quickly look for their flaws? Do you write letters of encouragement that build others up, or are you more prone to write angry, caustic emails?

As Paul began his letter to the Philippians, he began with words of affirmation and encouragement, and he greeted them with grace and peace. The order is significant: grace precedes peace, true peace only comes to those who experience grace. We need to remember, too, that Paul’s continued prayer means the supply of God’s grace and peace has not run out. There is still plenty there for you, and for me. And there is plenty to pass on to others.

So, here’s your homework (Yes, this blog post contains homework!). This weekend, write at least one letter of encouragement to a brother or sister who has been a blessing to your life. Note the evidence of God’s grace that you see in their lives. Tell them you are thankful to God for them and how God has used them to enrich your life, model Jesus, and help you to grow spiritually. Extend to them the grace that God has so richly extended to you. And then pray…ask God to make you the kind of believer who is heavy on praise and light on criticism or complaining.

[These thoughts are from last Sunday’s sermon, A Letter of Encouragment.]


There was another article by Paul on the same website that I wanted to include, but the format was quite different. Still, if you’re willing to copy and paste the references into a Bible program online, this would make an excellent study. Check out 14 Trinitarian Works… Revisited. (We might use this in the future as a scripture medley!)

February 23, 2014

Realities of Heaven and Hell

Six months ago we introduced you to Paul Tautges at the blog Counseling One Another. This week he posted two successive articles based on the writing of Puritan Christopher Love. I encourage you to click on the title of each to read them in full (they aren’t long) but here is the substance of both.

Christopher Love: Glories of Heaven

Paul, the apostle, exhorts us as believers to set our mind on things above, “where Christ is,” rather than on the things of this earth (Col 3:1). This heavenly-mindedness empowers us to continue to live for God while we patiently wait for the return of our glorious Savior. This eternal perspective was emphasized by the Puritans, “which they maintained served as preparation for either heaven or hell.” In Chapter 51 of A Puritan Theology, Beeke and Jones summarize the teaching of Christopher Love, a Puritan preacher whose ministry was characterized by a deliberate focus on heaven. “In Love’s numerous writings…there appear seventeen sermons opening up the subjects of heaven and hell in Heaven’s Glory, Hell’s Terror (1653).”

The reality of living somewhere for eternity was not a classroom subject for Love. “As he preached and wrote upon heaven and hell…he lived and died under the reality of them…The problem was that he died in 1651 at the hands of Puritans accusing him of high treason against Oliver Cromwell’s Commonwealth government. He was tried and executed for his involvement in the so-called Love’s Plot to restore Charles II to the throne.” However, his deliberate attention on heaven is surely what aided him to die “with remarkable assurance that he was destined for heaven’s glory, not hell’s terror.”

Heaven is glorious because Christ is glorious. “The glories of heaven were a major source of encouragement for Puritan pastors and their flocks during the turbulent times of the seventeenth century….When discussing the glories of heaven, the Puritans were thoroughly Christocentric….Heaven’s glory was never considered apart from Christ’s presence.” Christ is the Author and Finisher of the glorified life (Heb 12:2).

Both body and soul will be glorified at the return of Christ. “The glorification to come will afford us spiritual bodies (1 Cor 15:44), which arise after the life and death of a merely natural body, ‘which needs natural refreshment to maintain life, as food, sleep, raiment, and the like.’” In contrast to Love, who “focuses more on the intellectual nature of the beatific vision,” the Puritan John Owen “made the beatific vision of Christ in His human nature the central focus of heaven’s glories. In heaven, Christ appears as the head of glorified humanity; He is the immediate means by which God reveals His mind to His creatures; the object of divine glory; and the sight of Him will be transforming for those who have loved Him with an undying love. The saints on earth hope for heaven, but never heaven apart from the visible sight of Christ.”

We live in earth-bound bodies. Therefore, it is most natural for us to think most about this life, rather than the life to come. Let us learn from the Puritans. “That the elect will be glorified body and soul when Christ returns should move us to try to examine ourselves as to whether we may ‘warrantably conclude in your own conscience, that you shall appear with Jesus Christ in glory.’ For Love, such a trial of self bore great fruit for him personally when it came time for his own earthly trial for treason in 1651. That his body would one day be raised with Christ allowed him to face death fearlessly.” The deliberate choice to set our minds on Christ and the glories of heaven will surely do the same for us.

