Christianity 201

January 30, 2018

Forcing a Way Into the Kingdom

by Russell Young

By Russell’s count this is his 100th post here at Christianity 201. We thank him for his faithfulness to this project.

The Lord said, “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it. It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law.” (Lk 16: 1617 NIV)

It is apparent that even during the Lord’s days on earth false teaching concerning entrance to God’s kingdom was being presented, probably through the promotion of Jewish customs and Old Covenant theology. Other teachings were presented to the seven churches following his crucifixion which permitted breaching the wall and these were unacceptable to God, as well. Entrance to his kingdom is only availed to those who “overcome” their misconceptions and evil practices, overcome the hindrances revealed to the churches through Christ’s revelation. (Rev 21:7)

  1. To the church in Ephesus Christ addressed the need to maintain “[their] first love” (Rev 2:40; to continue doing the things that they had done when their love was fresh.
  2. Those in the church in Smyrna he encouraged resistance to fear and to be strong in suffering persecution even to the point of death.
  3. The teachings of the Nicolaitan were being promoted in the church of Pergamum. It remains unclear concerning the nature of those teachings, however, the Lord has connected them to the teaching of Balaam who enticed the Israelites to sin by committing immoral acts. Perhaps the teachings being referenced allowed for the freedom to engage immorality without consequence.
  4. Some in the church of Thyatira had learned “Satan’s so-called deep secrets” and were practicing idolatry and adultery. Their love for Christ had been lavished on Satan’s interests and on his deceptions.
  5. The church in Sardis was tolerating unrighteous practices. They had a reputation (outward appearance) of being alive but were dead according to the Lord’s revelation.
  6. The church of Philadelphia was being challenged by the teachings of the Jews and the imposition of Jewish customs, probably through the need for circumcision and obedience to the Law.
  7. Those in Laodicea attended church but were “lukewarm” and indifferent. They enjoyed wealth but were shamefully naked when it came to righteousness.

Unrighteous practices and lawlessness were the issues of concern, and teaching did not promote the requirement for victorious living. As stated at the beginning, the Lord taught the need to fulfil the Law. He stated that “until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” (Mt 5:18 NIV) The law of the New Covenant is the law of Christ (1 Cor 9:21), the law of the Spirit of life (Rom 8:2), and not that of the Old Covenant. The righteous requirements of the law [are] fully met in us who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:4 NIV) This teaching does not allow that the righteous life of Christ is his imputed righteousness other than is provided at confession of faith, but that the life of Christ lived in them (Col 1:27) is their source of righteousness and of eternal salvation. (Heb 5:9) The presence of the Spirit is not sufficient since he may be denied, thwarted, or quenched; the believer must live according to the Spirit’s leading.

John the Baptist told the Pharisees that they were to produce fruit in keeping with repentance (Mt 3:8) and cautioned that “every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Mt 3:10 NIV) (Christ repeated this admonition. (Jn 15: 6) Paul told King Agrippa he “preached that [his listeners] should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds,” (Acts 26:20 NIV)

The Lord admonished listeners, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes (transforms, disciplines and punishes) so that it will be even more fruitful…Remain in me, and I will remain in you.” (Jn 15:12… 4 NIV) The responsibility remained theirs to remain in him.

The Lord spoke of the necessity of applying serious effort to enter the kingdom. “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.” (Lk 13:24 NIV) This “effort” should not be confused with salvation by works.

Much of western theological teaching is presented to “force” or to find easy entry into the kingdom of God. It cannot be gained in any other way than through Christ and the righteousness that he is able to provide as the believer lives obediently through the Spirit. Such a life demands death to self-interest (Lk 17:33) and a whole-hearted commitment to God. (Mk 12:30) Only through such dedication can the requirements of the law be fully met, and the kingdom legitimately entered. Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12 NIV); there will be no forcing and there is no other means. Christ is the way, the truth, and the life, and the confession, promise, and covenant of his lordship (Rom 10: 9:10) as he lives righteously in the believer is the life availed through his death, that provides legitimate entry into the kingdom of God. He is the narrow gate.


Author Russell Young lives in Canada and is the author of Eternal Salvation: Really? available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  His column appears here on alternate Tuesday.  To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.


