Christianity 201

June 24, 2022

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

I often wonder, when the New Testament uses the word mirror how sophisticated the manufacturing process was in Bible times. Did those mirrors create a high resolution picture or were their pigments, irregular surfaces, or curvatures which forced a distorted image? We might be surprised at how clear the image was.

What verse comes to mind for you? Perhaps it’s from James:

NIV.Jas.1.23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

Could a person look into a mirror and honestly forget what they look like? It’s hard to imagine in a selfie-infatuated world, but remember that in Bible times people didn’t have photo albums. Even a few centuries ago, if you were wealthy, you might have an artist do your portrait, but the degree to which it looked like you would depend on the skill of the painter.

James compares looking in a mirror to looking into the law and forgetting what you’ve heard. It’s part of his overall theme in this section which begins earlier in verse 22: Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 

But a more creative preacher might argue that the law itself is a mirror. We hold ourselves up to the law to see how we compare. 2 Corinthians 13:5 tells us to “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” (ESV) Romans 5:13 explains that, “Yes, people sinned even before the law was given. But it was not counted as sin because there was not yet any law to break. (NLT) The law sets the standard, we see ourselves as we look into it.

Another type of mirror in scripture is found in 1 Corinthians 3:12

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, as I am fully known. (CSB)

This is the passage which, in the KJV talks about ‘seeing through a glass darkly.’ When teaching this years ago, I compared it to waking up in the morning and discovering someone has rubbed something greasy all over your glasses. But again, we have to think about the quality of mirrors they might have had when Paul wrote this verse. The CEV speaks of a “cloudy reflection in a mirror,” which suggests a mirror of inferior quality.  (The ISB uses “indistinct image.”) But other renderings of this verse leave me thinking the contrast is between “reflection” and ‘reality.’ That even the best mirror is not the real thing. (If you’ve studied it, Plato’s “Analogy of the Cave” might come to mind.)

Our best representation is really a shadow of what awaits us in the future. 2 Corinthians 2:9 reminds us that

9 But as it is written:
“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
Nor have entered into the heart of man
The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” (NKJV)

Before we move on, let me reiterate the verse from the NLT:

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.

A third use of mirror is also from Corinthians, this time from 2 Corinthians 3:18

But we all, with unveiled faces, looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit. (NASB)

There’s a lot going on in this verse, so let’s get Eugene Peterson to flesh it out for us a bit more:

Whenever, though, they turn to face God as Moses did, God removes the veil and there they are—face-to-face! They suddenly recognize that God is a living, personal presence, not a piece of chiseled stone. And when God is personally present, a living Spirit, that old, constricting legislation is recognized as obsolete. We’re free of it! All of us! Nothing between us and God, our faces shining with the brightness of his face. And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.

Just as Moses reflected (a mirror-word if ever there was one) God’s glory, we all, looking at God indirectly, cannot help but be changed, and cannot help but copy or duplicate (or mirror!) his glory.

Think about these three mirrors next time you look at one. Allow it to serve as a reminder.


What about that last phrase, “changed from glory to glory?” We looked at that here in this September devotional.

June 22, 2022

Caretakers of God’s Gifts | Doing God’s Will

A year ago we first shared the writing of Pastor Dick Woodward’s from the blog The Four Spiritual Secrets. His “about” page tells us that,

In 1980 Dick was diagnosed with a degenerative disease of the spinal cord that left him a quadriplegic. In spite of this disease he preached from his wheelchair until 1997, then remained active in his later years as a bedfast quadriplegic in small groups, mentoring, and writing Bible study materials and books through voice activated software until his death at the age of 83 in March of 2014. He often said, “The less I can do, the more the Lord does.”

Material is posted to his page regularly. Because these are shorter we have two devotional articles for you today, and the header for each is also a link to the blog.

God’s Business vs. Our Business

“Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful… And what do you have that you did not receive? (1 Corinthians 4:2,7)

The biblical word “steward” is not fully understood or appreciated. It is actually one of the most important words in the New Testament. A synonym for this word is “manager.” Many people believe this word primarily relates to a person’s money, but that application falls far short of the essential meaning of this word.

When Paul asks the probing question, “And what do you have that you did not receive?” he is telling us that our stewardship applies to everything we have received from God. This means our time, energy, gifts and talents, our health and all the things that make up the essence of our very lives, including all of our money and possessions.

At the age of 65 one of my best friends had what he refers to as a “halftime” experience when he came to fully appreciate this word “steward.” His regular custom was to draw a line down the middle of a legal pad page. On the left side of that line he wrote “My business” while on the right side of the line he wrote “God’s business.”

When he fully appreciated this word “steward” he erased that line because, as a wealthy businessman, he realized it was all God’s business.

Remember, the important thing about a steward is that we be found faithful. Do you realize there is nothing in your life you did not receive from God? Do you know that you are to faithfully manage everything you have received from God?

Are you willing to erase the line between what is yours and what is God’s?

Walking with Jesus: Doing & Knowing!

This is how we know we are in Him: whoever claims to live in Him must walk even as Jesus walked.” (1 John 2:5-6)

In the first sixteen verses of his short letter, the Apostle John gives us a prescription for fullness in seven parts: facts, faith, forgiveness, fellowship, follow-ship, fruitfulness, and fullness.

John’s facts are the death and resurrection of Jesus. When we have faith to believe the first fact we have forgiveness. When we believe the second the result is fellowship with the risen Christ. By changing one letter in the word “fellowship” to “follow-ship,” I have come up with the key to John’s prescription for fullness: you will know that you know when you walk as Jesus walked.

This word follow-ship is also a key to the fullness emphasized by Jesus. His covenant with the apostles was Follow Me and I will make you. (Matthew 4:19) The most important part of the Great Commission occurred when Jesus commissioned the disciples to make disciples. (Matthew 28:18-20) A synonym for discipleship is apprenticeship. Jesus apprenticed the apostles and He commissioned them to apprentice disciples.

The Gospel of John Chapter 7 records a great claim of Jesus when He declared that His teaching is the teaching of God. Jesus also proclaimed we prove that when we do what He teaches. (John 7:17) According to Jesus the doing leads to the knowing. Intellectuals have claimed for millenniums that the knowing will lead to the doing, but Jesus said “When you do you will know.”

Are you willing to do that you might know the Word of God?

June 20, 2022

May 18, 2022

They Trusted in the Lord With All Their Hearts

Today we’re back for a second time with a writer we introduced to you in September. Beth Madison writes at Soul Scientist, and is also the author of the book Good Ground, Volume 1 from National Baptist Press. Clicking the header below will take you to today’s article where it first appeared.

Making Lists

■ This devotional is also available as a podcast. Click this link to listen.

Proverbs 3:5-8 Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do; and he will show you which path to take. Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom, instead, fear the Lord and turn away from evil. Then you will have healing for your body and strength for your bones.

