Christianity 201

February 14, 2021

As We Search Our Hearts

Two days ago we looked at our susceptibility to sin. There are a few verses I realized could have also been included, one of which follows in the excerpt from something by Elsie Montgomery we ran in September:

…Every day I need to ask Jesus what the psalmist asked: “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23–24) This is one prayer that God is so faithful to answer quickly that I’ve often said if you pray it, you better duck!

I decided to continue tracing back the history of the particular scripture appearing here.

Just over a year ago, we shared a devotional from Gary Henry:

…We are hurt far more by the malignancies in our character than by the illnesses in our body. And it is the removal of these sins in the heart that God is concerned with. The Great Physician desires to restore our spiritual health and wholeness.

If we want to improve, we must be honest and open to the truth about our character right now. Not even the Great Physician can help us if we’re not willing to be examined. Trying to hide our symptoms and pretending that nothing very serious is wrong will only result in our getting worse. An accurate diagnosis will be humbling, to be sure, but we should still want to know the whole truth. David’s prayer is that of an honest man: Search me, O God, and know my heart . . . see if there is any wicked way in me (Psalm 139:23,24). We must desire to see ourselves as God sees us…

In December, 2017, Colin Sedgwick included this same verse, but looked at the life of Asa in both 1 Kings and 2 Chronicles and used the analogy of someone having what we call a Jekyll and Hyde character. More than anything else, God hates hypocrisy. Think of the word duplicity and the image is clear of a person who presents a double character. Colin also introduced the idea of a Asa as having an Achilles heel, a weak spot or vulnerability to certain types of sin. He wrote,

…I have to admit, that’s where his story strikes uncomfortably at my heart… Yours too, perhaps. As you search your heart and examine your life, do you see there a big, ugly “But”? Yes, you’re a genuine, sincere Christian. Yes, you want to please and serve God. Yes, you are happy to worship, pray and evangelise. But

If we fail to deal with that “but”, I’m not suggesting that we will lose our salvation. But there are, I think, two things we will lose.

First, our peace of mind. Like Paul in Romans 7:14-25 we will feel ourselves to be “wretched” because we are torn in two.

And second, we will lose our effectiveness for God. Putting it another way, our cutting edge will be blunted.

In August, 2017, I wrote a devotional based on a sermon I had recently heard, that was based on this passage:

“O Lord, you are a great and awesome God! You always fulfill your covenant and keep your promises of unfailing love to those who love you and obey your commands. But we have sinned and done wrong. We have rebelled against you and scorned your commands and regulations. We have refused to listen to your servants the prophets, who spoke on your authority to our kings and princes and ancestors and to all the people of the land. Daniel 9:4-6

I added,

…each time I ignore the commands of God, or rationalize some behavior, or allow myself some license in some area of thought or action, I am scorning God’s commands.

When our pastor spoke on this on Sunday he said you can’t always choose the place you live in, but you can decide where you are going to live toward. He contrasted living toward Jerusalem with living toward Babylon

In November, 2015, Rev. Gregory Crofford raised the dramatic account of Ananias and Sapphira whose duplicity cost them both their lives. He introduced this verse to the discussion:

For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” 1 Peter 4:17, NIV, italics added

Way back in July, 2012, a writer we used several times but knew only as “Cloudwatcher” also touched on the Psalm 51 verse, but introduced this from James 3:11 as well:

Both fresh water and salt water don’t come from the same spring, do they?

I read that verse today and marvel at the duplicity that seems to spring forth from the accounts of fallen Christian leaders; how their words and their actions did not line up. There was, as one person voiced earlier this weekend, apparently a lack of “a congruent life.”

Going back to December, 2011; we come full circle with Elsie Montgomery who noted Spurgeon brought up this scripture in the context of taking a personal spiritual inventory:

Know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds. -Proverbs 27:23

[Spurgeon] points out that a wise merchant occasionally takes stock. He opens his accounts, examines what is on hand, and determines whether his trade is prosperous or declining. This practice is easily transferred to those who belong to Jesus Christ. Those who are wise will often take stock to make sure that our hearts are right with God. We ask Him to reveal sin and life-patterns that need attention.

