Rejoice! (Deuteronomy 12)

Whenever you read the Bible, it’s always good to look for words and ideas that are repeated. Of course, even if God says something only once, we should pay attention. But when he repeats something, we know it’s something really important to him.

What words do we see repeated again and again in this passage?

“Rejoice.” The word sometimes also has the idea of “enjoy” and you see this in some translations.

“You will eat there in the presence of the LORD your God and rejoice with our household in everything you do, because the Lord your God has blessed you.” (7)

“You will rejoice before the LORD your God.” (12)

“Rejoice before the LORD your God in everything you do.” (18)

God wants us to enjoy the blessings he has given us. More than that, he wants us to rejoice in the Giver of those blessings.

It reminds me of Philippians 4:4 where Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”

If there is one cure to spiritual amnesia in our lives, it’s rejoicing in the Lord.

So take time today to rejoice. Rejoice in the cross. Rejoice in Christ’s resurrection. Rejoice in your salvation. Rejoice in God’s provision. Rejoice!

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Our calling (Deuteronomy 10)

The calling of the Levites as described in verse 8 really strikes me. Moses said,

At that time the Lord set apart the tribe of Levi to carry the ark of the Lord’s covenant, to stand before the Lord to serve him, and to pronounce blessings in his name, as it is today. (8)

How does this apply to us in the modern day?

The ark of the covenant was a symbol of God’s presence. And just as the Levites carried with them the presence of God, we as Christians do the same. But we have something even better than an ark. God the Holy Spirit actually dwells within us. And everywhere we go, people should see Him in us.

The Levites were to stand before the Lord to serve him. The picture there is of a servant standing at his master’s side, just waiting for his command. And that is the attitude we are to have every moment of every day. We are to have eyes and ears turned to our Lord, remembering that we are not doing mere ordinary work. We are serving the King, doing kingdom work.

And finally, we are to bless people in His name. First and foremost, that means to bring people into the presence of God. Again, God dwells in us. And our words and our actions as we interact with them should bring them into contact with the living God.

Do mine? I hope so. But there are many times I fail in that. There are also times I fail to hear my Lord’s direction and commands.

Lord, you have set me apart for yourself. Forgive me for the times I have failed you. Thank you for your grace that picks me up. Give me eyes to see what you’re doing around me, and ears to hear what you want me to do. Let others see you in me, and may they too come to know the blessing that comes from being in your presence. In Jesus name, amen.

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Our motive for holiness (Deuteronomy 7)

God’s words here seem very harsh. “Devote the nations in Canaan to complete destruction. Make no covenant with them and show no mercy to them.”

Why so harsh? Because they hated God and were in rebellion against him, their Creator and rightful ruler (10). He had given them over 400 years to repent, and yet they had only gotten worse. (Deuteronomy 7:25, Genesis 15:16, Leviticus 18).

God is patient, but those who unrepentantly shake their fist at God will ultimately be judged.

The amazing thing, though, is that we were in rebellion against God too. But while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). And though there was nothing special about us, God set his love on us and chose us, making us his people (I Peter 2:9-10, Ephesians 2:11-22).

That is our motivation for holiness. Not to earn God’s love and acceptance. Not to become his child. But because we already have God’s love and acceptance as a child of God.

So let us not be ensnared by the things God hates. Let us not allow anything he hates into our houses. Not porn, nor sexual sin, nor anything else that leads to spiritual death. Make no covenant with sin, but by the Spirit’s power, let us vanquish these things from our homes.

And out of gratefulness and love for God, let us live holy lives that are pleasing to him.

 

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Our testimony to the next generation (Deuteronomy 6)

There is so much in this passage that is worth talking about.

God warned the people, “Don’t take me and what I’ve done for you for granted. Don’t forget, especially when things are good in your life.” (10-13)

And “Don’t take a rebellious attitude toward me, questioning my love and loyalty to you.” (16)

But the thing I want to focus on is verse 20-24.

When your children, the next generation asks you, “Why do you follow God? Why do you do what he says,” what will you say? What is your testimony of how God has worked in your life?

It’s good to think about these things. For one thing, it helps us keep a heart of thanksgiving. But for another, our kids, the next generation needs to know what God did for us. They need to know that God is not just someone who did things 2000 years ago. They need to know God is alive and active today.

Do you share with your children and others of the next generation what God has done in your life?

For that matter, do you share with your friends, coworkers, and relatives all he has done for you?

What is your testimony?

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Resting to remember (Deuteronomy 5)

I talked last week about the danger of taking God for granted.

It is a danger that the Israelites definitely fell into time and again. It was for that reason that God instituted the Sabbath.

In recounting the Ten Commandments, Moses told the Israelites this.

Be careful to remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy as the Lord your God has commanded you…Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out of there with a strong hand and an outstretched arm. That is why the Lord your God has commanded you to keep the Sabbath day. (12, 15)

Why did God command the Sabbath? So that the Israelites would remember God’s goodness to them. To remember how he had freed them from slavery in Egypt. To remember all the great miracles he performed to deliver them.

But I think you can say that God didn’t want them to just remember. He wanted them to rejoice.

As Christians, the Sabbath itself is no longer binding on us. (Colossians 2:16)

That said, it is good to set aside one day a week to go to church, not out of mere habit or duty, but to remember and rejoice. To remember what Jesus did on a cross two thousand years ago. To think about all God did to call us to himself. And to rejoice that God has rescued us from the domain of darkness and brought us into the kingdom  of the Son he loves, redeeming us, and forgiving all our sins. (Colossians 1:11-14)

What is Sunday to you? Just a day to relax? A day to serve God? Those are good things. But let us remember to also make it a day to remember and rejoice.

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Taking God for granted (Deuteronomy 1-2)

One of the main themes we see in these two chapters is the rebellion of the Israelites, refusing to enter the land God had promised them. As a result, they wandered around in the wilderness until the generation who had rebelled died.

What really is amazing about it all is their complete lack of trust.

Consider.

God had set the Israelites free from slavery through miracle after miracle.

Every day, God provided them food to eat, literally giving them bread from heaven.

Night and day, they could see the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire which represented God’s presence.

And yet they would not trust him. In fact, they utterly rebelled against him.

Sometimes people wonder why God doesn’t make himself more visible to us. If he did, more people would believe in him, right? But if the history of the Israelites teaches us one thing, it wouldn’t matter. People still wouldn’t believe. People would still rebel against God.

I still have to ask the question, though. How the Israelites could fail to trust God after all he had done? How is it they could rebel against him?

Perhaps the best answer is: they took God for granted. The pillar of cloud and pillar of fire may have been special at first, but after a while, they got used to seeing it, not really thinking about what it really meant: that God was with them, leading them, watching over them, and protecting them.

At first the manna was something special. They said in wonder, “What is this?”

But after days of gathering and eating it, the manna too became something much less special. They forgot what it meant: God was miraculously providing their needs.

The result? They lost their gratitude. They lost their wonder of God.

How about you? Do you take God for granted? Have you lost your gratitude toward God? Have you lost your wonder of God?

At best, losing our gratitude and wonder steals away all our passion toward God.

At worst, it causes us to rebel against him.

When you think about God and all he’s done for you, especially, the cross, do you still have a heart of gratitude and wonder?

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When we rejoice (Philippians 4)

I wrote last week about how we are commanded to rejoice.

We see it again in this passage.

And as I read it, it made me think, “What happens when we rejoice?”

First and foremost, it gets our eyes on Jesus and all the good that we have in him.

The result?

It helps us be more gracious to those who are hard to get along with. (1-3, 5)

It reminds us that the Lord is near. (4)

It takes away anxiety in our lives and reminds us that God is worthy of our trust. (5-6)

It gives us peace. (7)

So as Paul said, let us rejoice in the Lord. Let us rejoice in the Lord who is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy. (8)

Or as David put it,

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his faithful love endures forever. (Psalm 118:1)

 

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Because Christ took hold of me. (Philippians 3)

As I read this passage, it made me think about a wrong way of thinking that many Christians have.

What is that way of thinking?

“I need to get God to accept me. I’m not worthy of his love, so I have to prove it to him.”

As a result, when they fall (and we all fall), many Christians get discouraged.

But Paul says something very important in verse 12. He indeed strove for perfection in his life. His desire was to become like Jesus in every way.

But why? To earn God’s favor?

No. Because Jesus had already taken hold of him (12). Because Jesus already loved him and saved him. Because Jesus had already clothed Paul with His righteousness (9).

And that’s why Paul didn’t get discouraged when he sinned. That’s why he didn’t just give up despite his struggles to be like Jesus.

Instead, he could say,

Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus. (13-14)

Because God already accepted and loved him, whenever Paul fell, he just kept getting up and pushing forward.

That’s the Christian life. We don’t have to wonder if we’ll ever “arrive” as Christians. That’s guaranteed. Not because of what we do. But because of what Jesus has already done.

So like Paul, don’t get discouraged by your sin and your failures. Simply get up, dust yourself off, and keep pushing forward.

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Kingdom people (Philippians 1)

Recently, I’ve been thinking about discipleship and what it means. What kind of people are we trying to raise? When Jesus raised his disciples, what kind of people was he trying to raise?

The best words I could put to it was: kingdom people.

What are kingdom people?

They are people who see life through a whole new perspective, and as a result, have totally different priorities as well.

When you look at the Sermon on the Mount in particular, but also all the other things Jesus taught, you see that he was trying to completely change the way his disciples thought.

He taught them that the Kingdom of God was not for those the world considers spiritual supermen and superwomen. It’s for those who lack any “qualifications” for being loved and accepted by God (Matthew 5:3). It’s for those who struggle with pain in their life (Matthew 5:4). It’s for people who struggle with sin and yet hunger for thirst for righteousness (Matthew 5:6). It is those people that Jesus says are blessed.

And as we see God’s grace and mercy in their lives, we go out and show mercy to others (Matthew 5:7). Jesus opens our eyes and says, “Look at the fields ripe for harvest! Look at all the broken people out there! Ask the Lord of the harvest to send workers out into the harvest field.” (Matthew 9:36-38; John 4:35-38)

But as we pray that, he desires that we ourselves would say, “Here am I. Send me.”

And so Paul says, 2 Corinthians 5:14-16,

For the love of Christ compels us, since we have reached this conclusion: If one died for all, then all died. And he died for all so that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for the one who died for them and was raised. From now on, then, we do not know anyone from a worldly perspective. Even if we have known Christ from a worldly perspective, yet now we no longer know him in this way.

That’s the perspective of a kingdom person. They view Christ differently now. Because Jesus died for them, it sparks love in their hearts and a desire to live for him. And with that love and desire, comes a new perspective on the people around them. They start seeing people as Jesus did.

That’s why Paul could say in this passage,

For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. (1:21)

His desire was to please Jesus. And as long as Paul was on this earth, he wanted to touch others for Jesus, bringing them into his kingdom and seeing them grow as kingdom people. (1:22-25).

And so Paul challenges us,

As citizens of heaven, live your life worthy of the gospel of Christ. (1:27)

In short, “Live as kingdom people.”

Take on Jesus’ perspective.

Take on his priorities.

I don’t know about you, but that’s what I pray for myself.

Because that’s the kind of person I want to be.

And that’s the kind of disciples I want to raise.

 

 

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Making the most of our time (Ephesians 5)

Pay careful attention, then, to how you live—not as unwise people but as wise—making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So don’t be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. (15-17)

As I read Paul’s words, I think to myself, “How am I living? Am I making the most of my time? Each moment God gives me is an opportunity to make a difference for his kingdom. Do I take advantage of the opportunities he gives me? Am I aware of the Lord’s will in my life each day?”

It’s so easy to live for ourselves. But our time is short. When Jesus comes for us, will he find us doing what he has asked?

Or will he find us wasting our time?

We are dearly loved children of God. Jesus loved us and gave himself for us (1-2).

So let us be imitators of our Father, and walk each day, each moment, in love. Let us look, not solely at ourselves, but at God and what he’s doing around us. And let us join in his work, touching the lives of the people he has placed in our lives, our families, our friends, our neighbors, our coworkers, and our fellow church members.

Then when we stand before God some day, he can look at us with a smile and say,

Well done, good and faithful servant! (Matthew 25:21)

Are we living each day wisely? Or unwisely?

Are we making the most of our time and opportunities? Or are we wasting them?

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Commanded to rejoice (Psalm 81)

At my church yesterday, we were looking at the story of Jehoshaphat and how in the face of an unwinnable battle, he placed the worshipers out in front of the army. What did those worshipers sing?

Give thanks to the Lord,
for his faithful love endures forever. (2 Chronicles 20:21)

I wonder if the song they were singing was actually Psalm 136?

At any rate, in choosing to worship, they remembered who God was and what he had done for them. And as a result, God brought about great victory.

I couldn’t help but think of that story as I read Psalm 81. For in it, Asaph tells us,

Sing for joy to God our strength;
shout in triumph to the God of Jacob.
Lift up a song—play the tambourine,
the melodious lyre, and the harp. (1-2)

And then he says,

For this is a statute for Israel,
an ordinance of the God of Jacob. (4)

In other words, God commanded the Israelites to worship. In this case, Asaph was probably pointing to the Feast of Tabernacles when the people remembered their journeys in the desert after God had freed them from Egypt.

Why did God command the people to worship? To help them keep their eyes on him. To remember who he is, and what he had done for them. So that they would trust him, living by every word that comes from his mouth, not turning away from him as their ancestors did again and again. And why did their ancestors turn away? Because they forgot who God was and what he had done for them.

And so it made me think. How much is worship a part of my life? I used to do it a lot when I was younger, and then kind of got away from it for some reason.

Of course, worship is much more than just singing songs. But that doesn’t mean singing is not important.

God commands us to rejoice. To sing to him. And so that’s what I want to do more of going forward.

Lord, help me to sing and rejoice in you as you have commanded. Set my focus on you in the good times and the bad. I rejoice, Lord, because you are good. And your faithful love endures forever. Amen.

 

 

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What God has done for us (Ephesians 1-2)

As I look at these two chapters, I can’t help but think how God-centered they are. They’re all about not what we have done, but about what God has done and will do. Think about it.

He has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavens in Christ. (1:3)

He chose us before this world began to be holy and blameless in love before him. (1:4)

He predestined us to be his sons and daughters. (1:5)

He lavished his grace on us in Jesus. (1:6)

He redeemed us through the blood of Jesus. (1:7)

He forgave our sins. (1:7)

He will bring everything together in Christ. (1:10)

He has given us an inheritance  in Jesus. (1:11)

He works out everything in agreement with the purpose of his will. (1:11)

He sealed us with the Spirit, claiming us as his own, and guaranteeing our inheritance. (1:13-14)

He raised Jesus from the dead, and set him far above every ruler and authority, power and dominion. (1:20-22)

He made us, who were dead in sin, alive in Christ. (2:5)

He raised us up with Jesus and seated us with him in the heavens. (2:6)

He gives us the gift of salvation. (2:8)

He brought us near through the blood of Christ. (2:13)

Jesus reconciled both us and the Jews to each other and to the Father. (2:14-16)

Jesus proclaimed peace to us. (2:17)

Jesus gives us access to the Father. (2:18)

God makes us fellow citizens with all the saints. (2:19)

He builds us in Christ to be a temple for God. (21-22)

All this God did for us.

What did we do?

In all these passages, what does it say we did?

Paul says, “You….carried out all your sinful desires.” (2:3)

That’s what we did. We were people deserving God’s wrath.  We deserved nothing from God but death.

And yet he poured out his love and grace upon us. And because of that, we came to believe in him.

That’s what Paul means when he tells us,

For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift–not from works, so that no one can boast. (2:8-9)

Think about that truth. Meditate on it. And let us praise God for his glorious grace.

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A reason to rejoice (Matthew 28:18-20)

Last Sunday, my pastor gave a message on Acts 16, in which Paul and Silas were worshiping in prison.

That’s a pretty remarkable thing to do when you think about it. Most people would be throwing a pity party. 

“God, here I am serving you, and what do I get for it? I get beaten and I get thrown in prison.”

That would be the natural reaction.

How could Paul and Silas rejoice? Perhaps because of what Jesus had told the apostles after his resurrection. (Paul and Silas weren’t there, but they had no doubt been told about Jesus’s words.)

All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (18-20)

“All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth.”

No doubt, as the disciples reflected on those words, they remembered Daniel 7:13-14.

I continued watching in the night visions,

and suddenly one like a son of man
was coming with the clouds of heaven.
He approached the Ancient of Days
and was escorted before him.
He was given dominion,
and glory, and a kingdom;
so that those of every people,
nation, and language
should serve him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
that will not pass away,
and his kingdom is one
that will not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14)

In interpreting the vision, an angel then told Daniel,

But the holy ones of the Most High will receive the kingdom and possess it forever, yes, forever and ever. (Daniel 7:18)

Why could Paul and Silas rejoice? Because they remembered two things.

First, the Father had given Jesus all authority. He had given Jesus a kingdom that will never be destroyed.

Second, we will receive that kingdom too and possess it forever.

How often do we reflect on that?

How good is God to us to make us a part of Jesus’ kingdom, a kingdom that will never end!

That’s why Paul and Silas didn’t focus on their troubles. Instead they rejoiced in God’s goodness toward them. And because of that, they continued to look at what God was doing around them, and made disciples, even of their jailer.

But there was one other thing they remembered. Jesus had said, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

We saw at the beginning of the book of Matthew that Jesus was called “Immanuel.” Here we see it again.

And that’s why Paul could write in another place,

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice…The Lord is near. (Philippians 4:4-5)

So whatever trial you’re facing now, rejoice! All authority has been given to Jesus. He has been given a kingdom and we are a part of it. So let us do as Jesus said, joining in his work and making disciples of all nations.

 

 

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How will they remember me? (Matthew 26)

In verses 6-16, we see two people that Christians remember.

We remember Mary for the great love she had for Jesus. In fact Jesus said of her,

Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her. (13)

Then in the very next verse, we see another person Christians remember: Judas. But we remember him, not for his love of Jesus, but for his betrayal of Jesus.

When we are gone, what will people remember about us? What will they say about us? Will they remember the love we had for Jesus?

The good news is that our legacy can change. Peter could have been remembered solely for denying Jesus three times. But while we do remember that, we also remember the grace Jesus poured into his life.

That’s what I pray people remember about me. That they remember my love for Jesus. And the great grace he has poured out on me.

How will they remember me?
I hope when they remember they see you.
–Kim Boyce

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Loving our brothers and sisters (Matthew 25)

A lot of times, people use the end of this chapter to talk about how we are to be kind to all the hurting people in the world: the sick, the poor, the hungry, and those in prison.

Of course, this is true.

However, this passage is actually a little more focused than that.

Jesus said,

Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. (40)

Question: Who are “these brothers and sisters of mine?”

Look at all the times that Jesus uses the terms of “my brothers” or “my brothers and sisters.”  (Matthew 12:50, Matthew 28:10, John 20:17).

Take a look also at verses like Luke 10:40, 42. Look at Acts 9:1, 4-5.

What you see is that when Jesus talks about his brothers and sisters, he’s talking about people who follow him.

One of tests of a true follower of Jesus is this: do we love our brothers and sisters? If we don’t there is something wrong.

That’s why John said this,

If anyone says, “I love God,” and yet hates his brother or sister, he is a liar. For the person who does not love his brother or sister whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And we have this command from him: the one who loves God must also love his brother and sister. (1 John 4:20-21)

How do we treat our brothers and sisters in Christ? What does it say about our love for God?

 

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Living by grace (Matthew 19-20)

To understand the parable at the beginning of Matthew 20, you really need to look at the end of chapter 19.

Peter had just seen a man walk away from the Lord because that man couldn’t let go of his riches. And so he asked Jesus,

“See, we have left everything and followed you. So what will there be for us?” (19:27)

Jesus did reassure Peter that their sacrifice would be rewarded. But he pointed out a major problem with Peter’s question: Peter was merely thinking about God’s kingdom as sacrifice. As duty. And it was extremely important to Peter to know what his “payment” would be for all his sacrifice and work.

Jesus’ parable about the workers in many ways parallels the parable of the prodigal son.

Great grace was shown to workers who had been idle most of the day. Who seemingly hadn’t even been looking for work. And yet the master went out and brought them in, and paid them generously for what little work they did. He in fact paid them the same wage as the workers who had come first thing in the morning.

And just as the older brother got upset at the grace shown to the prodigal son, the first workers got upset at the grace shown to the late coming workers.

Look at the similarity of their words. First the workers:

These last men put in one hour, and you made them equal to us who bore the burden of the day’s work and the burning heat. (12)

Now the older brother:

‘Look, I have been slaving many years for you, and I have never disobeyed your orders, yet you never gave me a goat so that I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your assets with prostitutes, you slaughtered the fattened calf for him.’ (Luke 15:29-30)

What is the common complaint? “We have worked so hard for you. We slaved for you.”

There was no joy in their work. Just, “I’m sacrificing for you. I’m slaving away for you. Now give me what I deserve.”

That’s what Peter was saying.

More, in the two stories, there was a looking down on those who weren’t as “diligent.”

“Your worthless son did nothing but party while I was slaving away.”

“Those other guys were just standing around idle while I was working hard.”

And finally, there was a resentment shown when grace was shown to the “undeserving.”

How about you?

Is the kingdom of God all about “duty” and “sacrifice” to you?

Do you feel resentment because you feel you’re working so much harder than everyone else, and you’re not getting what you deserve?

Are you upset when God blesses people more than they deserve?

Or do you rejoice every day because of the grace that you have received?

Do you rejoice in the fact that God calls you “son” and “daughter.”

Do you rejoice that he has invited you to join in with his work?

Do you rejoice that God doesn’t give you what you deserve: hell?

Do you rejoice in the fact that he in fact gives you so much more?

That’s a life of grace.

Are you living a life of grace?

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The standard we follow (Matthew 19)

We live in a world now where things that were once common sense are now openly questioned. More, you are condemned if you dare to question what the world now believes.

For example, according to the world’s standard, the ideas of “male” and “female” are just a social construct. According to the world, these ideas of “male” and “female” have no objective basis in reality. As a result, we can define “male” and “female” however we want to.

People also are now questioning what marriage is. It used to be assumed by almost all that marriage is between one man and one woman. This is no longer the case.