Since I devoured books when I was growing up, Mother always made sure I had a good supply of good reading materials. She described my love for reading as “she’ll read anything that isn’t tied down” (similar to how my boys used to eat when they were teenagers!). I loved them all – be they periodicals like National Geographic or my father’s scientific academic journals or those Christian comic books popular in the late 1970’s to a plethora of books from Little House on the Prairie to Jane Austen to Nancy Drew and oh so many other friends who I dreamed with there on the page.

But Mother’s favorite choice for my reading material (other than Scripture, of course) was missionary biographies. I fell in love with them all – be they Lottie Moon to Elisabeth Elliot to Annie Armstrong or Hudson Taylor to Adoniram Judson to David Brainerd and oh so many other friends with whom I learned to trust God with there on the page. I can still remember dreaming about when I grew up and was living and working in Africa or China or whatever country I’d just read about.

Similarly, these verses from Proverbs 3:5-8 were some of the first verses I learned as a child. Mother and Daddy didn’t just let me sit in the corner and read after my chores were done. They were also very careful to teach me Bible verses at all times and in all ways just like we are commanded to do with our children in Deuteronomy 4:9-10.

Only be on your guard and diligently watch yourselves, so that you don’t forget the things your eyes have seen and so that they don’t slip from your mind as long as you live. Teach them to your children and your grandchildren. The day you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, the LORD said to me, ‘Assemble the people before me, and I will let them hear my words, so that they may learn to fear me all the days they live on the earth and may instruct their children.’ (CSB)

And now, these stories and verses are still shaping my life in the dust of today.

Yet even now, my faith needs a lot more growing up to reflect the truth found in the stories and especially in the verses…

For example, a few weeks ago, when an unimagined opportunity popped into my email, my first thought was “no way, I can’t do this, because I don’t have ________”. Then my next thought was “just how can I make this work anyway?”. (note the emphasis on the “I” in that sentence) And there I went – straight into the quicksand of searching, calculating, and all the things (without any praying) until I ended up frustrated, disappointed, and exhausted without any progress towards my goal (note the emphasis on the “my” in that sentence).

Oh yes, I ran that gopher wheel to nowhere a few more times until two days ago when I told God, “I’m done!” and “if You want this to happen, here’s what I need for this opportunity”. I wrote out the full list with all the details and put the list away in my office. And then I started praying those verses from Proverbs and meaning it.

Well, here am I in tears watching as my triumphal God is checking off every piece of that list in ways that show me He not only heard my cry, He put the pieces into motion before the words came out of my mouth and heart. And just like God, He’s using other people to bring the resources for that list and increasing their faith along with mine in the details and directions of how He’s providing for them.

As I’m marveling in His working today, I am reminded of those missionary biographies from my childhood. Those missionaries modeled faith in their prayers and their lists. Their pages-long lists of known needs that exceeded available resources were checked off one by one in ways that only God could and did engineer for His plans to be completed. And He did it so that these plans would be completed in ways that not only increased the faith of those missionaries but the faith of those in their world who didn’t know or want to know God. No one who knew the stories or saw the results could deny God’s unmistakable, unshakable, unstoppable power at work.

That power that raised Jesus from the dead and seated Him at God’s right hand is the same power available to us as Christians today (see Ephesians 1:19-20). Nothing has changed with God. His power is still unstoppable like it was with waters, lions, giants, and fire in the Old Testament; with famine, persecution, deserts, and orphans in missionary stories; and with us in the details, dust, disease, and doubts of today.

So if you’re tired of your gopher wheel of trying to figure out all the things or you’re up to your neck in a quicksand of exhaustion, stress, denial, or disappointment, now is the time to stop fighting and simply tell our powerful God all about it (dear friend, please don’t be afraid. God already knows the ins and outs, of all of it, even better than you do). Then, make that list with all the things and all their details. Next, put the list away, start praying Proverbs 3:5-8, and pull up a chair to watch things happen. Trust me, the story’s gonna be far bigger and more beautiful than you can imagine!

The fulfillment of your story may take far longer than two days and might not happen in ways that you’d choose, but trust me, that story will be good. Because good is what our Good God promises to those who love Him and are called according to His promise (see Romans 8:38). And He always keeps all of His promises, all of the time.

Ephesians 1:19-20 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms

May 15, 2022

Approaching God: Awe, Obedience, Reverence, Fear, Caution

One of the most frequently appearing writers here is Elsie Montgomery who writes at Practical Faith. For this year, she is following readings in a book called Daily Treasures from the Word of God by Leona and Nicolas Venditti, published in 2012. She says, “I will read what they have to say listening to what the Lord is saying to me, write my thoughts here, and pray for His enabling to apply them to my life.”

To read this where it first appeared, click the header which follows.

Power of Reverence

READ Hebrews 5–8

Experience and the Word of God tells me that answered prayer is not a simple matter. It rarely happens unless I keep my communion with Him clear through confessing known sins. It never happens when I pray selfishly or plainly outside of His will. Today’s reading offers another thought; God hears the prayers of those who deeply reverence Him . . .

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. (Hebrews 5:7)

Bible dictionaries say that the words translated reverence mean “a feeling of profound respect” yet also a “certain element of awe, which may be interpreted in some instances as implying even fear.” The implication of such reverent fear or awe is, of course, obedience. Some scholars prefer to interpret these terms as ‘to obey.’ One dictionary says this word is properly understood as “caution” with religiously reverence or piety yet implying dread or fear. An English dictionary says reverence is profound respect and love and a reverent attitude toward God means honoring Him, expressing gratitude to Him, and obeying His commandments.

Another says common synonyms of reverence are adore, revere, venerate, and worship. While all these words mean “to honor and admire profoundly and respectfully,” reverence presupposes an intrinsic merit and sacredness in the one honored with a similar depth of feeling in the one honoring.

In other words, reverence is about my response but it is more about God. The idea of fear comes with the realization that I do not pull God’s strings. He IS in charge and every breath that I take is by His grace. Knowing His power and other qualities should produce in me total cessation of ‘doing my own thing’ and a deep desire to fit in with His plans. Jesus did that. He knew the Father could save Him from death and knew He heard His cries, yet said, “Nevertheless, not my will but thine be done.” Prayer is not about getting my own way but yielding to God’s way, sometimes in holy fear. This is being like Jesus.

The New Testament also talks about patience being the mark of maturity or being like Jesus. He was always emotionally calm in the face of provocation or misfortune and without complaint or irritation. It comes to us through trials and is also a huge part of reverence. Respecting God and not taking matters into my own hands requires patience and total faith. Hebrews 6:12 & 15 says it is “through faith and patience” that God’s people inherit God’s promises.

Maturity also involves discernment. This reading speaks of having my senses trained to rightly understand the visible realm of reality and the equally real realm of the unseen. God gives Scripture and the Holy Spirit so I can sense the unseen and not be swayed by the constant pull of the world and evil forces to pull me away from following Jesus and instead resorting to sinful self-effort.