3 Benefits to Thinking about Hell

Fear is a powerful motivator. Granted, fear is often used by Satan to hold us in his grip, but fear—when connected to the fear of God—can motivate us to turn away from our sin toward Jesus Christ and God’s gifts of righteousness and forgiveness in Him. If we spurn Him who is our only hope for salvation then we should be terrified! “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb 10:31). For this reason, “not only did the Puritans seek to stir up a longing for heaven, they also sought to instill a terror of hell” (A Puritan Theology).

…let us stop for a moment to think about the practical benefits of thinking about hell.

Thinking about the terrors of hell causes us to fly to Christ. Arthur Dent’s fictional pastor Theologus encourages those who grieve over their sin “to believe that ‘Christ is for you,’ and that they must ‘apply Christ, and all the promises of the gospel’ to themselves, ‘for we have not other remedy or refuge but only his merits and righteousness—he is our city of refuge, whither we must fly, and where we must take sanctuary—he is the balm of Gilead, whereby our souls are cured.’”

Thinking about the terrors of hell guards our hearts from a false sense of security. How many professing Christians lack a burning desire to turn away from their sin because of a false security regarding their salvation? “In seeking to motivate us to fear God more than men and to awaken ‘drowsy consciences,’ Love focuses on the power of God to subject men to eternal torment, which ought to ‘work an awful fear of God’ in our hearts. Hearing of such torments should ‘startle’ our consciences out of a false sense of security, strip away ungrounded hopes of glory, and drive us away from wallowing in sin.” By seeking to give preaching on hell a bad name the devil “seeks to ‘nuzzle men in security in their sins’….Satan will do all that he can to keep the thoughts of hell from men so that they go on in their sins with ‘no fear of death, and judgment to come.’”

Thinking about the terrors of hell motivates us to continually turn away from our sins. Christopher Love argued that this was one reason God does not tell us in His Word the exact physical location of hell: “That God has chosen not to give us the exact location may be to ‘prevent Curiosity’ and unrest in our hearts, to keep us from fearing hell more than the sin that leads us to it.” In another place, “Love testifies that hearing a sermon on hell is good if it causes you to tremble and keeps you from feeling hell itself and turns you from the sins that lead you there.”

Brothers and sisters, it is a good for us to think about hell. Thinking about hell not only is biblical counsel that will aid our sanctification, but it also motivates us to hold out Christ to our lost friends and relatives as the one and only Savior. “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord [and the terrors of hell], we persuade men” (2 Cor 5:11).

December 17, 2013

Grace Arrives on the Scene

It was just three months ago that we featured the writing of Paul Tautges at the blog Counseling One Another. Normally, we wait six months to return to particular source here, but I want you to be sure to check out some of his other writing, not to mention how much I enjoyed today’s featured post, which is appropriate to the season.  Click to read Grace Has Arrived on the Scene.

Grace is the gift of God brought to sinners through the giving of His Son who willingly humbled Himself, dwelt among us, died a cruel death in our place, and was raised from the dead to give us life. This is the gospel. Romans 1:1-7 is a one-sentence, 126-word, announcement of good news from God. Alva McClain writes, “The literary construction of this sentence is very beautiful, and the unfolding of the ideas exquisite! It is almost like the unfolding of a flower—first the stalk, then the bud, then the full bloom, then the heart of it!” (p. 34). The author of this text is Paul, formerly Saul the persecutor of the church.

  • Paul was a servant of Jesus Christ: Six different words could have been chosen by Paul to explain his servitude, but he chose the strongest, the most absolute servitude. Doulos = slave, one purchased from the slave market of sin.
  • Paul was called to be an apostle: To be an apostle, by New Testament definition, two things had to be true of the man. He had to have seen the Lord (Paul did when Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus). He had to have received his call directly from the Lord, which Paul was at the same time (both described in Acts 9).
  • Paul was separated unto the gospel: Paul was chosen by God to be an apostle. Galatians 1:15 indicates that God separated Paul out for this ministry while still in his mother’s womb. God called him to salvation (Acts 9), set him apart for the work of the gospel (Acts 13) for the purpose of spending his life announcing the Good News that God loves and saves sinners through repentance and faith in His Son. It is that gospel that is the very heart and soul of the message of these seven verses. Here we see three simple, foundational truths concerning the gospel.