January 10, 2018

Results or No Results: Delighting When God is Honored

Today’s thoughts are from Sam Williamson, author of two books I’ve reviewed at Thinking Out Loud, Is Sunday School Destroying our Kids? and Hearing God in Conversation. His website is Beliefs of the Heart. Click the title below to read this at source.

An Unearthly Delight

Sometimes I hear God best in surprises. Seemingly unrelated circumstances suddenly unite, and their merger stirs something in my heart. Like a succession of waves on a beach, one last surge dissolves my sandcastles.

This last month I talked with:

  • A despairing man whose ministry seems stagnant, and all his work seem fruitless;
  • Another man who keeps a tally in the front of his Bible of all the souls he helped save;
  • A group of friends who mused on our all-absorbing attraction to superhero movies;

Each discussion hinted at some deep longing for significance, expressed in meaningful ministry, “souls I helped save,” or that desire to be superhero (ish) ourselves. Wanting a life that matters doesn’t contradict Scripture. We are made in God’s image, and he is the God of all glory.

And yet. Last week I read about the baptism of Jesus. A voice from heaven cries, “You are my beloved Son; I delight in you.” My first response (and probably my second and third) was: “That’s exactly what I want, to hear the Father say to me, ‘Well done. I am pleased with you.’”

Then a thought flashed through my mind: Is it possible to have as much joy when the Father affirms Jesus as I would have if He so affirmed me? Can I simply take joy in the joy of Jesus?

I’ve Been Looking in the Rear View Mirror

It’s a brand-new idea to me: of delighting so much in Jesus that his happiness overwhelms me, whatever happens in my own life. Familiar verses take on new meaning:

  • Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart (Ps. 37:4). No longer to delight in God in order to get my “real” desire (a new house or better job), but that the desire of my heart is to see the Father overjoyed in Jesus.
  • Blessed is the one who considers the poor! In the day of trouble, the Lord delivers him (Ps. 41:1). To enjoy the blessedness bestowed on Jesus that he considered the poor …
  • The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth (Ps. 145:18). To rejoice in God’s nearness to Jesus who alone cried out to him with true purity.

My nature unconsciously looks to God to accomplish my own schemes: my ideas for happiness or a good name, or my plans for ministry or a retreat house. In John 15, Jesus says the branch that bears fruit abides in the vine. I find myself saying, “If I just do that, like abide a bit more, then I’ll get what I really want.”

Which means my heart really abides in the fruit and not the vine.

God is inviting me to abide in him a new way: simply to delight when he is honored, whether I see results I want or not. Joy in him is undermining my sandcastles.

All It Took Was a Trip to Lowes

On an errand to Lowe’s hardware store, a phrase from an old John Newton poem snuck into my thoughts on fixing a furnace humidifier. I googled the phrase in the parking lot. In it, God speaks to Newton, and through Newton, God spoke to me:

These inward trials I employ,
From self, and pride, to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That thou may find thy all in Me.”

I keep thinking I need a home for retreats or to hear words of affirmation. Both fine things. I think, instead, God is breaking my “schemes of earthly joy,” all those fleeting castles of sand, because he is building a lasting home of unearthly joy.

There is a delight we can have simply in knowing him, in finding our “all” in him alone.

Sam

P. S. God often speaks to us in the moments we think he is silent. To nurture that conversational relationship with your Father, I suggest you read Hearing God in Conversation.

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

June 19, 2016

Being “In Christ”

•••by Russell Young

Being “in Christ” is the designation given to a position of comfort through confidence in a person’s eternal hope.  Being in Christ also means that all of the attributes of Christ are accessible to the believer; he is the believer’s means of being kept and of being delivered.

Being in Christ does not mean that the believer is in the body of Christ but that he or she has a connection through relationship with Christ from which they can take on the personality and heart of Christ through his enlightenment, leading and divine power.  The believer is so linked with him through the Spirit, that Christ is his or her life. After all, through baptism he or she has declared themselves to have died to all nourishment outside of him and of all interests outside of his.