Discernment also combats false doctrine and gives an accurate perception of what is really from God and what is not. Scripture warns believers about the devil appearing to be an angel of light. I need to discern fully the powers of darkness and realize how patience and discernment are both tied to spiritual maturity. Both have a strong relationship to effective prayer and to “holding fast to the hope set before us.” (Hebrews 6:18)

The marvel is that even if I pray incorrectly or fail to pray at all, Jesus still “is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” (Hebrews 7:25) Jesus prays for me, protecting me from the evil one and from destruction. He is my Savior; I am not.

Another beautiful thought from this reading is the power of the gospel that begins a life of knowing God and growing in that patience that marks maturity and that ensures God’s ear to our prayers:

For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” (Hebrews 8:10–12)

The bottom line for all this is three-fold. Discernment is a gift that enables me to know the Christ of Scripture and not be distracted from Him as my source of all that is godly. Being like Him means reverence, not mere ‘joyful worship’ but the awe that is mixed with fear and obedience that considers His power and ownership of all that concerns me. If my prayers are to be heard and answered, then I must discern all that distracts me from Christ and know all He desires from me so I can yield all of my life to this amazing God of glory.

April 6, 2022

We Practice Christian Living in Community, or Several Communities

We have a new writer for you today, Gary Moore, who blogs at Rock Excavation Service. The blog’s theme verse is “Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.” Isaiah 26:4. Gary has served in missions in Eastern Europe, and has some history writing devotionals himself. He is the author of a book on Christ in the Old Testament, with another book on the way. Clicking the header which follows will take you the place where we found it.

Love In Communities

I was reminded today about the three loves each believer has by the power of the Holy Spirit in us. These loves are the love of God, love of us, and love of people. Today, I would like us to focus on our love within communities.

Of course, love of us includes love of self; this is Biblically correct. However, love of self extends beyond us as individuals. We find in the New Testament God’s guidance to make us “individuals” into us as a community. We all need others, even introverts like me. For everyone, Jesus expects us to bond together. We should know and be known by our Christian brothers and sisters. We should find solace in them during times of tragedy, strength during hardships, and shared joy in our blessings.

“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

1 Peter 4:8-11

Essential Attribute

The essential attribute we find in a community of believers is the consistent, holy lives of adults that love and invest in the children of their community. Kids need safety, and they desperately need to see and experience the broad spectrum of personalities, ethnic diversities, and professions of our communities of God-fearing brothers and sisters.

Kids need to see how we settle disagreements (Colossians 3:13) and build Christ-centered communities. We need to live what the apostle Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, “And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all” (1 Thessalonians 5:14). We should learn from what Paul wrote to the church at Corinth,

That there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

1 Corinthians 12:25-27

Our kids need to see and experience how to contribute to the community. Kids need to learn how to give without the expectation of receiving, strengthen the brokenhearted, and weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. We all need this, no matter how long we have served Jesus.

Communities of Believers

The phrase “It takes a village” has become common vernacular. I’m not sure about the village metaphor. Still, I do know that to raise children to be contributors to the kingdom of God, a Christ-centered community is needed, a community abounding in good works and steadfast dedication to living our new lives in Jesus. The local church should be the center and facilitator of a Christian community, but that’s not always the case.

A community of believers can spring up from a common cause, such as a mission to the homeless, a food pantry, prayer meetings, and any overt expressions of “God’s will” can cause a community to be birthed. There are countless communities of international believers that still avoid the “bigness” of their community; they remain personal. After all, it’s not a community if we can’t speak, pray, teach, worship, and work together.

Live in Several Communities

We are not limited to a single community of believers. God has not called us to be gadflies, but there is no command that I’m aware of that constrains us to a single Christian community. The local church should always be and remain our first community. Still, there are others to which God may guide us. Two that come to mind are Faith Driven Entrepreneurs. If you are a Christian small business owner, this is a great community to join and Prison Fellowship (i.e., angel tree).

Good News

So, the good news is that God does not expect you or me to be disconnected from fellow believers. We must pray and seek communities where God has created a place for us. And we should never forget that our local church is our preeminent community in which God desires us to fellowship and grow. And we must commit to what God’s Word says in Romans 12:16, Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.

That’s it. Someday, I hope to join you in a believers’ community!

April 5, 2022

Next Steps: Me? A Leader?

Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me …Then the God of peace will be with you.

But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.

Jesus said: “Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.”

(Philippians 4:9 NLT, James 1:22 NLT, Matthew 7:24 NIV)

When I think each day of posting something to Christianity 201, I focus mostly on the “201” part.  The blog’s tag line is “digging a little deeper.”  However, I try not to post things that would only be of interest to pastors and church leaders, simply because there are sooooooo very many pastor blogs and Christian leadership blogs out there.

However, the time has come to reconcile the two.

As much as many of you want to go deep each day, God is looking for people who are willing to step up.

Put otherwise, much has been given to you, but now much is going to be required of you; or, if you prefer, it’s time to find some application for all the good stuff you’re learning.  It’s time to give back something.

Where to begin?

I think first of all, you have to see yourself as a Christian leader.  If it’s your desire to continue to walk in Christian maturity, you have to redefine yourself as someone who is striving toward being the “go to” person for others not so far along in their faith. The Biblical model of “Paul/Timothy” relationships necessitates forming mentoring relationships, but first, some of you may need to cultivate the desire to be a mentor to others. This may not place you in a visible position — what we called “the front of the room” a few days ago — but may just mean having friends over for coffee more frequently, or having that one person over for coffee; but doing it as intentional ministry.

Second, you need to make an assessment of what the needs are around you.  This is going to begin with developing critical faculties; though you need to remember that this is not the same as having a critical spirit.  You want the former, you don’t want the latter. If this seems like a big deal, don’t worry, some pastors have faced this before and decided to just ask around. They went door-to-door and asked people what the greatest needs were in their community. You can also approach existing leadership and ask what the greatest needs are within the church community. Or you can do a gift assessment and see where your particular gift-set intersects the needs in your church.

Thirdly, you need to vocalize your desire to make a difference to both your faith community and your surrounding (larger) community. As you see yourself differently and begin to look at what’s happening where you live and serve, God will give you a vision, an idea, an expression of a need; and you need to share what God is showing you or giving. “This is what I believe God is showing me,” can be the first nine words of a longer sentence where you make a declaration of your willingness to lead.

The fear is always that people will say, “Who do you think you are?” but I believe that more times than not, you will find God has already prepared people to hear what you are saying.

However, having said all of the above, the leadership role which God wants to see you taking may not be visible in your local congregation at all. Rather, it might involve not leading as we usually think of it, but being able to lead and share both the scriptures and God’s love with an authority in the life of someone else. In other words, it may not involve being a leader to the many, but being a leader to one person at a time.