The Gospel Is Good News from God (vv. 1-2). Paul calls this good news the “gospel of God.” It is God’s gospel. This gospel was “promised beforehand by the prophets.” So many Scriptures were perfectly fulfilled in the first advent of our Lord (see this encouraging article from Answers in Genesis)! Perhaps the greatest Old Testament prophecy fulfilled in our Savior’s death, burial, and resurrection is Isaiah 53. This good news from God was also “recorded in the Scriptures.” Paul stresses the importance of this truth in 1 Corinthians 15:1-5.

 

The Gospel Is Good News about Jesus (vv. 3-4). The gospel concerns God’s Son. This sounds very simple, but it is very significant. The gospel is not about you; the gospel is not about me. The gospel is about Jesus Christ. He is the center of it all. Jesus was born of “a descendant of David” according to the flesh. Matthew’s genealogy, in particular, traces the lineage of Jesus back to King David. He began, “The record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David” (Matthew 1:1). This was to establish the fact that Jesus is the rightful heir to the throne of David. He is the long, promised King of Israel. Jesus was born “according to the flesh.” Jesus is fully human. He is the God-man who broke into earth’s history to rescue us from our sin, and He did this in accordance with God’s perfect timing (Galatians 4:4-5). Jesus was declared the Son of God by His resurrection. The first advent of Jesus, as a descendant of David according to the flesh, presents his humanity. The resurrection of Jesus was a declaration of His deity. He is God in the flesh. He was raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. And it is because of His resurrection that we may have new life. Four names and titles are used of Jesus in these verses.

  • Son = defines His relationship to the Father
  • Jesus = speaks of His humanity, He is “the salvation of Jehovah”
  • Christ = His office as the Messiah
  • Lord = His exalted position. He is the Lord Jehovah.

The Gospel Is Good News for Sinners (vv. 5-7). The good news is that the gospel turns sinners into saints. Here believers are described in three ways:

  • Believers are called of [by] Jesus Christ. By means of the gospel, Jesus Christ calls sinners to Himself. He offers us forgiveness, new life, and peace (Matthew 11:28-30).
  • Believers are loved by God. Isn’t this an amazing description?! We are sinners loved by God (John 3:16)! It is true that we are—right now, this very minute—children of God! (1 John 3:2).
  • Believers are called to be saints. Believers are saints by calling, not by deed. When God saves us from our sin He, at the same time, calls us to Himself. He sets us apart. Alva McClain: “God never goes to a sinner and tells him to try to attain to sainthood. He picks us out of the mud, and He says, ‘You are a saint.’”

God has given us good news. The good news is that grace has arrived on the scene. Grace has been given to desperate, fallen humanity. The gospel is the message of grace, which saves us when we first become a Christian., but the gospel continues to preach to us—day after day—that God’s grace is enough for us. God loves sinners. What a wonder that is!! There is no greater news. There is no greater message. God’s grace has arrived. And it is found in His Son, the Lord Jesus.

September 24, 2013

Slow Down and Discover More

The other night we were reading Psalm 23 in both English and French. (My son reads and speaks French, I don’t.)  I am always amazed how much depth there is in these six verses. Sometimes I think we read things so quickly that we really don’t mine all there is to be found in what appears on the page (or screen). We want the ‘bullet points’ to be highlighted for us. We’re in a hurry to move on to the next event.

So I was forced to slow down when I encountered this summary of another Psalm, this one being Psalm 68.  Paul Tautges posted this on Counseling One Another.

First, take a moment to read the Psalm. If you click the link, I’ve selected NASB (the formal correspondance translations like this and ESV will cause you read slower than say, the NLT or NCV) but feel free to change the translation if you prefer.  Click here.