Those privileged to be in Christ should not assume it to be their fixed place of residence, however.  Before his crucifixion, Christ said, “I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener.  He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. (Jn 15:1-2, NIV) Vines can become wild and fruitless and of little value.  Further to this teaching, Christ has revealed understanding about the nature of a person’s relationship with him.  “Remain in me and I will remain in you.” (Jn 15:4, NIV) “If a man remains in me and I in him he will produce much fruit.” (Jn 15:5) And, “If you obey my commands, you remain in my love, just as I have obeyed the Father’s commands and remain in his love.” (Jn 15:10, NIV) The Lord used the conditional word “if” in these statements implying that the permanence of remaining in him rested on the believer doing or obeying his commands.  In fact, he directly taught that a person’s position in his family was dependent upon the manner in which he or she dealt with sin, and according to their practice of obedience (Heb 5:9) “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 [one who obeys, Rom 8:14, 6:16], belongs to it forever.” (Jn 8:34-35, NIV)

God is faithful to those who remain faithful to him.  It is written: “The Lord is with you when you are with him.  If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you.” (2 Chr 15:2, NIV) He will, however, forsake the unfaithful.

Abiding in ChristThose in him get all that is needed through him, and in turn produce the fruit for which the root grows and provides nourishment.  Christ who is the Spirit produces the fruit of the Spirit- love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. (Gal 5:22) Those who do not produce these will be “cut off.”

It is just as important to consider who is not in Christ. The person who claimed through profession of faith that Jesus is his or her Lord and who is living or walking in spiritual darkness has no fellowship with God. “So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness.  But if we are living in the light [obeying his commandments or being led] as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.” (1 Jn 1:6, NIV) This is another conditional statement concerning fellowship and cleansing.

John summed up his portrayal of who is “in Christ” and who is not.  “This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are:  Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother.” (1 Jn 3:10, NIV) And, “But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him:  Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” (1 Jn 2:5-6, NIV)

A person’s position in Christ depends upon his or her willingness to allow Christ to live through him or her by practicing obedience to the Spirit.  When someone looks at a person in Christ, they should see Christ.  The Lord did not sin while in the flesh and those in him will not sin.  When sin is practiced, that person is not in him on that occasion but has taken nourishment from Adam or Eve, his or her sinful nature.  When a person reverts to their old nature they once again become subject to destruction. “Do not be deceived:  God cannot be mocked.  A man reaps what he sows.  The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction. (Gal 6:5, NIV)

Whether or not a person remains “in Christ” depends upon his or her will.  It is a person’s doing or their walk that reveals his or her position and will determine their eternal outcome.   Christ told His disciples, “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Mt 7:21, NIV) A person’s “doing” is important to his or her eternal state and to their remaining in Christ.  Many promises are made to those in Christ, including the promise of freedom from condemnation (Rom 8:1) and of resurrection. (1 Thess 4:16)

December 28, 2014

The Metaphor of the Vinedresser, Part Two

Yesterday and today, we’re running back-to-back expositions from Jesus’ teaching in John 15, from the blog Into the Foolishness of God by Shara Case. Click the title to read at source, and take a few minutes to look around other recent articles there as well.

Fruit that Remains

rudesheim

Continuing a bit in John 15 because I love it so…

“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.” (v.4)

A branch isn’t a branch if it isn’t abiding. It’s a dead stick. The nature of a branch is that is is a living, producing thing. The word “abide” is used more than any other word in this passage. The very nature of the word implies a consistent, constant action. A branch isn’t sometimes connected to the Vine, it either is or isn’t. Abiding allows the branch to draw all the nutrients it needs from the Vine, and over time the result is fruit.

Christ tells us to abide, not to bear fruit. He takes on the responsibility for the fruit – it is a natural result of an abiding branch! Trying to make it on our own is like a branch striving to develop grapes, it just isn’t natural. Our whole job is to respond to His ability to do it. Hebrews 4:11 tells us to “make every effort to enter into that rest.” Jesus is telling us, “relax, I’ve got this!” We never need to worry about the fruit our lives produce, we need to abide and let it happen. He wants fruit that remains. The word talks of fruits of the spirit, fruits of righteousness and holiness as examples of this. How amazing that our entire job is just to make sure we have entered into His rest, through our abiding. What a great way to live!

Here are some more things we learned about life in the vineyard;

  • Vineyards aren’t natural. There are things in nature that flower and bear fruit naturally, without our help, but a vineyard isn’t one of them! A well organized, productive vineyard is one of the most unnatural things that could ever exist. Left to itself, will bear virtually no fruit and go totally wild. Grapevines put their energy into making leaves, not fruit. They need much guidance and care in order to produce. Too many leaves block the sun and air. Our lives can become very “leafy” if we’re not careful. From the outside, things look green and flourishing, but underneath, we aren’t experiencing any real fruit. We aren’t commanded to go forth and be leafy – our job is to bear fruit! All the extra stuff has to be taken away if we are to have quality fruit.
  • A struggling vine makes the best wine. Natural instinct would be to take the very best care of the vines, water them and tend to them so they grow strong. In reality, a vine that feels thirsty once in awhile sends it’s roots deeper in search of water and grows stronger. A vine can be very dry in a drought year and produce very little. But because it’s forced to go deeper, the next years harvest is better than ever. Artificially watering whenever dryness comes leads to lazy roots that don’t ever get strong. Vines that struggle learn to go deeper. When drought comes, it’s not a problem. It may look dry on the outside, but deep down it is secure! God is more concerned with our growth than our comfort.
  • Fruit Is Different. Vines mature with time, and so does fruit. The kind of fruit produced depends on many things, and no vine will turn out the same. Thats the great thing about our Vinedresser. He knows when we need straightening out, watered, directed, cut back, etc. Soils are different. Climates are different. But if we abide, the end result is healthy fruit that He is proud to put His name on. One of our biggest mistakes is to compare our fruit with others. We forget the Vinedresser is customizing each one of us. He takes great pride in the vineyard as a whole, but He loves the individual branches and knows just what each one needs.

ABIDE. It simply means to remain, stay, dwell, and hold on. It’s a fact that the healthiest grapes are the ones that grow closest to the vine.

Fruitfulness glorifies God. His will is done when we abide and allow Him to work on us. We have a Vinedresser that is concerned with every aspect of our growth and maturity.

I’m so thankful He lets us develop deep roots that strengthen us.

I’m thankful He doesn’t allow us to go wild and leafy.

That we would enjoy the special place we are planted and bear the exact kind of fruit the Vinedresser has in mind!

June 28, 2014

Devotion – Part 2

Yesterday we looked at the use of the word devotion itself in the NIV, and today we continue looking at the way the word is used.

Isaiah 38:2-3

Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, “Remember, Lord, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.

In Jeremiah God is saying that it’s easy to lose devotion over time:

Jeremiah 2:2-3

“Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem:

“This is what the Lord says:

“‘I remember the devotion of your youth,
    how as a bride you loved me
and followed me through the wilderness,
    through a land not sown.
Israel was holy to the Lord,
    the firstfruits of his harvest;
all who devoured her were held guilty,
    and disaster overtook them,’”
declares the Lord.

This passage indicates that Israel has lots its devotion to God, and I can’t help but be reminded of the verse in Revelation 2 which speaks of losing your first love:

You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.

The Apostle Paul is concerned about the Corinthians losing their devotion through distraction to the things of the world.

1 Corinthians 7:29-36

29 What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; 30 those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; 31 those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.

32 I would like you to be free from concern…. 35 I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.

He repeats a warning concerning this in his other letter to them.

2 Corinthians 11:2-4

I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the Spirit you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.

So as you consider these passages, it should now be very clear that devotion is something we have, not something we do.

Go Deeper: The Dictionary of Bible Themes provides more verses on this subject along with a definition:

Wholehearted commitment to God, to another person or to a task. God’s people are encouraged to show such commitment.

God’s people are to be wholehearted in their devotion to him

Dt 6:5; Ro 12:1 See also Dt 30:1-3; Jdg 5:2; Ps 119:2; Jer 29:13

Examples of devotion to God

Ps 42:1; Php 3:7-8 Caleb and Joshua: Nu 14:6-9; Nu 32:11-12; Jos 14:7-12
2Ki 23:1-3 pp 2Ch 34:29-32 Josiah and his subjects; 2Ch 15:12-15 the people of Judah The psalmists: Ps 27:1-4; Ps 40:7-8; Ps 84:2; Ps 119:57,135-136 Paul: 1Co 2:2; 1Co 9:26-27; 2Co 1:8-10; Php 3:13-14; Col 1:24,28-29

June 21, 2014

Some Followed at a Distance

But Peter followed him at a distance, right up to the courtyard of the high priest. He entered and sat down with the guards to see the outcome.  (Matthew 26: 58)

Peter followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. There he sat with the guards and warmed himself at the fire. (Mark 14:54)

Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs.  (Matthew 27:55)

I was thinking today that I’ve never included one of my oldest son’s favorite worship songs here, I Just Want to be Where You Are by Don Moen.

The opening lines are:

I just want to be where you are
Dwelling daily in your presence
I don’t want to worship from afar
Draw me near to where you are.

The line that got to me was, “I don’t want to worship from afar.”

I realize this is rather superficial, but in my years in church I have attended some churches which fill the back rows first, and other churches in which the front rows fill up right away. I’m not sure what accounts for the difference in church culture. I’ve been to seminars and conferences where people will pay top dollar for airfare, hotel, food and conference admission, only to grab a seat in the very last row. But I’ve also seen people at Christian events who run to grab a seat near the front, with Bibles and notebooks already open before the speaker is even introduced.

Turning to today’s scripture texts, we certainly know why Peter followed Jesus from a distance. Jesus had just been arrested, and for all he knew, he might be next. So he became a ‘distant’ follower. The same applies to the women. Matthew Henry says that either way, it was either the ‘fury’ of those who arrested Jesus or the ‘fear’ in themselves that kept them from getting too close.

Between these two considerations, where do you find yourself?

In terms of the superficial, do you gravitate to the front rows at Christian gatherings, or are you content to stay near the back? Even if life circumstances currently make you one of the people Ruth Graham calls “broken on the back row;” may I encourage you to try moving up.

In terms of the scripture text and today’s song, can you say, “I just want to be where you are;” or are you “following at a distance?” Perhaps where you live there is a stigma associated with Christianity, or a local church. Whatever it is, it probably doesn’t compare to what Peter and the women felt on that terrible night. What if Peter hadn’t denied his association with Jesus? I can say from personal experience that life changes when you are willing to identify with the body of Christ no matter what may come.

There’s something about this simple song that intensifies as you hear it. Take time to listen to it more than once. Enter fully into God’s presence.

August 6, 2013

Keeping Joined in Relationship

Today we’re sharing an article from the blog of Chip Ingram, noted author and host of Living on the Edge, a daily Christian radio show. You can read this and other articles at Chip’s blog; to read this one on its original page, click on this title: It’s All About Relationship.

I’ll never forget the time when I was a very young and very ambitious Christian in graduate school. I was teaching a class, leading a campus ministry, and even doing some basketball coaching on the side. All the while, my emotional and spiritual “batteries” were getting lower and lower.

Soon after I graduated, a friend and I began leading a Bible study at another college campus and it rapidly grew to over 150 students. Then one night, I was getting ready to teach and I realized that I had nothing to say. It was only an hour and a half before the students were going to show up and I was terrified! I had no idea what I was going to do.

I remember crawling into a small closet with only a tiny light and my Bible, and just crying out to God. At some point, I desperately said, “God, something about my life isn’t right. Please, help me!” Then I opened up my Bible and my eyes landed on John 15. I read this passage out loud:

I am the true vine. My Father is the gardener.  He cuts off every branch joined to me that does not bear fruit. He trims every branch that does bear fruit. Then it will bear even more fruit. Remain joined to me, and I will remain joined to you. No branch can bear fruit by itself. It must remain joined to the vine. In the same way, you can’t bear fruit unless you remain joined to me.” (vv. 1-2, 4)

In this passage, Jesus is talking to His disciples right before His death. He uses an allegory of a vineyard to illustrate the goal of our lives as believers and how we can have the most rewarding life that He intended for us. As I read the passage, I realized the reason I was so exhausted and I didn’t have anything to say to the group was because I was not connected to the vine, which is Jesus.

So, maybe you’re wondering, how could I not be connected to Jesus if I was a Christian? It’s true I was a Christian, and I was even reading my Bible and praying! But it was at superficial level. I was so busy that I never had time to really take in God’s word and pray deeply. I was too busy to be still and know that He is God.

The truth was, I had gotten to the point where I was literally, physically, and emotionally burned out. I was serving God in many ways, but I didn’t really have a close relationship with Him. I wasn’t joined to Him.

What I discovered is that God’s goal for our lives is not about our busyness or the activity we do for Him. Our goal is to bear “fruit” for the purpose of glorifying God and building His Kingdom. And the way we bear this fruit is only through cultivating a close relationship with Jesus.

So what is “fruit”? Galatians 5:22-23 says,

“…The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”

I am the vine - You are the branchesRemember, since this fruit is the “fruit of the Spirit”, by its nature we can’t produce it on our own strength, by trying harder or by being more religious. The only way we can bear this fruit – and fruit that lasts – is when our relationship with Jesus becomes our first priority and we remain joined with Jesus.

The greatest thing you’ll ever do for you and for your relationship with God is to remain joined to Jesus. Remaining joined means hearing and reading God’s Word for the purpose of putting it into practice. It also means responding to the Spirit’s prompting and being obedient. Then the Holy Spirit supernaturally produces “fruit” through us. We just have to take the time to cultivate our relationship with Him.

This week* we’re starting the series, Authentic: How to Be a Christian Without Being Religious. In it, we will explore how to live a life of faith, how to portray Christ’s love and character in our everyday activities, how to know if we are growing spiritually, and how to develop a dynamic and close relationship with Jesus Christ. It’s my hope and prayer that through this series, we’ll learn how to have a deeper, more intimate relationship with the living God.

Keep Pressin’ Ahead,

Chip Ingram, Teaching Pastor
Living on the Edge

*this appeared July 28th

January 23, 2012

A Vine Example

Today’s thoughts — and diagram — are from the devotional blog of professional writer Steven Sawyer, where he punned it as Grape Expectations.

Jesus’ last lesson for His disciples was about grapes.

Jesus had high expectations that His disciples would understand their responsibility to continue His ministry. On His way to the Garden of Gethsemane He explained how they could succeed in the mission He had given them by teaching them about grapes.

Use your imagination with me for a minute.  Let’s put ourselves right in the crowd with Jesus and His disciples on their last night together.

They ate the Passover meal together in an upper room. During the meal Jesus comforted them by giving them His peace and assuring them that everything would be all right. Look at the last verse of John, 14:31 …”but so that the world may know that I love the Father, I do exactly as the Father commanded me. Get up let us go from here.”

“Get up let’s go from here.” — The very next verse: John 15:1, Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine dresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes so that it may bear more fruit.” Then in verse 4-5 Jesus says, “Abide in Me and I in you. As the branch can not bear fruit on itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me bears must fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.”

I can imagine that between John 14:31 and 15:1 they have left the upper room and are heading towards the Garden of Gethsemane together. Somewhere along the line Jesus stops at a grape vine, picks up a cluster of grapes and teach His disciples their last (and maybe most important) lesson while He’s still with them.  “I am the vine, you are the branches.”

We are branches. We produce nothing. We do nothing. All Jesus asked us to do is abide. Abide in Him. His life (the life in the vine) flows through us. He is our life. He doesn’t ask us to do anything but abide.  If we abide in Him (and He in us), we’re going to bear baskets full of fruit season after season.

But He said “apart from me (if you try to do things for His glory on your own, relying on your resources and your plans and your brains and efforts) all your hard work to be good for God will be in vain. We can do nothing. Nothing we do on our own will bear fruit or bring glory to God. Only what Jesus produces in us, through us and as us.

All He asks us to do is abide.  Just abide. Remain in Him. Trust Him. Depend on Him. Surrender to Him. Day by day. Moment by moment. And our fruit baskets will fill and overflow.

October 31, 2011

Abiding Eradicates Doubt

Yesterday we looked at spiritual complacency.  Another similar malady that manifests itself in the life of the believer is doubt.  Doug Wolter looks at this at his blog, So That Others May Know, in a short piece entitled, The Mystery of Abiding.

Why do I doubt God? Why do I expect so little from him? After all, if I really am his child, if I really do have access to his throne, if I really have his Son and his Spirit interceding for me, then why am I not asking more of God and believing he will answer? Jesus, you say, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you” (John 15:7). Really? Are you serious? Do you really want me to ask and believe with that kind of boldness, with that kind of heart, expecting you will answer? 

I guess that’s where it starts – with my heart being united with your heart and my words in prayer sounding strangely familiar with your words in scripture. Is that what abiding is all about? When you and me are so intimately connected, so unified as one, that the process is as natural and effortless as a branch bearing fruit?

In the end, it’s a mystery–one that I can’t analyze and figure out, but only experience. Abiding, praying, and seeing the Holy Spirit move in my life is something I cannot comprehend but what I long for more and more for your glory and my good. So teach me to remain in you. Cause me to slow down. Remind me that you are a real Person that I am joined to. And set me free to believe you for great things.

~Doug Wolter