This is in fact the theme of Kyle Ildeman’s new book One at a Time. While we think of Jesus teaching and then feeding the 5,000+ people, his ministry often involved on person at a time.

And the leadership that God is calling you to might equally not involve crowds, but happen in quiet places.

 

February 8, 2022

Making a Spiritual Checklist, and Checking it Twice

We’re breaking the six-month rule to share an extra devotion with you from our online friends Stephen and Brooksyne Weber who faithfully write devotions at DailyEncouragement.net from their beautiful home in Mount Joy, Pennsylvania where, alongside editing and preparing weekday devotions like this one, they are in full time workplace chaplaincy ministry.

Click the header below to read this where it originated and you might find yourself clicking “previous message” or “next message” to read more!

Taking Spiritual Inventory

Message summary: Taking spiritual inventory enables us to examine ourselves so that we can correct ourselves on a regular basis to make certain we bring glory to God in the manner in which we live our lives.

“But let a man examine himself” (1 Corinthians 11:28a). “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” (2 Corinthians 13:5).

Randy is an inventory control specialist we see at a company that is a wholesale distributor of car wash supplies. The other day I was inquiring about his job and he told me, “I just love inventory”. Now in this day with so much laxness in regard to a solid work ethic his enthusiastic assessment of his job is heartening.

An inventory control specialist tracks inventory and stock changes. Responsibilities include overseeing inventory control, managing deliveries, inspecting inventory, maintaining inventory records, and ordering products. For a well run business it is an essential and very important job. But it’s a good thing that God made people with different gifts and interests because I can’t see myself saying, “I just love inventory”!

But Randy’s comment also prompted me to consider the vital importance of taking personal inventory of our own lives. That’s not something we necessarily enjoy, but it is beneficial since it shines the light on what really matters and that which we need to lay aside and the sin that might easily entangles that keeps us from running with endurance the race that is set before us. (See Hebrews 12)

In taking personal inventory we must reflect inwardly and take stock of our lives. Personal inventory can apply to our health, finances, family, goals and many other areas of life. But today let us consider a spiritual inventory, a self examination of the most important aspect of who we are.

“But let a man examine himself.” Today’s first Scripture verse is in the context of partaking of Communion at the Lord’s Table. Before one eats and drinks of the emblems representing the broken Body and shed blood of Christ he is instructed to “examine himself”. Of utmost importance in this personal spiritual exam is the answer to these foundational questions:

* “Do I have saving faith in Christ?” (Romans 10:8,9).
* “Do I have unconfessed sin in my heart?” (1 John 1:9).

“Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves.” In the second text Paul uses two words (“examine” and “test”) to emphasize his point. “Examine” is the Greek “peirazo” which conveys the sense “to scrutinize”. “Test” (“prove” KJV) is the Greek “dokimazo” which has the sense of discernment.  It implies the expectation of approval and is thus a very positive function. We need to regularly (I believe daily) examine and test our spiritual walk. Let’s confess sin, express faith, and practice obedience daily.

This vitally important exam asks this question, “to see whether you are in the faith”. Then there’s a sobering follow-up question, “Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?”

In his article “The Place Of Self-examination” Bible teacher S. Lewis Johnson comments concerning this verse:

“There are literally millions of professing Christians who need to pay attention to this statement of the apostle. They have entered into a shallow commitment to Christianity, they’ve joined the church, they’ve been baptized or they’ve done other things that might make them think that they are genuine believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. They’ve been encouraged to think that, by men who’ve not been careful to point out that, there is more to becoming a Christian than subscribing to a statement. They don’t hate sin. They don’t love holiness. They do not pray. They do not study the word of God. They do not walk humbly with God. These individuals, so many of them stand in the same danger in which the Corinthians stood. And the apostle’s words, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith, examine yourselves,” are valid words that each of us should ponder.”

Taking spiritual inventory enables us to examine ourselves so that we can correct ourselves on a regular basis to make certain we bring glory to God in the manner in which we live our lives.

Colossians 1:10-12 provides a list of examination items for our consideration. We will phrase them as personal questions:

* Am I living in a manner worthy of the Lord?
* Am I pleasing Him in all respects?
* Am I bearing fruit in every good work?
* Am I increasing in the knowledge of God?
* Am I being strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might?
* Am I attaining steadfastness and patience?
* Am I joyously giving thanks to the Father?

Daily prayer: Father, I ask myself, “Am I living in a manner worthy of Your name? Do I seek to please You rather than myself? Does the fruit of my labor reflect the Spirit of Christ living within my heart? Do I have a zeal for the things of Christ and a desire to know Him better, to reflect His character every day in my life? Am I steady or do I sputter in my Christian influence?” Father, in all these things I want to be more like Christ, consistent in the ways that bring glory to Your name and growth in my spiritual nature. I want my spiritual walk to be the most important pursuit of my life as I journey here below so that I may influence as many as possible to live for Jesus, for it is in His name that I pray. Amen.

Be encouraged today, (Hebrews 3:13)

December 29, 2021

Persons Claiming They Don’t Have Need for Bible Teaching

This is our fifth full-length post from Bill Muehlenberg at the website Culture Watch and it’s only the first part of a longer article. You’ll need to click through to continue reading some of the reactions he had when he posted this. It’s a very timely topic right now, especially as people have used Covid-19 as an excuse to sever themselves from local churches. Click the header which follows.

Difficult Bible Passages: 1 John 2:27

This is another passage that is so often abused and misused. That is the main reason it can be so difficult or problematic. A subtitle to this article might be: “This Is How Cults Arise”. That is because those who mangle this verse are prime candidates for the cults or may well already be in one.

The verse says this:

“As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him.”

This verse, and John 14:16-17, 26 and John 16:13, are so often wrongly appropriated by some believers. The texts in John’s gospel are a bit different: they refer to the fact that Jesus will soon be leaving his disciples, and he wants to assure them that he is not abandoning them, but he is leaving the Holy Spirit with them to assist and guide them.

These verses are often used by those who claim that they have no need of “human” anything: human learning, human teaching, human counsel, human books, human study, etc. They imply that they have a direct pipeline to God, so are totally self-sufficient in and of themselves. They have no need of anyone else.

I just wrote about these “Holy Spirit-only” believers. At the end of the day what we have are not super-spiritual believers, but usually arrogant and fleshly Christians: billmuehlenberg.com/2019/01/26/holy-spirit-only-christians/

In a moment I will give a concrete example of this sort of twisted thinking. But first, how might we answer this? It is quite easy actually. If we simply run with the two most basic rules of biblical interpretation, we will have no problems here at all:
1) study every text in its context
2) compare scripture with scripture

As to the first, the context shows that John is dealing with some heretical, Gnostic, and/or secessionist teachers who were claiming special spiritual insights and revelations. It is THOSE sorts of false teachers that these Christians have no need of, and need to avoid.

Concerning the second, it is clear from numerous biblical passages that we DO need teachers, counsellors, advisors, overseers, etc. – all of them “mere” humans. The New Testament everywhere speaks of how God has given teachers and others to the Body of Christ to help it grow and develop.

Simply based on all these other texts, there is absolutely NO way anyone could believe that John is saying we should not have teachers. Indeed, the letters of John are ALL ABOUT teaching, instruction and helpful information to believers. Throughout the New Testament human teaching – properly understood – is NOT being downplayed, but extolled and encouraged.

I realize that these hyper-spiritual types especially dislike things like biblical commentaries, but let me quote from just a few of them anyway. While they may despise and look down upon these godly biblical teachers, I am happy to run with their Spirit-directed wisdom and insights.

One of these great Spirit-endowed men of God was John Stott. He said this about the passage in his commentary:

True, in the last resort the Holy Spirit is our absolutely adequate Teacher, and we maintain our right of private judgment by His illumination of the Word of God. But we must see this verse in the context of an Epistle in which John is, in fact, teaching those who, he says, have no need of human teachers! And other passages of the New Testament refer not only to the general ministry of teaching in the Church (e.g. Acts 4:18, 5:28, 42; 2 Tim. 2:24) but also to specially gifted ‘teachers’ (1 Cor. 12:29; Eph 4:11).

Obviously John’s epistles are full of teaching and instruction. As James Montgomery Boice puts it:

When John says that the Christians of his day “do not need anyone to teach” them, the statement must be understood in its context. It does not mean, for instance, that there is no value at all in teaching or that there is no such thing as a teaching ministry in the church. In fact, as Bruce observes, “What is John himself doing in this letter if he is not ‘teaching’ his readers?

Or as Marianne Meye Thompson comments:

While ultimately the Spirit “will teach you all things” (Jn 14:26), the Spirit does so through human beings. Thus, when the Elder writes you do not need anyone to teach you, he does not mean that they have never needed any teachers—for he himself was and continues to be their teacher! But they do not now suddenly need new teaching about Jesus, such as the secessionists are offering.

Let me now turn to some recent remarks that came my way on all this…

[…continue reading here]

October 3, 2021

Getting Younger with Each New Day

He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.
 – Isaiah 40:29 NIV

But those who trust in the LORD will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.
 – Isaiah 40:31 NLT

Years ago I had an interesting conversation with a guy who I figured to be at least a decade older than myself. When the conversation ended he left, but then he returned and said he just wanted to share a verse with me. He then quoted II Cor 4:16 to me from the KJV:

For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward [man] is renewed day by day.

Most of you would know this better from the NIV:

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.

He then went on to tell me that he has been told, and has felt that he is “getting younger.” He said he felt more rejuvenated, and more energetic than at any time in his life.

This is not the first time an older follower of Christ has told me something like this. A woman told me that she’d noticed that the new hair growth on her head was coming in darker, replacing the grey hairs.

Looking for a way to respond somehow, I told him — and I hope this didn’t sound too new age — that he was simply filled with fresh passion about his faith and that he was drawing on the energy from that passion. He didn’t argue that point.

That’s the kind of faith to aim for; a faith that is vibrant and exciting and informs the other areas that make up the four parts of you: your mind, your social interactions, your emotions; and even your physical body. (See this four-part division in Luke 2:52.)

Renewal Means Being Made New

There was once an SNL skit by the comedian who played a priest in which he talked about a planet where people reached a certain age and then started getting younger. The punchline was something to the effect that “you didn’t know if someone was coming or going.” It’s not applicable here except insofar as it introduces “outside the box” thinking. Renewal — if you really think about it — is just that; being made new.

Paul tells the Corinthians,

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (II-5:7)

I once heard someone say that the Greek on this passage is not talking about a metamorphosis like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly, but more like a caterpillar turning into a “winged elephant.” In other words, anyone in Christ becomes (his words): “a species of being that never existed before.” So we are all not who we were, we are changed and are being changed.

The idea of “getting younger” goes against the basic rules of science, but with God anything is possible. In John 3:3, Jesus introduces Nicodemus to the idea of being “born again.” In the next verse Nick asks the obvious question,

“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
 – NIV

In the upside-down kingdom Jesus brings, the new birth isn’t quite that dramatic, but it’s just as significant. The man I met said he is “getting younger” and frankly, I have no reason to believe he is not.

Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.
 – Isaiah 41:10 NLT

Renewal Means the Dead are Made Alive

A parallel comparison can be constructed from the more central idea of scripture that, rather than looking at the aged recovering youthful vigor, we should be looking at those who are spiritual dead — which was all of us at one time — being given new life.

This is the message of 1 Corinthians 15:22

Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life. (NLT)

A new energy. A fresh start. A clean slate.

How can anyone walk way from that offer?

 

September 1, 2021

I Am Peter

NIV.Luke.22.54b Peter followed at a distance. 55 And when some there had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. 56 A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, “This man was with him.”

57 But he denied it. “Woman, I don’t know him,” he said.

58 A little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.”

“Man, I am not!” Peter replied.

59 About an hour later another asserted, “Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.”

60a Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!”

Katie Davis Majors is an American missionary and author who established a mission in Uganda in 2007, and tells her story in the books, Kisses from Katie: A Story of Relentless Love and Redemption (2011) and Daring to Hope: Finding God’s Goodness in the Broken and the Beautiful (2017).

Two days ago a Facebook friend took the time to copy what follows from Katie’s journal, though I was unable to source where that journal was located. This might be a transcription of one of the books.

You can read more about Katie’s work at Amazima Ministries, where you will also find her blog.

I Am Peter

Peter is the rock on which God built his church. But first, Peter was probably the worst disciple ever.

I am Peter.

Jesus tells Peter that he will deny him 3 times; Peter says, “No! I love you, I could never deny you, Lord.” Yet we all know that Peter does in fact deny Jesus three times. I know in my heart and my soul and the core of my being that I love the Lord, that I would do anything for Him, go to the ends of the earth for him, but how often do I forget to give the glory to his name? How often do I take the compliments without giving him the credit?

Do I, like Peter, deny Jesus the glory that is his?

Jesus told his disciples that it was God’s will for him to be arrested. He went willingly when the soldiers came to take him, but enthusiastically, loving Peter raised his sword and cut off a soldiers ear. “Put your sword away,” Jesus commanded. “Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”

I am Peter.

I have my own time frame. When I don’t see things happening, I try to make them happen. And Jesus says “Put away your sword, put away your plans. Shall we not do what the Father has asked of us?” So like Peter, I put away my plans, my defenses, and watch as everything happens perfectly, in God’s own timing.

After Jesus had risen, he appeared to his disciples while they were fishing. When Peter saw his beloved Saviour, he excitedly jumped out of the boat and began swimming to where Jesus stood. Needless to say, the boat probably reached the shore long before Peter.

I am Peter- excitedly jumping into things and then standing, sopping wet, at the feet of the Lord, smiling at my stupidity.