Here’s what can be derived from that about God. To read at source, click here.

While meditating on Psalm 68 this morning, I found encouragement from thinking on the many descriptions of God.

  1. God is the Judge (vv. 1-3)
  2. God rides to our help (v. 4, Cf. Deut 33:26)
  3. God is a father to the orphan (v. 5a)
  4. God is a defender of the widow (v. 5b)
  5. God draws near to the lonely (v. 6)
  6. God delivers those in bondage (v. 6b)
  7. God deals with the rebellious (v. 6c)
  8. God goes before His people (vv. 7-8)
  9. God bountifully provides (vv. 9-10)
  10. God causes His enemies to flee (vv. 11-14)
  11. God frees the captives and dwells among them (vv. 15-18)
  12. God bears His children’s burdens (v. 19)
  13. God alone can cause us to escape death (v. 20)
  14. God shatters His enemies (vv. 21-23)
  15. God is King (vv. 24-25)
  16. God is the fountain of Israel (vv. 26-27)
  17. God commands our strength (v. 28)
  18. God is worshipped by earthly kings (v. 29)
  19. God is a warrior (vv. 30-31)
  20. God speaks with a mighty voice (v. 33)
  21. God is awesome in majesty (v. 34)

Wanna go deeper with Psalm 68?

This is from the blog of First Evangelical Free Church in Sioux City, Iowa; where it appeared under the title Ephesians 4 and Psalm 68: What’s the Connection?

This past Sunday we discussed Ephesians 4:1-16 in our adult Sunday school class. During part of the discussion, I mentioned the connection that Paul draws to Psalm 68:18 and we very briefly outlined a few of the themes that Paul was speaking about. Since this is a pretty big issue in the chapter, I thought it might be helpful for folks to see how I arrived at my conclusions – both to better understand Paul’s argument in Ephesians 4 as well as to better understand how the New Testament quotes the Old Testament.

First, context matters. The context in Ephesians 4 is all about unity. In fact, that’s been a theme that Paul has been spotlighting for quite awhile. In Ephesians 1, we see unity proclaimed in verse 10 (“to unite all things in Him…”); in chapter 2 we see unity as the focus in our relationship with Christ; in chapter 3 we see unity not just between Jews and Gentiles, but also between redeemed humanity and Christ Jesus. So when we arrive in chapter 4, it’s no surprise that Paul continues the theme of unity, now showing some of the practical outworking and examples (verses 3-6 and verses 11 and following).

Psalm 68, however, is a very different kind of animal. The first thing you’ll notice when you flip to it is how long it is. Paul certainly hasn’t quoted much of it. Reading through the Psalm, you’ll also notice the recurring theme of how the Lord will scatter and defeat all of His enemies (v1-2, 12, 30, etc.) which will cause His people to rejoice (v3-4, 19-20, 26, 29, 32-35, etc.) because of God’s just and righteous character (v5, 17, 28, etc.).

The question that arises, of course, is what does this Psalm (and verse 18 specifically) have to do with unity? Paul seems to see the connection fairly clearly, since he explains it in Ephesians 4:9-10. But if you’re anything like me, it still seems a bit murky without some additional thought. A careful comparison between Ephesians 4 and Psalm 68 will also show that Paul appears to have changed some of the wording – did Paul misquote the Psalm?

So there’s a whole host of issues to address. Let’s now take these issues apart one at a time…

First, Paul is quoting the Psalm correctly according to two different standards. While it reads differently in English translations, the quotation and the words of Psalm 68 actually read very similarly in the Greek version of the Old Testament (most English Bibles focus upon the original Hebrew version of the Old Testament, which accounts for the difference in wording). While a complete discussion of why Paul is quoting from the Greek rather than the Hebrew is beyond our focus here, I do wish to point out that this is very common of New Testament writers. And not just of them, but of Jesus also! So, for a number of historical, linguistic, and cultural reasons, Paul is quoting from a Greek translation of the Old Testament. Secondly, Paul’s quotation isn’t meant to be an exact citation, but rather to remind his readers of the content of the entire Psalm, with a specific focus on verse 18. This is similar to how somebody might, after reading this article, say to a friend “Pastor Kevin said that Paul is correctly quoting from the Old Testament in Ephesians 4.” Of course, I didn’t use those exact words, but they are an accurate description of the words that I DID say.

So the next issue then is this: in what way is Paul using Psalm 68 to make his point? Sometimes, you’ll see New Testament authors using an exact quotation from the Old Testament to make their point. That is to say, the point made in the OT is exactly the same point as the author is making in the NT. Other times, the NT author is simply referring to the broad themes or ideas contained within an OT passage. Still other times, the NT author might be making a case based upon how the OT passage was written (in Matt 22:32, Jesus famously points out the present tense grammar of a seemingly unrelated passage to prove His point about the resurrection).

Of all of these options, it would seem best to conclude that Paul is quoting Psalm 68 not on the basis of “gifts” (which we might be naturally drawn to, since the word appears in the quotation and in the verses that appear afterwards) primarily, but instead that he has a wider idea in mind: God’s victory over His enemies. And more specifically, Christ’s victory over sin and death. Paul makes it clear that he understands this Psalm to be a good description not just of what God has done in OT times (though that is, of course, true), but also an accurate description of what Christ (who is fully God and fully man) has done and will bring to completion both now and in eternity. The “gifts” come into play when Paul continues on in chapter 4 with regard to maturity – they are the application of this teaching to our lives.

Therefore, Paul’s point is this: Christ has triumphed over sin and death. That triumph has begun at the cross and will be completely and entirely fulfilled at His second coming. The reason for that triumph is to, as Paul mentioned in Ephesians 1:10, fulfill the plan of the ages: to unite all things in Him. And there’s our word, isn’t it? Unity. When all who oppose the Lord have been put aside, what remains is those who love Him. What remains is, in fact, unity. Thus, Paul quotes Psalm 68:18 to remind us that the same God who has been shown faithful and just in ages past is the same God who sent His Son Jesus to bring about reconciliation and unity between us and Him and is then also the same God who now calls us to utilize the good gifts that He has given us for His glory as we seek to encourage one another towards maturity (Ephesians 4:12-16)!

So there you have it – Paul has done us an amazing favor by showing us not just his present point about unity, nor even a point about spiritual gifts, but by linking these discussions to the even wider theme of God’s good grace and eternal plan which has been present from the beginning of time and will find it’s fulfillment in Christ’s return. Paul has shown us how to better read our Bibles, how to better connect OT and NT, and – most importantly – how to better know, respond to, and love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, and might.

August 14, 2013

The One Who Forgives

This is a great piece for your devotional reading today, from the blog Counseling One Another written by Paul Tautges. You are encouraged to investigate this blog, it has many in-depth articles. This one appeared under the title Tender Savior.

Fanny Crosby, the blind hymn writer, left a gift to the church through her more than 9,000 hymns. One of the common themes in her poetry is the tender love of the Savior—experienced when a sinner turns to Him for forgiveness—which results in heartfelt praise and glory to God. For example, hymns like “He Hideth My Soul.”

A wonderful Savior is Jesus my Lord, a wonderful Savior to me;
He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock, where rivers of pleasure I see.

He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock that shadows a dry, thirsty land;
He hideth my life in the depths of His love, and covers me there with His hand, and covers me there with His hand.

A wonderful Savior is Jesus my Lord, He taketh my burden away;
He holdeth me up and I shall not be moved, He giveth me strength as my day.

Or, my personal favorite, “Blessed Assurance.”

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine! O what a foretaste of glory divine! Heir of salvation, purchase of God, born of his Spirit, washed in his blood.

When a sinner comes to Jesus in repentance and faith he or she finds a tender, forgiving Savior. This experience of the healing of the soul and freedom from God’s judgment results in humility and gratitude to God. It marks the beginning of a new life—a life of obedience to Christ and of praise to God for His redeeming love. Take a moment to read Luke 5:17-26 and reflect upon the tenderness of the Savior toward a needy sinner and the resulting glory that is given to God.

The Ultimate Healing

In the Scripture passage you just read, Luke describes the experience of a paralyzed man who is brought to Jesus with the help of his friends. In Jesus, this man not only receives healing from his physical disability, but—more importantly—he receives healing for his spiritual disability…his ultimate need. Physical healing would indeed have provided him with relief—relief from some of his suffering on earth. But he needed something more. He needed spiritual healing that would provide him with relief from the guilt of sin and deliver him from suffering in the eternal hell. This is what he found in the tender Savior. In Jesus, this man received a full pardon from God, which resulted in glorifying God. Here we see a dramatic demonstration of Jesus’ power to heal and His authority to forgive.

Luke sets the stage for this dramatic healing of both body and soul. A confrontation between Jesus and the religious leaders is about to occur. Pharisees and teachers of the law have come from every village…as far as Jerusalem (120 miles). Why did they travel so far? The fame of Jesus had spread far and wide. They felt threatened by Him and His powerful teaching, which drew great crowds. They had heard of His miracles. Perhaps they came with some curiosity, but more likely it was because they intended to discredit and even destroy Him. Why? Because “the power of the Lord was present for Him.” Jesus possessed something that they could only dream of having—the power of God upon their life and ministry. Such is the resentment of the religious person who is not born again.

However, in contrast to the Pharisees, there were faithful men—the friends of the paralytic. Luke calls them “some men,” but Mark tells us there were four. These persistent friends were determined to bring their friend to Jesus. They knew it was their time to act–there time to intercede for him—to bring him to the tender Savior. Phillip Ryken writes, “There is a time for waiting to see if God will open a door, but there is also a time to get inside, even if it means going through the roof to get there.” What an example of personal evangelism we see here! To what extent are we willing to go to bring other people to Jesus?

Jesus first declares the man forgiven—before healing him—because forgiveness is the greatest, universal need of man. Yes, this disabled man surely longed to be healed. But Jesus knew his greatest need was to have his sins forgiven. Jesus calls him “Friend,” a tender expression of kindness foreshadowing the reality that Jesus would later refer to all of His disciples as His friends. “You are My friends if you do what I command you. ‘No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you’” (John 15:14-15).

The Stark Contrast

How very different these faithful men were than the scribes and the Pharisees who were chiefly faultfinding critics! The scribes, the “teachers of the Law,” were professional scholars. They had spiritual knowledge, but no heart for God. These zealous leaders knew the Scriptures, but did not know the God of the Scriptures. Many times their theology was accurate, but it was only in their heads. Truth stopped in their minds—to be analyzed and critiqued, but not to be submitted to and obeyed by the will. They were hypocrites.

Instead of humbly acknowledging their own need of the Savior they “began to reason.” Matthew tells us that their reasoning was not verbalized. They were saying these things to themselves…in their thoughts. But Jesus knew their thoughts, which was another proof of His deity. “Why are you reasoning in your hearts?” He asked. Aware of their reasoning, Jesus answered their accusations by affirming His authority to forgive sin, which was another declaration of His deity. The scribes and Pharisees knew this. Therefore, they reasoned in their hearts that Jesus was guilty of blaspheming God.

Their Old Testament worship manual, the book of Psalms, made it clear that only God can fully forgive the guilt of our sin. “If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared” (Ps 130:3-4). If God is only the God of justice then none of us could ever stand in His presence. But He is also the God of forgiveness. “But there is forgiveness with You.” The Pharisees missed this truth–the truth that is the joyful shout of every true Christian.

The reason God can forgive sin is because He alone has provided the satisfaction of His righteousness through the punishment of our guilt. This He did in the sacrifice of His Son on the cross. Forgiveness is received only through repentant faith in Jesus Christ. “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us” (Eph 1:7-8). “For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col 1:13-14).

Immediately the healed paralytic, who was also now a forgiven sinner, gave glory to God. But he was not the only one to give God glory. Luke tells us that “they were all struck with astonishment and began glorifying God; and they were filled with fear, saying, ‘We have seen remarkable things today.’” All, that is, except the faultfinding critics.

Which one are you? Are you the forgiven sinner who has great reason to glorify God? Or are you the religious, faultfinding critic who appears to be holy on the outside, but lacks the genuine life of God within your soul? Come to Jesus today. He is the tender Savior. Repent and believe and He will receive you. Come to Jesus and be forgiven. Come to Jesus and live.

August 5, 2012

The Holy Spirit Prays for Us

I found this article through Dwight at the blog Strengthened By Grace.  I’ll let him introduce it:

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26)

That verse should bring much comfort to every Christian heart. We have a Helper in our prayers!  Why is that so important. As this verse points out we are weak and we are ignorant.  And from other Scripture we know the Spirit is powerful and knows all things.

Paul Tautages expands on the above thoughts in “The Spirit’s Silent Prayer Ministry.”

 

Here is the article:

The Spirit’s Silent Prayer Ministry

by Paul Tautges

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26). Just as creation groans, waiting for the fullness of redemption; and as believers groan, waiting for redemption from their earthly bodies; so the Holy Spirit groans in prayer.

The Holy Spirit prays for us because we are weak.
The Spirit who resides within us as believers in Christ “helps” us, that is, He comes to our aid, rescues us, and helps to carry our heavy burden. This is the ongoing ministry of the Spirit in our “weaknesses,” our human frailty. It is significant for us to realize that physical, emotional, and spiritual weakness reveal human frailty, but are not necessarily the result of sin. Jesus, the sinless Son of God, experienced human frailty, which is partially what qualifies him to be our High Priest who is able to “sympathize with our weaknesses,” yet he never sinned (Hebrews 4:14–15). The omniscient Holy Spirit knows our weaknesses as well and it this same “Spirit of adoption,” whom we have received from God, “by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Romans 8:15).

The Holy Spirit prays for us because we are ignorant.
Often we “do not know what to pray for” (v. 26). Sometimes we are aware of our ignorance¸ like the disciples who said to Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1). And sometimes we are blind to our ignorance. For example, when the sons of Zebedee came to Jesus with their mother to demand a position of leadership, Jesus said, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” (Matthew 20:22).

The Spirit prays for us because our knowledge is incomplete. Matthew Henry writes, “We are short-sighted…like foolish children, that are ready to cry for fruit before it is ripe and fit for them.” One of my young daughters loves to eat pears, but she does not know how to tell when they are ripe. As a result, she will often grab a hard, green pear off the kitchen counter, take one bite, and leave the rest behind, claiming “it is too hard.” We often do the same. We want the “fruit” that God is preparing for our future, but we want it now, before it is ripe. We do this because we are ignorant of what is best for us and, therefore, don’t know how to pray as we should. But the Spirit is not ignorant—and He prays according to perfect knowledge. He prays with “groanings too deep for words.” The Spirit pleads on our behalf in longings that are verbally inexpressible. This is his silent prayer ministry.

The Holy Spirit prays for us because God’s knowledge is perfect.
The passage continues, “he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit” (v. 27). The omniscient Father already knows what the Spirit is thinking. That explains why there is no need for the Spirit’s groaning to be verbalized. The Spirit of God knows the thoughts of God (1 Corinthians 2:11), and the Father knows the thoughts of the Spirit. The two are always in full agreement. Since the thoughts of God are revealed by the Spirit in words (1 Corinthians 2:13), his prayers never contradict the written Word, the Bible, which he inspired (2 Peter 1:21). This is crucial for us to understand since we can be guilty of fleshly prayer that is not always in sync with the will of God. R. C. Sproul writes,

Professing Christians often ask God to bless or sanction their sin. They are even capable of telling their friends they have prayed about a certain matter and God has given them peace despite what they prayed for was contrary to His will. Such prayers are thinly veiled acts of blasphemy, and we add insult to God when we dare to announce that His Spirit has sanctioned our sin by giving us peace in our souls. Such a peace is a carnal peace and has nothing to do with the peace that passes understanding, the peace that the Spirit is pleased to grant to those who love God and love His law.

Here is where the Spirit helps us immensely. We often fail to pray according to God’s perfect will. We may pray with our mouths, “Thy will be done,” but mean in our hearts, “My will be done.” The Holy Spirit does not possess the same inconsistency. He always intercedes according to the will of God!