That’s all for today; I hope this leaves all of us with much to consider.


For those of you who read the tags which appear after the title, this devotional is tagged with an assortment of search terms from all the devotionals used!

Looking for more content? This weekend I listened to the second part in a recent sermon series, Unleashed by Kyle Idleman based on the Book of Acts. If you’ve got time, sit back and listen to Complacent to Committed.

 

 

 

 

July 7, 2017

Knowing Your Spiritual Weak Links

So the one who thinks he is standing firm should be careful not to fall.” – 1 Cor. 10:12 Berean Study Bible.

Note: Some may find this article is built on a rather pessimistic or negative premise, but I hope you’ll buy in and see the lesson in this.

If you’ve read The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel you’ve seen a reference in the first chapter to Charles Templeton, once a leading Canadian pastor whose faith was suddenly shattered and he spent his prime years in agnosticism. There is a story that Billy Graham was once asked about his calling and said something to the effect, ‘I’m only doing what Charles Templeton started and didn’t finish.’

My father was a big part of the music ministry surrounding Templeton’s work, and said he felt that the trigger for Templeton’s atheism was a massive fire that took place at his Toronto church. (Parenthetically, my father was constantly reminding me that you can’t fix your eyes on an individual leader; the focus has to be on Christ.)

As I started thinking about that, I realized that a fire is a rather superficial reason for abandoning the faith, though I can’t say what bitterness could steal my heart in similar circumstances. I have often said to close friends that I become an atheist every night around 4:00 AM when after several hours of tossing and turning I can’t get into some deep sleep. I hope they know what I’m saying and don’t take it too literally. Again, superficial things.

Last month I started thinking what superficial factors could plunge me into a cycle of questioning the reality of the Christ story. I don’t mean this in the sense that I’m having a faith crisis, or that any such factors would be successful in knocking my faith off its moorings, but I wanted to better understand my own vulnerabilities. Here are two I came up with.

1. Natural disasters. This is of course a reason often used by non-believers for not embracing the idea of deity. “How could a loving God allow this to happen?” But as I watch World News Tonight with David Muir each evening and see peoples’ homes washed away, it does seem a great moment for divine intervention that didn’t take place. (Remember, we’re talking about potential vulnerabilities here.)

2. The actions of fellow Christians. This was the one C.S. Lewis said could prevent just about anyone from becoming a Christian. When I think of the hurt I’ve endured at the hands of fellow believers, I can very easily imagine a person of weaker faith abandoning ship.

So…what about you? Have you ever looked toward the horizon and imagined the proverbial straw that could break the proverbial camel’s back. As I said at the outset, some of you are perhaps reading this at the outset of the workday and it may seem like a very negative thing to consider, but I think it’s important to be aware of our vulnerabilities. I think it’s implicit in the warning of Proverbs 4:23, “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.” (NLT)

What personal circumstances or things in your life have the potential to eat at your core faith? What is the weak link in your faith chain?

February 5, 2014

Do Not Sin; But if You Sin…

A year ago we introduced you to Don Costello at the blog Theophobic. Don takes an expository approach — phrase by phrase — and blogs in a style not unlike what you might find in a detailed Bible commentary. He’s been blogging since 2006 and has about 1,500 posts.  Click here to read this at source, and then click the header at the top of his page to look around at other recent articles. (We’ve left all references here in KJV, which Don uses. Feel free to look up each reference in the Bible you are most comfortable with.)

1 John 2:1
My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous:
a. This study is going to upset some apple carts so fasten your seatbelts because for some of you it is going to be a bumpy ride.
1. “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not…”
a. Translations
1). [NLT] My dear children, I am writing this to you so that you will not sin.2). [NIV] My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin.

3). [NASB] My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.

4). [RSV] My little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin;

b. What are the things he wrote in order that we should not sin?

1). 1 John 1:5-10 This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.

If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth:
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

b. It is extremely clear what John is saying. He said, I am writing this to you so that you do not sin, but he also made abundantly clear that everyone has sinned and no one is without sin, but he wrote all that to say that we should not sin. The grace of God provided in the New Covenant provides us with forgiveness and mercy for our sins, but it also provides us with empowerment not to sin, that is what John was saying. The body of Christ in American culture has a perverted view of grace and salvation in Christ. Too many believers have the opinion, “I am just a sinner saved by grace.” On the authority of the word of God I tell you that is not true and you should not have that opinion of yourself. You are saints! Yes saints,  for that is what the Scriptures call us. If you are a born again Christian you are not “just a sinner saved by grace”, you are a saint!

1). Philippians 1:1 Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons:

2). Ephesians 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus:

c. The warnings in the Scriptures concerning having an exalted opinion of oneself are clear and here are a few of them.

1). Philippians 2:3 Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.

2). 1 Peter 5:5 Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.

d. In this study I will not be referring to having an exalted opinion of ourselves, but rather what the word of God says about us and what it says about the opinion we should have of ourselves in Christ.

e. The opinion I am to have is the mind of Christ, a part of the inheritance we have in Christ Jesus.

1). 1 Corinthians 2:16 For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.

2). The mind of Christ.

a). 1 Peter 4:1, 2 Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin; That he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God.

b). Jesus had the attitude that he was not going to sin against his Father God and that is the opinion and mental attitude that we also should have. We are not going to sin against God

3). Notice what Paul writes concerning what our opinion should be concerning sin

a). Romans 6:1-14 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?

Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.
For he that is dead is freed from sin.Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him:Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him.For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God.
Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under graceb). In the above passage Paul writes under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost: God forbid that we would sin; we should not serve sin; we are freed from sin; we are not to let sin reign in our bodies; We are to reckon (consider) ourselves dead to sin; sin shall not have dominion over us because we are under grace. What? Sin shall not have dominion over us because we are under grace? But what we hear mostly is the part of grace that Christ has borne my sins and I am forgiven of them and when I sin, I can ask forgiveness and he forgives me in grace given to me because of what he did on Calvary. All of that is true.4). Sin will not have dominion over me because I and under grace. Everything I need to live a victorious in Christ is given to me through the knowledge of God.

a). 2 Peter 1:2-4 Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord,

According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue:

Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.

5). The grace of God teaches us and empowers us to live free from ungodly lusts free from all iniquity.

a). Titus 2:11-15  For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ;
Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee.

2. “…And if any man sin…”
a. Too many in the body of Christ have a sin consciousness, they believe that even though they are Christians they will continue to sin, it is a fact of life you can’t get away from it, you are just a sinner saved by grace and when we sin we repent, ask God to forgive us and we go on, but that is not what the New Covenant says.
1). 1 Corinthians 15:34 Awake to righteousness, and sin not: for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame.
2). 1 Corinthians 10:13 There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.

3. “…we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous:”

a. advocate [3875 * parakletos][an intercessor, consoler:–advocate, comforter.]

b. In the New covenant we have been given grace that empowers us not to sin against God, but if we sin we then have an advocate where we can ask forgiveness.

1). Hebrews 4:14-16 Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.

2). 1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us form all unrighteousness.

June 24, 2012

Who You Look Down On, Who You Look Up To

Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.   ~Romans 12:3b NIV

At 6’0″ I usually find myself in conversation with people not as tall as myself, but in the last few months I’ve noticed that I’ve become increasingly uncomfortable carrying on conversations with people taller than myself, probably because it happens so seldom.  Yesterday we ran into Tim, the son of one of my mother’s best friends, and I again found myself registering the fact I had to keep looking up to make eye contact.

I can see how people like myself who are tall of stature might get confused and think that they are somehow ‘taller’ intellectually or emotionally; and there is always the danger of thinking oneself to be ‘taller’ spiritually. Of course, we all know our inward shortcomings and weaknesses, but when we’re out and about with members of the wider faith family, it’s easy to posture. In the key verse today, Paul says we should use ‘sober judgment’ of ourselves.

Another application of this principle is that we look up to God, who scripture tells us looks down on us. This is repeated in various passages; it’s important to remember who is where! One prayer pattern that I learned years ago contains the phrase, “You’re God and I’m not;” or “You’re God and we’re not.” When we come to Him in prayer, we need to remember who is ‘taller.’

Here’s a similar application of how we deal with our own estimation of ourselves from Luke 14.  Jesus is teaching…

When Jesus noticed that all who had come to the dinner were trying to sit in the seats of honor near the head of the table, he gave them this advice: “When you are invited to a wedding feast, don’t sit in the seat of honor. What if someone who is more distinguished than you has also been invited? The host will come and say, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then you will be embarrassed, and you will have to take whatever seat is left at the foot of the table!

10 “Instead, take the lowest place at the foot of the table. Then when your host sees you, he will come and say, ‘Friend, we have a better place for you!’ Then you will be honored in front of all the other guests. 11 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”  ~NLT

A month ago we attended a family funeral. My wife’s uncle passed away and we didn’t realize that some seats were being held for nieces and nephews, so we took a seat toward the back. Her cousin saw us and immediately told us that special seats were reserved for us, and invited us to “come up higher” in the seating plan. We appreciated this, but I couldn’t help but think of this passage as we were walking to the front, and also of the potential embarrassment that could occur if the situation were reversed.

The brand of Christ-following that is portrayed on television is centered on people with very strong personalities and — dare I say it? — very large egos. I think some of this is given away by the very fact these people want to be on television, though I don’t preclude the use of media to share the gospel.  But you and I, the average disciple, should be marked by humility; the type of humility that takes a back seat in a culture that wants to proclaim, “We’re number one.”

We serve the King of Kings. We have the hottest news on the rack. We are seated with Christ in heavenly places. But we approach this in a humble spirit, with gratitude that God chose to reach down and rescue us from our fallen state.

Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up. ~ James 4:10 NKJV

How tall do you feel?

~Paul Wilkinson

Classic Worship Song: Humble Thyself in the Sight of the Lord

December 18, 2011

Personal Year-End Inventory

I thought we’d check in with another one of our blogrolled authors, Elsie Montgomery at Practical Faith.  Given the topic, she must have seen us coming!  This challenge appeared on her blog under the title Year-End Stock-Taking.

With twenty-eight relocations under my belt, it seems that I’ve spent much of my life filing. Every move requires reorganizing. Yet with my mind set, even the changes of seasons seem to motivate me to change my environment, or reassess what I’m doing. I look at what I have and ask if this or that is necessary or do I give it away?

At times I’ve fallen into ‘change for change’s sake’ or a useless busy work like moving furniture rather than doing something more important. However, most of the changes have been profitable in some way. Sometimes rearranging equals greater convenience. Sometimes decluttering clears my head along with my house.

This morning I’m challenged again to do some assessment. While this comes easily at the end of the year (or the beginning of a new month, or week, or even every morning), this time it is from God’s Word.

Know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds. (Proverbs 27:23)

Spurgeon has some good things to say about this verse. He points out that a wise merchant occasionally takes stock. He opens his accounts, examines what is on hand, and determines whether his trade is prosperous or declining. This practice is easily transferred to those who belong to Jesus Christ. Those who are wise will often take stock to make sure that our hearts are right with God. We ask Him to reveal sin and life-patterns that need attention.

Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psalm 139:23–24)

Those who are alert know that every believer struggles against an enemy who introduces false ideas into our heads. He also tries to stir up strife between the people of God, or sow doubt of the love of God into our hearts. He is diligent in trying to keep us from being joyful and fruitful in our Christian lives.

Besides checking for garbage from Satan, stock-taking can also clear out the excess and recorder all that should be in place. While this is seldom an enjoyable task, it is not intended to uproot our security in Christ, but any fleshy security in ourselves. We do it, not to disturb our peace with God, but to clear out any false peace of complacency and the laxness that so easily works its way into daily life.

*********

Lord, I’ve often seen how the state of my life, whether organized or in total disarray, is a reflection of the state of my soul. These words from Your Word easily motivate me to tidy up my home and computer files. They are more difficult to apply to the way I care for people or my own soul. Both can so easily become messy and without purpose. Help me to know well the condition of everything that You have put under my care. Show me the best way to give attention to anything that is not as it should be. I know that physically moving from one place to another helps to declutter, but obeying You in this does not require that I move to another place. Instead, You ask me to simply get moving.