I am Peter who made many mistakes, but I am Peter for whom God had great plans, whom God established to do his work.

That very night when Peter jumped out of the boat, Jesus reinstated him in the presence of the other disciples.

“Do you truly love me?” He asked. “Then feed my lambs.”

“Do you really love me? Take care of my lambs.”

“Peter, do you love me? Feed my sheep, and come follow me.”

For each time I deny God the glory that is his, for each time I follow my will instead of listening to his, for each time I jump ahead without first consulting my Lord, he asks, “Daughter, do you truly love me?”

And I do.

‘I am Peter. I mess up. I make mistakes, I am far from perfect, and God will use me. God will establish great things through me.

You are Peter. God already knows that you will make a mess, but his plan for you is great. Go feed his sheep.

June 4, 2021

Vowing not to be Distracted

Earlier today a popular internet web-browser introduced an update which left users confounded and frustrated. Using my phone, I typed some keywords and started thinking about the number of businesses and individuals who couldn’t get work done that they needed to prioritize because of this distraction, and my mind immediately went to our key verse in Nehemiah.

The first time I looked at this passage here, in 2013, I called it “Try Our Signature Dish!” The reason? Restaurants have signature meals, a particular menu item that the place is well known for and with each menu revision, it’s always left intact. Preachers have signature sermon series as well, a particular book of the Bible for which they have great affinity and/or expertise, or if they are academics, a particular commentary that they have authored that stands apart from all their other writing. For Andy Stanley, who introduced me to this passage, the signature dish is the Book of Nehemiah — you can read more in his book Visioneering — and when he preaches it, the key verses are:

Neh 6:2 Sanballat and Geshem sent me this message: “Come, let us meet together in one of the villages on the plain of Ono.”

But they were scheming to harm me; 3 so I sent messengers to them with this reply: “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?” 4 Four times they sent me the same message, and each time I gave them the same answer. (NIV)

Nehemiah had obtained special permission take what we would call today “a leave of absence” from his duties to the king to return home and rebuild the walls of his city, which had crumbled.

This is a passage about distractions in all areas of life, but especially distractions that can take us away from spending time with God and doing God’s work. In Nehemiah’s case the distraction was relentless. “Four times they sent me the same message, and each time I gave the same reply.” (v4)

Matthew Henry notes the specifics of those appeals:

  • When they courted him to an interview, with design to do him a mischief, he would not stir (v. 1-4).
  • When they would have made him believe his undertaking was represented as seditious and treasonable, he regarded not the insinuation (v. 5-9).
  • When they hired pretended prophets to advise him to retire into the temple for his own safety, still he kept his ground (v. 10-14).
  • Notwithstanding the secret correspondence that was kept up between them and some false and treacherous Jews, the work was finished in a short time (v. 15-19).

Author Steven J. Cole portrays Nehemiah’s refusals as a story you might get in your news feed:

Nehemiah Says No to Ono

Samaritan officials have disclosed that Nehemiah, governor of Judah, has again turned down the offer of Governor Sanballat of Samaria to meet at one of the villages in Ono, on the Judah-Samaria border. The proposed conference would include the Big Four of the area: Geshem, leader of the Arabs; Tobiah, leader of the Ammonites; Sanballat, and Nehemiah.

Sanballat issued a statement today in which he sharply criticized Nehemiah for his repeated refusals to cooperate. He reports that the purpose of such a meeting would be to work on a formula for lasting peace in the region. The Samaritan leader said with evident frustration, “This is the fourth time Nehemiah has turned down my invitation to meet and discuss our mutual concerns. These repeated refusals mean that the responsibility for increasing tensions and any violence that may result, rests solely upon Jerusalem.” (Adapted from Donald Campbell, Nehemiah: Man in Charge [Victor Books], p. 55.)

(If you want an excellent detailed commentary on this passage, the above link for that one is the one to choose!)

There have been several times in my life I’ve wanted to quote verse 3 to people, “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down;” but I’m not sure they would get the reference.

Blogger Alyson Browning calls this one of three marks of leadership:

…Third mark of leadership – ignore the annoying distractions (chapter 6). In this chapter, we see the enemies of God – Sanballet, Tobiah, and Geshem – attempting to discourage and distract Nehemiah from everything he was doing to rebuild the city of Jerusalem. Nehemiah ignores their plot to distract and harm him. He gives this now famous response, “I am doing a great work and cannot come down. Why should the work cease while I leave it and go down to you?” (6:3, HCSB). Nehemiah kept his focus on the task God had for his life and ignored those who were trying to distract him.

Christopher Scott notes that we’re getting an inside look in this story:

One of the reasons I love the book of Nehemiah is that it allows the reader to peek inside the heart of Nehemiah because it was written as a memoir from Nehemiah. Most of the books of the Bible tell about events that happened, but rarely do they tell about the thoughts and feelings of the biblical characters. However, because the book of Nehemiah was written as a memoir, we get to take a peek past what has happened and actually read about what Nehemiah was thinking and feeling.

Michael “Sinbad” Creighton writes:

Nehemiah was doing something that could only be blamed on God. He led a group of people in the rebuilding of the wall around the city of Jerusalem and completed it in only 52 DAYS! And all through the process, he had distractors and distractions. Check it out here. And every time he stood firm in what God was leading and equipping him to do.

Notice the first line of the 2nd paragraph (italics added) here from Steven Ruff:

Proponents and opponents: those for and against something. Every leader has both in the circle of influence. Nehemiah was no different. He had received word of the condition of Jerusalem’s walls and his heart was broken. He had prayed, sensing a God-given mission, and approached the king for assistance. He made the long trip to Jerusalem, surveyed the situation first-hand, and gave a reasonable and attainable goal to the people. When Sanballat and Tobiah approached Nehemiah, sounding like children on the playground, a choice had to be made. Does he move forward with his plans or does he come down off the wall and argue with them about the legitimacy of his work? Does he make wise use of his time and strength by carrying out the work or does he waste time, energy, and strength arguing whether it could or could not be accomplished? Nehemiah chose in that pivotal and critical moment to not argue. As the work continued and his opponent’s displeasure became louder, he later made his decision known, loud and clear. He said, “So I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down. Why should the work cease while I leave it and go down to you?” [Nehemiah 6:3]

There is a difference between casting and defending a vision before those you lead and arguing with them about the legitimacy of that vision. There is a difference between answering legitimate questions from the organization and arguing with them about it. The difference : the opponent’s spirit. Nehemiah opponents were not genuinely concerned with his vision. They were not there to understand better the work at hand. They were not there to investigate how they might be involved. Instead, their spirit was one that simply wanted to see the work stopped and the Israelites embarrassed. Period. Leaders must decide where they will spend their precious time, strength, and energy. Will they spend it helping their opponents who genuinely want to better understand their vision and decision? Or, will they spend it arguing with an opponent who only wishes to see the work stop or fail? Nehemiah answers this question for us. Leaders lead confidently and choose not to argue, instead, inform and encourage. Ed Stetzer sums this matter up perfectly. He said, “You do not have to show up to every argument you are invited to.”

Conclusion: This is from Kendra Graham writing at the Billy Graham Training Center website:

When the opposition hears of the work that God is doing, it will raise eyebrows and tempers. Be prepared for opposition when you start doing what God has called you to do…When you do work for God, ill meaning people, but also many well meaning people and noble causes may try to steal your attention. These are not bad things, but are not the things God has called you to. Be on guard. Know what God has called you to and have confidence in that.

Like Andy Stanley, I’ve tried to take ownership of this passage, helped by the fact I’ve heard him refer to it several times. I hope you’ll find the spirit of this principle useful in the days ahead.

From Eugene Peterson, Ephesians 6:

The Message.Eph.6.10-12 And that about wraps it up. God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no weekend war that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels.

13-18 Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.

May 27, 2021

Does Any and Every Sin Cancel You Out as a Christian?

Thinking Through 1st John 2:29-3:10

by Clarke Dixon

Have you ever felt like you just don’t measure up as a Christian? You believe in Jesus, but you don’t believe you have achieved the kind of sinless perfection you think a Christian should have?

Perhaps a church or a Christian has made you feel that way. I remember well having coffee with a student from a certain Bible college while I was at seminary. It felt like an interrogation and I’m not sure I passed the test of “good enough” to be a Christian in his mind.

Perhaps you don’t need any help in feeling you don’t measure up. You get there all on your own.

Perhaps the Bible sometimes makes you feel like you don’t measure up. For example,

2:29 If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who does right has been born of him.

3:1-10 See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him . . .  Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.  You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.  No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. Everyone who commits sin is a child of the devil; for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The Son of God was revealed for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. Those who have been born of God do not sin, because God’s seed abides in them; they cannot sin, because they have been born of God. The children of God and the children of the devil are revealed in this way: all who do not do what is right are not from God, nor are those who do not love their brothers and sisters.

1 John 2:29 – 3:1,4-10 (NRSV emphasis added)

Discouraged yet? Actually, as we dig into what John has written here, we will find great encouragement.

Let us keep in mind what we learned last week, that John had been speaking about false teachers who tried to change the facts about Jesus to fit their thinking, when they should have changed their thinking to fit the facts about Jesus. They were missing the mark on their teaching on who Jesus was and is. But here is what is important for us to know in understanding our passage today; they were also missing the mark on what it looks like to follow Jesus.

The false teachers got the identity of Jesus wrong, but they also missed the teaching of Jesus on loving God, neighbour, and one’s enemies. In getting the identity of Jesus wrong, they also missed the example of Jesus on loving God, neighbour, and one’s enemies, namely, the incarnation, death and resurrection.

John’s point here in 1st John 2:29-3:10 is that these false teachers are easy to spot. Not only do they try to change Jesus, they don’t live Jesus focused lives:

  • They don’t do what is right (see 2:29 and 3:7 above).
  • They have no concern for sin (see 3:4-6 above).
  • They have no concern for destroying the works of the devil, for overturning evil (see 3:8 above).
  • They have no conscience (see 3:9 above).

The false teachers were easy to spot, and in our passage John gave the early readers the way to notice them easily:

Here’s how you tell the difference between God’s children and the Devil’s children: The one who won’t practice righteous ways isn’t from God, nor is the one who won’t love brother or sister. A simple test.

1 John 3:10 (The Message)

John’s intention was not to discourage the Christians he was writing to. He was not writing to make them doubt their salvation over each and every sin they might commit. Nor was he writing to discourage us today. He was writing to discourage them, and us, from following false teachers, who were, and are, easy to spot by their lack of Jesus-focused lives. In fact he is very encouraging when he highlights the identity of the readers:

What marvelous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at it—we’re called children of God! That’s who we really are.

1st John 3:1 (The Message)

There is no hint here of “be sure to never, ever, ever sin, and if you do, then you are a child of the devil!” No, rather you are the children of God, but watch out for the false teachers who are the children of the devil.

Jesus spends quite some time teaching us to think of ourselves as God’s children. He teaches us to pray “Our Father” in the Lord’s Prayer. In fact Jesus gives many references to thinking of God as our father throughout the Sermon on the Mount where we find that prayer in Matthew’s Gospel.

John had also highlighted the opportunity to become children of God in his Gospel account:

He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.

John 1:11-13 (NLT)

As children of God, we are those whose lives are being transformed by Jesus through the work of the Holy Spirit. We may not be perfect, but we live Jesus-focused lives:

  • We have a concern for righteousness (see 2:29 and 3:7 above).
  • we have joined and are actively playing for “Team Jesus” (see 3:4-6 above, plus an eariler “Shrunk Sermon” on 1st John 2:1-6. Yes, we make mistakes and the other team may score because of those mistakes, but there is forgiveness, we are still on the team, and the other team scoring is never what we want).
  • We are those who participate apte in God’s plan of destroying the works of the devil, of dealing with evil (see 3:8 above).
  • We have a conscience (see 3:9 above).

Though John does not mention the Holy Spirit in our passage, the Holy Spirit is here, the Holy Spirit is involved:

So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children.

Romans 8:15-16 (NLT)

There is a spiritual rebirth that happens, a transformation as we begin to show a family resemblance to our heavenly Father, even though we are still children.

Jesus teaches us to come to God like a small child:

I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.”

Mark 10:15 (NLT)

When a small child is called to the dinner table, does the child ask “do I deserve dinner tonight?” When we are sitting at dinner with God, we are not worried about our standing before God. But we will have a natural desire to be “just like Dad.”

We belong, we are a children of God. Let us not fret about whether we measure up, anxious that any and every sin will cancel us out as Christians, but instead let us continue to take our place at God’s table, growing into this beautiful relationship with our heavenly Father.


The full message on which this is based may be viewed on its own, or as part of this “online worship expression

April 25, 2021

He Formed Us and is Still Forming Us

For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.Psalm 139: 13, 14a

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. – Philippians 1:6 NIV

And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image. – 2 Corinthians 3:18b NLT

for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. – Philippians 2:13

Earlier today I had a sense that today’s devotional should center around the “fearfully and wonderfully made” phrase from Psalm 139. I knew that many are already familiar with the Psalm and was hoping to find some insight I had never considered before. I was very quickly and unexpectedly rewarded.

I met Syd Hielema once while he was chaplain of Redeemer University. He wrote the devotions which appear below for Today, a publication of the Christian Reformed Church in Canada and the United States. I don’t if he was thinking the same thing that I got from reading them, but these appeared on consecutive days, in the same order you see them below! (Click the headers below to read them at Today.)

Wonderfully Made—and Remade

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made. . . . Search me, God. . . . See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. — Psalm 139:14, 23-24

These verses from Psalm 139 remind us that while each one of us is a beautiful creation of the Lord, there are also offensive ways inside us that need to be dealt with.

After the fall into sin (described in Genesis 3), we human beings continue to live as precious works of the Creator while also needing to be redeemed from sin and brokenness. So in his great and amazing love for us, God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to pay the price for our sin and to give us new life forever with him. And now the Spirit of God lives in us, guiding us to become like Jesus. He leads us “in the way everlasting.”

The apostle Paul describes it this way: “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20), giving us one of the clearest statements in the Bible about dying to live.

The fact that we are fearfully and wonderfully made—and remade—leads to some of the most glorious announcements in Scripture, like this one: “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10).

Prayer

Thank you, Father, Son, and Spirit, for your gifts of creation and redemption. Continue to search us and to lead us in your way ever­lasting. Amen.

Refined Toward Wholeness

We know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. — 1 John 3:2

The word lavish doesn’t occur very often in the Bible, so its use here in 1 John 3 is striking: “See what great love the Father has lavished on us . . . !” This is where our salvation begins: with the overwhelming, overflowing love of God.

John then continues by contrasting what is now (“we are children of God!”) with what will be: “we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” And this describes the finished project, the good work in us that God is bringing to completion (Philippians 1:6). Now we see “only a reflection as in a mirror” (1 Corinthians 13:12), but when we see Christ as he is, we shall be like him.

“All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure,” says John. Hope in Jesus is the bridge, the link between the love lavished on us now and becoming like him when he appears. This is love that is determined to bring us home. This hope is not wishful thinking; this is active hope, purifying hope—that is, hope that surrenders to the purifying fire of the Spirit of God as he burns away every part of us that is not pure and good.

It’s a good habit to look back over each day, give it up to God, and pray some words like these:

Prayer

Lord, use your purifying fire to burn away the parts of me that hurt and dishonor you and others. Help me to die to those things so that I can really live, filled with the wholeness of Jesus. Thank you, Lord, for the good work you have begun in me. Keep purifying me each day. Amen.

April 19, 2021

Just Because You Profess Faith Doesn’t Mean You Possess Faith

Today, a really good message for us which, regardless of where you stand on the eternal security spectrum will cause you to dig in to some scripture and good thoughts.

Where the writer talks about Baptists below, substitute your own denomination’s name.

This is our first time at the blog at First Baptist Church of Scott City, Missouri where Jeremy Sells is the pastor. Click the title below to read this on its original source page.

The Horror of Dull Hearing

Scripture: Hebrews 6:1-12

Entering hell is horrific enough, but how much more horrifying would it be to do so after sitting many years on a cushioned Baptist pew? Here is the warning from our next section of Hebrews: those who are not truly converted and do not have the Spirit of God within them will eventually fall away. They may attend Sunday School, Church Worship Services, tithe, serve, pray, and read their Bible; but, Jesus will say to them one day: I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness (Matt 7:23).

Last week we discussed the danger of dull hearing. The writer of Hebrews is addressing those who profess faith in Jesus and lamenting over their current spiritual condition that they have obtained over time. At first they received the word of God cheerfully and with humility but now they have become dull of hearing. Over a period of time, they have become numb and inattentive to the teaching of Christ and they now have a lack of interest or excitement about these things.

Because of this, the writer of Hebrews sounds an alarm: those who refuse to seek repentance for their dull hearing are in danger of falling away (apostasy). Apostasy can either be a renunciation of the essential doctrines of the faith and embracing false teachings that claim to be true or it can be a renunciation of the Christian faith in its entirety which results in a full abandonment of Jesus Christ.

I Can’t Fall Away…I’m Baptist!

But wait, we are Baptists! Baptists do not believe a person can lose their salvation, so why are we talking about falling away from the faith? While true faith cannot be lost, too many people who profess faith do not actually possess faith. They are not actually born again and they are in danger of falling away and being unable to be renewed (Heb 6:6). And they fill our churches. But first, let’s establish the clear teaching of Scripture that genuine faith cannot be lost.

We believe those who are truly born again will be preserved by God. Ephesians 1:13-14 tells us we are sealed by the Holy Spirit as a guarantee. Philippians 1:6 says God will bring His good work in us to completion. Jude 1:24 explicitly says, “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of His glory with great joy. Not to mention Paul’s great exposition of God’s great eternal love for His elect in Romans 8:26-39. Having established this truth, however, does not diminish the threat of apostasy.

Can I Fall Away?

Apostasy involves a person who believes they are saved but are not truly born again renouncing their previously held belief. Sadly, many Baptists have become apostates. The book of Hebrews has five warnings scattered throughout (see 2:1-4; 3:7-4:13; 5:11-6:12; 10:19-39; 12:14-29). These warnings are a means by which true believers are preserved. Genuine believers hear the warning and take heed. False believers hear the warning and ignore it or explain it away.

So, here is the moment of testing: what are you doing with these warnings? Do you hear them and examine yourself or excuse yourself? Do you hear them and ask God to expose areas of your life that need growth or do you seek to ignore the message and distract yourself with other things? If you are the former, be encouraged that God is preserving you. If you are the latter, be warned that God’s stripping you of your false profession in order to bring you to repentance. If you fail to heed His warnings, you will find yourself handed over to judgment and falling away.

Apostasy is the unforgivable sin (blasphemy of the Holy Spirit (Luke 12:8-12) and the sin leading to death (1 John 5:16) in which it is impossible to renew them again to repentance.” It is not a one-time act, but a process of continually dulling your hearing. Eventually the line is crossed in which you are handed over by God to judgment.

How Do I Not Fall Away?

How do you not fall away? First, recognize that salvation is by grace through faith and not of works (Eph 2:8-9). It’s not a matter of doing more or trying harder. Our salvation comes down to a personal relationship with Jesus. How do you develop relationships? You love the person, trust the person, and seek what is best for them. This is true of Jesus. We are to love Him and trust Him. We want our relationship to grow and deepen. To do this we need to grow in maturity. We need to leave the elementary teaching about Christ.

This does not mean you abandon it as unnecessary, but to grasp it and use it to move forward towards greater knowledge. For example, if an elementary school teacher tells her class, “We shall leave the learning of the letters in order to focus on words”, this does not mean the letters are abandoned, but are now used to help the students press on to a greater understanding of the English language. How do you not fall away? Keep on towards maturity in the faith. Keep on seeking Jesus. We need solid food, not milk. We need our senses trained by practice to discern between good and evil. Press on to maturity.

Better Things!

In the discussion of the danger of falling away, the writer of Hebrews offers this encouragement to those who heed God’s gracious warnings: “Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things–things that belong to salvation (Heb 6:9). The encouragement is that God does not overlook your work and the love that you showed for His sake in serving the saints (Heb 6:10). So, for those who love God, have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promise (Heb 6:11-12).

 

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