But we do not follow the world’s standards. We follow Jesus’. What did Jesus say?

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that he who created them in the beginning made them male and female, and he also said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh?” (3-5)

According to Jesus, how did he create us? As male and female. Gender is not something that humans thought up. It is something God created.

According to Jesus, what is marriage? It is a man leaving his father (male) and mother (female) and being joined to his wife (female).

And there is no arguing with Jesus. He will not compromise his standards. We see that when the disciples tried to argue about his standard for marriage, that it was to be for life. They said,

If the relationship of a man with his wife is like this, it’s better not to marry. (10)

Jesus’ answer?

Not everyone can accept this saying. (11)

When he says, “this saying,” Jesus is not talking about his teaching on marriage. He’s talking about about the idea that it’s better not to marry.

And he says, “Not everyone can be happy living single. Some choose to be single so they can serve God’s kingdom better. If they’re happy with being single, great! Others, because of physical problems, can’t get married. But whatever their situation, if they can accept what you said, and think it’s better to be single, that’s fine. But if they want to get married, they need to accept what I have taught. There is no middle ground.”

Those are hard words. And I believe Jesus has great compassion for those who love him and yet struggle with his words. He has compassion for those who give up on the idea of marriage because they grew up in broken families and they worry that if they get married, it won’t go well. He has compassion for those who struggle with homosexual feelings and feel they can’t get married as a result. He has compassion on those who struggle with their gender identity. And so as Christians, we too are to have great compassion on those who struggle in these ways.

But the answer is not to change Jesus’ standards. We are to hold to the standards that he has taught. The struggles we have are not because his standards are wrong. The struggles we have are because we are people broken by sin.

The good news is that for those who belong to Christ, these struggles will not last forever. For as John said,

Dear friends, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that when he appears, we will be like him because we will see him as he is. (I John 3:2)

So let us never compromise our Lord’s standards. Rather, holding to the future hope we have, let us purify ourselves just as Jesus is pure. (I John 3:3)

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Listen to him! (Matthew 17)

It wasn’t long ago that I wrote on the parallel passage from Mark concerning Jesus’ transfiguration.

But the Father’s words, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased. Listen to him!” still ring in my heart.

The writer of Hebrews, perhaps recalling this story, said this:

Long ago God spoke to the fathers by the prophets (like Moses and Elijah) at different times and in different ways. In these last days, he has spoken to us by his Son. (Hebrews 1:1-2)

In chapter 2, he continues,

For this reason, we must pay attention all the more to what we have heard, so that we will not drift away. For if the message spoken through angels was legally binding and every transgression and disobedience received a just punishment, how will we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? This salvation had its beginning when it was spoken of by the Lord (Jesus), and it was confirmed to us by those who heard him (the apostles and other witnesses). At the same time, God also testified by signs and wonders, various miracles, and distributions of gifts from the Holy Spirit according to his will. (Hebrews 2:1-4)

One of the main points of the letter to the Hebrews is that we are to hold tightly to this gospel we have received. The problem was that people who had once claimed to believe it had fallen away from it. Why? Because the gospel had not truly taken root in their hearts. (Matthew 13:5-6). Their understanding of the gospel was extremely shallow and they never truly understood what the gospel was and what it means to be a Christian. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, we see that happening even today with famous pastors and worship leaders falling away.

So I really challenge you: pay attention to what you have heard. Truly think about the gospel you have heard, the gospel Jesus preached to his disciples after his resurrection. (Luke 24:25-27, 45-47).

Do you truly understand it? Do you truly understand what sin is? Why is it so bad? Who was Jesus? How do we know he truly is God? Why did Jesus have to die? Why is the resurrection so important? What does it truly mean to be a Christian? Why do you believe what you believe?

Can you answer those things beyond the standard, shallow Christian replies?

If not, it’s time to start asking those questions. Listen to the answers Jesus gives. Listen to the answers that he gave through his apostles.

Listen!

For if the law God gave to Moses through angels condemned those who broke it, how can we escape if reject the gospel of salvation he has given through his Son?

 

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A hindrance to Christ (Matthew 16)

Jesus’ harsh words to Peter really made me think.

Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me because you’re not thinking about God’s concerns but human concerns. (23)

Just a few minutes earlier, he had told Peter,

I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed in heaven. (19)

Like Peter, we have been given the keys to the kingdom of heaven. We have been given the gospel that can open heaven’s gate to people.

But how often do we fail to do that? How often do we instead hinder Jesus and his saving work because we are thinking, not about God’s concerns, but our own?

How often are we so concerned about our own life and what we want, that we fail to see what God is trying to do around us in the lives of others? And because of that, not only do we fail to join in with what God is doing, we actually get in his way.

Lord, forgive me for the times I get so fixated on my own agenda, that I don’t see what you’re doing. Forgive me for even getting in your way. Help me to see the needs of the people around me, the people you died for. Open my eyes. Change my heart. In Jesus’ name, amen.

 

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God’s grace and truth (Psalm 57-61)

For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (John 1:17)

Grace and truth. These two words are the Greek equivalent to two words often found in the Old Testament. In the CSB, they are translated, “faithful love” and “truth.”

The ESV translates them “steadfast love” and “faithfulness.” (The CSB also translates “truth” as “faithfulness” at times).

However you translate these words, they came to us through Jesus Christ and his cross.

Even so, these things were present for God’s people in the Old Testament, because God’s people were looking forward to the day when their Messiah would come. All that you see in the tabernacle and the tabernacle sacrifices and rituals pointed to him.

And so David could sing about God’s grace and truth, which he did quite often.

God sends his faithful love and truth. (57:3)

For your faithful love is as high as the heavens;
your faithfulness reaches the clouds. (57:10)

God in his steadfast love will meet me.  (59:10, ESV)

But I will sing of your strength
and will joyfully proclaim
your faithful love in the morning. (59:16)

Appoint faithful love and truth to guard him (the king, that is, David himself). (61:7)

God indeed has sent his grace and truth to us in Jesus.

His grace toward us is as high as the heavens and his faithfulness to the clouds.

And God in his grace meets with us.

So let us sing of his grace every morning of our lives.

And let us ask that he would appoint his grace and truth to guard over us each day.

 

 

 

 

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A life of rest (Matthew 11)

Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (28-30)

These are among Jesus’ most famous words. And they contrast sharply with his rebuke of the experts of the law.

Then he said: “Woe also to you experts in the law! You load people with burdens that are hard to carry, and yet you yourselves don’t touch these burdens with one of your fingers. (Luke 11:46)

I suppose the question to ask ourselves is this: as we live this Christian life, are we feeling exhausted? Burdened?

Often times we suffer exhaustion because of the burdens of expectations.

The expectations people have of you.

Your own expectations of yourself.

The expectations (you think) God has of you.

And as we face these expectations, they all say the same thing, “You’re not good enough.”

We feel that from those around us.

We feel that about ourselves.

And worst of all, we think God is saying that of us as well.

But that is not a life of rest.

And so Jesus says, “Come to me. Don’t run from me. I don’t condemn you for your sins and failures. I died for those things. My Father already accepts you as his son, as his daughter. You don’t have to prove your worth to him. Rest in my grace. Rest in my love.”

Jesus says, “Take my yoke upon you. Don’t take the yoke of expectations that others put on you. That yoke is heavy. And most times, you won’t be able to bear it. To them, you are never good enough. Instead take on my yoke. It is a yoke that is full of grace, not condemnation. More, it is a yoke that you don’t carry alone. I am there right beside you, carrying it with you. So even if you stumble, its weight will not crush you.”

And he says, “Learn from me. You might be a slow learner, but that’s okay. I’m a gentle and patient teacher. I won’t give up on you like others might. Learn how I think. Learn how I do things. And just keep taking the next step forward. I’m in no hurry. Don’t worry if others are moving faster than you are. We have time. We have eternity.”

That’s a life of rest.

How about you? Are you completely burdened and exhausted by the Christian life? Or are you living a life of rest?

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Say the word (Matthew 7-8)

“Say the word.”

Those words ring in my heart.

They are words that recognize the authority of Jesus.

An authority that the people marveled at, and even his own disciples marveled at. (7:28-29; 8:27.)

It’s an authority that instantly brought healing (8:13). An authority that caused demons to flee (8:16, 32).

And yet, it’s an authority that humans can choose to recognize or not recognize.

How did the priests respond when Jesus sent them that healed leper? (8:4)

How did those two would-be followers of Jesus respond when he challenged them? (8:19-22)

We don’t know.

We know how Matthew responded. Jesus said the word, and Matthew followed.

How about you? Do you recognize Jesus’ authority in your life? Do you say to him, “Say the word, and I will follow. I will do whatever you say?”

Will you say, as one song puts it, “I simply live for you”?

 

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This I know (Psalm 56)

In a time when the Philistines had seized David in Gath, David’s words ring with faith.

This I know: God is for me. (9)

Do we have this confidence?

When things are falling apart around us, and everyone seems against us, can we say, “This I know: God is for me”?

So many times, God seems far away and it seems he doesn’t care. But David says,

You yourself have recorded my wanderings.
Put my tears in your bottle.
Are they not in your book? (8)

More, David knew God’s promises to him, that he would be king someday. He knew that God always keeps his word. And so he sang,

In God, whose word I praise,
in the LORD, whose word I praise,
in God I trust; I will not be afraid.
What can mere humans do to me? (10-11)

But for us, God’s word is not something that is merely on a page, or something we have heard.

God’s Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

He rescued us from eternal death, and now we walk before God in the light of life. (13)

So let us remember and praise the Living Word. For as Paul said,

If God is for us, who is against us? He did not even spare his own Son but offered him up for us all. How will he not also with him grant us everything? (Romans 8:31-32)

And let us sing with David,

This I know: God is for me. (9)

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Where our eyes are focused (Matthew 6)

Here in Japan, we often talk about how 99% of the population don’t know Jesus. And in that environment, Jesus’ instructions on how we should pray becomes all the more urgent.

Your kingdom come. (10)

But as I looked at verses 19-34, it seems to me that all of that is connected with that one prayer, “Your kingdom come.”

For what is our focus each and every day? Is it the comforts of life? Is it even merely the needs of life?

If that is our life focus, we lose sight of what’s really important: God’s kingdom. And the millions of people in Japan and throughout the world who don’t know him.

I know it’s easy for me to lose focus on what’s important.

And so as we pray, “Your kingdom come” today, let us also pray, “Lord, help me focus on what’s important. Use me today to touch people for your kingdom. Here am I. Send me.”

 

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Living by the Word of God (Matthew 4)

Man must not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God. (4)

Jesus’ words strike me on two levels.

We live in a world where the world is trying to impress its values upon us. And often times, those values are contrary to God’s Word.

The question is: do we know God’s Word well enough that we can test the things we hear? When we hear the lies of the world, can we say with Jesus, “It is written” and give God’s perspective on things? Or are we clueless because we are not feeding our minds and souls with the Word of God on a regular basis?

It’s also important to ask ourselves, “Do I really believe the Bible is God’s Word? Will I hold to it even when it contradicts the world’s way of thinking, or even my own?”

Too many people, even Christians, will say, “I accept what the Bible says here, but I don’t accept this.” But Jesus certainly didn’t think that way. He lived his life based on every word that came out of the mouth of his Father. How can we do less?

But to live on every word that comes from the mouth of God does not simply mean knowing and believing it. It also means to obey it.

A large part of that is obeying what the Bible says. But it’s also listening to the guidance of the Spirit each day and following him. Honestly, I’m still learning to do that.

But let me be clear: The Spirit will never tell you something contrary to what God has revealed in the Bible. So if you think the Spirit is saying something opposite to what the Bible teaches, then you’re hearing wrong. And that is another reason why we need to know the Bible well. It helps us know what is the Spirit’s voice and what is not.

How about you? Are you feeding on the Word of God daily? And are you following the leading of the Spirit?

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Living as Jesus did (Matthew 3)

I can’t help but notice in this passage that Jesus sets us an example for how we should live as Christians.

In getting baptized, though he had no sin to repent of, Jesus showed that he was submitting himself to the Father’s will. The Spirit then came upon him and filled him, and the Father expressed his love for him as his Son.

And from there, Jesus lived his life led by the Spirit.

If Jesus needed to do that, how much more do we?

And in fact, Paul shows us that pattern in Romans 8. He talks about how when we became Christians, we died to a heart that was rebellious towards God. (Romans 8:4-11).

Now Paul says the Holy Spirit dwells in us, and through him, we can cry out to God, “Abba, Father.” And he says to us, “My child.” (Romans 8:14-17)

More, the Holy Spirit is there to lead us as we go through each day. (4-5)

So let us thank God every day that he calls us his beloved children. And let us continually ask the Spirit, “What is my next step?”

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The one who saves his people (Matthew 1)

I heard news today of a well-known former pastor who has now renounced his faith and is now going down a different path.

And the question that is often asked at this kind of time is, “What happened? How could this happen?”

I don’t know. But this I know: people falling away is not anything new, even among church leaders.

In 2 Timothy, Paul wrote this of two people, Hymenaeus and Philetus, who had at one time been church leaders:

They have departed from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and are ruining the faith of some. (2 Timothy 2:18).

But then Paul adds,

Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, bearing this inscription: The Lord knows those who are his… (2 Timothy 2:19)

In other words, Hymenaeus and Philetus may have proved to be false believers (1 John 2:19), but God was never fooled. He knows exactly who are his own.

Which brings me to today’s passage, to something that I had never noticed before.

In talking to Joseph about Mary, the angel said,

She will give birth to a son, and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. (21)

The key words: He will save his people.

We know from Ephesians 1 and Romans 8 that God knew from the beginning who his own were. That before the world was created, he had in love chosen people to be his own. Not because of any special qualifications they had, but because of his grace.

And having chosen them, he put his plan into action. In doing so, he worked through former idolaters (Abraham), liars (Isaac), and connivers (Jacob). He worked through outsiders (Ruth and Rahab), and he worked through adulterers (David) and backsliders (Solomon). He worked through both good kings and bad kings.

He took one man and turned him into a nation. He led that nation out of slavery and made them a kingdom. He then sent them into exile for their sin, and by his grace brought them back out.

And this was all to what purpose? To save a people that he had chosen before the creation of the world.

And this he ultimately accomplished by coming himself into this world and taking on human flesh. He truly became God with us. And through the cross, he saved his people.

So what am I saying? Only God knows whether this pastor is truly His own or not. But if this pastor is, God will bring him back. That would be no great feat. For when you look at that list I mentioned above, all of them had failed in one way or another. But because they were God’s people, he brought them back.

And that gives us hope. That no matter how far gone we may be, if we are God’s own, he will bring us back.

He will save his people from their sin.

 

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Running around? Or trusting in God? (Acts 27)

The contrast between Paul and the sailors couldn’t be more drastic in this story.

The sailors were panicking, running all around trying everything possible to save themselves. The result? Despair.

Paul, on the other hand, heard God’s words of encouragement and remained calm. And he told the sailors,

So take courage, men, because I believe God that it will be just the way it was told to me. (27:25)

When life’s storms hit, (and they will hit), how do you respond? With panic? Or do you trust God that he will do as he has promised? That even if  we must walk through the valley of death, he will be with us? And if he will do that for us, how much more will he help us overcome any other problem we may face in life?

 

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Handpicked (Acts 22)

I find Ananias’ words to Paul very interesting.

The God of our ancestors has appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One, and to hear the words from his mouth, since you will be a witness for him to all people of what you have seen and heard. (14-15)

“God has ‘appointed’ you,” Ananias said.

The word “appointed” has the idea of “handpicked.” God specially chose Paul. For what? To know his will. To see Jesus. To hear his voice. To be a witness for him.

And the same can be said of you as a Christian.

God handpicked you. To know his will. To see Jesus. To hear his voice.

“But Bruce, I don’t think I know his will. I’ve never seen Jesus. And I’ve never heard his voice.”

Actually, you already have if you are a Christian.

You came to know his will that we turn from our sin and follow him. That we become his beloved children. And every time you read his Word, you find his will for you.

You may have not physically seen Jesus or heard his voice, but he did work in your heart to the point that you believed in him. And the day will come when we will see him face to face.

But two things we should remember.

First, usually when people are handpicked, it’s because they are special. It’s because they have special qualifications that others have. But God did not handpick us for those reasons. He handpicked us solely because of his grace. He knew you before the world began. He knew all your weaknesses, sins, and failures. And yet he said, “I choose you.”

Second, God did not choose us simply so that can enjoy a relationship with him. Of course, he does want us to have an intimate relationship with him. But as he told Paul, he appointed us to be his witnesses. To take his gospel to a dying world.

You were handpicked by God, not to live for yourself, but for him who died for you and rose again. (2 Corinthians 5:15)

A suggestion: Read Ephesians 1:3-14 and 2 Corinthians 5:14-21. Meditate on these words. Because in those passages Paul fully explains what Ananias told him that day. And Paul realized Ananias’ words weren’t just for him, they were for all of us who are Christians.

All of us were handpicked by Jesus. That is truly an incredible thought.

 

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The message of God’s grace (Acts 20)

Often times, we think of the message of God’s grace, namely the Gospel, as merely something that leads to our salvation. But while that’s true, it’s something more. Paul told the Ephesians this:

And now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you an inheritance among all who are sanctified. (32)

What happens when we believe the gospel? Two things.

It gives us an eternal inheritance as children of God. Put another way, it saves us.

But it not only saves us. It also builds us up. And that is not a one time thing, it is a daily thing.

A lot of times when we get discouraged in our Christian lives, it’s because we have forgotten that message of God’s grace. (By the way, “word of grace” can easily be translated “message of grace” in this verse).

We forget that we don’t have to earn God’s love. We already have it. We forget that we don’t need to work for God’s approval. We already have it.

We forget that Jesus paid the price for our sin, and so we beat ourselves up as if Jesus’ sacrifice wasn’t enough for us.

We never outgrow our need for the gospel message. So let us never let the message of God’s grace slip our mind. And let us both rejoice and rest in it each day.

 

 

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Angry at evil? (Acts 17)

This past week, in Japan (where I live), a terrible incident happened in which 34 were people were killed due to an arsonist who set fire to an anime studio called Kyoto Animation.

A friend of mine, who is an anime fan, was extremely upset about it, but so was my wife who is not an anime fan.

I think it is a natural reaction. We should be upset, both angry and saddened by this kind of evil.

The question is, “What do we do about it?” Just complain about the evil and ask God why he doesn’t stop it? Simply mourn over the tragedy of it?

I think about the passage in Acts 17 where Paul was in Athens.

He saw a city filled with idols, and Luke tells us, “he was deeply distressed” by it. Other translations put it, “he was greatly provoked” or “he was upset.”

In short, he was angry.

What did he do?

Simply rage at its evil? Simply mourn over it?

No. He went out and preached the gospel to everyone he could.

Why? Because the only solution to sin and evil in this world is the gospel. Only the power of the gospel can change lives and bring healing to this broken world.

The question is, “Do you believe it? Do you believe it enough that when you see all the evil that sin causes, you want to share the gospel to all the hurting people around you?”

What is your response to evil?

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How people respond to the gospel (Acts 17)

The response of the Atheniens to Paul’s message on Mars Hill is interesting to me. Paul gave a marvelous presentation on who God is and was starting to give the message of the gospel when he was forced to stop.

Why? Because there were people who, the moment they heard him talking about resurrection, laughed him off. They laughed off someone who could explain God and the gospel probably better than anyone else in church history.

And yet, there were others who believed.

That’s what we need to remember as we share the gospel. We may give a perfect gospel presentation, and some people will still laugh us off.

But there will be others who believe.

So don’t give up. Just do what Jesus has ordered us to do. Preach the gospel. And leave the results to him.

 

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The hand of the Lord (Acts 12)

Yesterday, we saw the hand of the Lord reaching out to lead and empower his people.

Today, we see it in three other ways.

We see his hand reaching out to save, rescuing Peter from prison.

We see his hand reaching out to judge, putting Herod to death.

And in James’ life, we see his hand reaching out to take his people home.

It’s that last I want to focus on.

At a time when Herod reached out his hand (see the ESV translation) to strike out at the church, it seems God did nothing to help James. But God never took his hands off of James. God never rescued him from Herod’s hands. But he never took his hands off of James.

God was with him when he was arrested. God was with him when he was in prison. God was with him when he was killed. And then God took him home.

God never promises to deliver us from all our trials here on earth. What he does promise is that he will always be with us. And even should we face suffering and death, his hand will guide us home.

Remember Psalm 23?

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me…

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
forever. (Psalm 23:4, 6 — ESV)

Always remember: this world is not our home. And whatever struggle or suffering you may go through here, the Lord’s hand is with you and he will lead you home.

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The hand of the Lord (Acts 11)

Verse 21 really struck me today.

The Lord’s hand was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord.

It’s really easy to look at this chapter and see how the hand of the Lord was with Peter in bringing the gospel to the Gentiles.

But note here that verse 21 isn’t talking about how the hand of the Lord was with Peter. It’s talking about how the Lord’s hand was on ordinary Christians who had been chased out of Jerusalem because of persecution, but who then started taking the gospel wherever they went.

In short, the hand of the Lord, the hand of Yahweh, is not just on special people like pastors or missionaries. It’s on all who are his people.

And so let’s pray for that. Pray that the Lord’s hand would be on his people to lead and to empower them so that those who are lost may be saved and filled with his grace.

Pray that for your pastors certainly. Pray the Lord’s hand would be on them. But pray that God’s hand would be on you too. Pray that his hand would be on the people in your church. Pray that it would be on all his people throughout this world.

Only then will we see “a great number believe and turn to the Lord” in our cities, our nations, and our world.

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A chosen instrument (Acts 9)

It’s easy, sometimes, to read something God has said in scripture, and think, “This could never apply to me.”

I think that’s definitely true for verse 15 in this chapter. Here, God says to Ananias, “This man (Saul) is my chosen instrument to take my name to Gentiles, kings, and Israelites.”

As much as God said that about Paul, he says that about you. You are his chosen instrument to take his name to the people around you. The question is, “Do you believe it?”

Too many Christians don’t, and that’s why they prefer to leave ministry (especially sharing the gospel) to the “professionals.”

It’s probably also why so many Christians don’t spend much time reading God’s word and praying.

How much would your life change if you really believed that God said of you, “You are my chosen instrument”?

 

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Filled (Acts 6)

As I was reading this passage and thinking about Stephen and the other people chosen by the apostles, these words struck me: They were “full of the Spirit and of wisdom,” and “full of grace and power.”

As I read this, I thought “Does this describe me?” It’s certainly what I want.

Does it describe you? That’s what God wants for you. He doesn’t just want it for our pastors or other church leaders. He wants it for you. Because as this passage makes clear, the leaders can’t do all the ministry. All of us need to do it together. All of us should be touching the people around us. But in order to do that, we all need to be “full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom,” and “full of grace and power.”

So let’s pray for that. Pray that for yourself. Pray that for the people you know at church. And of course, pray that for your church leaders.

But today, God also put it on my heart to pray for other churches that I know as well. Their pastors, their leaders, and their members need to be full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom,” and “full of grace and power” too.

So let us pray for ourselves, certainly. But let us also pray for our brothers and sisters that we know who go to other churches. After all, when all is said and done, we are all one church. We are all Christ’s church. And we all need Him.

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Taking God lightly (Acts 5:1-11)

This passage is not a comfortable one. But I don’t think we should be avoiding uncomfortable passages. God put them there for a reason.

Here you have God striking down Ananias and Sapphira for their sin. Why?

Not only did they sin, it was a deliberate sin. At their home, they discussed lying to Peter and to everyone else in the church. But in lying to Peter and the church, they lied to the One who was dwelling in them. They lied to the Holy Spirit. They lied to God. And that is a serious thing: it shows a total disrespect for God. Ananias and Sapphira took God lightly, and as a result took their sin lightly. The result? Death.

It was a harsh discipline. It was in fact the harshest discipline possible. Why so harsh? Because an attitude of taking God lightly and taking sin lightly can easily spread in the church like a cancer. And God pulled it out before it could spread in this young church he had just started.

You see this in 1 Corinthians 11 as well. Believers were getting sick and even dying because they were taking God and their sinful attitudes toward each other lightly at the communion table.

So Paul warns

If we were properly judging ourselves, we would not be judged (I Corinthians 11:31).

In other words, search your heart. Don’t ever take God or sin lightly. If you don’t, discipline will come. And it may be harsh.

But even in the harshest discipline, there is hope. For Paul continues,

but when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined, so that we may not be condemned with the world. (11:32)

In short, we are not judged as the people of this world who reject God are. I believe Ananias and Sapphira went home to be with the Lord. They were harshly disciplined for the sake of the church. The church learned a valuable lesson from their actions. But God did not reject Ananias and Sapphira. There was forgiveness even for them. Why? Because Jesus took their ultimate punishment on the cross.

But let us never make the mistake that they made. Let us never take God lightly. Nor let us take our sin lightly.

How do we know if we’re taking God or our sin lightly? If our sin doesn’t bother us. If we can sin or plan to sin, and we think, “It’s no big deal. It’s not that big of a sin. And even if it is, God will forgive me.”

That kind of thinking spreads poison in our lives and in the church. And God loves us and his church too much to let that poison spread for too long.

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Our hope (Acts 4)

I’ll be honest. When I look at the social landscape, it can get pretty depressing. Morals are collapsing. The concept of family is collapsing. And my guess is that it will only get harder and harder to be a Christian in the future.

Frankly, that shouldn’t surprise us. Jesus told us that such a time would be coming.

But as I look at the hope the apostles had, it restores my hope.

They were facing heavy opposition from the Jewish religious leaders. Even when these leaders were rendered without argument, they still opposed the apostles.

Why did the apostles have hope?

They remembered who was truly in control.

They remembered that God is the Sovereign Lord who created heaven and earth. Who spoke the universe into existence with a word.

And they remembered that though people might rage against God and set themselves against him, that all their raging was ultimately futile.

God reigns. And his purpose will stand.

That was made especially clear in the cross. Though people raged against God, in the end, they did whatever God’s hand and God’s will had predestined to take place. (28)

In short, God never, ever lost control.

And he never will.

That’s our hope.

So as the apostles, let us pray for boldness to speak his word. And let us pray that his Spirit would fill his people so that we might have the power to touch this dying world.

 

 

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In order for our souls to be refreshed (Acts 3)

Last Sunday, I gave a message at church, and I talked about the phrase from Psalm 23:3: “He renews my life.”

“Renews” is a word that can translated many ways: “restore” (ESV), “refresh” (NIV), but most often is translated “bring back” or “return” in the Old Testament.

Different words are used here in this passage, and of course, the New Testament is written in Greek, not Hebrew like the Old Testament. But we still see similar ideas in this passage.  The strength in the lame man’s legs were restored (7). The people were called to repent and return to God (19). When Jesus comes back, all things will be restored to the way God created it. (21)

But it’s verses 19-20 that really strike me today.

Therefore repent and turn back, so that your sins may be wiped out, that seasons of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord…

If we want our souls to be refreshed, we won’t find it from living our own way, and seeking the things of this world.

We need to repent of our sins, and turn back to God.

David wrote this in Psalm 32.

When I kept silent (about my sin), my bones became brittle from my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was drained, as in the summer’s heat.

Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not conceal my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the guilt of my sin. (Psalm 32:4-5)

That picture of having your strength drained as in the summer heat is very interesting in that the word “refreshing” in Acts 23:20 is the picture of cooling or reviving with fresh air.

When we sin, God does bring discipline in our lives, and life can get pretty “hot.” But when we confess our sins and ask for his forgiveness, he blots out our sins, and our souls are refreshed; they are renewed.

A couple of weeks ago, our pastor suggested that we take some time during the day to be quiet before the Lord. One thing I’m doing just before that is praying, “God, is there any sin in my heart from the day. Search my heart. Let me know if there’s anything wrong in my heart.”

And in my time of quiet, I’m letting God show me my sin. But in doing that, I’m also finding the refreshing wind of his forgiveness and grace as I repent.

Let’s all take the time to be quiet before God. Let him search our hearts. Let us repent. And let us feel the refreshing wind of his forgiveness and grace blow through our souls.

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United in prayer (Acts 1)

Recently, I’ve been thinking of the importance of God’s people praying together. And so verse 14 really struck me today.

They all (the Christians) were continually united in prayer.

How often are we, God’s people, united in prayer?

How often do we pray with each other on Sunday? I’m not just talking about the pastor praying up front. I’m talking about people taking the time to pray together before and after the service.

How often do we pray with each other during the week, praying with our wives or husbands?

How often do we call or LINE or video chat with somebody and pray with each other for our pastors, for our churches, for our communities? Do we take the time to not only pray with people in our own church, but with our brothers and sisters in other churches?

Can I make a suggestion? Contact someone this week. Pray with them.

At church on Sunday, instead of just chatting with your friends before service starts, pray with each other. Pray for the pastor that God would speak through him during the message. Pray that God would use you to touch first-time visitors to your church. Pray that he would use you to touch other people who will come to church that day, and are hurting.

As God’s people, let us unite together in prayer.

One last thing: men, read I Timothy 2:8. Memorize it. It is an extremely important word from God for those of us who are men.

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Our hope (Luke 21)

In this passage, Jesus predicts a dark time in Jerusalem’s history when the city would fall to the Romans, many Jews would be killed, and many Christians would be persecuted. Jesus’ words would be fulfilled in 70 A.D.

But he also tells us of more terrible times to come. If you think this world is bad now, it will get much worse before Jesus comes. We see it in Jesus’ words here. We also see it in more detail in Matthew 24:4-14. And because of all the trouble that will come, it would be easy for us to lose hope.

That’s why Jesus told us,

Be on your guard, so that your minds are not dulled from carousing, drunkenness, and worries of life, or that day (that is, Judgment day) will come on you unexpectedly like a trap. For it will come on all who live on all who live on the face of the whole earth. But be alert at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that  are going to take place and to stand before the Son of Man. (34-36)

When things get hard, it’s easy to just give up and despair. But we do have hope. What is that hope?

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words never pass away. (33)

In short, Jesus never lies, and all he promises will come to pass. What is his promise?

Then they (all people) will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. But when these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is near. (28)

No matter how bad this world gets, never forget: Jesus wins! He is our hope.  So as Paul wrote ,

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the Lord’s work, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (I Corinthians 15:58)

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Is God good? (Luke 18)

God is good.

You would think this would be a basic truth. But how often do we doubt it?

When we go through trials in life, when we face injustice, we often cry out, “Why God? Why don’t you do anything? Why don’t you help me?”

When God seems silent, will we pray and never give up because we believe God is good?  (1-8)

The rich ruler struggled to believe in God’s goodness. He called Jesus, “Good teacher.” But when Jesus challenged him to give up all his riches to follow him, he suddenly had grave doubts on how good Jesus truly was. And he walked away. (18-23)

Even the disciples sometimes wondered, “How good are you Jesus? We’ve given up everything for you. Will it be worth it?” (28-30)

But the tax collector in Jesus’ story believed in God’s goodness. And so though the Pharisee looked down on him, he went before God and cried out for mercy. And he received it. (9-14)

The blind man believed in Jesus’ goodness. When everyone else said there was no way Jesus would care for someone like him, he continued to shout, “Jesus had mercy on me.” And Jesus healed him. (35-42)

The children believed in Jesus’ goodness. As did their parents. They knew Jesus wouldn’t turn them away. And he welcomed them with open arms. (15-16)

How about you? Do you believe in God’s goodness? Do you believe he will never turn you away? Do you believe he will have mercy on you? Do you believe he wants your best?

Jesus asks all of us,

When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth? (8)

Will he find faith in you?

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A small thing (Luke 16)

I saw a couple of new things today as I read this passage, but I’ll focus on one today.

Jesus said,

Whoever is faithful in very little, is also faithful in much, and whoever is unrighteous in very little is also unrighteous in much. So if you have not been faithful with worldly wealth, who will trust you with what is genuine? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to someone else, who will give you what is your own? (10-12)

Think about those words a bit. What does Jesus call worldly wealth?

He calls it “a very small thing.”

He also says, “It belongs to someone else.”

And he says if you are unfaithful with a very small thing that actually belongs to someone else (in reality, we’re all simply managing God’s money), how can God entrust you with greater things?

Hopefully, all of us want God to use us. God himself wants to work through us to touch others.

But if we are unfaithful in something so small as money, treating it like our own, when it’s really God’s, how can God trust us with Kingdom responsibilities?

I’m not just talking about tithing. I’m talking about how we use our money in general. Are we using it wisely, remembering that it really belongs to God?

Honestly, that’s something I need to think about too. Shall we all search our hearts together today and talk to God about it?

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Losing our flavor (Luke 14-15)

In the last part of Luke 14, Jesus said,

Now, salt is good, but if salt should lose its taste, how will it be made salty? It isn’t fit for the soil or for the manure pile; they throw it out. Let anyone who has ears to hear listen.” (14:34-35)

Just as salt flavors food, we are to flavor the world, touching the lives of others for Jesus. But we can’t do that if we are living to please others or ourselves instead of Jesus. And that was Jesus’ point. (14:26-27, 33)

But in chapter 15, we see another way we lose our saltiness. And that’s if we lose our heart for the lost. Instead of reaching out to people with the love of God, we condemn them. That’s what the Pharisees did. That’s what the older brother in Jesus’ story did.

Let us never lose our saltiness. Let us never lose our compassion, even for those who have hurt us. Instead, let us first remember the grace we ourselves have received. And let us then reach out with the Father’s love and touch those who are dying apart from him.

 

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My prayer (Luke 11:1-4)

Father.

When others see me today, let them see you. Don’t let your name be blasphemed because of me and my actions. May your name be honored as holy in my life today.

Father, give me your perspective. Don’t let me just think about what I need to accomplish today. Help me see what you are trying to accomplish today. Help me join in your work. Touch others through me, and let your kingdom come in their lives today.

Father, you know my needs. My physical needs. My emotional needs. My spiritual needs. Please provide them. Give me a humble heart that depends on you each day. May I not have a complaining heart, like the Israelites had in the desert. Instead, give me a heart of gratefulness for all you have provided. And again, a spirit of trust.

Father, what sins have I not confessed this week? Help me see them. And forgive me. Thank you for your grace. And when I see others around me, let me not judge them, especially those who have hurt me. Lord you’ve forgiven me so much. So give me a heart of humility when I look at those who have hurt me. 

My Shepherd, lead me in paths of righteousness. I want to honor you this day and every day.

In Jesus name. Amen.

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The most important thing (Luke 10:38-42)

I have read the story of Mary and Martha many a time, and it never fails to make me stop and think.

Think about what Luke says. “Martha welcomed him into her home.” (38)

And yet when he entered, she was “distracted with much serving.” (vs. 40—ESV)

Put another way, she was ironically “pulled away from Jesus” by all her serving.

Not only that, she was “worried and upset about many things.” (41)

What was she so worried and upset about? Perhaps she was worried about trying to please Jesus. To make everything perfect for him. And she got upset when things weren’t going just right. Sounds like a perfectionist to me. How would I know? I’m a perfectionist myself.

And like Martha, when I serve the Lord, I want everything to be perfect. And when things don’t go perfectly, I get anxious and upset.

Do we know (do I know?) in our heart of hearts that we don’t have to earn Jesus’ favor? That he already not only accepts us, but looks at us favorably?

Or are we constantly running around trying to serve him, and getting worried or upset whenever things don’t go just right because deep down we have doubts that he really has accepted us? That he already looks at us favorably?

All of us have welcomed Jesus into our lives. But now that he’s dwelling in our hearts, are we pulled away from spending time with him, distracted with “much serving?” Or do we actually take the time to stop and spend time with him, talking to him, and listening to him?

Of course there is a time for us to serve Jesus. Actually, a better way to put it is that there’s a time for us to serve with Jesus. But if we forget that he already loves us and looks at us with favor, we will start to lose perspective in life as Martha did.

Look at Jesus’ words to Martha. What do you think is most important to him?

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How a true “5” thinks (Luke 7)

Recently at my church, we’ve been talking about how God sees us as “5”s. (In Japan, a perfect grade in a report card is a “5,” similar to an “A” in western culture.)

In other words, God looks at your “report card”, and says, “I accept you. I love you. You are of highest value to me.”

But what makes us a “5”? And how does a “5” think?

The Jewish elders, the Pharisees, and Simon thought this way: “If a person does a lot of good things, he is worthy of God’s love and blessing in their lives.” The Jewish elders thought this of the centurion (verses 4-5). The Pharisees (30) and Simon (39, 44-46) thought this of themselves.”

But that’s not the thinking of a true “5.”

How does a true “5” think?

They remember they are broken people. They understand that nothing they do makes them worthy of God’s love or blessing. The realize they have no special “qualifications” that make them worthy to receive anything from God.

So they come with humility before God. And at the same time they come with confidence that God will accept them. Not because of who they are or what they’ve done. But because of who God is.

And because of the grace they have received, they are filled with gratefulness.

These are the things you see in the centurion, the people who received John’s baptism, and most clearly in the woman who anointed Jesus.

Is that how you think?

Or are you like the Simon and the other Pharisees who felt they “deserved” God’s blessing? Who took Jesus lightly because they didn’t see the depth of their sin and their need for grace?

Or are you like many Christians today who think they have to earn their “5” status with God and get discouraged because they always fall short?

Let us think like true “5”s, and let us come before Jesus with humility, confidence that he will accept us, and deep gratefulness for his love, forgiveness, and grace.

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Though we were unclean (Luke 5)

Throughout this passage, we see Jesus cleansing those who were “unclean.” He of course cleansed the leper of his disease, but more importantly he also cleansed Peter, the paralytic, and Matthew of their sins.

But it’s Peter that I want to talk about today. In verse 8, Peter cries out to Jesus,

Go away from me Lord, because I am a sinful man.

I don’t know what sin Peter saw in his life, but what strikes me is what Peter didn’t see. That the day would come when he would deny Jesus three times.

But Jesus knew. And yet he told Peter,

Don’t be afraid, from now on you will be catching people. (10)

Fast forward to after the resurrection in John 21. Now Peter saw his own failings even more clearly than he had in Luke 5.

And yet Jesus tells him, “Feed my lambs. Shepherd my sheep. Feed my sheep.”

I think part of what Jesus was telling Peter was, “Yes, you know your sin and your failures. You see your uncleanness. But by the blood I shed on the cross, I have now cleansed you. Now with the humility that comes from knowing not only your weakness, but the grace you have received, go and take care of my sheep who are also weak and in need of grace.”

As we grow as Christians, we like Peter will see our own weaknesses and failures more clearly than before. Sins that we weren’t aware of before, we become aware of.

But let us not grow discouraged. As he cleansed the leper with a touch, so he cleanses us. And now he tells us, “Don’t be afraid. Join me in my work. Join me in touching people who are hurting because of their sin.”

And so with humility, knowing our weaknesses and our sins, but also the grace that we have received, let us touch the non-Christians around us. And let us also touch the Christians who are also hurting because of their own weaknesses and failures.

Humility and gratitude should mark us as Christians. If they don’t, it’s a sign that that we haven’t fully grasped the grace we’ve received yet.

Honestly, I’m still not as humble and grateful as I should be.

So with the leper, I cry out, “Lord if you are willing, you can make me clean.”

How awesome it is that we have a Savior that says, “I am willing. Be made clean.”

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If you want to live the Christian life (Luke 4)

Living the Christian life is not always easy. If fact, most times it is not. We face all sorts of trials, temptations, and hard choices every day. People sometimes reject us because we are Christians. And sometimes, they place all kinds of unreasonable expectations on us. In this passage, you see Jesus experiencing all these things.

How did he do it?

You might say, “Well, of course, he was God. That’s how he did it! It was easy for him.”

But don’t forget, when Jesus came to this earth, he became a man in every way. And that means he wasn’t relying on his own divine knowledge and power to overcome all his problems. (Just look at verses 2-3 for example). Instead, he looked to his Father for guidance, and relied on the power of the Holy Spirit. Note what it says about Jesus in this chapter. Jesus was “full of the Holy Spirit,” “led by the Spirit,” and did ministry “in the power of the Spirit.”

If Jesus, the Son of God, needed to do that, how much more do we need to?

How often, though, do we do things in our own wisdom? In our own strength? And then we wonder why we struggle every day.

“Father, lead me today as you led your Son. Fill me with your love each day. Help me to see what you’re doing. Help me to join in with your work. Holy Spirit, fill me, lead me, and empower me as you did with Jesus when he was on earth. I need you today and every day. In Jesus name, amen.”

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Our foundation (Luke 3)

I’ve talked about Jesus’ baptism before in a previous blog, talking about how when the Father looked upon Jesus, he said,”You are my Son. I love you. I am well pleased with you.” And one of my points was that God essentially says the same thing to us as his children.

But there’s one thing I want you to note here: When did the Father say all these things to him? After Jesus had started preaching? After he had started performing miracles? After the cross? No, the Father said this before Jesus had done any of this. The foundation of the Father’s love for Jesus was not the ministry Jesus did. Rather, the foundation for Jesus’ ministry was the love the Father had for him.

That’s why it didn’t matter to Jesus what other people thought of him. That’s why when others hurt or even betrayed him, he was able to forgive them. His foundation in ministry and in life was the love the Father had for him.

What is the foundation of your ministry and life? Is it the fact that the Father looks at you and says, “You are my son. You are my daughter. I love you. I am well pleased with you”?

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A God who does not doubt our love (John 21)

This is a very famous passage in which three times Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?”

Why did Jesus ask this? Because he doubted Peter’s love?

That would have been a reasonable response by Jesus. After all, Peter had denied knowing him three times.

Wouldn’t you doubt someone like that?

But I think we see clearly that Jesus does not doubt Peter’s love at all.

We see this in two ways.

First, he tells Peter, “Feed my lambs,” “Tend my sheep,” and “Feed my sheep.”

Would Jesus tell Peter do this if he had any doubt in his mind concerning Peter’s love?

Second, Jesus essentially tells him, “I know you love me. I know because the day will come when you will die for my sake.” (18-19)

So why did Jesus question Peter?

Perhaps one reason was that Jesus had been looking right at him when Peter denied knowing him the third time (Luke 22:61). And he knew Peter needed the chance to look at him in the eyes and reaffirm his love for Jesus. More, Peter needed to know that Jesus believed in his love. And that’s what Jesus did for Peter that day. He said, “Yes, Peter, I know you love me. I know you failed miserably. But I do not doubt your love.”

And then he told Peter. “Follow me.”

Sometimes we feel like Peter. We’ve failed miserably, and we wonder, “What does Jesus think of me? Does he doubt my love for him?”

Sometimes, we feel need to prove our love for him because of our failure.

But we don’t need to prove our love to him.

Jesus already knows our hearts. And while he sees us now with all our weaknesses and our failures, he also sees what he will be.

But remember this: it’s not that Jesus knows we will change ourselves and make ourselves better Christians. It’s that Jesus knows that he will never give up on us, and he will keep working on us until the day we are complete. (Philippians 1:6)

So more than believing in ourselves and our love for him, let us believe in him and his love for us. And with our eyes fully fixed on him and his love, let us follow our Shepherd wherever he leads.

 

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Behold the Man! Behold your King! (John 19)

Pilate’s words strike me.

“Behold the man!” (5)

What did the Jews see that day? They saw God incarnate, bloodied, beaten, a crown of thorns on his head, and in a purple robe.

Amazing love!
How can it be,
That thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
–Charles Wesley

“Behold your King!” (14)

What did they see?

A King condemned to death, not for his own sin, but for ours.

Amazing love!
How can it be,
That you my King, would die for me?
–Billy James Foote

Don’t just read this passage and go on with your day. Take some time and reflect on what the Jews saw that day. Remember what Jesus did for you. Remember his suffering. Remember his death. And remember his resurrection.

Let us not be like the Jews of that day and take our King lightly.

Instead, with deep gratitude and joy, let us sing, “You are my King!”

And each day, each moment, let us offer our lives to him.

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Truth (John 17-18)

Back in John 10:26-27, Jesus said to the Jews,

But you don’t believe because you are not of my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, I know them, and they follow me.

We see Jesus saying something similar to Pilate in chapter 10.

Everyone who is of the truth, listens to my voice. (10:37)

We live in a world that is becoming increasingly hostile to the truth. A world of people who, like Pilate, ask, “What is truth?”

To the world, truth is relative. They think humans decide for themselves what truth is. If they want to believe in Buddha, that’s truth for them. If they believe that Biblical moral values are out of date and that modern cultural values are truth, that’s truth for them.

But when Jesus prayed to the Father, he prayed,

Your word is truth. (17:17)

Do we believe that?

Christ’s sheep listen to his voice and follow him. If we don’t do those things, we don’t truly belong to him. We don’t belong to the truth.

When the Bible contradicts what you believe, what do you do? Do you change your thinking to match God’s? Or do you try to change the Bible to match your thinking?

Do we say with Jesus, “Father, your Word is truth”?

Who is your shepherd?

The culture we live in?

Or Jesus?

Who are you following?

 

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Changing yourself? (John 15)

When Christians struggle with sin in their lives, one thought often pops up in their minds. “I have to do better.”

It is of course good to want to be victorious over sin.

But that way of thinking can also be dangerous. It often leads to pride if you are “victorious.” Or it leads to discouragement when you’re not.

And so Jesus’ words are very important here. He says,

You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. (3)

If you believe Jesus is God’s Son, that he paid for your sins on the cross, and that his words are life, you are already clean in God’s sight. (John 7:68-69)

We don’t need to strive to change ourselves to make ourselves acceptable to him. We are already clean in his sight.

So what do we need to do then?

Simply remain in Jesus.

Walk with him, each day. Learn to listen to his voice. Through his Word. Through your times of prayer. And as he speaks, with your hand in his, take one more step forward.

Jesus doesn’t expect you to become perfect in one day. All he wants you to do is to take one more step forward. And as you do, you will bear fruit. You will change.

There’s no striving to change yourself. No beating yourself up when you fall. No pride in thinking that you are somehow changing yourself into a better person. Only walking, one step at a time, rooting yourself deeper into Jesus and his love.

So let’s meditate on Jesus’ words this week.

You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I in you. Just as a branch is unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without me. (3-5)

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Whose counsel are we taking? (Psalm 1-2)

Recently, I made the observation on Facebook that when the church’s message becomes so like the world’s that you can’t tell the difference between the two, you know the church is in trouble.

As I said that, I was particularly thinking of the moral breakdown of society, and how many churches are caving into the cultural pressure.

And so we as Christians need to think, “Who are we taking our counsel from? Where are we getting our standards of wrong and right?”

Are we getting them from this world that takes their stand against God and his Anointed, and cries out,

Let’s tear off their chains
and throw their ropes off of us.

Are these the people whose counsel we walk in? Are these the people we stand with when it comes to morals? Are these the people we join together with, standing in judgment over God’s word, and scoffing at what it says concerning wrong and right?

Or are we delighting in the Lord’s counsel, in his instruction?

Are his words the ones we meditate on?

The psalmist reminds us that counsel of the wicked leads to ruin. (1:6)

Those who follow it will be judged. (1:5)

But the Lord’s counsel leads to life.

And as we meditate on his words, we will become fruitful trees in a dying world. (1:3)

Whose counsel are you following?

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Believing in yourself? Believing in Jesus? (John 13-14)

“You can do it! Believe in yourself!”

How often do we say that to people?

Peter certainly believed in himself. He said, “Even if I have to die, I will follow you. Even if everyone else runs away, I won’t.”

What did Jesus say? “Yes! You can do it! Believe in yourself!”

Actually, no.

He said, “Really Peter? The truth is you will deny deny me three times.”

Talk about getting your balloon pricked.

But Jesus went told Peter and the other disciples,

Don’t let your heart be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. (1)

In other words, “Don’t get discouraged that I see your weakness. The truth is, I don’t want you to believe in your own goodness. Rather, believe in God. Believe in me. Believe in my goodness toward you. That though you fail, I am still preparing a place for you. That I will never abandon you. And by trusting, not in yourself, but in me, you will start to do all the things I do. In fact, you’ll do greater things. So take heart.”

Are you discouraged because you see your own weakness and sin? Be encouraged. God does not want us to trust in our own goodness or strength. Instead he wants us to rest in his goodness and love toward us.

Are you discouraged because your ministry isn’t going so well. Or maybe you feel you’re not making a difference in this world for Jesus. The answer isn’t to “do better.” Instead, pray and connect yourself to Jesus.  Each day, plug yourself into his word. Talk to him throughout the day. Learn to trust in his leading and rely on his power. Only then will you truly bear fruit in your life.

In short, don’t believe in yourself. Believe in Him.

 

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Knowing who we are and where we’re going (John 13)

In this passage, we see Jesus doing the lowly job of washing his disciples’ feet. That included Peter, who Jesus knew would deny him. That included Judas, who Jesus knew would betray him. And that included the other ten disciples, who Jesus knew would run away when he was arrested.

That is incredible humility and love. What was at the base of that humility and love?

John tells us.

Jesus knew that the Father had given everything into his hands, that he had come from God, and that he was going back to God. (3)

Jesus knew his position with the Father. That he was beloved. And that the Father had given him all authority.

Jesus knew where he came from. That it was the Father who had sent him.

Jesus knew where he was going. That though he would die on a cross, he would return to the Father.

We all want to be like Jesus. To love as he did. To forgive as he did. To serve as he did. But do we have the foundation that he had?

Do we know our position with the Father? That we are beloved? That we have received the right to be a child of God (John 1:12, 1 John 3:1-2)?

Do we know where we came from? That we were specially created by him (Psalm 139)? That God himself sends us out to be his ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:18-21)?

Do we know where we’re going? That because Jesus rose from the dead, we too have the hope of resurrection and eternal life. And even though we may have troubles and sorrows in this life, Jesus has overcome the world, and we will go to be with him someday? (John 14:2-3, John 16:33)

Read these passages this week. Meditate on them. And remember your foundations.

 

 

 

 

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To be where Jesus is (John 12)

There are a lot of things I could talk about from this passage, but verse 26 struck me, probably because I talked about it this past Sunday.

Jesus said,

If anyone serves me, he must follow me. Where I am, there my servant also will be.

Is that your mindset?

“Jesus I want to be where where you are.”

Of course Jesus is with us wherever we are. He is always trying to speak to us. To lead us. To show us what he’s doing.

But are we with him? In other words, are we consciously listening for his voice? Are we looking for his direction? How often do our thoughts turn to him during the day?

Only in the morning when we’re reading the Bible? Only at meals just before we eat?

How about the rest of the day?

Lord Jesus you are always with me. But help me to truly recognize that. Each day, each hour, each moment, help me to hear your voice and recognize your leading. I want to be where you are.

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Ramping up our faith (John 11)

Martha’s faith was pretty remarkable when you think about it.

Even though Jesus had delayed in coming when her brother was sick, and as a result her brother died, her faith in Jesus never wavered.

So many people in her position would have been so disappointed in Jesus that they would have just said, “I’m done with Jesus. He doesn’t really care about me.”

But though she was clearly hurting, and couldn’t understand why Jesus didn’t come earlier (21), she said,

Yet even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you. (22)

You see clearly from the next several verses that she was not at all thinking Jesus would raise Lazarus from the dead. All she was saying was, “I still believe in you Jesus. I still believe you are from God.”

She later affirms,

I believe you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who comes into the world. (27)

Martha clearly had faith. But Jesus wanted her to ramp up her faith. He wanted her to deepen her understanding of just who he was.

So he told her,

I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me, even if he dies, will live. Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. (25-26)

Talk about needing to ramp up your understanding of who Jesus is. No mere human could claim this. There is only one source of life, and that’s God.

Frankly, I think Martha’s head was spinning. With a child’s faith, she said, “Yes,” but it’s clear that she did not fully understand Jesus’ words.

And so when Jesus told her to roll away the stone to Lazarus’ tomb, she objected. At that point, Jesus once again challenged her to ramp up her faith in a very practical way: obey him. (39-41)

And when she did, she came to a deeper understanding of who Jesus truly was. That understanding became even more complete when she saw Jesus himself rise from the dead.

Do you really want to know Jesus better? Obey him. Even when you don’t understand what he’s doing or not doing. Even when you don’t understand why he’s telling you what he’s telling you. Obey him.

In what area of your life is Jesus now telling you, “Trust me. Obey me.”

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What are you seeking? (John 7)

I don’t mean for this to be a series or anything, but I keep seeing this question throughout John. (Maybe because I’m preaching on this question on Sunday).

In verses 37-38, Jesus cries out,

If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. The one who believes in me, as the Scripture has said, will have streams of living water flow from deep within him.

There are probably two pictures here. At the Feast of Tabernacles, there was a water ritual which reminded the Israelites of how God provided water for them in the desert through a rock that was struck by Moses.

In that same way, Jesus was struck for us on the cross, and because of that, we receive “water” that leads to eternal life from him. The Holy Spirit (verse 39) himself comes into our lives and makes us new people.

But there’s another picture, provided in Isaiah chapter 55.

God speaks and says,

Come, everyone who is thirsty,
come to the water;
and you without silver,
come, buy, and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without silver and without cost!
Why do you spend silver on what is not food,
and your wages on what does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
and you will enjoy the choicest of foods.
Pay attention and come to me;
listen, so that you will live. (Isaiah 55:1-3)

Again, are we seeking? Are we seeking things that do not satisfy? Or do we seek Jesus, who alone can satisfy?

But notice what is the result of coming to God and drinking of the water he provides.

so you will summon a nation you do not know,
and nations who do not know you will run to you. (Isaiah 55:5)

That’s what I want in Japan (and in all nations for that matter). That people would see the glory of God in us, and run to us wondering why we’re so different.

What do we tell them when they do? The message found in verses 1-3. And the message in verse 6-7.

Seek the LORD while he may be found;
call to him while he is near.
Let the wicked one abandon his way
and the sinful one his thoughts;
let him return to the LORD,
so he may have compassion on him,
and to our God, for he will freely forgive. (Isaiah 55:6-7)

And God promises,

my word that comes from my mouth
will not return to me empty,
but it will accomplish what I please
and will prosper in what I send it to do. (Isaiah 55:11)

And as we are filled with the God’s Spirit, touching people’s lives, God says,

You will indeed go out with joy
and be peacefully guided;
the mountains and the hills will break into singing before you,
and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. (Isaiah 55:12)

May we all seek a life filled with God’s Spirit and love to the point of overflowing. A life that touches others so that not only we find joy, but the the people we touch find it too.

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What are you seeking (John 6)

I asked the question last week, “What are you seeking?”

We see this theme again in today’s passage.

At the start of this passage, many people were seeking for Jesus. Why? For healing. (2)

Then in verse 24, they went seeking for Jesus again. Why? To get more bread from Jesus.

And so Jesus tells them, “Truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate the loaves and were filled.

Don’t work for the food that perishes but for the food that lasts for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set his seal of approval on him.” (26-27)

In short, “You’ve missed the point of the miracle. The point of the miracle was not to fill your stomachs. The point of the miracle is that I’m the life-giver. Don’t seek physical food. Seek me, the giver of life.”

But the crowd didn’t understand his words. Their words “Give us this bread that leads to eternal life” echoes the Samaritan woman’s words, “Give me this water that leads to eternal life so that I won’t get thirsty. ” (4:15)

And so Jesus says,

“I am the bread of life…No one who comes to me will ever be hungry, and no one who believes in me will ever be thirsty again.” (6:35)

That verse is the key to everything that Jesus says afterwards about “eating his flesh” and “drinking his blood.” To come to Jesus is to “eat his flesh.” To believe in him is to “drink his blood.”

Put another way, Jesus is the only one who truly satisfies our soul. Nothing else will truly satisfy.

And so Jesus says,

“The one who eats my flesh (comes to me) and drinks my blood (believes in me) remains in me, and I in him.” (56)

That word “remains” is the same one we saw when Andrew and John “stayed” with Jesus in chapter 1. And it is the same word we see in John 15, when Jesus commands us to remain in him.

True satisfaction comes in coming to Jesus, believing in him, and remaining in him.

But that’s hard for a lot of people to hear. It’s hard for them to accept. It’s offensive to them.

Many people willing to accept Jesus as a good man or a good teacher. But they do not accept him as the one we must come to, believe in, and remain in if we want to find life.

That’s what the Jews struggled with. And when they saw what Jesus was really saying, many left him.

Jesus wasn’t just saying, “Come to me and I’ll give you healing and make your life happy.” He was saying, “I am the one you need. Don’t chase these other things. Seek me. I am all you need.”

Do you believe this? Are you pursuing Jesus? Are you saying, “I want to be with you. I want to learn from you. I want to join in your work and touch this world?”

Or are you merely seeking personal happiness?

What are you seeking?

Jesus asks us the same question he asked the disciples.

“You don’t want to go away too, do you?” (67)

May we be like Peter and say,

Lord, to whom will we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God. (68-69)

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The water we’re drinking (John 4)

Jesus’ words to the Samaritan woman strike me here.

If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water. (10)

And again,

Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life. (13-14)

What are we “drinking” every day? When we’re tired or discouraged, and need to be refreshed, what do we turn to? Do we turn to the internet? Porn? TV? Music? Games? Books? Entertainment? Alcohol?

Do we forsake the spring of living water for broken cisterns that cannot hold water? (Jeremiah 2:13)

How often are we like the Samaritans who cry out to Jesus, “Stay with us”?

(That word “stay” is the same word Jesus uses when he tells us to “remain” in him in John 15:4-11.)

How often do we drink in his Word, and take time to listen to his voice?

I admit, it is easy for me to turn to other things too. Oh, I’ll spend my time with God in the morning, but it’s easy to turn to other things at the end of the day.

Lord Jesus, stay with me. Let me abide in you and your love each day. Don’t let me turn to broken cisterns that cannot hold water. Instead, may my life be rooted in your love. And each day, may those roots grow ever deeper, that I may know just how wide, long, high and deep is your love for me. In your name I pray, amen.

 

 

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Only by the Spirit (John 3)

I live in a country, Japan, where less than one percent of the population is Christian.

It’s been that way as long as I can remember. And it can be easy to despair. To wonder if things can ever change.

But in this passage, Jesus says two important things about salvation.

First, to be saved, we need to be born again. Another way to translate that, is “born from above.”

What does that mean, “born from above”? (3, 7)

I think Jesus clarifies his meaning in verse 5.

He says,

Truly I tell you, unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.

There are multiple interpretations of this verse, but I think the answer is found in Ezekiel 36:25-27 where God says,

I will also sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. I will cleanse you from all your impurities and all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will place my Spirit within you and cause you to follow my statutes and carefully observe my ordinances.

Here God tells the Jews who are in exile, “I will bring you back to Israel, and at that time, I will cleanse you of your sins, and place my Spirit in you.”

The interesting thing is that God does not do this because they are so good or have repented. Instead, he makes it clear that he’s doing it in order to show his own holiness to the nations (22-23, 32). Only after God works his salvation do his people repent of their sin (31).

What does this have to do with Japan? Or for America or any other nation for that matter?

It has to do with the second thing Jesus teaches here: salvation will only come when the Spirit of God moves, cleansing people of their sin and coming to dwell in their hearts. Unless he works, there is no hope.

Jesus said,

The wind blows where it pleases, and you hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit. (John 3:8)

Jesus is doing a word play here: the words wind and Spirit are the same in the Greek. And whenever you see someone become a Christian, you see someone the Spirit has touched. You may not know how he worked in their lives or what brought to them that point. They themselves might not realize until years later exactly what the Spirit did. But their changed lives are proof of his work.

We don’t know where the Spirit will blow next. But he will blow. And that’s what we need to pray for. That he will blow in the hearts of the people around us. In our cities. In our nations. In our world.

For only in him, will we ever see changed hearts and lives.

Holy Spirit, blow in the lives of our nation. Blow in the lives of the people around us, especially those we love. Only you can change the human heart. So blow. Breathe life into people. And blow in our lives. Use us as your instruments to touch the people around us. In Jesus name, amen.

 

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What are you seeking? (John 1)

“What are you seeking?”

That was the question Jesus asked two men who had just left John the Baptist, and were following Jesus from a distance.

At this point, these two men knew almost nothing about Jesus. All they knew was that John had pointed them to Jesus and said, “He is the one you must follow now.”

And so perhaps hesitantly at first, they started following after Jesus. It didn’t take long for Jesus to notice them, and so he turned to them and asked, “What are you seeking?”

They answered, “Teacher, where are you staying?”

Kind of a strange question, don’t you think? Not “Hi, my name is Andrew and this is my friend John, son of Zebedee. Nice to meet you.” But, “Teacher, where are you staying?”

What did he mean by that?

Probably he meant, “We want to be with you. We want to learn from you. We want to follow you. We want to be like you.”

And so Jesus answered, “Come, and you will see.”

How about you? Were Jesus to ask you, “What are you seeking,” how would you answer?

“I need healing.”

“I want a better life.”

Or would you say, “Jesus, I want to be where you are. I want to learn from you. I want to follow you. I want to be like you.” 

Certainly Jesus wants a better life for you. He wants you to find healing.

But he doesn’t want you to stop there. He wants you to see beyond your own personal needs and desires. He wants people who desire to be with him, to learn from him, to take on his values and be like him, and who ultimately join him in making a difference in this world. And in so doing, we find what life truly is about.

Life is not primarily about our own personal happiness and satisfaction. Life is walking with Jesus, and joining him in his work to touch a world that is dying. And it’s when we start doing those two things, that we truly find a life that is worth living.

How about you? What are you seeking?

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Valuing Jesus. Valued by Jesus. (Mark 14)

As I read this chapter, I marvel at Mary, sister of Lazarus and Martha. (See John 12:1-8.)

She valued Jesus so much, she was willing to sacrifice some very costly perfume in order to honor Jesus. It makes me think: “How much do I value Jesus?”

Am I like Mary?

Or am I like Judas, who professes love for Jesus, and yet betrays him with my actions?

Or am I like Peter, who professes love for Jesus, but can’t even stay awake for him?

But don’t miss something else in this passage.

Jesus values us, even in our weakness.

Knowing that his disciples that would run from him in his time of trial, and that Peter would deny even knowing him, Jesus nevertheless broke bread at dinner and said, “Take it. This is my body.” Then he took a cup and gave it to them, and said, “This is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many.” (22-24)

That’s how much Jesus values us, weak and fragile as we are. He gave his life for us.

And it was no light sacrifice either. He agonized over it, pleading with the Father, “Take this cup from me! I don’t want to go to the cross!”

But in the end, he did so. Why? Because he valued us so much.

Let us value Jesus each day as Mary did. But just as importantly, never forget how much he values us.

As John says,

We love because he first loved us. (I John 4:19)

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Be on your guard (Mark 13)

It’s hard to miss the repetition Jesus uses here when he talks about the last days.

Three times, he says, “Be on your guard!”

All three times, it’s different things we are to be on our guard about.

The first time, Jesus warns us to be on our guard because persecution will come (9-13). The time will come when we will be hated even by those closest to us because we love Jesus. There will be times we will be punished by those in power for proclaiming Jesus. You already see this in countries like China. But you also see it in the States as well: people punished for standing up for what scripture clearly teaches in terms of right and wrong.

Jesus then warns a second time: “Be on your guard (23)”. Why? Because false messiahs, false prophets, and false teachers will come to deceive, even performing miraculous signs. Do you test the teachings you hear from your pastor, from pastors on the internet, and famous Christian authors? Hopefully, those you listen to are spiritually solid, but if you are not on our guard, you may be deceived.

Jesus warns a final time: “Be on your guard (33).” Why? Because Jesus will come back some day and he will hold you accountable for how are you living. When Jesus comes back, will he be able to say to you, “Well done, good and faithful servant?”

How about you? Are you on your guard?

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A+? F? (Mark 12:13-17)

I wrote something very similar to this some time ago, and it probably gives a better explanation of  this passage’s context and what it is about. But today, I wanted to focus on something a bit different.

Last Sunday, a former of pastor of mine was giving a message on “A+” people. So often, we look at ourselves, not as A+ people, but as “F”s. And because of that, we think God sees us the same way.

But that’s not true. He sees us as A+ people. Why? Because we are more special than others? No. But because in his grace, he has adopted us as his children. And he loves us.

We see a glimpse of that truth in this passage.

In talking about taxes, Jesus talked about how Caesar’s likeness and inscription were engraved on the Roman coins, marking them as belonging to Caesar.

But in the same way, God’s likeness and inscription are engraved on us. We were all created in God’s image. (Genesis 1:26)

And when we become Christians, his inscription is written in our hearts. Paul tells us,

“You show that you are Christ’s letter delivered by us, not written with ink but with the Spirit of the living God—not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” (2 Corinthians 3:3)

What does that inscription say? What does the Holy Spirit say of us?

He tells us, “You are God’s child. You belong to him.” (Romans 8:16)

And so as we offer our lives to God, we do so not as oppressed, fearful slaves. We do not need to wonder, “Does God really love me? Does God really accept me? Am I really an A+ in his eyes?”

Rather, we say with joy, “Yes! I am your child. I belong to you.” And it’s in that joy, we offer to him our all.

Maybe you’re still struggling with feeling you’re an F. You look at your life, and you say, “I sure don’t feel like God’s likeness and inscription are written on me.”

But they are. And though we are not yet perfect, Paul assures us,

“We all…are being transformed into the same image as (Jesus) from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

The same God that joyfully said “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” looks at you with that same love and joy and says, “I am your God too.”

The Lord your God is among you,
a warrior who saves.
He will rejoice over you with gladness.
He will be quiet in his love.
He will delight in you with singing. (Zephaniah 3:17)

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Listen to him! (Mark 9)

I don’t find it much a coincidence that shortly after Peter had been arguing with Jesus over his mission, the Father said what he did.

On that high mountain, for the first time, Peter, James, and John, caught a glimpse of Jesus’ true glory. And then the Father spoke.

“This is my beloved Son; listen to him! (7)

That word “listen” also has the strong nuance of, “obey.”

I can’t help but think Peter heard the Father’s words as a rebuke. “Don’t argue with my beloved Son. Obey him!”

I also don’t find it a coincidence that Moses appeared with Jesus on that mountain. Moses himself had told the Israelites,

The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your brothers and sisters. You must listen to everything he tells you. And everyone who does not listen to that prophet will be completely cut off from the people. (Acts 3:22-23, see also Deuteronomy 18:15-19)

Years later, the writer of Hebrews said something similar in Hebrews 3, comparing Moses and Jesus. His point?

“Don’t rebel like the Israelites did against Moses. Someone far greater has come. Moses was a mere servant. But Jesus is God’s Son. Listen to him! Believe him! Obey him! If you do, you will find rest. If you don’t, you will be judged.”

Let us not argue with our Lord as Peter did. But each day, let us listen to, believe, and obey him.

 

 

 

 

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Who Jesus really is (Mark 8)

Who is Jesus, really?

The disciples should have known. But somehow, they didn’t.

It should have been clear to them after Jesus fed the 5000. But after Jesus calmed the storm, it’s clear that they still didn’t really know. (Mark 6:51-52)

It should have been clear after he fed the 4000. But even after that, it still wasn’t. When Jesus warned them against the leaven of the Pharisees and Herod, they thought he was referring to the fact that they had no bread.

And so Jesus said,

Why are you discussing the fact you have no bread? Don’t you understand or comprehend? Do you have hardened hearts? Do you have eyes and not see; do you have ears and not hear? (17-18)

What did they not see, hear, or understand?

That Yahweh himself was in their midst. The same Yahweh that fed the Israelite bread in the desert (Exodus 16), the same Yahweh that calmed the sea (Jonah 1:13-16, Psalm 107:27-30), the same Yahweh with the shepherd’s heart for his people (Psalm 23, Mark 6:34, 8:2-3) was the same Yahweh who was with them now.

Was it any wonder the joy Jesus felt when Peter finally got it, proclaiming him as the Messiah, the Son of the living God? (Mark 8:29; Matthew 16:16)

But even so, Peter’s comprehension was incomplete and he ultimately tried to contradict his Lord’s words (Mark 8:32-33).

How about us? Do we realize that in Jesus, Yahweh is truly with us? That when we are in need, he will provide? That when the storms of life hit, he will bring us through? That when he speaks, we are to believe and follow no matter what?

Or does he look at us in amazement, and say, “Don’t you understand yet?” (Mark 8:21)

 

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The teaching we hold to (Mark7)

Jesus’ words strike me in this passage. Quoting from Isaiah, he says,

This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me.
They worship me in vain,
teaching as doctrines human commands. (6-7)

And then he said,

“Abandoning the command of God, you hold on to human tradition…You have a fine way of invalidating God’s command in order to set up your tradition. (8-9)

Nowadays, many Christian churches seem to be going down this path. Instead of following the commands of God, they are following the teaching of the world. They invalidate God’s command in order to follow the world’s teaching on what’s right and wrong, and how we should live.

How about you? Are you abandoning the commands of God in order to follow the teaching of the world?

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Making our Lord marvel (Mark 6)

Two verses strike me from this chapter.

So they were offended at [Jesus]. (3)

And,

…he was amazed at their unbelief.” (6)

To this day, people are offended at Jesus. At least when he makes claims of authority over our lives. The gentle Jesus that loves and welcomes little children, almost everyone loves. The Jesus who is king and will one day judge all people, not so much.

I suppose the question for us who claim to be Christians is, “Does that Jesus offend us?” And if so, why?

How often does Jesus marvel at our unbelief? That we would question his love for us? That we would question his wisdom? That we would question his authority in our lives?

I ask myself, how often does Jesus marvel at my unbelief? How often do I hesitate to do what he asks? Especially in light of all he has done for me.

How about you? What is your attitude toward our Lord? 

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Responding to God’s Word (Mark 4)

In a lot of ways, this passage is connected to what I talked about yesterday: our reponse to Jesus’ authority.  

Today, the question is, “How do we respond to His word?” You see this in the parable of the soils, but also in these words:

Consider carefully what you hear…With the measure you use, it will be measured to you— and even more. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. (24-25)

In short, if you hear God’s word, and it bears fruit in your life, God will give you more and more wisdom and understanding. But if you harden your heart to his word, if you abandon it when trials and hardship come, or if you let it get choked out by other things, you’ll lose the wisdom and understanding God had previously given you. 

How about you? Does God’s word bear fruit in your life?

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Jesus’ authority (Mark 1-3)

As I’ve been reading Mark this week, one word has come to mind: Authority. Namely, Jesus’ authority.

You see it first in his message.

The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news! (Mark 1:15)

You see it when he calls people to follow him, and they immediately drop everything to do so. (Mark 1:16-20, 2:14)

You see his authority and power over sickness and demons. (1:21-25, 32-34, 40-42, 3:10-12).

You see his authority to forgive sins against God. (2:10)

You see his authority to loosen the Sabbath regulations. (2:23-3:6)

But one thing you also see is people defying or questioning Jesus’ authority. (1:43-45; 2:24; 3:6; 3:22)..

I guess my question for myself and for you is this: What do we do with Jesus’ authority?

Are we like his disciples, accepting his authority in our lives, and following him?

Or do we question or even defy his authority?

In short, do our hearts belong to him?

Would Jesus say to us,

Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? (Luke 6:46)

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Walking in the truth (3 John)

It’s hard to escape the word “truth” in this letter. John uses it six times in this very short letter.

What is he talking about when he says, “the truth”? Most likely, he’s talking about the truth of the gospel.

And John, after praising Gaius for walking in the truth of the gospel, tells him,

I have no greater joy than this: to hear that my children are walking in truth. (4)

What does that mean, to walk in the truth of the gospel?

I think it means to walk in the love and grace of God each day. To remember each day that God has rescued us from a life of sin that was destroying us. To remember that we are already accepted by him as his beloved children. And to live each day in gratitude and in awe of the grace that we have been given.

And if we walk in this truth daily, it puts a love in our hearts for God that transforms our entire life. It changes the way we think and the way we act. And people will notice, as they did with Gaius and Demetrius.

How about you? Are you walking in the truth of the gospel?

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Who we sound like (I John 4)

I wish I could give a whole message on John 4, because there’s a lot of good stuff here. But let me focus on one thing.

John says,

They (the false prophets) are from the world. Therefore what they say is from the world, and the world listens to them.

We (the apostles) are from God. Anyone who knows God listens to us; anyone who is not from God does not listen to us.

This is how we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of deception. (5-6)

Think about what John is saying. John says, “Whoever listens to the apostles’ teaching is from God. Anyone who does not follow the apostles’ teaching is not from God.”

Either John is being very arrogant here, or he is telling the truth.

And how you answer that question will determine your worldview.

The world is changing around us. And not for the better. What used to be clear-cut in terms of right and wrong, has now been made foggy by the world.

And when it comes to morals, Christians left and right are starting to sound more and more like the world.

“The apostles didn’t understand what we do now, so what they say doesn’t apply anymore. They were just ignorant, biased Jews. We’re are more enlightened now.”

Some even talk as if Jesus and his apostles contradicted each other in their teachings.

But John says, “Do you want to know the difference between truth and deception? The standard is our teaching.”

Question: When it comes to morals, when it comes to truth, who do you sound more like? The world? Or the apostles? Whose worldview are you accepting? The world’s? Or the apostles’?

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God’s love? Love for God? (1 John 2)

After a flood of insights last week, it’s been a quiet one for me this week. Not that I haven’t learned anything, but nothing stood out to me that I haven’t already written about.

But today, verse 5 stood out to me.

But whoever keeps his word, truly in him the love of God is made complete. (5)

“The love of God.”

The phrase there could mean either “God’s love for us” (probable), or “our love for God.”

And I thought, “How much has the love of God been made complete in me?”

There are still so many ways that I break his word every day.

A lot of times, that’s because his love for me has not truly sunk down into my heart.

If I truly knew in my heart of hearts his love for me, I would be much more patient with others.

I would be less selfish.

I would be more gracious toward others.

I would be less tempted by the things of this world and my lusts.

Lord, may I come to completely understand your love for me. And as I do, may my love for you be made more complete as well.

 

 

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Humility (I Peter 5)

All of you clothe yourselves with humility toward one another. (5)

Here Peter addresses specifically the relationship between leaders in the church and their sheep.

Leaders are to clothe themselves with humility to the people they are shepherding. Why? Because leaders stand accountable to the Chief Shepherd. And unlike the Chief Shepherd, they do not know all things, nor are they all-wise. And so they need to be willing to learn, even from the sheep.

In the same way, the members are to clothe themselves with humility to their leaders. Why? Because they also stand accountable to the Chief Shepherd. And because their elders have been put in their position by the Chief Shepherd. God does not do things randomly.

I will be honest: I struggle with humility. Especially when I think I’m right and the other person is wrong.

But if I do not clothe myself with humility, two things will likely happen.

  1. If I am actually wrong, I won’t be able to see it. Or if I do, I will have a hard time swallowing it because of my pride.
  2. If the other person is wrong, they’ll have a hard time seeing it because of my attitude.

Either way, we will be acting in ways displeasing to our Chief Shepherd.

So when we disagree with each other, let us strive to maintain a humble attitude. Because ultimately, we all will have to answer to our Chief Shepherd.

God resists the proud
but gives grace to the humble.,

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God… (5-6)

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Saved with difficulty (I Peter 4)

Peter’s words in verses 17 and 18 really struck me, but particularly verse 18, where he says,

And if the righteous person is saved with difficulty, what will become of the ungodly and sinner?

The ESV puts it, “…the righteous is scarcely saved…”

Have you ever considered the fact that all people who are ultimately saved are saved by the skin of their teeth? That means Billy Graham. Your pastor. You. And me.

We are not saved because of any good work we have done.

It’s not like God says to some people, “Well, we’ll add to Jesus’ work on the cross to what you have done and see where we are. Hmm…He took care of  80 percent and what you did is worth…40%. Hey, no problem! come on in.”

And it’s not like God says to others, “Well, Jesus took care of 80 percent, and you took care of 20 percent. Wow! That was close! You almost didn’t make it into my kingdom. You should have done more.”

Rather, God looks at us and says, “Let’s see, Jesus contributed 100% to your salvation and you contributed…nothing. Wow! You barely made it! Good thing Jesus took care of it all, isn’t it? Come on in to the Kingdom! Welcome!”

Of course I’m being rather facetious, but you get the picture.

We were saved only with great difficulty. But none of that difficulty was overcome by our own efforts, but by Christ’s when he died on the cross.

And that’s what we need to remember when we go through trials and suffering.

Some Christians go through trials and suffering as Peter’s audience apparently was, and they cry out, “It’s not fair! I don’t deserve this. I’m a good Christian! Look at all I’ve done for you! Why are you letting this happen to me?”

But Peter says, “No. You’re thinking is all wrong. You are only saved by God’s grace. You were barely saved, and that only because Jesus did all the work for you. He didn’t have to save you. But he did. And in so doing, he showed his faithfulness and love to you. So in the midst of your struggles, hold on to that truth. He is faithful. He does love you. So keep putting your trust in him, no matter what happens to you.”

Judgment, Peter says, begins with God’s household. But his judgment on us is not a matter of punishment, but of discipline. And the suffering we go through on earth is meant to help us see that there is more to life than this world. That true life is found in  following him. (1-2).

So when we do suffer, let us not complain. Let us not cry out, “It’s not fair! I deserve better.”

Rather, let us “entrust ourselves to our faithful Creator while doing what is good.”

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Called to bless (I Peter 3)

There are many good things in this passage, but verse 9, struck me today.

Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. (ESV)

“Bless, for to this you were called.”

We were not called to curse others. We were not called to make lives miserable for others. Even when they make life miserable for us.

We are called to bless them. Why?

Because when we were enemies of God, he blessed us with his grace.

As Paul wrote in Romans 5:8,

“…God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (ESV)

And as we follow his example, blessing those around us though they don’t deserve it, we ourselves are blessed by God.

Am I a blessing to others? To my wife? To my daughter? To my coworkers? To my pastor? To the people at church? I don’t know. I hope so. I can see many ways I still need to learn what that means.

May we all live up to that calling God has given us, and be a blessing to those around us.

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What are we drinking? (2 Peter 1-2)

“You are what you eat.”

Or so the saying goes.

In this case, Peter might change that to, “You are what you drink.”

I talked in my last blog about living by the gospel.

But what kind of things do we drink in every day?

Malice toward other people?

Deceit and hypocrisy, pretending to be something we’re not?

Envy of those around us?

Slander, trying to cut others down to size?

Or are we drinking in the gospel?

Peter writes,

Like newborn infants, desire the pure milk of the word, so that you may grow up into your salvation, if you have tasted that the Lord is good. (2:2-3)

You could of course interpret “word” broadly to refer to the whole Word of God.

But in 1:25, Peter specifically limits it to the gospel we have heard.

We never outgrow the gospel, no matter how “mature” a Christian we may be.

And if we aren’t drinking in the gospel daily, we eventually end up drinking in other filth.

That’s why we need to come to Jesus every day. Every day, we need to drink of his goodness, remembering all he has done for us.

What has he done for us?

He redeemed us from an empty way of life by his blood on the cross. (1:18)

He gave us new life. (1:23)

He made us his temple, his priests. (2:5)

He made us his own people. (2:9-10)

More, he has made us his own children. (1:14, 17)

When we were lost sheep, he sought after us and brought us back, dying for our sins, and healing us. (2:21-25)

Drink those things in. Meditate on them daily. Remember just how amazing all this really is.

And as these truths sink in, all the poison we have taken into until now will be cleansed out of our system.

Lord, let me never take these things for granted. I do so too often. As I daily take in the milk of the gospel, renew in me each day the joy of my salvation. Amen.

 

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Living by the gospel (2 Timothy 3)

One thing that Paul wanted Timothy to remind the Christians is to live by the gospel. What does that mean?

It means that we daily remember the goodness and loving kindness of God toward us. That when we were lost sheep who were far from him, he saved us.

He saved us not because we were good sheep doing good things.

He saved us because of his mercy. He washed us and made us into new people through his Holy Spirit.

And it is because of that grace, we stand justified before him.

What is the result of remembering all this? It fills our hearts with thanksgiving and causes us to want to please him. Paul says,

I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. (8)

Take some time to read all of Titus today (it’s very short), and see how many times that theme of God’s people doing good works is repeated.

But remember: We are not trying to impress God with our good works. We are not trying to prove ourselves to him by these works. We have already been accepted and loved by him.

And when we remember that, we can’t help but want to please our Father.

Do you feel you have to prove yourself worthy to God? To your pastor? To your parents? To others?

That’s not living by the gospel. To live by the gospel is to rest and rejoice in the love and grace of our Father.

If you have constantly feel you have to prove yourself worthy, you’ll eventually get tired and worn out. If you rest in the Father’s grace and love, pleasing your Father will be your joy.

How about you? Are you living by the gospel?

 

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Being faithful in what God has called us to do (Acts 6:1-7)

I have been continuing for the past couple of years to translate my original blog posts into Japanese, and am now in Acts.

As I translated what I originally wrote, another aspect of this passage struck me.

Obviously, the apostles were dropping the ball in terms of making sure all the widows were getting fed.

But what was the answer? To just be more faithful in fulfilling those duties? That certainly would have been one option.

But to be faithful in doing those duties would have been problematic. Why? Because those duties, important as they were, were not what God had called the apostles to do. They were called to preach the word and to pray. For the apostles, to faithfully serve the widows would have meant not being faithful in preaching the word and praying. After all, a person has only so many hours in a day.

And that’s why they delegated the ministry of feeding the widows to the deacons. By doing so, the apostles could focus on what God wanted them to do.

It is so easy to get caught up in doing things, even good things, even necessary things, and yet neglect to be faithful in doing what God has called you to do. It’s a question I’m asking myself now.

My church is going through a bit of a transition right now, with some people going out to start a new church. And so the question I’m asking is, “What do I need to do to help with this transition period? And what don’t I need to do?”

That’s not the easiest question to answer, and one I’m praying about. Like I said, there are some good and necessary things that need to be done. But the question is, can I do them and still be faithful to the call God has given me, not just to my church, but to my family? Because God has called me to minister to them too.

May we all be faithful to the call God has put on our lives.

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Confusing God’s grace with his approval (Numbers 20:2-13)

One thing that God has been reminding me recently is that just because my ministry is blessed, this doesn’t necessarily mean I have his approval.

This passage is a perfect example of that.

Through Moses, the people of Israel were given water. But Moses most definitely did not have God’s approval.

God had told him to speak to the rock and that God would cause water to come out of it to quench the people’s thirst.

But in a fit of anger because of all the people’s complaints, Moses struck the rock instead.

And…water came out. Everyone was satisfied.

Had God not said anything, Moses might have deceived himself into thinking he had God’s approval. After all, God had used him, and the people’s need was met.

But God was not pleased with Moses.

He said,

Because you did not trust me to demonstrate my holiness in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this assembly into the land I have given them. (12)

We must never confuse God’s grace in our ministry with his approval of us. For the sake of his people and his kingdom, in his grace, God may use us to bring blessing to many, even when we’re being unfaithful to our call. But the fact that he blesses our ministry doesn’t mean that we have God’s approval.

That makes me tremble. What will God say to me when I stand before him?

Will he say, “Well done?”

Or will all I have done be burned away? (I Corinthians 3:15)

God, you have entrusted me with this ministry to your people. Not for my sake. Not for my glory. But for the sake of your people to bless them. And for the sake of your glory. Forgive me for the times that I have forgotten that. Help me to always be faithful as your steward.

Thank you for your grace that always picks me up and sustains me. In Jesus name. Amen.

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Remember Jesus (2 Timothy 3)

I really love this passage, but two things really stand out to me.

…be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. (1)

Paul doesn’t say, “Man up. It’s all up to you! So do it!”

He says, “Be strong in the grace that is in Jesus.”

Our strength doesn’t come from within ourselves. Our strength comes from resting in him. In knowing that he already loves us and accepts us.

That is to be the foundation of our lives.

It is that knowledge that helps us when we face trials.

It’s that knowledge that sustains us when everything and everyone seems against us.

It’s that knowledge that helps us stand when we’re tired and feel like we can’t go on.

“Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.”

The second verse that strikes me is related to that first one in many ways.

Remember Jesus Christ… (8)

When things are hard, remember Jesus Christ.

Remember that he faced hardship too. Even the cross.

When things seem hopeless, remember Jesus Christ.

That in the most hopeless place, the grave, he rose to life. And in that cold, dark place, hope arose too.

So let us always remember Jesus and sing in our hearts with Paul that ancient hymn of the church.

For if we died with him,
we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he will also deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful,
for he cannot deny himself. (11-13)

Why do we have hope? As we saw a couple blogs ago, not because we are good sheep. But because Jesus is a good shepherd.

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Standing in awe of God (I Timothy 6)

You’ll have to forgive me if I seem to be beating the same drum at times.

But this is one drum that I’ve been trying to keep in mind, because if I don’t, I’m likely to forget it.

I was just thinking once again, “Why do I do what I do?”

I look at all the things Paul writes in this chapter.

Be content.

Don’t chase after riches.

Seek godliness.

Flee worldliness and sin.

Pursue righteousness, godliness (again), faith, love, steadfastness.

Fight the good fight of the faith.

Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called.

But why?

Because we stand before God, the giver of life.

Because we stand before Jesus, who asserted his sovereignty over Pilate during his trial.

Because Jesus is coming back, and will rule forever and ever.

Because God is the blessed and only sovereign.

Because he is King of kings.

Because he is Lord of lords.

Because he alone is immortal.

Because he alone lives in unapproachable light.

Because he is the one no one has ever seen in his full glory.

Because to him belongs all power and glory.

To be honest, at the point I’m writing this, I don’t truly feel the weight of these words. But I want to.

Lord Jesus, open my eyes. Help me to stand in awe of you.

 

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The God who has been my shepherd all my life (Genesis 48:15)

At our church, we are going through a series on God as our shepherd. I suppose you saw a glimpse of that in yesterday’s blog.

Today, I’m meditating on Genesis 48:15. These were Jacob’s words to Joseph at the end of his life:

The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked,
the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day…

Think about those words a bit.

I’m kind of guessing that Jacob saw Abraham and Isaac as “good sheep,” although both of them had their moments as black sheep. But in Jacob’s eyes, they “walked with God.”

How did Jacob see himself? I think he kind of saw himself as a black sheep for the first half of his life.

Although he had been raised by a God-fearing father in Isaac, Jacob had definitely had problems calling God, “My God.” (Genesis 28:20-22)

It took many years before he could say, “God, you are my God.” (Genesis 32:28, Genesis 33:20 footnote)

Put another way, for the first half of his life, Jacob had been a lost sheep who had wandered far from God.

And yet, Jacob in looking back at his life could say, “God has been my shepherd all my life.

In other words, “I may have been a lost sheep. I may have wandered from him. I may not have always acknowledged him as my shepherd. But even so, God was my shepherd from the time I was born all the way until now. And when I was lost and hurting and scared, he sought hard after me. And when I went through trials, some of my own making, and some not, he led me out of the darkest valleys. Through everything I have ever gone through, I have never been out of his care.”

My life has not been nearly as dramatic as Jacob’s. I never had a real rebellious stage, growing up in a Christian family.

But I can see all the ways he has been my shepherd from the time I was born until now.

He put me in a family that was seeking after God.

He called my name when I was 7 or 8 and I became a Christian.

At a time when I wasn’t particularly faithful to him, he remained faithful to me and truly revealed himself to me.

He then brought me into children’s ministry. And then into ministry with my peers.

When I was fighting hard to avoid coming here to Japan as a missionary, he gently directed my stubborn heart and brought me into far greener pastures here in Japan than I’d ever had in Hawaii.

At a time when I was seeking a wife, he brought me one.

After some terrible struggles, God gave us a beautiful daughter.

And to this day, I see all my stubbornness (and can I say outright disobedience at times?) and yet he never lost patience with me. He kept on leading me.

Looking back, his grace towards me has been amazing.

And so I say with Jacob in amazement and wonder, “God has been my shepherd all my life.”

Not because I’m such a good sheep. But because he is such a good shepherd. And by his grace, he chose to call me his own.

Through many dangers, toils, and snares,
I have already come;
’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

–John Newton

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The 23rd Psalm from the Lord’s perspective

Last Sunday, I heard a message touching on the 23rd Psalm, and it helped me to see the Psalm from God’s perspective.

I AM your shepherd; you shall not want.

I make you lie down in green pastures.

I lead you beside still waters.

I restore your soul.

I lead you in paths of righteousness for my name’s sake.

Even though you walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
fear no evil,
for I am with you.

My rod and my staff,
they will comfort you.

I prepare a table before you
in the presence of your enemies;

I anoint your head with oil;
your cup overflows.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow you
all the days of your life,
and you shall dwell in my house forever.”

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Words of grace, seasoned with salt (Colossians 4)

Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt. (6)

I don’t know about you, but those words are hard for me to live out.

“Always gracious.”

When I’m annoyed, are my words still gracious?

When I’m angry, are my words still gracious?

I can’t say they are.

“Seasoned with salt.”

Salt flavors food. Salt preserves food.

Do my words do the same for the people around me? Do they encourage people? Do they challenge them to grow? Do they help prevent the rot of sin from spreading in their lives?

Sometimes my words may be hard to hear. But can people see the grace that lies behind them?

Can my daughter see this in me? My wife? My church?

Because if I’m practicing these things at home and church, it helps me to do the same with the non-Christians I see during the week.

And that’s what Paul is primarily talking about here. When we are dealing with the people of this world, we should be speaking words full of grace, seasoned with salt, and making the most of every opportunity to touch them for Jesus.

Jesus said essentially the same thing.

You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt should lose its taste, how can it be made salty? It’s no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. (Matthew 5:13)

“Lord Jesus, let my words always be gracious, seasoned with salt. Let me not lose my saltiness because of the words that come out of my mouth each day. But through my words, encourage, admonish, touch, and heal the people around me.”

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How our awe of God affects our attitudes (Philippians 4)

I did want to write one last thing (for now about our awe of God).

It should affect our attitudes.

It strikes me that with Euodia and Syntyche that was one thing they were lacking in their spat with one another. What exactly they were fighting about we don’t know, but one thing is clear: instead of looking at him, they were looking at themselves and each other.

How often do I do the same? I fail to stand in awe of God, so my focus turns inward, thinking about my rights, my “righteousness,” and what I deserve. More, I start criticizing others for not measuring up to my standards.

Awe should also affect how we see our problems. We remember that the Lord is near, and so we aren’t anxious about anything. Instead, with confidence and faith, we place all our needs before our Father, knowing that he will take care of them.

Right now, I have no huge worries, but I have in the past, and they were times of major stress for me. But God saw me through. I’d like to think that I’ve learned my lesson, but when the next crisis hits, will I be anxious, totally stressing out about my situation? Or will I rest?

More, awe should keep us content in the midst of hardship. Instead of complaining about what we don’t have, we worship and praise God for what we do have, particularly our salvation, but also the many other blessings that we so often take for granted.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! (4:4)

Lord, help me to do just that.

 

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Rejoicing in the Lord (Philippians 3)

Recently, I preached a message on standing in awe of God. And so as I have been reading through Philippians, I see that theme everywhere.

It struck me as I read chapters 3 and 4, that in rejoicing in the Lord, (which is a major theme of this letter), we show our awe of God.

How do we rejoice in the Lord?

1. We worship him by the Spirit of God (3). The Spirit that causes us to cry out “Abba, Father!” The Spirit that lets us know that we are truly God’s children. (Romans 8:15).

2. We “glory” in Jesus Christ (3). Because I am in Japan, I often look at the Japanese Bible, and the translation there pulls out another meaning of “glory.” It says we “boast” in Jesus.

What exactly do we boast about?

We boast of who he is.

King of Kings.

Lord of Lords.

Creator.

Redeemer.

We boast in what he has done. That through the cross, he paid our debt of sin.

We boast, not in our own righteousness, but his righteousness that he now clothes us with. (9)

So in worshiping God through the Spirit and boasting in Jesus, we show our awe of him and rejoice in him.

As we consider him, what other things do we rejoice about?

We rejoice in the surpassing worth of knowing him personally, and him knowing us personally. Everything else is like dung compared to him. All our righteousness. All our efforts. All our accomplishments. (4-8)

We rejoice in the honor of suffering for his name as the apostles did. (10)

We rejoice in the fact that Jesus has taken hold of us and made us his own. (12)

We rejoice that we are part of his kingdom. (20)

And we rejoice in the fact that one day we will be like him, for we shall see him as he is. (21)

So each day, let us stand in awe of God. And as Paul says,

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! (4:4)

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The grace of ministry (Philippians 1:7)

When I was reading Philippians 1 this week, it struck me that Paul saw ministry as a grace he received.

He said, “you are all partners with me in grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.” (1:7)

For him, to spread the gospel to the Gentiles was a grace received from God. To do ministry in his own prison, that was grace from God too. And by the Philippians supporting him financially, they were participating in God’s grace of ministry.

How often do we see ministry as a gift from God? We usually see it as service. As something we do for God.

But when we see it that way, it’s easy to start becoming proud. “Look at what I’m doing for God!”

But ministry is a grace we receive from God. We don’t deserve to be used by God. We’re sinners. We fail. We make mistakes. And yet God in his grace says, “Won’t you join me in my work.”

He didn’t have to use us. He didn’t have to give us spiritual gifts so we could serve. But in his grace, he lets us join him in his work.

How about you? Do you stand in wonder that God lets you join in his kingdom work? Or do you somehow think it’s something to brag about?

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Working out your own salvation (Philippians 2)

I was reading John 21 yesterday, and as I read this passage, I was reminded of it.

Paul told the Philippians,

Therefore, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, so now, not only in my presence but even more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who is working in you both to will and to work according to his good purpose. (12-13)

“Work out your own salvation.”

Those words “your own” really struck me. So often we are looking at others and comparing ourselves with them.

We look at them and envy their gifts or position. We look at them and criticize their faults. We see the things God wants us to do, but we point at others and say, “What about them? Aren’t they supposed to do something?”

But all this comparison and criticizing leads to the disunity that Paul speaks against at the beginning of this chapter.

So he says, “Work out your own salvation. Don’t waste your time comparing yourself with other people. Look at what God’s doing in your life. Look at what he’s telling you to do and do them. Look at the sins in your own life that he is convicting your heart about and turn from them.”

Or as Jesus told Peter, “What is your business what my plans are for John? You follow me.”

The thing is, as we work out our own salvation without looking at other people, it strips away a lot of our excuses and a lot of our criticisms of others. Instead, we are face to face with Jesus and our own weaknesses and sins. And that should cause us to tremble. Because then we realize just how much we are reliant on his grace: in our battles against sin, in our ministry, in everything we do. We realize we would be nothing if God were not working in us to will and to act according to his own good purpose.

And with that comes humility.

Instead of attacking other people for their weaknesses and criticizing them for their faults, we start extending to them the grace we ourselves have received.

Instead of envying them, we thank God that just as he is working in us, he is working in them. We are grateful for their gifts and what God is doing through them.

Instead of competing with them, trying to prove ourselves better than them, we start seeing them as more important than ourselves and start looking out for their interests ahead of our own.

Lord, help me to see your grace in my life…and tremble. I deserve nothing from you but death and condemnation. And yet you saved me. Let me live each day by that grace. Don’t let me waste me time looking around at other people and criticizing or envying them. Help me to look toward you and follow you.

May your whole church be that way, remembering your grace, and then extending that grace to each other. Rejoicing in each other’s victories. Supporting each other when they fall. Treating each other as more important than themselves.

But again, start with me. Let me be that way. In Jesus name, amen.

 

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Partakers of grace (Philippians 1:7)

I’ve been meditating this morning on Philippians 1, but especially on verse 7.

 It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. (ESV)

“Partakers of grace with me.”

I think it’s interesting how “grace” is used in this chapter and the kinds of grace Paul talks about. But the words “with me,” strike me.

We could see them in two ways.

Paul might be saying, “Not just I, but you too are a partaker of grace.” And that’s probably how he means it.

But he could also be saying, “You’re a partaker of God’s grace. You definitely need it every day. But you know, I’m a partaker of grace too. I need God’s grace just as much as you do.”

And I think Paul would definitely have affirmed that.

I will be honest. It’s easy for me when I’m writing for my blog or preparing a message to preach to think about other people that I know. “They need to hear this.”

That may be true, but the danger comes when I stop looking at myself. The Bible stops being a mirror for me. And the result is I forget my need for grace.

But I desperately need it too.

God, open my eyes to my desperate need for you.

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Spiritual amnesia (Ephesians 1)

It is so easy to forget as Christians.

We forget how much God has blessed us.

We forget how he chose us before the foundation of the world.

We forget the riches of his grace that he has lavished on us.

We forget the hope to which God called us.

We forget the riches of the glorious inheritance we have received.

We forget the immeasurable greatness of his power in our lives.

We forget the greatness of our King who is “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.”

And so in Ephesians 1, Paul prays that God would heal our spiritual amnesia. That we would truly see all these things.

When you read the words of Ephesians 1, do they ring in your soul? Or do they leave you cold?

I pray that these words of Paul for you today.

But please pray them for me as well.

Because I get spiritual amnesia too.

 

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Take pleasure? (2 Corinthians 11-12)

2 Corinthians 12:9 is probably one of the most famous in the Bible.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness.”

I wonder, though, how often we notice Paul’ application of those words.

Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me. So I take pleasure in weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and in difficulties, for the sake of Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (9b-10)

Do you take pleasure when you see your weaknesses? When people insult you? When you go through trials? When you suffer for being a Christian?

That seems crazy. Take pleasure?

In some Bibles, it translates Paul’s words, “I’m content.” But the words are actually much stronger. They’re the same words God used when he said, “This is my Son. In Him I am well pleased.”

How could Paul say, “I take pleasure in weaknesses, and in all my trials and sufferings?” Is he a masochist or something?

I don’t know about you, but it’s much easier for me to complain. To ask “Why, God? I don’t deserve this!”

I think Paul could say he took pleasure in those things, because in his weakness, he rediscovered the joy of grace.

What’s the joy of grace?

It’s recognizing first: “God I need you.”

And then it’s seeing that though you’re weak, though you fail, and though you have nothing to give God that would cause him to help you in your time of trouble, yet in love, he does.

“You have nothing to give to God that would cause him to help you.”

That’s something I think we especially tend to forget.

So often we think, “I deserve God’s blessings, because I do this, and this, and this.”

That’s why we get so frustrated when we face struggles and trials in our lives. We think we don’t deserve them.

But the truth is we fail God so often every day. How often do we take him for granted? How often do prioritize other things over him? How often do we neglect him completely? Maybe we read our Bible in the morning and pray. But then the rest of the day, we barely give him a second thought. Instead every decision we make, every thing that we do is done in our own wisdom and strength. That’s true even for people in ministry. I do that sometimes.

But that’s not living by God’s grace.

But when we are confronted with our weaknesses, when we are confronted with situations that we can’t handle, it forces us to remember God and to rely on his grace once again. And though we don’t deserve it, God pours his grace and love on us again.

So when Paul faced his weaknesses, when he faced his trials and struggles, he treated them as reminders from God, and he cried out once again, “God, I can’t do this! I need you!”

And in remembering that, he rediscovered the joy of a relationship with God.

Are you ashamed of your weaknesses? Of your failures? Are you struggling with trials bigger than you?

Don’t run from God in shame or anger.

Instead, cry out, “God, I can’t do this! I need you!”

And if you do, you will learn the meaning of the words,

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness.”

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A little perspective (Isaiah 43)

Isaiah 43 is definitely one of my favorite passages, especially verses 1-3.

But today verses 7 and 21 stand out to me.

God talks of Israel returning from Babylon, and in describing them, he says,

everyone who bears my name
and is created for my glory.
I have formed them; indeed, I have made them. (7)

And again,

The people I formed for myself
will declare my praise. (21)

I asked yesterday about who we tend to point to in our lives: Ourselves? Or Jesus?

And in this passage again, we see what perspective we should hold in life.

We bear God’s name. We were created for his glory. We were created for him.

Sin is essentially turning that perspective 180 degrees.

We are concerned about our name. We live for our glory. We act as if we were created  to live for ourselves.

Repentance is all about turning our perspective back to where it belongs.

And so Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:14-15,

For the love of Christ compels us, since we have reached this conclusion: If one died for all, then all died. And he died for all so that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for the one who died for them and was raised.

What perspective do you live your life by?

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Who we are pointing to (2 Corinthians 10)

It’s so easy to compare ourselves with others. I do it all the time.

We say things like:

“I read my Bible every day.”

“I pray.”

“I fast.”

“I tithe.”

“I sacrifice for the church.”

And then we look at others and ask, “What are you doing?”

But to compare ourselves with others, Paul says, is to lack understanding. (12)

What are we not understanding?

That each and every one of us stands on God’s grace alone.

Of course it’s good to read your Bible, pray, fast, and all the rest.

But notice the first word of all the those sentences: “I.”

And our salvation, our Christian lives, rest on what Jesus did, not what we do.

When you talk with others, who do you point to?

Yourself?

Or Jesus?

Do you point to what you do?

Or what he did on the cross, and the grace he pours on you each day?

If you’re boasting about yourself, you’re no longer living by grace. And you’re no longer standing in awe of Jesus and his cross.

So let’s stop looking at ourselves and comparing ourselves with others. Instead, “let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (17)

 

 

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For you know… (2 Corinthians 8:9)

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.

Take some time to meditate on those words. Memorize them. Think about them.

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Really? Do you  know the grace of Jesus in your life?

What does the grace of Jesus mean to you?

We were once poor. Wretched. Lost in our sin. We had nothing to offer God to make him accept us.

As the old hymn goes:

Nothing in my hand I bring,
simply to the cross I cling;
naked, come to thee for dress;
helpless, look to thee for grace.

And yet Jesus left heaven, left glory, and became a man. Not a king. A simple carpenter. Not a handsome prince. An ordinary-looking man.

He suffered poverty. He suffered hardship. He suffered betrayal. He suffered the cross.

And because he did so, we are now rich.

Do you realize how rich you are?

Do you feel rich?

Do you understand the grace of God in your life? The forgiveness you have received? The mercy?

Do you stand in awe at the love he pours into your life?

Or are you…cold?

Are these just empty words to you?

Lord, let me know your grace. Make it real to me. So real, that it transforms me. That it changes how I see you. How I see me. How I see everything around me. Help me to truly understand how rich I am in you. In Jesus name, amen.

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Faithful (Jeremiah 23:28)

I was reading through several chapters of Jeremiah today, but it was this verse that struck me. It’s in the middle of a passage in which God condemns his people’s leaders, particularly the priests and prophets, for not warning the people to turn from their sin.

And so he said in verse 18,

For who among them has stood in the council of the Lord
to see and to hear his word,
or who has paid attention to his word and listened? (18)

And again,

But if they had stood in my council,
then they would have proclaimed my words to my people,
and they would have turned them from their evil way,
and from the evil of their deeds. (22)

Then in verse 28, he tells them,

Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let him who has my word speak my word faithfully.

It is sometimes hard to tell people what they don’t want to hear. To confront them with their sin. But God tells us that we must.

Not in hatred. Not with a despising heart. But in love.

You see, love is not just letting people go to their own destruction without saying a word. It’s warning them of the danger they are in so that they may be saved.

God has given us his Word. May we always speak it faithfully.

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My God. My Father. (2 Corinthians 6-7)

It’s been a fun week: I caught the flu on Saturday and only yesterday have started to get back into normal life.

Anyway, whenever you look at this kind of passage, particularly 6:16-7:1, it’s easy to focus on the commands: Be separate. Touch no unclean thing. Cleanse yourself of every impurity. Bring holiness to completion.

But before those words draw your attention, look at the promises of God:

“I will dwell among you.”

“I will walk among you.”

“I will be your God.”

“You will be my people.”

“I will welcome you.”

“I will be a Father to you.”

“You will be my son and daughters.”

To put things simply, meditate on these words:

“My God.”

“My Father.”

Think about what that means.

The God who created the entire universe with a word, he is your God.

The God who reigns as king and will one day judge the nations, he is your God.

He’s not just your pastor’s God. He’s not just my God. He’s not just the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He is your God.

More, he is your Father.

He is not someone way out there who gives little to no thought to you.

He sees you. He knows you. He loves you. Because you are his child.

So focus on those two truths.

“He is my God.”

“He is my Father.”

Let those words sink into your heart.

HE is my God.

He IS my God.

He is MY God.

He is my GOD.

And again,

HE is my Father.

He IS my Father.

He is MY Father.

He is my FATHER.

And only after that, turn your attention to the commands. For if the words “My God,” and “My Father” are written in your soul, if you stand in awe of those two truths, his commands are not burdensome. (1 John 5:3)

More, they become your joy. And your joy will be full. (John 15:11)

 

 

 

 

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A word to think on (2 Corinthians 1:12)

This verse struck me as I read this, and it’s one I’m trying to memorize. Let’s try to do this without looking.

For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we have behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by worldly wisdom, but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you. (ESV)

Not bad. One added word (have) and an extra comma, but other than that good. 🙂

Why memorize this verse?

I wonder if I can say this about myself? That in my interactions with the people in the world and especially within the church, I live with simplicity and godly sincerity?

Do I live according to worldly wisdom (see I Corinthians 3:1-4 and James 3:13-18).

Or do I live by God’s?

And most importantly, do I live by the grace of God? Does God’s grace fill me to the point where I overflow with it and it touches everyone around me?

I wish I could say yes.

These are words I need to meditate on more.

How about you?

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Approved. Chosen. (Romans 16)

In Paul’s greetings, two things stood out to me today.

He says of a man named Apelles: “he is ‘approved in Christ.'”

And of a man named Rufus: “he is ‘chosen in the Lord.'”

The truth is, both things can be said of all of us. Why single these two men out?

Obviously, with as little information as we have on these men, anything we say is pure guesswork.

But perhaps both these men needed special encouragement that they were approved and chosen in the Lord.

The word “approved” often has the idea of “tested” in it. And so it’s possible that Apelles had faced some kind of testing in his life. It might have been some kind of trial or persecution. And perhaps he sometimes wondered, “Does God really love me? Does he really approve of me?”

But Paul lets him know, “Yes, you are approved of. And not because of who you are or what you have done. But because of what Jesus has done for you on the cross.”

Ultimately, Jesus is the reason we are all approved before God, and he is the reason why we will ultimately find victory in whatever trials we may face.

Paul essentially says the same thing of Rufus. “You are chosen in the Lord. Don’t forget who you are.” Again, though, Rufus was chosen not for how good he was, but because of God’s grace and mercy towards him.

But as I said before, these words are not for them alone. They are for all of us who belong to Jesus. So whatever trials you may face, whatever doubts you may have about God’s love for you, remember: “You are approved of. You are chosen.”

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In honor of the Lord (Romans 14)

As I read this passage, today it was verses 5-9 that strike me.

In telling the Romans not to quarrel about things that are not a matter of God’s word, but a matter of conscience, Paul says,

One person judges one day to be more important than another day. Someone else judges every day to be the same. Let each one be fully convinced in his own mind. Whoever observes the day, observes it for the honor of the Lord. Whoever eats, eats for the Lord, since he gives thanks to God; and whoever does not eat, it is for the Lord that he does not eat it, and he gives thanks to God. (5-6)

Here we see the phrases over and over.

“For the honor of the Lord.”

“For the Lord.”

When we observe a day like Christmas, we do it for the honor of the Lord.

When we eat something, we honor him by giving him thanks.

If we abstain from eating something because we feel that’s what God wishes for us, we also honor him.

In short, our whole lives should be for one purpose: to honor God.

And so Paul says,

For none of us lives for himself, and no one dies for himself. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. Christ died and returned to life for this: that he might be Lord over both the dead and the living. (7-9)

Everything we do should be for the honor and glory of God. Not just in our eating or celebrating of special days. But in all that we do at home, at work, at church, or wherever we are.

Even when we have free time, that should be honoring to God, for rest is from him too.

How about you? When you look at all that you do each day, do you think God would be pleased?

Who are you living for?

For yourself?

Or for him?

 

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Peace (Romans 13)

As we face the new year, Paul’s words strike me.

Besides this, since you know the time, it is already the hour for you to wake up from sleep, because now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is nearly over, and the day is near; so let us discard the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. (11-12)

Every year that passes is another year we draw closer to Jesus’ return.

And so Paul says to put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.

It’s so easy, though, to think of the first things Paul mentions as “deeds of darkness”: carousing, drunkenness, sexual immorality.

But how often do we miss the latter part of what he says: to put aside quarreling and jealousy.

It might be good to look at James 3:13-4:10, because James expands on this more.

But as we go through 2019, let us search our hearts. What broken relationships do we have? And how much of it is due to envy and jealousy in our hearts? How much of it is due to wrong motives in our hearts, selfishly seeking out our own good and comfort? Or how often are we angry because we think, “I deserve better”?

Let us set aside these thoughts, and rest in the grace of God. And let us learn to be satisfied in him, following the words of James:

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you…Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. (James 4:8, 10)

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True worship (Romans 12)

What is worship?

I used to think it was just singing songs.

But to Paul, it was so much more.

He says,

Therefore, brothers and sisters, in view of the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your true worship. (1)

When we completely offer our very lives to God, that is true worship.

When we do what is good and pleasing in his sight, that is worship.

When we use our gifts to benefit God’s people.

When we encourage others, that is worship.

When we give generously to help others, that is worship.

When we show mercy with cheerfulness, that is worship.

When we love and honor each other, that is worship.

When we bless those who persecute us, that is worship.

When we are patient in affliction, that is worship.

All these things are worship in God’s eyes.

May 2019 be a year where we truly learn to worship God in all these ways, and more.

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The grace on which we stand (Romans 11)

Happy New Year all!

I realize I haven’t been blogging much the past couple of weeks because of the winter holidays, but God willing, I should be starting to get back into the swing of things again.

It is so easy, sometimes, to forget the very grace that we stand on and to look down on others.

The Roman Christians apparently very tempted to do so when they thought about the Jews who had rejected Jesus.

But Paul warns them against such pride throughout this chapter.

He reminds them of the pride of Elijah, who complained that he was the only one following after God. And God had to sharply rebuke him, saying, “No, you aren’t the only spiritual one. There are 7000 others.”

Elijah too, forgot at times the grace on which he stood. God didn’t choose Elijah as his own because Elijah was somehow better than those around him. God chose him out of his grace. Paul emphasizes this, saying,

In the same way, then, there is also at the present time a remnant chosen by grace. Now if by grace, then it is not by works; otherwise grace ceases to be grace. (5-6)

Paul is specifically talking about a remnant of Jews, but all of us who belong to God are chosen the same way: by grace.

And so Paul warns us,

…do not boast that you are better than those branches (the unbelieving Jews). But if you do boast—you do not sustain the root, but the root sustains you. (18)

And again,

Do not be arrogant, but beware, because if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either. (20-21)

Are you tempted to look down on others? Not just unbelievers, but believers? Do you think you are somehow better than they? Maybe you serve more at church. Maybe you are more spiritually “mature.”

Remember the grace on which you stand. And be humble.

For as Paul concludes,

And who has ever given to God,
that he should be repaid?
For from him and through him
and to him are all things.
To him be the glory forever. Amen. (35-36)

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Under grace (Romans 6)

I was just thinking of Paul’s words in Romans 6:14 and what they mean.

For sin will not rule over you, because you are not under the law but under grace.

That is not the most easy sentence to understand. Even Paul knew that, and so he spends the next few verses explaining what he doesn’t mean: that it’s okay for us to indulge in sin.

What does it mean, though?

I think he’s talking about our relationship with God.

The law is for those in rebellion against God. It reveals to them their sin, to some degree it restrains their sin (by putting the fear of punishment in them), and ultimately it judges them for their sin.

But that doesn’t describe us who belong to God. Because we know the grace and love of God in our lives, we are no longer rebellious towards him, but respond in gratefulness and love for all he’s done for us.

Do such people offer themselves to sin?

No. In love, they offer themselves to God, obeying not because they fear punishment, but from the heart. It is their joy to serve God.

And when they fall, as all of us do, they mourn their sin and repent, but rejoice in the grace of God that washes away their sin. And in their joy, they once again offer themselves to God.

That’s a life under grace.

Are you living under grace?

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When Jesus comes again (Revelation 11)

This time of year, Handel’s Messiah is very popular, and of course one of the most famous songs is the Hallelujah Chorus.

One of the lines comes directly from this chapter in verse 15.

The kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign forever and ever.

So often, when we think of Jesus at Christmas time, we think of the baby in the manger. But when he returns, he won’t be that baby in the manger. Instead he will come back as king.

And unfortunately, as was the case of the people who kill the witnesses at the beginning of this chapter, and of the nations that rage against God at the end of it, many will not welcome their king.

But when Jesus comes, he will reign, and those who choose to continue in their rebellion will be judged.

So many people want peace on earth. But they refuse to submit to the Prince of Peace.

And so the old carol challenges us:

Joy to the world!
The Lord is come!
Let earth receive her king!
Let every heart prepare him room.

How about you?

Will your prepare room for him in your heart?

Or will you seek to “tear off his chains, and throw his ropes off of you”? (Psalm 2:3)

Do you see your King with eyes of love and adoration?

Or with hatred and rebellion?

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To become like him (I Corinthians 15)

There are lots of good stuff in this chapter. I particularly like verses 9-10.

But this being the Christmas season, it is verses 48-49 that strike me.

In those verses Paul compares the first man Adam with the second man Jesus.

And in verse 49, he wrote,

And just as we have borne the image of the man of dust (Adam), we will also bear the image of the man of heaven Jesus).

As I read that, the thought came to me: “Jesus became one of us, that we might become like him.”

Even now, in our struggles with sin, Jesus is working in our hearts, purging out our sin, and making us more like him.

And when he returns to this earth, we will become complete.

I quote this verse a lot, but I think it’s a good one to remember and memorize.

We know that when he appears, we will be like him because we will see him as he is. And everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself just as he is pure. (I John 3:2-3)

So as we think of Christmas and Jesus becoming like a man, let us strive each day, by his grace and power, to become more like him. And though we may fail sometimes, let us hold tightly to the hope that we will be like him someday.

As as Paul says,

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the Lord’s work, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (58)

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Just a choice? (1 Corinthians 13)

One thing I have often heard (and taught for that matter), is that love is not a feeling, it’s a choice. After all, how can you command a feeling? And yet God commands us to love.

As I think on this passage, though, I’m starting to rethink that idea.

After all, according to Paul, you can choose to give your life for Jesus, and still be lacking in love. You can give all you have to someone, and yet be lacking in love. (3)

My point?

Love is not just a feeling, but it’s not just a choice either.

If our actions don’t flow from our hearts, they’re not true expressions of love.

They may be obedience, I suppose, but not love.

Also, while you can of course choose to do kind acts, and choose to show patience, how about not being irritable? Or not holding bitter thoughts toward someone? (5)

Those things are very connected to our feelings.

So what am I saying?

In order to love as God does, we need a new heart.

And to have a new heart, we need to be connected to him.

As we abide in him, and his love starts to pour into our hearts, it changes us. And that gives us the ability to love those that are not so easy to love.

How about you? Are you abiding in Christ and in his love? Are you rooted in that love?

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Having heaven’s perspective (Revelation 4)

One thing that will happen when we finally see God face to face is that we’ll have heaven’s perspective on who he is.

How do they see him?

Holy, holy, holy,
Lord God, the Almighty,
who was, who is, and who is to come. (8)

Very reminiscent of how God revealed himself to Moses. When Moses asked him, “What is your name,” God replied, “I AM.”

I AM.

God is the eternal one. He existed before time even began. He exists now. He exists for all eternity.

And he is utterly holy.

Unique. With none like him.

Unadulterated purity. Pure to the point that even his angels marvel at him.

How often do we see him as such? As the one who is so much greater and purer than us?

Think about this. The four living creatures John describes are so overwhelmed in the presence of the Father that they can’t help but cry out praise to him.

And as they do, the twenty-four elders in heaven fall down before him, casting their crowns at his feet and worshiping him.

Our Lord and God
you are worthy to receive
glory and honor and power,
because you have created all things,
and by your will
they exist and were created. (11)

Yet so many people here on earth do not acknowledge this.

Some don’t even acknowledge that God exists.

Others acknowledge his existence, but they refuse to acknowledge his worthiness of our worship. In their minds, he may be the Creator, but that doesn’t mean he is worthy of our worship. Or of our loyalty. Or our love.

Let us not take the perspective of the people of this world.

Let us take on heaven’s perspective.

As we gaze upon his holiness, let us strive to be holy ourselves.

As we take the time to consider his awesomeness of who he is, let us offer him our worship, our loyalty, and our love.

For truly, he is worthy.

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Truth, but not love. Love, but not truth. (Revelation 2)

Considering the theme of the last blog I wrote, the need for us to walk in truth and love, I find this chapter very apropos.

For in it, we see the problem of having truth but not love, and of having love but not truth.

The Ephesian church had the former problem. They held to the truth that Paul had taught them years before. They had tested all those who had claimed to be apostles, and had quickly kicked out the false ones.

And yet, Jesus tells them,

But I have this against you: You have abandoned the love you had at first. (4)

And because of that, Jesus warned them, “Your church will be removed from its place unless you repent. The light you’ve been given to touch the world for me will be extinguished.”

The Thyatiran church, on the other hand, had love (along with faithfulness, service, and endurance), but they tolerated false teaching which encouraged committing sexual sin and engaging in idolatrous acts. And Jesus said that he would strike dead this false teacher who was teaching these things, as well as all who followed her. Why? Because that kind of teaching infects and destroys the church from within, corrupting all it touches.

Truth without love is not enough. Love without truth is not enough. And if you have one without the other, your church will soon lose its light in this world.

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Two indispensable things (2 John 2)

As  I read this passage, I find two indispensable things that must be part of a true Christian’s life: truth, and love.

John says,

Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love. (3)

If we are ever to know the grace, mercy, and peace that comes from God, we need to know both the truth of God, and the love of God.

Some people say they love God and others, but at the same time, they reject the very truth that the God they claim to follow teaches.

They reject the idea, for example, that Jesus was truly God. They reject that salvation only comes through Jesus and his work on the cross.

But John tells us,

Anyone who does not remain in Christ’s teaching but goes beyond it does not have God. The one who remains in that teaching, this one has both the Father and the Son. (9)

You simply cannot reject what Jesus taught about himself, salvation, morality, and what true life is and still say that you have God in your life.

But truth devoid of love is an empty thing as well. You can have all the right doctrines, and believe all the right things, but as Paul said, if you have not love, you are nothing. (I Corinthians 13:1-3)

And so John urges us not just to walk in truth (4), but in love (6).

How about you? Are you walking in truth, but not love? Are you walking in love, but not truth?

Or are you, as God’s children, walking in both?

 

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The one who keeps us (I John 5:18-20)

We know that everyone who has been born of God does not sin, but the one who is born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him. We know that we are of God, and the whole world is under the sway of the evil one. And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding so that we may know the true one. We are in the true one—that is, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.  (18-20)

The words John uses here intrigue me. In verse 18, he uses the phrase “born of God” twice: once in reference to us, and once in reference to Jesus.

We are born of God, made into new creations, because 2000 years ago, Jesus was born of Mary through the power of the Holy Spirit. The same Holy Spirit that was responsible for the birth of Jesus into this world is the same Holy Spirit that is responsible for our spiritual birth.

And the one who was born of the Holy Spirit 2000 years ago is the same one who now keeps us from sin. Though Satan would tempt us and deceive us so that we would fall into the destructive trap of sin, Jesus is ever by us to watch over us and to lead us on the safe and right path. Though this whole world is under the sway of the evil one and is headed for destruction, we are now under the sway and care of the One who loved us and gave his life for us.

Just as John uses the phrase “born of God” twice in verse 18, he uses the phrase “true one” twice in verse 20. It’s a little vague as to whether he’s referring to the Father twice, or to the Father once and Jesus the second time. Translators differ on this, as you’ll see in various translations of this verse (Compare the NIV and ESV for example). But it seems to me that the first time, John is referring to the Father, the second time to the Son.

Jesus gives us understanding that we might know the Father, who is completely true and trustworthy.

The reason Jesus is able to do this, however, is because he himself is completely true and trustworthy, and we are in him, and he in us.

As Jesus told his disciples,

The one who has seen me has seen the Father. (John 14:9)

This is not to say that the Father and the Son are the same person, but that the Son is the perfect reflection of the Father. And by being in Jesus, by learning of him and resting in his love, we come to know the Father.

And whether John is talking of the Father or the Son, it can be said of both truly,

He is the true God and eternal life. (20b)

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No cause for stumbling (1 John 2)

The one who says he is in the light but hates his brother or sister is in the darkness until now. The one who loves his brother or sister remains in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But the one who hates his brother or sister is in the darkness, walks in the darkness, and doesn’t know where he’s going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. (9-11)

Anger.

Hate.

Resentment.

How much stumbling comes into our lives because of these three things?

Just thinking about the people who hurt us is like a knife that cuts afresh into our hearts.

Sometimes because we feel all over again all they did to hurt us.

Sometimes because we know our attitude toward them isn’t right and our conscience slices into us.

Sometimes both.

And so we get angry all over again.

At them.

At ourselves.

The result?

Our anger, hatred, and resentment hang like a millstone around our neck, dragging us down.

How different is the person who has let all that go.

John says that for that person, there is no cause for stumbling in them.

They are free.

They walk with their heads held high.

Their lives are filled with the light of joy.

And of God’s love.

How about you?

How are you walking?

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Faithful…and just? (I John 1:9)

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

I have read this verse hundreds of times, and taught on it multiple times, but something struck me as I read this verse this time.

John tells us that if we confess our sins, God is faithful to forgive our sins.

Or as Paul told Timothy,

if we are faithless, he remains faithful,
for he cannot deny himself. (2 Timothy 2:13)

I have no problem with that concept.

But that second half of the verse, “He is righteous to forgive us our sins,” caught me short.

He is “righteous” (or “just” as many translations put it) to forgive us? Just because we confess our sins to him, God can be considered “righteous” or “just” in forgiving us? How does that work?

I can see calling him “merciful.” Or “gracious,” perhaps.

But “just?” “Righteous?”

Of course, the answer is found in the cross.

You see, it is simply not enough that we say, “I’m sorry,” when we sin.

A price, a penalty had to be paid. And that’s what Jesus did on the cross. He paid our penalty for us. He took all of God’s wrath upon himself, shedding his blood for us.

And John tells us that because of this,

the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (I John 1:7)

It is the missing point in many religions that preach “forgiveness” today. They may preach the mercifulness of Allah or Amida Buddha. But justice is never truly served. These gods may forgive, but they never truly deal with our sin. And because of that, it’s impossible to truly call them righteous or just.

The same thing can be said of the view Orthodox Jews hold of God as well. In their view, God forgives, but the truth is, God never truly deals with their sin. He just forgives.

But because of Jesus, when we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins.

And for that, we can be grateful.

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By his righteousness, by his power, by his promises (2 Peter 1)

The more I read this chapter, the more Peter’s words strike me.

He says in verse 2,

May grace and peace be multiplied to you through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

How many of us know that grace in our lives? How many of us know God’s peace in our lives?

These are things that many Christians struggle to truly grasp in their lives. Perhaps part of the reason is sections in the Bible like verses 5-10 where it almost sounds like, “It’s all up to you! Do your best to be a good Christian!”

But to pull those words out of their context is to lose sight of the grace and peace that God intends us to walk in.

Peter prays in this letter that grace and peace be multiplied to us through the knowledge of God and Jesus.

What knowledge is he talking about. Many things, I suspect, but we see some key things right here in this chapter.

First, we stand before God, not because of our own righteousness, but because of Jesus’. That is why Peter can tell us that we have received a faith equal to the apostles themselves. The apostles didn’t stand before God because they were somehow more godly than anyone else. They had faults. They sinned. They failed. But they stood because Jesus caused them to stand (Romans 14:4). They stood in his righteousness, not their own. And so do we. That’s why we don’t have to worry about trying to earn our way into God’s good graces. We already have peace with him.

Second, God has given us the power we need in order to live as he has called us to. Peter tells us that God called us because of his own glory and goodness, not our own. He knows we are weak in ourselves. And so he empowers us, giving us everything we need for life and godliness. He doesn’t just say, “Good luck. You’re on your own.” Rather, he stands by us to help us every step of the way. All we have to do is ask.

More than that, he has given us his great and precious promises. Promises that our sins are forgiven because of the cross. Promises that when Jesus appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Promises that in the meantime, the Holy Spirit will dwell in us, leading us, guiding us, and empowering us to become more like Jesus.

These are the things we need to understand. And if we do, we will walk in grace and the peace of God.

And with that assurance and joy in our hearts, and by the power of the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, we start adding to our faith things like goodness, knowledge, self-control, endurance, godliness, brotherly affection, and love.

So let us meditate on Christ’s righteousness by which we stand, the power he provides, and his promises that make all these things possible.

And as you do, you will know the grace and peace of God in your life.

 

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The love of God and the endurance of Christ (II Thessalonians 3)

I wrote something similar to this post last month, but as I was writing this for my church today, and there are a few additional points, I thought I’d put it here too.

All of us face trials at one time or another. And it is easy to wonder where God is at those times.

Paul himself knew suffering, and so he asked for the Thessalonians’ prayers.

But through it all, he remembered three things:

1. Jesus is faithful.
2. Jesus will strengthen us.
3. He will guard us against Satan. For even if Satan were to destroy our bodies (and Paul was ultimately killed for Jesus’ sake), he cannot touch our souls.

And so Paul tells us this,

May the Lord direct your hearts to God’s love and Christ’s endurance. (3:5)

Whenever you go through trials, remember that God does love you (Romans 8:35-39). Let that be the rock on which you stand.

How can we know that God truly loves us? Because of what Christ endured on the cross.

Jesus truly does understand our suffering, because he himself suffered, not for his own sins, but for yours.

So whatever trial you may be facing, remember the words of the author of Hebrews.

For consider him who endured such hostility from sinners against himself, so that you won’t grow weary and give up. (Hebrews 12:3).

And each day, “May the Lord direct your hearts to God’s love and Christ’s endurance.”

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Regarding Christ as Holy (I Peter 3:15)

I was just meditating on these words today from Peter.

 …but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy. (I Peter 3:15)

The context here is of not fearing persecution for following Christ. Peter says, “Don’t fear what other people fear or be intimated by the people around you. Rather, regard Christ as holy.”

What does that mean: to regard Christ as holy?

I think it is basically remembering who he is and to make sure he has his rightful place in your hearts.

I think about Moses and then later Joshua coming face to face with God, and both times they were told, “Take off your shoes. You are standing on holy ground.”

Why was the ground they were standing on holy? Not because it was intrinsically holy. But because of the One who occupied that ground.

The Eternal I AM. The one who always was and ever will be. The One who never changes.

The Commander of the Armies of Yahweh. The One to whom we answer to as his soldiers, as his people.

And because of who he is, we are to set him apart in hearts above all others.

Too often, I think we take him lightly.

As our “buddy upstairs,” for example.

Or as a genie who is supposed to answer our every beck and call.

But he is so much more. He is our Lord. He is our King. And the day will come when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that he is Lord to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:10-11)

And that means us too. We too will bow before him and confess, “Jesus is Lord.”

That is something we cannot afford to forget as we live our daily lives.

He is Lord.

And he is to be honored as such in our hearts.

How about you? Do you set Jesus apart in your hearts above all others? Does he have your loyalty and allegiance?

Or do you set other things above him in your hearts?

Where is your heart today?

 

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Let us sing praise (James 5:13)

As today is Thanksgiving in the States (as I write this, anyway), James words struck me as I read them.

Is anyone among you suffering? He should pray. Is anyone cheerful? He should sing praises.

I think most people are quick to pray when they are suffering, sometimes asking why, sometimes asking for relief, often asking for both.

But when we are cheerful, how often is our first response to sing praises to God? To thank him for all he’s done for us. For that matter, how often do we praise him for the simple things in life: family, friends, clothes, a place to live, food?

But it should be said that even in the midst of struggle, we should keep an attitude of praise. The church James was writing to seemed to be having their share of struggles. But earlier in this chapter, James was telling them to remain steadfast. Why? Because the Lord is returning. And because of that, we have hope.

If Jesus were never returning, if he were never going to bring judgment on all the evil in the world, it would be difficult to rejoice. But because he is, even in the midst of trial, we can keep our eyes on the end and know that all will be made right.

What’s more, in the first few verses of his letter, James wrote,

Consider it a great joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you experience various trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing. (1:2-4)

All our suffering does have a purpose behind it. It is not meaningless. And in the end, we will see God’s compassion and mercy, even as Job did.

So as Paul wrote to the Thessalonians,

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (I Thessalonians 5:16-18)

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The hope of holiness (I Thessalonians 3-4)

I wrote on this passage not too long ago, but my church’s reading plan brought me back to this, and as I read it this time around, something else struck me about Paul’s words to us about holiness.

I think it’s easy to look at the words of Paul sometimes, and think holiness is something we obtain through our own efforts and willpower.

After all, he says things like,

“For this is God’s will, your sanctification: that you keep away from sexual immorality, that each of you knows how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not with lustful passions, like the Gentiles, who don’t know God.: (4:3-5)

And,

“For God has not called us to impurity but to live in holiness. Consequently, anyone who rejects this does not reject man, but God.” (4:7-8)

But don’t miss two things in these two chapters.

First, Paul tells us at the end of 4:8 that God has given us his Holy Spirit.

The One who desires us to be holy has not left us alone. He has given the Spirit whose very nature is holiness into our hearts, to guide us and strengthen us each day to do his will.

More, Paul prays,

“May [the Lord] make your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.” (3:13)

So when Jesus comes returns, it is he himself that makes sure we will be blameless in holiness before God the Father.

It was his work on the cross that purified us from our sins when we first put our trust in him. It is the work of his Spirit that purifies us each day. And it’s ultimately his work that will make us truly holy on the day he returns.

That’s our hope.

And that’s why Paul can say at the end of this letter,

“Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely. And may your whole spirit, soul, and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will do it.” (5:23-24)

So holding tightly to that hope, let us strive each day for holiness.

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Living by the law that brings liberty (James 2)

As I was reading this passage, something connected for me that I had never seen before. I can’t say for certain that it was what James had in mind when he wrote this, but considering his Jewish background, it wouldn’t surprise me if he did.

Specifically, James, in talking about the horrendous way the church had been treating the poor in the church (and showing favoritism to the rich), said this,

Speak and act as those who are to be judged by the law of freedom. (12)

That phrase, “law of freedom,” really struck me. What was James talking about? James had also talked about this same law in 1:25. In one sense, it’s the idea that God’s word brings us freedom. As we, by the power of the Spirit, start living what God has spoken in his word, we find freedom: freedom from sin, freedom from guilt, and most importantly freedom to live with joy as the children of God.

I can think of few other laws that depict that more vividly than the “law of freedom” found in the law of Jubilee in Leviticus 25, and that’s the thing I wonder if James had in the back of his mind as he wrote all this.

Because if there is one group of people who were affected by this law of Jubilee, it was the poor who were living in Israel. For many of them, because of their debts, they had sold themselves as servants to other Israelites. But God made clear that they were not to be treated as slaves, but as hired workers. And in the year of Jubilee (every 50th year), God commanded that any Israelite that had not yet paid off all his debts be released. In actuality, all such servants were to be released from their service every 7 years (Deuteronomy 15), but Jubilee was specifically set aside for this purpose as well as for one additional thing: If the poor had previously sold their property to pay their debts, that land was to be returned to them in the time of Jubilee.

In short, at Jubilee, it was a time when liberty was proclaimed for all people throughout the land (Leviticus 25:10).

All this is a picture of what God did for us. Because of what Jesus did for us on the cross, our debt of sin has been paid, and all that we had lost in the garden of Eden, a relationship with God and our inheritance as his children, has been restored to us.

And now, because of all this mercy that has been shown to us, we are to show that same mercy to the poor and hurting among our brothers and sisters in Christ. This was something the church James was writing to was not doing. And so he warned them,

For judgment is without mercy to the one who has not shown mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. (13)

I can’t help but think that when he wrote this, James was thinking of an incident that happened in Jeremiah’s day (see Jeremiah 34). The Israelites, when they were under siege by the Babylonians, had made an oath to God that they would release their slaves as God has commanded. For years, they had simply ignored God’s law on this point and had kept their brother and sisters as slaves in perpetuity.

But when the siege was apparently lifted, they reneged on their promise and enslaved their brothers and sisters again. Therefore, God passed judgment on them for breaking their promise to show mercy.

And so James reminded them, “Hey, you have been set free by the blood of Christ. You were shown mercy. How can you then not show mercy to your brothers and sisters, and worse, take advantage of them?”

He told them,

Indeed, if you fulfill the royal law prescribed in the Scripture, Love your neighbor as yourself, you are doing well. If, however, you show favoritism, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. (8-9)

And it is within this context that James talks about the link between faith and works. I think that perhaps a lot of the debate on what James means might be better understood if you keep the whole context in mind.

The main “work” James has in mind is the work of love.

When he says,

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but does not have works? Can such faith save him?  (14)

and

In the same way faith, if it doesn’t have works, is dead by itself. (17)

substitute the word “love” for works and I think you’re pretty close to what James is saying. If we claim to have faith, but our lives are lacking in love, what does that say about our “faith”? Can true faith be absent of love for God and for others?

How about you? Does your faith display itself in love? Love not only for those who can benefit you, but for those whom many would despise?

Or does your “faith” show something different about your heart?

Do you live by the law of freedom? Do you not only live in freedom before God, but by your actions set others free?

 

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Faith, hope, love (I Thessalonians 1)

No, the scripture reference is not a mistake. It is indeed I Thessalonians 1, not I Corinthians 13.

The truth is, faith, hope, and love are three things that Paul often links in his letters. I Corinthians 13 just happens to be the most famous of those references.

And here in this letter, we see it again.

We recall, in the presence of our God and Father, your work produced by faith, your labor motivated by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. (3)

We also see the Trinity in these three things.

The good news of Jesus comes to us, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, faith is born in our hearts. And so we serve the Father with joy.

The Father has set his love upon us, and chosen us. And it is that love we receive which motivates all we do for him.

And it is the hope of the resurrection, and the knowledge that Jesus will one day return that helps us endure whatever trials we may go through.

Father, Son, Holy Spirit.

Faith, hope, love.

Are the faith, hope, and love you receive from Father, Son, and Holy Spirit the foundations of your life?

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The reason for our hope (Hebrews 9-10)

We saw in my last post that in Jesus we find rest because Jesus himself finished the work of salvation for us.

And in these chapters (and for that matter, in the previous chapters as well), the author of Hebrews expands on that idea, giving us the reason for our hope.

Ultimately, the reason is found in chapter 9, verse 26.

But now [Jesus] has appeared one time, at the end of the ages, for the removal of sin by the sacrifice of himself.

And the writer of Hebrews says that by that one sacrifice, we have now been sanctified, made pure and right before God (10:10). We don’t have to somehow clean ourselves up before God before he’ll accept us. Jesus has already made us clean in the Father’s sight, and he remembers our sins no more (10:17).

That’s the reason for our boldness before the Father. We can walk right into the presence of God without fear because we have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus (10:19-23).

At least, that’s how we should be.

Do you ever feel, however, that you’re not good enough? That you are somehow still stained before the Father? Do you feel ashamed to stand before him? Do you feel there’s something more that you should have to do.

The writer of Hebrews makes it clear: You are forgiven. And where sins is forgiven, there is no longer any offering that must be made for your sin (10:18). Not by Jesus. Not by any priest or pastor. And not by you. It’s all done.

So rest. Throw away your feelings of guilt and inadequacy. God accepts you not for what you have done, but because of what Jesus has done for you.

No you don’t deserve his love. No one does. But God has set his love on you. Think on that. Meditate on that. Believe it.

And enter his rest.

Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

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Striving…to rest (Hebrews 3-5)

I’ve been reading these chapters over and over, and as I do, I wonder, how much do we rest in Jesus?

The writer of Hebrews says,

Therefore, a Sabbath rest remains for God’s people. For the person who has entered his rest has rested from his own works, just as God did from his. Let us then make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall into the same pattern of disobedience. (4:9-11)

So many people still act as if they somehow have to prove themselves to God. For many, they think that God is pleased with that attitude. But actually, God calls it sin. He calls it disobedience.

Why?

Because God’s work of salvation is already done.

Just as God rested after creating the heavens and the earth, when Jesus finished his work on the cross, ushering in the path towards a new creation for us all, he sat down on the Father’s side…and rested.

There are no more sacrifices he needs to make, unlike the priests of the Old Testament who had to continually make sacrifices year after year. When Jesus died on the cross, he cried out, “It is finished.”

And it is that rest that we are called to enter into. A rest instituted by Jesus because of what he did on the cross.

For us to say, “But I still don’t feel right before God. I need to do something more to prove myself,” does not please God, it insults him. And it spits on the cross of Christ and all he did for us.

We’re saying, “Jesus, I know you said the work of salvation is finished. But I don’t believe you. I have to do something more to earn the Father’s favor.”

It’s that kind of distrust in what God said that led to a whole generation of Israelites perishing in the wilderness. They never did enter the rest God had planned for them.

And so the Holy Spirit tells us,

Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion. (3:7-8)

And again,

Let us then make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall into the same pattern of disobedience. (4:11)

So let us not insult Jesus by telling him, “What you did is not enough.”

Because of what Jesus did, he is now the source of our salvation. (5:9)

What he did is enough.

So let us trust. And let us rest.

To do anything else is nothing short of disobedience.

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Ignoring the word of Jesus (Hebrews 1-4)

In my last post, we saw how Paul told Timothy, “Remember Jesus Christ.”

Here we see similar words by the author of Hebrews: “Consider Jesus.” (3:1)

I have probably read Hebrews dozens of times, but as I’ve been reading it through this time, I’m starting to see what the author is saying more clearly. I’ve always seen how he was talking about the superiority of Christ: to angels, to Moses, to the priests, to the animal sacrifices.

But this time, something else struck me even more strongly: Why was the writer of Hebrews talking about all this?

I’ve mentioned in my first blog postings on Hebrews, that the book of Hebrews was written by a Hebrews (Jew) to the Hebrews, telling them to stop acting like Hebrews and start acting like Christians.

In other words, because of persecution, these Jews were being tempted to go back to their old Jewish rituals in order to obtain their salvation. But the only way to do so would be to turn their backs on Jesus and his message of salvation.

And that was the main point of all that the writer of Hebrews was warning against in these four chapters (and for the rest of the book for that matter.)

In chapter 1, the writer says,

Long ago God spoke to the fathers by the prophets at different times and in different ways. In these last days, he has spoken to us by his Son. (1:1)

He then lists the qualifications of Jesus:

  1. He is the heir of all things.
  2. He is the creator of the universe.
  3. He is the radiance of God’s glory.
  4. He is the exact expression of God’s nature.
  5. He sustains all things by his powerful word.
  6. He was confirmed by the Father as God’s Son.
  7. All the angels worship him.
  8. His throne will last forever.
  9. He is flawless in justice and  righteousness.
  10. He is eternal.
  11. All things are put under his rule.

And it is because Jesus is all these things, the writer of Hebrews says this,

For this reason, we must pay attention all the more to what we have heard, so that we will not drift away. (2:1)

Why? Because if the law which was brought to Moses by angels was binding and required obedience on pain of punishment, how much more is the word of Jesus binding on us and requires our obedience? How do we dare ignore the message of salvation he brings.

And the writer makes it clear that it was Jesus himself that spoke of this salvation that we have, right after his resurrection from the dead. (Luke 24:44-47)

The apostles then testified to that same message. (Acts 2:22-39, among other places.)

For that matter, God in Trinity attested to this message that Jesus brought: the Father through signs and wonders, and the Holy Spirit through the distribution of his gifts.

In chapter 3, the writer then points out that Jesus is the Son over God’s house, and that we ourselves our God’s house. The implication? That we are answerable to Jesus. And we are to obey him.

And then here’s the kicker. The writer quotes Psalm 95, something that clearly refers to Yahweh, and applies it to Jesus.

Today, if you hear his (Jesus’) voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion…(3:7-8)

In the desert, they tested Jesus, and so Jesus swore to them in his wrath, “They will never enter my rest.” (3:11)

No less than three times in chapters 3 and 4 does the writer reiterate, “Don’t harden your heart to Jesus’ voice. For if you do, you will never enter his rest.”

And so the writer encourages us,

Therefore, a Sabbath rest remains for God’s people. For the person who has entered his rest has rested from his own works, just as God did from his. Let us then make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall into the same pattern of disobedience. (4:9-11)

But then he warns us,

For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating as far as the separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. No creature is hidden from him, but all things are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give an account. (4:12-13)

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Jesus himself is called “the Word of God” by John. And the writer of Hebrews warns us: we cannot simply ignore him. For everything is exposed before him and we will give an account to him for what we’ve done.

And again, the main point of this whole passage is Jesus’ specific word on the way of salvation. There is no other way but through him.

So many people want to say that there must be other ways. That God wouldn’t be so narrow as to limit the way of salvation to Jesus.

But there is no rest or peace apart from Christ. There is no salvation apart from him. And if you choose to ignore him and his message of salvation, only his wrath remains.

As John put it,

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them. (John 3:36)

How about you? What will you do with the word of Jesus?

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Remember Jesus Christ (2 Timothy 2)

“Remember Jesus Christ!” Paul cries out in verse 8.

How well we would do to remember Jesus Christ in our daily lives.

Put another way, remember Jesus the Messiah, our Savior, descendant of David, who was crucified for our sins according to prophesy, and who was raised from the dead for our justification. (Romans 3:25)

Paul was bound like a criminal, sitting in a cell, about to be executed by Nero. And in the midst of it all, he remembered Jesus the Messiah. And he remembered what was perhaps a hymn being sung in the church at the time.

For if we died with him,
we will also live with him;

if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he will also deny us;

if we are faithless, he remains faithful,
for he cannot deny himself. (11-13)

That was his hope in that dark, dank cell.

And it is our hope. Jesus is our hope.

So whatever you’re going through, whether good or bad, remember Jesus Christ.

Remember Jesus, our Messiah, and all he has done for us to save us from our sins.

Remember what he is doing for us even now, interceding for us in all our troubles.

Remember what he will do for us when he returns and makes all things new.

And remember that he does all these things for us, not because of who we are, but because of who he is.

Remember Jesus Christ.

 

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Living with a clean conscience (Acts 23)

Paul’s words are very striking in verse 1.

My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.

How many of us can say the same thing? That our consciences are clear before God? That all we do in life and in ministry has been done with a good conscience? That not only our actions, but our motives are pure before him?

But even if we feel like we have a clean conscience, it’s interesting to note what Paul told the Corinthians in his first letter to them.

It is of little importance to me that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I don’t even judge myself. For I am not conscious of anything against myself, but I am not justified by this. It is the Lord who judges me. So don’t judge anything prematurely, before the Lord comes, who will both bring to light what is hidden in darkness and reveal the intentions of the hearts. And then praise will come to each one from God. (I Corinthians 4:3-5)

In other words, just because we feel our consciences are clean, it doesn’t mean that our actions and motives are always right.

So what am I saying? Constantly search your heart. Even if you think your actions and motives are right, pray each day as David did.

Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my concerns.
See if there is any offensive way in me;
lead me in the everlasting way. (Psalm 139:23-24)

And remember: even if you feel like you’re doing well, you do so by the grace of God. There’s no boasting in that.

And when we’re not doing well, it is the grace of God that sustains us.

So let us live each day by that grace. (Romans 5:1-2)

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What we have in Jesus (2 Timothy 1)

Paul wrote this letter not long before he was put to death by Nero. It’s that fact that makes his first words to Timothy more than a little meaningful.

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by God’s will, for the sake of the promise of life in Christ Jesus. (1)

The promise of life in Christ Jesus.

So often when we go through trials and struggles in life, we focus on those trials and struggles instead of what we have in Jesus.

And we all have so much in Jesus.

Paul tells us three of those things we have in verse 2: grace, mercy, and peace.

Paul expands on what he means in verses 9-10: The Father saved us and called us to be his own, not because we are somehow more innately special or different than anyone else, but because of his own purposes and grace. Through Jesus’ work on the cross and the blood he shed there, we now have peace with God. And in him, God has now abolished death and given us life and immortality.

None of us know why God would choose us. I certainly don’t.

But there are two things we do know with certainty:

  1. We didn’t deserve to be chosen.
  2. God’s choice is not arbitrary.

It’s not as though God callously says, “I chose this one, but I don’t choose that one.”

Rather, according to purposes too mysterious and deep for any of us to fathom, he looked upon us in love, and said, “I choose you.”

That’s amazing.

So whatever you’re facing this day, whatever struggles, whatever tears, whatever worries, remember what you have in Jesus.

And be strong, not in yourself, but in the grace you have already received. (2:1)

 

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Setting our eyes on God (I Timothy 6)

Paul says in verse 17, to not set our hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God.

And as I read that, I thought about what Paul had just said in the previous verses about this God we are to set our eyes upon.

He is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings, and the Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see, to him be honor and eternal power. Amen. (15-16)

If we could only see God for who he really is, would we really set our hope on anything or anyone else?

When we set our eyes on money and the things of this world, we ultimately fall into “a trap, and many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge people into ruin and destruction.”

How much better would it be to set our eyes on the one who gives life?

 

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How Paul thought (Acts 20)

Paul’s words to the Ephesians always make a big impression on me.

But here are a few things you might want to do after reading this passage:

Read  Ezekiel 33:1-10 and then reread Acts 20:20-27. How did Ezekiel’s words influence Paul’s ministry? How should it affect the way we think when we think about our unsaved family and friends?

Read Acts 20:24 and think, “Is this how I think?” Then compare it to 2 Timothy 4:6-7, which was Paul’s last letter before he died. Looking back, what could Paul say about his life? Did he accomplish his goal?

Finally, read verse 2 Timothy 4:8. What reward did Paul look forward to? Who does he say that reward is for? Again ask yourself, “Is this how think? If I were to die today, could I say what Paul said in verses 7-8? And if not, what needs to change?”

How do you think?

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But I did what you told me! (Acts 16)

According to verses 6-10 of this chapter, the Holy Spirit led Paul and his companions to Macedonia, and so that’s where they went.

At first, things went well, but eventually they were tossed into prison for casting out a demon from a girl.

If you had been Paul and Silas, what would you have done?

“God! What are you doing? You told us to go to Macedonia, didn’t you? We did what you said! Why are we suffering like this?”

Probably many people would react in just that way.

But what did Paul and Silas do?

Without a word of complaint, they spent their time in jail praying and singing songs of praise to God.

What happened then? An earthquake hit breaking not only their chains, but the chains of the prisoners around them.

Not only that, when the jailer saw all this, he put his faith in Jesus and was saved.

God never promises us an easy life. He never says, “If you follow me, you’ll never suffer.”

In fact, he promises the exact opposite. (John 14:18-21, 16:1-4, 33; 2 Timothy 3:12)

But in all your suffering, remember this: Jesus is with you. And your suffering will not last forever. (John 16:33)

So don’t complain in your suffering. Rather, like Paul and Silas, sing songs of praise to God.

If you do, not only will your bitter chains fall off, but when others see you, like the jailer, they too may believe and be saved, their chains of sin falling to the ground.

But if you don’t believe God is good, you won’t ever do this.

How about you? What do you believe?

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Prayers that every believer needs (2 Thessalonians 1-2)

As I was reading 2 Thessalonians today, Paul’s prayers really touched me. The things that he prayed for the Thessalonians is what I need prayer for. They’re what every Christian needs prayer for.

He said,

We always pray for you that our God will make you worthy of his calling, and by his power fulfill your every desire to do good and your work produced by faith, so that the name of our Lord Jesus will be glorified by you, and you by him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. (1:11-12)

So often we think that we have to make ourselves good. To change our lives by our own strength and will. But here Paul prays that God would make us worthy of his calling, and by his power fulfill our every desire to do good, and to bring to fulfillment every work we do by faith. And as we do so, Jesus will be glorified in us, and us in him. Not because of how good and wonderful we are, but because of the grace of the Father and the Son operating in our lives.

He then prays,

May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal encouragement and good hope by grace, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good work and word. (2:16-17)

And again,

May the Lord direct your hearts to God’s love and Christ’s endurance. (3:5)

At the root of our Christian faith is one basic fact: God loves us.

And Paul prays that Jesus would drive us to the Father’s love each day, receiving the encouragement and hope we all need. And as we do, he will strengthen us in every good work we do and every word we speak.

More, Paul prayed that when we face trials and afflictions as the Thessalonians did, that we would look to Christ and take courage from the endurance he showed in going to the cross for us to pay for our sins.

Like I said, so often we look inwardly as we walk this Christian life, trying to live in our own strength. But let Jesus direct you to the Father’s love. Remember the cross on which Jesus died. And as you meditate on these things, let these be the things drive you each day in everything you say and do.

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Children of light (I Thessalonians 5)

One small note. Yesterday, I said I was talking about chapters 2-3; actually, it was 3-4. (And thus we can see that there are benefits to having chapter and verse divisions after all. It keeps us on the same page. 🙂 )

Anyway, I had a couple of thoughts as I read this passage.

First, Paul calls us to live as what we truly are: children of light. He says, “You are children of light. So live like it!”

But what does that look like, to live as children of light?

Paul tells us to, “put on the armor of faith and love, and a helmet of the hope of salvation.”  (8)

Faith, hope, and love. That triad is something you often see in Paul’s writings, and we see it here again.

A child of light has the hope of salvation. The hope that, as we saw yesterday, when Jesus appears, we will be like him, for we shall see him as he is. (I John 3:2)

That hope helps us take our eyes off of the temporal pleasures that sin offers to the One who truly satisfies. And as we look at him, and we see what we will be, we desire even now to become more and more like him.

I find it also interesting that in Ephesians, Paul talks about the breastplate of righteousness. Here, he talks about the breastplate of faith and love. I don’t know if he meant this connection, but when you look at his writings, there is a connection between righteousness, faith, and love.

Our righteousness comes not from our own efforts to be good. It comes from putting our faith in Jesus and his work on the cross. And when we do, God counts us as righteous in his eyes (thus leading to our hope of salvation).

But faith always works itself out in love. And because of the love we ourselves have received from God, we start to love him and those around us.

Does this sound familiar? It should. All of God’s law is summed up in those two commands.

And so not only are we declared righteous by God, but we start to change and live righteously as God intended from the beginning. That’s what a child of God looks like.

But one more thing. Paul wrote,

For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. (9-10)

Here, Paul isn’t talking about being awake or asleep in regards to our normal sleeping patterns. (See I Thessalonians 4:13-18). Rather, Christ died for us that whether we live here on earth, or die and depart from this earth, we will forever be with him. Again, that’s the hope that we have. So with that hope in mind, let us live each day as children of light.

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Holiness (I Thessalonians 3-4)

If there is one theme at the end of chapter 3 and the start of chapter 4 (which is why it was probably a bad idea to break this section up with the chapter division), it’s holiness.

Time and again, we see words with the same Greek root meaning “holiness”, which unfortunately is not so clear in the English.

Holiness, of course, often has a duel meaning. One is “purity” and the other is “set apart,” which in the case of the Christian, means “set apart for God as his own special people.”

And in this passage, Paul prays that God would make the Thessalonians and all the “saints” blameless in “holiness” before our God.” (3:13)

Many times we thinks of saints as the super spiritual, but “saint” shares the same root word as “holiness” just a few words earlier in the verse. All Christians are saints, because we are all set apart for God as his own special people. And because of that we are to live lives that are blameless and pure.

Paul stresses that a few sentences later, saying,

For this is God’s will, your sanctification…(4:3)

Again, “sanctification” has that same root as the words “holiness” and “saints.” God’s will for us is that we live lives that are set apart for him, lives that are pure.

Paul specifically tells us to be pure sexually, which was as big a problem back then as it is now. And he emphasizes,

For God has not called us to impurity but to live in holiness. (4:7)

And then he says,

Consequently, anyone who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit. (4:8)

Some people who claim to be Christians try to do just that: they reject God’s call on their lives to be holy. They would much rather live in their lusts. But in doing so, they’re actually rejecting God. Can you really call such a person a Christian if that’s how they live the entirety of their lives?

We are called to be holy, because he is holy. And his Holy (there’s that word again) Spirit is living in us. If the the Spirit, who himself is holy, is truly living in us, how can we then live unholy lives, never repenting, but always making excuses and justifying our actions?

So let us listen to the Spirit in our lives. Let us follow his leading each day. Let us live by his power each day. We will never be able to live holy lives in our own strength, by our own willpower. But the Spirit works us in us daily, and as we listen to him, we become more and more like the One who loved us and gave his life for us. And ultimately, isn’t that our hope.

So as we strive for holiness, let us not only remember Paul’s words, but John’s, who wrote,

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. (1 John 3:1-3)

 

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A prayer of worship (Colossians 1-2)

I must admit, I don’t worship nearly enough as I should when I read the Bible. But this time, I couldn’t help myself.

Lord, as I look at this passage, I can’t help but worship you.

Jesus, you are the image of the invisible God. In you, we see Him who is invisible.

Jesus, you are the firstborn, the one who is preeminent over all creation. Why preeminent?

Because you are their creator. You created all things. All things! Visible and invisible. In heaven and on earth. Thrones, dominions, rulers, and authorities, all things! Created through you! And created for you!

You were before all things! And in you, all things hold together!

You are the head of the church.

You are the beginning.

You are the firstborn, preeminent among all those who rose from the dead, because you alone never died again. You alone received a resurrection body upon rising from the grave.

More, all the fullness of the Father was pleased to dwell in you. And through you, the Father reconciles all things through the blood you shed on  the cross. And by your death, you reconciled me to yourself, in order to present me holy, blameless, and above reproach before the Father.

You are the mystery that was hidden for ages and generations, but now revealed to the saints. And now you dwell in us. You are the hope of glory.

In you, