Christianity 201

April 9, 2019

Judging Others

by Russell Young

The Lord cautioned, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others you will be judged, and with the same measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Mt 7:1−2) Similar sentiments have been presented elsewhere. (Rom 2:1, 14:4) In this passage “judge” means to distinguish as to condemn in some sense, to call into question or to think negatively about another.

Judging others may be more prevalent in our lives that we would like to admit. Condemning thoughts that are not so frequently voiced are judgments concerning another and the Lord will judge the thoughts of the heart as well as the spoken word. “This will take place on the day when God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.” (Rom 2:16) Every person has “planks in his or her eyes” and needs to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12); careful attention needs to be given to one’s own issues. The Lord desires for his brothers to have hearts like his own, committed to care and concern for others.

The first problem with judging is an attitude of pride and superiority concerning the issue at hand. That is, those who judge condemn the other for not reaching their standard. Christ is the standard and his conviction in the believer’s life is to address their righteous requirements. The second problem is that all believers are a work in progress. It is the Lord who is making his brothers the product that he would have them be. (Eph 2:10) He is conforming those who will dwell with him into his own likeness. (Rom 8:29) To accomplish this transformation he works individually in the lives of his own concerning specific issues that according to his determination need to be addressed. While he is changing a practice in one person’s life, he may be working on a different one in another’s, however in the end the obedient will have fully achieved God’s righteous requirements (Rom 8:4) and they will have been made offerings suitable for his kingdom. (Rom 15:16)

To judge another is to judge the Lord himself, to contest his wisdom. That is, in effect the person judging is saying that the other’s inappropriate behavior is the one that the Lord should be addressing. He knows the heart and the need of each of his own better than they even know their own hearts and needs. Rather than being focussed on the issues of the other, it would be more glorifying to praise God for the spiritual progress that is seen being made in the lives of others and to pray that the Lord will forgive them when a sin is seen being committed. (1 Jn 5:16) The admonition of Paul is to “build up” one another (Rom 15:2; 1 Thess 5:11) and everyone needs encouragement.

Paul wrote, “Who are you to judge someone else ’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” (Rom 14:4) Every believer is a servant of Christ. He or she was purchased by him and has been redeemed for his good pleasure and service. Judgment comes from a hard heart and the Lord has made it clear that the same manner and measure used to judge others will be applied to those who practice judging.

Paul presented some words that seem to contradict the Lord’s teaching. He wrote, “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?” (1 Cor 5:12) Paul is presenting this teaching as their spiritual leader and he is expanding on his teaching concerning associating with those who are living apart from truth while claiming to be brothers. For the preservation of the integrity of the Lord’s teachings and of the church body those who are deliberately defying truth need to be confronted so that their influence is not felt and so that correction can take place, and this does require personal judgment and wisdom. Even in this, caution needs to be taken and the one defying the Lord needs to be admonished by those who are humble and spiritually mature and those exercising this responsibility need to appreciate that they too will be judged with the same measure.

Motivation of the heart is important, and it is according to a person’s motivation in relation to the other that he or she will be judged. (1 Cor 4:5) The Lord is building a righteous kingdom and believers are to assist in that process as they attend to their own needs and humbly appreciate that others are on the same journey and need assistance in their walk, free from judgment and condemnation. Prayer for those in need should never be neglected. It is easier to judge than to assist.

All believers living on this earth are on a similar journey. They are leaving the place of defilement and disobedience, with evil hearts and minds, to become conformed to the likeness of the Son of God attaining his heart of holiness and love.

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.” (Rom 2:1) Pray for and encourage the weak and needy. Perhaps they are praying for you on another issue.



Russell Young’s column appears here on alternate Tuesdays. His book, Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? is available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link. There is also an extended article at this link.

January 1, 2019

The First Month of Your Year

by Russell Young

A new year! The first day of the year is often considered as a new beginning. Reflection is given to the things in life that could be improved by change or by greater commitment. The LORD spoke of a new year to the Israelites. On the day they were redeemed (2 Sam 7:23; 1 Chr 17:21) from bondage in Egypt the LORD said, “This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year.” (Ex 12:2) They had been given a new beginning with great promise. The LORD was to lead them through his servant Moses into a new life and into the Land of Promise, a land flowing with “milk and honey”.

Gentiles who have committed themselves to God through faith have been offered a similar promise and a similar hope. Although believers have not been set free from earthly kings, they do enjoy the hope of an eternal city and the presence of their God.

A new calendar year can provide opportunity for those redeemed by the blood of the Lamb to reflect on the progress of their own spiritual journey. We might do well to remember that although 600,000 men plus all the women and children left Egypt, only Caleb and Joshua made it into that promised land. All had begun their journey with hope but after forty years of testing most died in the wilderness. “Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.” (Deut 8:2) Following redemption comes testing!

Contrary to the teaching of some, not all the redeemed will find a presence in God’s eternal kingdom. Perhaps the new year is a good time to reflect on the Lord’s admonition: “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 Italics added) God’s righteous requirements (Rom 8:4) must be met through obedience to the Holy Spirit.

The journey of the committed, of believers, is not easy and is not without testing (1 Thess 2:4) and trials. (Mt 24:9) Like Caleb and Joshua, the person who would enter the Promised Land must be found authentic when confronted with faith challenges (Mt 10:22) and must pursue a walk of obedience. (Heb 5:9) Satan would tempt believers to coast along the road of life and to appease their own desires and interests. As Satan said to Eve, “Did God really say…?” (Gen 3:1) and like Eve many will be led astray. He will tempt those in the Lord to trust that the fruit of the world is desirable and to be enjoyed without cost. Confessors have been admonished concerning the need to die to self (2 Cor 4:11; Col 3:5; Lk 9:24) and to live for Christ, however.

Satan would encourage people to pursue their own worldly desires, comforts, and carnal pleasures and this world has bought into his deceptions; however, the goal of believers is to be much different. It is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.” (Lk 10:27) (Such a statement should be taken as a requirement, and not accepted as an exaggerated proclamation.) Losing a few pounds might make a person feel better and the pursuit of other carnal interests might result in gaining compliments, approval and pleasure, but they will not further the believer in his or her journey to the kingdom of God. Time passes quickly and with it opportunity to prove repentance (Acts 26:20) and to reveal to God the confessor’s conformity to the likeness of Christ. (Rom 8:29)

The new year gives opportunity to honestly examine the nature of the confessor’s love for God. It may even stir the heart and mind to examine that which God truly requires of his people so that they will not suffer his condemnation as “evil-doers” and be commanded to depart from him because he had never known them (Mt 7:23)—known for certain their faith commitment. There are many false teachings prevalent in the Christian community. Each person will enjoy or suffer the consequences of their own spiritual convictions and practices. “Did God really say…?” Believers need to be certain of what God did say because there are a variety of “truths” being presented, even though there is only one truth.

Does your Biblical understanding satisfy the following questions: Do you know and understand the New Covenant? Do you appreciate that you will face the judgment seat of Christ for things done in the flesh, whether good or bad? Do you appreciate the consequences of a negative judgment? Is your love for God complete or have you been pretending and perhaps playing church? Are you producing fruit in your own life and for the kingdom? To what extent have you been making use of the gift(s) given you at your confession of faith?

A new year is beginning, and it offers opportunity for reflection and introspection. God told the Israelites that the Passover was the beginning of the year for them, perhaps it should be considered as an opportunity to honestly reflect on your spiritual journey and the progress being made. Believers are to be conformed to the likeness of Christ (Rom 8:29) and are expected to walk as he did. (1 Jn 2:6) The confessor’s redemption gives new hope with both promises and requirements, but these can be lost. Use this occasion to set your path straight and make your hope secure by following the Lord’s call upon your life. (Jn 10:27; Rom 8:4, 14; Gal 5:18, 6:7─8)


Russell Young’s column appears here on alternate Tuesdays. His book, Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? is available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link. There is also a feature-length article at this link.

 

December 31, 2018

Starting Another Chapter

Col 4: 5 KJVWalk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time.

Eph 516 KJVRedeeming the time, because the days are evil.

The KJV uses the term “redeeming the time” in these two verses.   The second verse appears in the NASB as,

making the most of your time, because the days are evil.

The other verse appears in the NASB as

Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity.

The question I ask myself is this:  Did I make the most of my time and my opportunities in 2018?   And then:  Will I endeavor to make the most of my time and my opportunities in 2019?

While some current Christian writers emphasize the importance of rest, others talk about the “stewardship of our time.”   Time management is considered enough in scripture that it is not a stretch to say that scripture introduces a “doctrine of time usage.”

But like everything else in scripture, there is a place for balance in doctrine.   Think of a pendulum swinging back and forth.   Only when it stops swinging does it find the place of balance in the middle. There are two aspects to the Bible’s teaching on time management; time stewardship.

There is a time for action — The one who knows to do something right and doesn’t do it; that’s a sin.   But there’s a time for restBe still and know that He is God.

Time management by Biblical standards involves more than a simple “resting” or “action” theory.   It requires skill and wisdom to find the balance.

So more questions:   Did I learn to rest in God in 2018?   Will I learn more about resting in God in 2019?

Nobody said this was easy.


Each of us is about to write another chapter of our lives. The turning of the pages of the calendar may be more significant to some people than it is to others, but the start of a new year is always a time to both look back and look forward. For that reason, I think Steve Green’s song is such a great way to end 2018.

This isn’t my all-time favorite song, or style, but when Steve Green or anyone else is taking their lyrics directly from scripture it creates something bigger than the song itself. When they were much younger I asked my kids if they can tell when, in the middle of devotional book we’re reading, the paragraph moves into a Bible quotation, and they both understood exactly where I was going with this question. There’s something about the power of God’s word that is so easily identified; it stands out from what the devotional writer is saying as though it was underlined, in bold face type, in giant print, or printed in bright orange.

The song’s key verse source is Philippians 1:6, but I’ll give you the verses that precede and follow for full context:

Phil 1:5(NIV) because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

7 It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me.

I don’t what you or I are facing in 2019, but we are each, in God’s eyes, a work in progress. And he doesn’t abandon his projects.

All God’s best for the new year.


Mission Statement: Christianity 201 is a melting-pot of devotional and Bible study content from across the widest range of the Christian blogosphere. An individual article may be posted even if some or all readers might not agree with other things posted at the same blog, and two posts may follow on consecutive days by authors with very different doctrinal perspectives. The Kingdom of God is so much bigger than the small portion of it we can see from our personal vantage point, and one of the purposes of C201 is to allow readers a ‘macro’ view of the many ministries and individual voices available for reading.

December 7, 2018

What You Take In and What You Get Rid Of

NLT I Peter 2:1 So get rid of all evil behavior. Be done with all deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy, and all unkind speech.Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment,3 now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness.

It’s been six months, and today we’re back at the website Live as If. (Part of StudyLight.org)

Today’s writer is Sandy Shaw. See below for his biography, and click the title which follows to read at source.

Keep One End Full and the Other Empty!

When we were ‘born again’ and came to believe in Jesus Christ and then learned that it was Jesus Christ Who took the initiative and called and chose us, we have that desire and motivation to serve loyally and lovingly and faithfully.

But even after receiving this wonderful new life – old habits can hang around.

Even as disciples of Jesus we are aware that old habits seem to cling to us – and we wonder if we will ever be rid of some of them. They can appear to have such a hold.

That is why Peter says – Now make the effort to get rid of certain things.

The new life will never die – but the old ways have to die.

We are in the concluding verses of I Peter Chapter 1.

When you are born again a seed is planted in us – verse 23 – the word used is “sperm” or “spore”. God planted His Sperm in us – it sounds very physical as well as spiritual – and it is – because just like a baby that seed has to grow, and develop and mature.

We are born again and after we have lived a number of years, we can discover that some habits and traits can be difficult to break.

It can be like men taking the hardest of granite.

In order to break that hard rock – they drill holes in it – a series of them – and then they break of pieces of a tree and place these pieces in each hole – and pour water in every day for two or three weeks. The cells of the wood grow – and the granite is split.

Life – new life – can crack and break that which is hard. The life of God in us and watered regularly through the Word and prayer and fellowship – can crack bad habits – and push other things out of the way – things that God does not want us to have in our lives.

We have to learn a new language as we speak to a new Father. We are a new baby growing – and we have to learn to walk and talk.

The physical life and spiritual life need the same kind of care.

One medical man said recently when asked by a new mother for one piece of advice as she was about to take the new five days old baby home – he said this – “Keep one end full and the other end empty and you won’t go far wrong”.

That is basically what Peter is saying here – Keep one part empty – and the other part full – and you disciples will not go far wrong.

Babies need washing and cleaning – and so do all growing Christians. As soon as the baby is born those present take away all the traces of that former existence in the womb. We too need to be washed and cleansed from our former existence – with all the traces being removed. That is why we have Baptism.

Peter mentions five things – which can cause spiritual disease if not dealt with. These five things can become a source of ill health.

1. Malice – that certainly can prevent or stunt or thwart your growth. Malice has been described as – a perverted joy in hurting someone else. Or it is a desire to bring a person down a peg or two. Peter says – now get rid of that.

2. Deceit – guile – being deceitful – being too clever by half. Peter says – now get all of that out of your life – have nothing to do with underhand methods – and don’t be a snake in the grass.

3. Hypocrisy – insincerity – play acting. Take off any mask – be real. Don’t be hiding behind some exterior – deal with that at the beginning of your Christian Life. Be what God would have you to be.

4. Envy – this was responsible for the first murder in history. Envy looks at someone and says – “They have more money than I have – they have more opportunities than me – they have more gifts than I have – they have more friends than I have. They have more – and I resent that!

Envy is a horrible thing – and Peter says don’t envy – get rid of all that. Get this side cleaned up – if you want to grow.

5. Slander of every kind – this can be so harmful if it is allowed to lurk around – gossip. It is like a beast of prey that does not wait for the death of the creature it devours.

These must be washed out of our lives – and then we are told to crave pure spiritual milk.

LUNGE at the very breast of God. We need more than just rooting out bad things – we need to be filled with good things.

Keep one end empty – and the other end full – and you won’t go far wrong as you follow Jesus Christ.

“Gracious God, help us to be rid of those things which should have no place in our lives. We find this difficult at times. Enable us to grasp the truth of your Word in this part of Scripture – and as we feed upon Your Word day by day, may we grow and develop and mature. Risen and living Jesus, help us. Holy Spirit, help us.” Amen.

– Sandy Shaw


Word from Scotland‘ Copyright 2018 © Sandy Shaw; used by permission.

More devotions like this at Live As If.

Alexander “Sandy” Shaw is pastor of Nairn Christian Fellowship in Nairn, Scotland. Nairn is 17 miles east of Inverness – on the Moray Firth Coast – not far from the Loch Ness Monster! Gifted as a Biblical teacher, Sandy is firmly committed to making sure that his teachings are firmly grounded in the Word. Sandy has a weekly radio talk which can be heard via the Internet on Saturday at 11:40am, New Orleans time, at wsho.com.

May 29, 2018

The Chastisement of Our Peace

Sometimes a reader will leave a comment at very old post here, and it will remind me that the article might be worth sharing again. This one is from January, 2011…


He was wounded for our transgressions.

Those words, from the KJV of Isaiah 53:5 are probably among the scripture verses most known by heart.

By his stripes we are healed.

If you grew up Pentecostal or Charismatic, there is no escaping teaching on that part of the verse; no escaping the connect-the-dots between the scourging Christ suffered and the healing that is available to us today, in the 21st century.

But what about the third of the four clauses in that verse? Here’s the whole verse in the new NIV:

But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.

Isaiah, in this Messianic prophecy is saying that Christ’s suffering has brought us forgiveness for our transgressions and iniquities as well as (if you’re not dispensationalist) healing of mind and body.

But there it is, in the second-to-last, a reference to peace.

I mention all this because of a post I did this morning at Thinking Out Loud, where a U.S. pastor had his congregation complete an index card indicating the trials they were facing and the burdens they were carrying. If Isaiah 53 applies, then it must apply to the point of bringing peace to the very doubts, anxieties, fears, angers, jealousies, anger, pride, insecurities, addictions, pain, disappointments, attitudes… and everything else that people mentioned on those little 3-by-5 cards.

First, let’s do some translation hopping:

  • He took the punishment, and that made us whole (Message)
  • The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him (NASB)
  • the chastisement [needful to obtain] peace and well-being for us was upon Him (Amplified)
  • He was beaten so we could be whole. (NLT)
  • The punishment which gives us the peace has fallen on him (tr. of French – Louis Segond)

Clearly, the intent of this verse is that our peace is part of the finished work of Christ on the cross.

The New International Bible Commentary says:

Peace and healing view sin in terms of the estrangement from God and the marring of sinners themselves that it causes.

The ESV Study Bible notes on this verse concur:

His sufferings went to the root of all human vice.

Lack of peace as sin? Worry and anxiety as sin? That’s what both of these commentators seem to say.

The Wycliffe Bible Commentary makes clear however that the peace that is brought is a general well-being, not simply addressing the consequences of sin.

But in the Evangelical Bible Commentary, something else is suggested, that the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 is bringing a peace that represents the restoration between God and man.

Many of the other commentaries and study Bibles I own do not directly address this phrase. A broader study of the chapter reveals a Messiah suffering for all of the burdens we bear, such as the ones listed above in the pastor’s survey. (“Oh, what peace we often forfeit; oh, what needless pain we bear…”)

I’d be interested if any of you can find any blog posts or online articles where this particular phrase is addressed apart from the wider consideration of the verse as a whole.

At this point, let’s conclude by saying that the finished work of Christ on the cross is sufficient for all manner of needs we face; all types of burdens we carry.

May 3, 2018

Walk with Jesus

by Clarke Dixon

(This is part three in a series based on the tagline of our church: “To the Glory of God, Helping People Walk with Jesus in Faith, Hope, and Love”)

One of the best “taglines” I’ve heard for a church is “To Know Jesus, and to make Him known.” So why would we go with something more wordy? Why walk with Jesus rather than simply know Him? There are several reasons:

When we walk, there is in mind a destination, a goal. We are implying that we are going somewhere, we are becoming something. We are on a journey of becoming mature in Christ:

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. Ephesians 4:11-13 (NRSV emphasis added)

As a church family, we want to keep our eyes on this amazing destination. We want to keep this goal of becoming mature in mind.

If we are walking, then we have not yet reached our destination! We recognize that have not arrived, but we are making progress. This is an echo of Paul:

Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.   Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:12-14 (NRSV emphasis added)

Walking with Jesus happens one step at a time. This should help keep us from a legalistic style of Christianity which assumes everyone should be equally ready to cross the finish line on the very next step. That is not the kind of church I want to be a member of. We all start at different times, and have different capacities. We are not all going to be at the same level of maturity, though we can have that same goal and do have the same Spirit helping us reach the goal.

It is a walk and not a run. The journey is long, the Christian life is not a sprint. Also, walking is an everyday part of life, rather than a special occasion. If you are a runner, you probably schedule in running. However, walking is something we do everyday very naturally. It might just be walking from the couch to the fridge and back, but it happens. Walking with Jesus is like that, an everyday thing. We might schedule in spiritual training like a runner schedules physical training. We schedule worship and times of devotion. But we don’t schedule in putting another person before ourselves, being patient, being generous, forgiving someone, having compassion, or spontaneously praying for someone.

You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts,  and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Ephesians 4:22-24 (NRSV)

Being clothed with “the new self” is an everyday thing, like walking, and not a scheduled thing, or worse, a good-intentions-to-set-aside-the-time-if-I-ever-get-the-time thing, like running! We want to be a people who walk the walk, everyday.

When we walk there is the possibility of stumbling. Christian celebrities, pastors and artists alike, face the pressure of being pretty-near-perfect. The band DC Talk came up with these lyrics:

What if I stumble, what if I fall?
What if I lose my step and I make fools of us all?
Will the love continue when my walk becomes a crawl?
What if I stumble, and what if I fall? (Daniel Joseph / Toby Mckeehan)

The song goes on to speak about God not turning away from from us when we stumble.  But do we turn away from each other? What if a member of our church commits a terrible crime this week? There would be discipline and a statement that the perpetrator’s actions do not represent us. But will we go to that person and ask how we can help him or her take a step toward Jesus? “Walk with Jesus” recognizes the possibility of stumbling. It might be you. Or me.

Why walk with Jesus? Who else?! Who else can be an anchor for our souls? Who else sees us at our absolute worst and yet offers His absolute best? Who else does the evidence lead to? Who else has had such an impact on the world and on individuals? Who else walks with us in our suffering having endured suffering Himself? Who else offers His Holy Spirit?  Who else reconciles sinful people to a holy God?

let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead.
This Jesus is
‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders;
it has become the cornerstone.’
There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:10-12 (NRSV emphasis added)

When Peter said there is no name given under heaven by which we must be saved, he was not saying that the Christian religion is better religion than any other. He was simply stating a fact; there really is no one else through whom, or no other way by which, we can have a relationship with the Creator. There is no other way for the justice of God and the mercy of God to come together. Only God the Son could endure the consequence of sin so that justice could be served, yet people could be forgiven. Who else would we walk with?

As a church family, we have the privilege, the opportunity, the calling, to walk with Jesus and help others do the same.


Clarke Dixon is the Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Cobourg, Ontario.

Listen to the audio of the full sermon on which this based (33 minutes).

clarkedixon.wordpress.com

April 7, 2018

Choosing to Set our Focus on Things Above

This is our fifth visit with Paul Steele at the blog Paul’s Ponderings. He doesn’t write frequently, but often deals with the issue of spiritual growth.

A Gift for Our Spiritual Formation

Almost everyone enjoys gift giving. We enjoy giving gifts, but we really enjoy receiving gifts.

When we give a gift we give it with the intention that the gift is used. If we give a gift of chocolate we want the person to eat the chocolate. If we give a gift of clothes we want those clothes to be worn. If we give a gift of toys we want those toys to be played with in imaginative ways.

God has given us a great gift to be used for our spiritual formation in Jesus Christ. That gift is the Bible. Christians believe that God has preserved the Holy Scriptures over the years to help guide us in following Jesus.

Since the Bible is a gift that God has given to us, it is a gift that He expects us to use. God will speak to us by the Holy Spirit through the words recorded in Scripture.

If we are interested in spiritual formation and following Jesus, then it is essential we spend time with the Bible.

The book of Colossians is a book of the Bible that God has used over the years to speak to my heart.  One of my favorite passages is Colossians 3:1-4:

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (ESV)

Our salvation and transformation begins and ends with God. It began with God’s promise to bless all the nations of the world through Abraham and his descendant; it continued through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ Jesus (the promised descendant of Abraham); and ends when Jesus returns and makes all things new.

Without God’s initiative, without God’s promise, and without Christ’s faithfulness we would have no life, no purpose, and no hope. Our redemption and restoration are bound up in the actions of our loving heavenly Father.

With that being said, we still have a great responsibility when it comes to our spiritual formation.  We do not become like Jesus by accident.

Paul wrote in Colossians that there is a choice we must make. The choice we are to make is to set our minds on the things that are above.

To set our minds requires an act of the will.  We have the choice about what to focus our minds on, and if we  don’t choose to set our minds on the things of God, then our minds will be set on other things: sports, money, pleasure, politics.

What must we do if we are going to set our minds on the things that are above?

I believe there are at least three steps we need to take in order to set our minds on heavenly things.

  1. We must change what we feed our mind. This is a two part process. The first part of the process is to acknowledge the ways we are being distracted. I recently had to to do this when I realized that the political podcasts I was listening to were influencing the direction of the my thoughts, which were flowing out into my sermons. We need to be aware of what is influencing our thoughts, and whether that influence is positive or negative. The second part of the process is to fill our minds the truth. This means we intentionally use the gift of Scriptures to set the course of our thoughts. If we are not replacing our old negative thoughts with new positive thoughts then our minds will go back to the old ways of thinking.
  2. We must be guided by the Spirit. The best way for us to be guided by the Spirit is to practice spiritual disciplines. We need to make room for the Spirit to speak into our lives. This includes Bible study and reading (both private and group), prayer, fasting, generosity, service, hospitality, and even simplicity (living a simple life). It is crucial that we intentionally make room for the Spirit to guide our lives.
  3. We must speak about what God is doing. It is crucial that we don’t keep all that God is doing in our lives to ourselves. We need to share our experiences with God with other people. By sharing our stories we become better aware of the truth God is teaching us and the direction He wants us to go. By sharing we allow other people to discover what God is doing and open their hearts to God working in their lives.

God took the initiative to save us from sin and death.

To be good stewards of God’s initiative and His generosity we need to be intentional in our spiritual formation. This requires us to be intentional in setting our minds on the things of heaven, so our hearts and minds are focused one following Jesus. We do that by using the gift of Scripture to set the direction of our minds.

 

May 8, 2017

Preaching for Change

CEB Acts 2:36 “Therefore, let all Israel know beyond question that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”

37 When the crowd heard this, they were deeply troubled. They said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?”

38 Peter replied, “Change your hearts and lives. Each of you must be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Earlier today I wrote these words at my other blog, or perhaps I should say these words wrote themselves:

I have been noticing a recurring theme lately in sermons I have listened to online and books I have been reading. Perhaps it’s personal conviction about this subject.

The idea is very simple: Many of us read the Bible and Christian books, and many of us listen to sermons in order to gain information when God is wanting to see our transformation. Perhaps you even are in a position where you give leadership or mentoring to others, or simply have occasion to speak into the lives of friends, and what you’re imparting is more informative than transformative.

I know I’m a guilty of this. Do you ever track your spiritual progress by the month, or by the year? Each day I have more knowledge and a better understanding of the ways of God and the history of his dealings with his people. But am I a different person than I was last month or last year? To ask the question bluntly, what good is all this information doing for me? What good is all that Bible knowledge and understanding of systematic theology doing for you?

Spiritual formation is not simply about building up the mind’s knowledge base. It’s about forming the character of the heart. It leads to different speech, different choices, a different mindset, and different actions.

The Word of God should bring change. As I write this now, later in the day, I realize that there are people for whom God’s truth needs to be rediscovered. They don’t even have the basic Bible knowledge that was once common among people in North America and Western Europe, regardless of their personal beliefs. It reminds me of Nehemiah (see chapter 8) bringing the scrolls to be read to a people who had not heard this word in a long, long time.

At the blog Clergy Stuff I read this:

In this information age, where any piece of information can be accessed at our fingertips at any time, it might be hard to believe that God’s people had lost touch with their God. But they had been exiled – ripped from their homes, families, and faith practices. After so many years of living apart from the community of faith, it is possible to see how easily the faith practices of a broken people could unravel.

But after they returned, a scroll was found. The scroll contained God’s word lost long ago. When Ezra read it to the people, it brought up many emotions for them. It was a word of hope and promise to a people that had nearly lost all hope of ever being a united people again. But the promise of restoration had been fulfilled, and on this day, the word of God spoke loudly throughout their gathering.

At the Our Daily Bread archives, I found this in reference to our key text today:

In 1738, an Englishman named John Wesley entered a church service where someone was preaching from the book of Romans. As he listened to the message of the gospel that night, Wesley wrote that he felt his heart “strangely warmed,” and he knew deep within that Jesus had died to save him from his sins. John Wesley would go on to found Methodism, an approach to living out Christian faith that continues today.

In today’s world, the message of the gospel can sound strange to some who don’t yet know God. The idea of receiving salvation can seem like a foreign concept.

We can be encouraged, however, for a person’s heart being transformed by the gospel takes place through the work of the Holy Spirit—a work we trace back to that first day of the early church.

So today we have both situations: People who have great quantities of Bible knowledge at their fingertips but have not allowed themselves to be changed by it; and people for whom the Bible narrative has gotten lost and they need to hear it as if it were the first time.

Because we’ve posted this song before, here’s a different version of it.

God, help us all in this information age when we have so many Biblical resources so easily accessible; help us that we don’t track our progress simply in terms of knowledge gained but in terms of hearts and lives changed. For those who lead, help them to lead with change in view. Amen.

 

May 1, 2017

Devotional Potpourri

Three parts today. One a comparison of two similar Biblical texts. The second from the liturgy my wife wrote for our Sunday worship yesterday with particular emphasis to how we were created in God’s image. The third some advice to pastors and church leaders, or anyone else who finds themselves so very busy.


Sitting in church yesterday, I was struck by the ways in which Paul’s opening words to the Ephesians in chapter one were similar to his opening words to the Colossians. Here’s Ephesians in the NLT:

15 Ever since I first heard of your strong faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for God’s people everywhere,16 I have not stopped thanking God for you. I pray for you constantly, 17 asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God. 18 I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance.  19 I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him…

And Colossians in the CEB:

9 Because of this, since the day we heard about you, we haven’t stopped praying for you and asking for you to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will, with all wisdom and spiritual understanding. 10 We’re praying this so that you can live lives that are worthy of the Lord and pleasing to him in every way: by producing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God; 11 by being strengthened through his glorious might so that you endure everything and have patience…

For deeper study, print off this section and underline the specifics of his requests for both churches and their spiritual maturity. It’s also interesting to note that his sentences — where we’ve cut off the last verses in the middle — run on as he switches from the quoted sections to the basis on which they can place their confidence in Christ.

  • He made it so you could take part in the inheritance
  • He rescued us from the control of darkness
  • He transferred us into the kingdom of the Son
  • We can trust in the incredible greatness of God’s power
  • We can trust in the power that raised Christ from the dead

If you want to read the full chapters click here for Col. 1 and Eph. 1 in the translations quoted.


Creation Meditation

by Ruth Wilkinson

Heavenly Father, Creator, Sustainer, World Filler –
You created us with eyes because
You see beauty and joy, pain and brokenness
And so must we.

You created us with ears because
You hear words of faithfulness, promises of love and cries of need
And so must we.

You created us with mouths because
You sing joy, shout truth and whisper comfort
And so must we.

You created us with hands because
You create and build, reach out and touch and embrace
And so must we.

You created us with feet because
You are the God who goes where You are needed,
who walks alongside those who need you
And so must we.

Heavenly Father, Creator, Sustainer, World Filler –
You are the God who named us because
You have a name.
You gave us our true name.
You know who we are.

We are yours.


A Word for Weary Pastors

by Mark O. Wilson
(click here to read at source)

Come unto me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).

As pastors, our calling is to be be with Jesus, as his beloved children, rather than slaving away as his hired servants. Our work for Christ must flow from his overwhelming love for us. Otherwise, we’re living in frantic illusion.

Souls require breathing space to be healthy.

Consider these words from veteran pastor, William C. Martin:

If you fill your calendar with important appointments
you will have no time for God.
If you fill your spare time with essential reading
you will starve your soul.
If you fill your mind with worry
about budgets and offerings,
the pains in your chest and the ache in your shoulders
will betray you.
If you try to conform to the expectations
of those around you
you will forever be their slave.

Work a modest day
then step back and rest.
This will keep you close to God.

May 7, 2016

Spiritual Warfare: The Battle in Scriptures

Eph 6:12 For we are not fighting against people made of flesh and blood, but against the evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against those mighty powers of darkness who rule this world, and against wicked spirits in the heavenly realms.

According to my recent search, we have covered the topic of spiritual warfare many times here, but tucked away in a very old post — you had to click a button to read the full piece — I discovered a collection of scriptures on the topic, and thought they were deserving of being presented here. These are from a sermon I did many years ago in Toronto, and I think I was in my NLT phase at that time! Many of the copied texts are consecutive verses in the same passage.

1) We are in a war.

2Ti 3:12 Yes, and everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.

2)     We are fighting on enemy territory.

1Pe 2:11 Dear brothers and sisters, you are foreigners and aliens here. So I warn you to keep away from evil desires because they fight against your very souls.

Jhn 15:19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.

3)     We are not to use the enemy’s weapons

2Cr 10:3 We are human, but we don’t wage war with human plans and methods.

(We don’t fight the way the world fights.)

2Cr 10:4 We use God’s mighty weapons, not mere worldly weapons, to knock down the Devil’s strongholds.

2Cr 10:5 With these weapons we break down every proud argument that keeps people from knowing God. With these weapons we conquer their rebellious ideas, and we teach them to obey Christ.

4)     We may lose some skirmishes but eventually we win the war

a) We can do this!  Previously attained perfection is not required.

Rom 7:21 It seems to be a fact of life that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong.

Not the verse you were expecting? And this was Paul!   But using the language of the Olympic games, he “pressed on toward the prize” and wrote:

2Cr 12:6 I have plenty to boast about and would be no fool in doing it, because I would be telling the truth. But I won’t do it. I don’t want anyone to think more highly of me than what they can actually see in my life and my message,

2Cr 12:7 even though I have received wonderful revelations from God. But to keep me from getting puffed up, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from getting proud.

2Cr 12:8 Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away.

2Cr 12:9 Each time he said, “My gracious favor is all you need. My power works best in your weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may work through me.

2Cr 12:10 Since I know it is all for Christ’s good, I am quite content with my weaknesses and with insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

So he’s saying, ‘don’t look for inner strength, but know there is strength in weakness.’ We can do this, but on his strength, not our strength.

b) We are the “occupying army” that God has to work with on this enemy territory.  Yes, it makes no human sense!

Similarly, victory will come through his logic and reasoning, not our logic and reasoning.

1Cr 1:25 This “foolish” plan of God is far wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is far stronger than the greatest of human strength.

1Cr 1:26 Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes, or powerful, or wealthy when God called you.

1Cr 1:27 Instead, God deliberately chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose those who are powerless to shame those who are powerful.

1Cr 1:28 God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important,

1Cr 1:29 so that no one can ever boast in the presence of God.

c) But we are “people in process,” people being changed into something new.

2Cr 5:14 Whatever we do, it is because Christ’s love controls us. Since we believe that Christ died for everyone, we also believe that we have all died to the old life we used to live.

2Cr 5:15 He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live to please themselves. Instead, they will live to please Christ, who died and was raised for them.

2Cr 5:16 So we have stopped evaluating others by what the world thinks about them. Once I mistakenly thought of Christ that way, as though he were merely a human being. How differently I think about him now!

2Cr 5:17 What this means is that those who become Christians become new persons. They are not the same anymore, for the old life is gone. A new life has begun!

So we enter into the battle not weighed down by who we were yesterday, but knowing who God is making us into today.

d) The result is that we are to take on the holiness of a holy God.

His picture of what we are collectively becoming is beautiful and radiant.

Eph 5:26b-27 (Message) – Christ’s love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness.

e) But it begins with us as individuals: 

What the church is becoming collectively begins with you and me, and our choosing to strive for holiness and righteousness.

Rom 12:2 Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will know what God wants you to do, and you will know how good and pleasing and perfect his will really is.

 

July 11, 2015

Reverse Engineering The Promises

For all of God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding “Yes!” And through Christ, our “Amen” (which means “Yes”) ascends to God for his glory.
 2 Corinthians 1:20 NLT

Whatever God has promised gets stamped with the Yes of Jesus. In him, this is what we preach and pray, the great Amen, God’s Yes and our Yes together, gloriously evident. God affirms us, making us a sure thing in Christ, putting his Yes within us. By his Spirit he has stamped us with his eternal pledge—a sure beginning of what he is destined to complete. (same verse + 21 and 22, The Message)

A few days ago, we re-ran a piece on Thinking Out Loud that has also appeared twice here at C201, though not for three years. Apparently this time around, it really resonated with some people.

The idea was to look at areas in my life where it might seem like “it’s not working” and ask ourselves if maybe we’re doing something wrong.

We need to watch the logic of this however. A Biblical statement of promise such as, “If you do _____, then I [God] will do ______ …” is of the form “If ‘A” then ‘B’.” But we can’t logically automatically assume from that, “If ‘not-B’ then ‘not-A.” Moreover, some of the promises in scripture are guiding principles of how things work. For example, “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it;” is a statement of general principle, but not an iron-clad assurance that every child raised in the love of Christ will not wander from the faith. Clearly, some do. (I realize some will say, ‘I have to believe that eventually they find their way back, or the Bible isn’t true.’ I guess we can debate that some time!)

All that to say, here’s what I wrote as it appeared (without this long introduction) a few days ago…
 
 

If I’m not getting the desires of my heart,

Maybe I’m not delighting myself in the Lord


If I’m not finding my paths being made straight,

Maybe I’m not trusting in the Lord with all my heart.


If I’m not finding God is adding good things to my life,

Maybe I’m not seeking first His Kingdom.


If it doesn’t seem like God is working in all things for His glory,

Maybe I’m not loving God or trying to live according to His purpose.


If it doesn’t feel like God is hearing from heaven, healing the land and forgiving sin,

Maybe it’s because as His people, we’re not humbling ourselves, seeking his face and turning from our wicked ways.


If it doesn’t seem like God is lifting me up,

Maybe I’m not humbling myself in His sight.

 

June 29, 2015

Redefining What it Means to be ‘Spiritually Deep’

People who read a blog with a title like Christianity 201 crave spiritual depth. A teacher who presents historical background we’ve never heard. A preacher who exhorts his audience to strive for higher levels of commitment. An academic who connects the dots from text “A” to text “B” and both of them to text “C.” An author whose preferred style means that every page is heavy with deep truths. A blogger who mines the classic Christian writers and shines new light on those lost works.

And I am in favor of all five of those.

But what is true depth? What does it mean to say he (or she) is a “deep Christian?” Does it mean academic honors, or research ability, or literary giftedness, or a visionary spirit, or having your doctrine correct?

I don’t think so. Otherwise spiritual achievement would be reserved for intellectuals. That’s actually what many Christian websites communicate. People read them and say, “Yes, I could be that spiritual, but only if I were smarter.” In other words, they regard depth as something that’s out of their league.

The name of this blog, Christianity 201, implies that kind of depth. I should be quoting Spurgeon right about now, or making an observation from reading the New Testament today in Greek (which, for the record, I don’t read.)

I think there’s something much more important at stake, but something much more commonplace. I think to be that person, who is regarded as a “deep spiritual thinker” you want to be doing a different set of things:

  1. Try to live your life by the highest ethical standard, in ways both visible and invisible. Start today by going through your e-mail and finding personal letters from people that you never answered. Or phone calls you never returned. Or a bill you’ve never yet paid. I believe strongly that much of our standing before God consists in doing right things. That includes sins of omission. “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” (James 4: 17 NASB)
  2. Aim for excellence. I am so very tired of people whose work for the kingdom of God is “just enough to get by.” They spend hours supposedly studying the great works of Christian literature, but then their blog post on them is full of careless spelling errors. They are renowned as a true worshiper of God, but their guitar is never tuned. “‘If a man dedicates his house as something holy to the Lord, the priest will judge its quality as good or bad. Whatever value the priest then sets, so it will remain.” (Leviticus 27: 14 NIV) That’s an interesting chapter to study; also consider, “If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.” (I Cor 3: 12-13 NIV)
  3. Humility. Some of the most spiritual people I know do not believe that they are. Again, the Christian internet tends to have its own “stars” and many of these people really believe the stuff about themselves that’s online. But again, truly ‘deep’ Christians never see themselves as such. They are aware of the shortcomings. Sometimes Paul found it necessary, by way of introduction, to provide his listeners with his spiritual pedigree, or spiritual resumé. But then he goes on; “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” (Phil 3: 8-9 ESV).

So let’s summarize this in a prayer:

Lord show me if I’ve directly or indirectly wronged anyone today. Remind me if I’ve missed the mark of your highest (and deepest) calling through sins I’ve committed and sins of omission. Also, help me to my best Lord, that’s for sure, but help me to aim for the best. Don’t let me offer up anything either to you or for you that has less value than I am capable of giving. Finally, in whatever spiritual community or faith family I find myself, don’t let me start to believe my own press. When others say something good about me, let me know when to give You the credit, and when to correct their impression.

January 16, 2015

Salvation By Works: Yes and No

The Message – Col 2:6-7 My counsel for you is simple and straightforward: Just go ahead with what you’ve been given. You received Christ Jesus, the Master; now live him. You’re deeply rooted in him. You’re well constructed upon him. You know your way around the faith. Now do what you’ve been taught. School’s out; quit studying the subject and start living it! And let your living spill over into thanksgiving.

The Voice – Col 2:6 Now that you have welcomed the Anointed One, Jesus the Lord, into your lives, continue to journey with Him and allow Him to shape your lives. Let your roots grow down deeply in Him, and let Him build you up on a firm foundation. Be strong in the faith, just as you were taught, and always spill over with thankfulness.

Amplified – Col 2:6 As you have therefore received Christ, [even] Jesus the Lord, [so] walk (regulate your lives and conduct yourselves) in union with and conformity to Him. Have the roots [of your being] firmly and deeply planted [in Him, fixed and founded in Him], being continually built up in Him, becoming increasingly more confirmed and established in the faith, just as you were taught, and abounding and overflowing in it with thanksgiving.

If you read nothing else here, don’t miss the first line of the reading which follows. Some people have a works-based faith. It’s not grace-based because it consists entirely of doing things. But some people, once they believe they have assurance of salvation by grace, end up doing nothing. Still a third group of people often realize that they have been guilty of living their lives in one extreme or other other, and end up swinging to the opposite position, but that leaves them still in the extreme. There is a continuum here, and the key is to find the balance in the middle.

E. Stanley Jones was one of the best-known Methodist missionaries (to India) and religious writers in the first half of the twentieth century. This is from Good News, a United Methodist website.

Devotional by E. Stanley Jones, Focus 3

By E. Stanley Jones (1884-1973)

You cannot attain salvation by disciplines*—it is the gift of God. But you cannot retain salvation without disciplines. If you try to attain salvation by disciplines, you will be trying to discipline an unsurrendered self. You will be sitting on a lid. The result will be tenseness instead of trust. “You will wrestle instead of nestle.” While salvation cannot be attained by discipline around an unsurrendered self, nevertheless when the self is surrendered to Christ and a new center formed, then you can discipline your life around that new center—Christ. Discipline is the fruit of conversion—not the root.

This passage gives the double-sidedness of conversion: “As therefore you received Christ Jesus the Lord so live in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith” (Col. 2:6-7, RSV). Note, “received”—receptivity; “so live”—activity. It appears again, “rooted”—receptivity; “built up in him”—activity.

The “rooted” means we take from God as the roots take the soil; the “built up” means we build up as one builds a house, a character and life by disciplined effort. So we take and try; we obtain and attain. We trust as if the whole thing depended on God and work as if the whole thing depended on us. The alternate beats of the Christian heart are receptivity and response—receptivity from God and response in work from us.


* What are the spiritual disciplines? Here is a list to get you started. That list has 12 disciplines in total, this one contains more, but breaks it down into seven key areas. (Click the tabs at the side of the landing page.)

February 18, 2014

Spiritual Growth

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:43 pm
Tags: , , ,

Stages of Spiritual Growth

See below for information about today’s graphic.

This article is from a blog making a first time appearance here, Laced With Grace. There are several authors, this one is from Debbie and was titled Are You Growing Up?


Are you growing up?  Recently I gathered a few of my after school students and showed them photos from the previous year.  They laughed and pointed as they noticed how little they once looked.  They had grown in so many ways and it was obvious.

But how about spiritual growth?  It’s not measured the same way.  You can’t look at a photo to see the changes.

A Christian’s salvation is a work of God alone.  We are saved by grace alone.  There’s nothing we can do to earn it.  It is a gift of God.  Ephesians 2:8-9 says:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works so that no one can boast.

Christian growth is a call to labor.  In Philippians 2:12 Paul is addressing the church at Philippi.

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed — not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence — continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.

As I grow in my relationship with the Lord, spiritual maturity develops.  It is a life time pursuit and one I can participate in.  I study the Scriptures, pray, attend church and fellowship with other believers.  Often I gain insight from more mature believers by their example and experience.

As I grow in sanctification, my heart’s desires change.  People who knew me before begin to notice.  I attended a reunion for my nursing school a number of years ago.  I used to be a bit wild in my younger years.  Although I hadn’t yet mentioned anything about my faith, one of my old friends asked me when I became a Christian.  I told her and asked her how she knew.  She told me I was different and since she was also a Christian …she knew.

Your Christian maturity will reach a level that is in direct proportion to your willingness to labour in this great vocation.

R. C. Sproul, in What Does It Mean to Be Born Again

I love that I can be diligent and participate with the Holy Spirit as I grow in my faith.

Philippians 2:13 says:

It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

He gives me all I need to grow and mature.  The question is are you and I willing to participate?

  • Do you see growth in your spiritual life?
  • Do others notice a difference in your life since becoming a Christian?
  • Are you actively pursuing activities that stimulate and nurture your Christian maturity?

As I prepared to post today’s devotional/study, it occurred to me that part of the growth process God may be calling you (and me) to may be to step up in terms of your role in your local church. If there are any areas where you feel your church is lacking, maybe you are the answer its prayers. Reconsider this brief list of the fivefold ministry gifts and see if you might be one of the people so described.


Today’s graphic: Go deeper with this article on the Stages of Spiritual Growth from the blog The Total Man.

February 16, 2014

The Heart Will Fool You

The Heart is Deceitful

“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind,to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve.” (Jer 17:9-10).

Our first take on today’s key verse comes from the blog True Church of God and is entitled Trouble Shooting of the Heart.

Take a deep look inside your own heart and mind to see what unrighteousness you have swept under the rug and stuffed in a closet to hide from your own view.   Human nature wants to feel good about self and simply hides much of its evils from self.  Its all still there in the mind, but stuffed out of view from self , so that self can avoid condemning self behavior.   For this reason human nature likes to keep the focus on someone else’s faults; it helps make self feel more just, and righteous; especially if they don’t seem to have the same fault or weakness.

Real repentance involves God helping us to see these evils that we have stuffed in closets and swept under rugs in our minds; and facing the honest truth about our selves; and confessing these things to God in sincere heart felt prayer, and asking him to forgive us and give us strength to not do these evils ever again.  Then we must follow righteousness, and don’t let self repeat these evils.  God shows us some of our sins that we need to repent of when he first calls us; but for the rest of our Christian lives, if we will repent and continue in our conversion and desire it; God will continue little by little to reveal our faults so that we may continue to repent of our evil nature, and grow in the Godly nature.

The more we turn away from sin and obey the righteousness of God; then the more of the Holy Spirit God will give us.  By this means we must Grow in God’s grace until we are Holy as God is Holy.   This growth process does cause some growing pains; but they are not worthy to be compared with what God has in store for his true saints.  The hope that we have in the Kingdom of God is what gives us zeal to continue to put self nature to death, and grow in Christ.  That is why one must truly believe the gospel (good news) as well as repent of sins in order to be baptized into the body of Christ.

The average person commits many sins against God without even being aware of it.  Any disobedience to God is sin; including violating his Holy Law the Ten Commandments.

Most of our sin is directly against our fellow humans also.  When you have wronged someone in deed or word; ask your own heart: why did I do this wrong against this person?  Don’t let your heart get away with just shrugging your shoulders and saying I don’t know; or they had it coming.  Demand an answer from your heart.  Search your own soul to know how to fix what is wrong with your self so that you can always treat other people with the same love and respect that you desire for self.  You can’t fix your neighbors attitude, but if your are willing, you can fix your self, with the help of God.   You can’t fix the problem until you can see it, and acknowledge that it really is a problem that needs fixed.  Ask God in sincere heart felt prayer to show you what you need to fix in your own heart, and nature.   I’ll guarantee you, that if you are truly sincere, God will hear and answer that prayer.

Our second take on this comes from the blog at The Christian Network and is titled Heart Changer.

When we hear that we are broken, that something is terribly wrong with us, it is not the comforting news we wish to hear. We want to be told we are good, kind and loving. Why would we want to hear we are deceitful, greedy, immoral, selfish and evil (Mt 7:11, Gal 5:19-21)? Facing oneself is not easy. The reflection we see in the mirror can be confronting. God does not pull any punches in describing humanity’s condition. In Romans 3:23 we read ALL Have fallen short of the glory of God. God’s universal judgement of the entire human race. The diagnosis, however, does not improve as the Bible’s message unfolds.

The preceding verses to Jeremiah 17:9 announce an ominous warning –  “This is what the LORD says: “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the LORD. ” (Jer 17:5). Trusting in our own strength or trusting in others strength is a form of idolatry. In other words, trusting in the creation rather than the Creator. Verse 17:9 tells us why this is such an issue. The problem lies within the human heart itself.

Feinberg (1986) states “The source of all human difficulty is the human heart (Prov 4:23). In OT usage the heart signifies the total inner being and includes reason. From the heart come action and will.” Our hearts, our inner being, are far from perfect. Once in a sermon I singled out a man in Church and asked him if I were to place all of his thoughts for the year on a projector screen, that the whole congregation could see, would he be comfortable? He adamantly shook his head. In the Sermon on the Mount Christ lets us know that even our thoughts are vitally important to God – and indeed will be judged. Anger the same as murder, a lustful look the same as adultery (Mt 5). Christ was getting to the core of the matter – the deceitful heart we all carry.

This verse tells us God searches our hearts and looks at our deeds (Eph 2:10, Jm 2:26, 1 Jn 3:18, Rev 2:2, 2:19, 3:1, 3:8, 3:15). Our deeds carried out in the body will clearly be judged (Rom 2:6-7). To those that persist in doing good there will be reward and to those that persist in doing evil – punishment. How then can we change from having this deceitful and corrupt heart to having one that seeks to do good unto others? Put simply – we can’t, by ourselves it is beyond cure. Only God can do it.

He tells us the cure Himself in Ezekiel 36:26 – “I will give you a newheart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh”. That new heart is received when we repent and turn to our Savior Jesus Christ and make Him our Lord . Through His Spirit the heart is circumcised. It softens, its hardened exterior cracks (usually in tears) and we in-turn change. Sanctification begins, our healing and metamorphosis initiates. It is then we can literally see the fruit of our good deeds (Eph 2:10). If they are not present, as James  explains – are we really saved at all? If the continuous act of charity (love in action) is not present, what is going wrong? Or are we simply whitewashed walls, still corrupt on the inside and resisting the Holy Spirit in self righteous pride (Acts 7:51).  Billy Graham’s message of the new heart is worthy of note when regarding heart change. Watch it here.

 

 

Click image to source at the blog Chasing After Dear

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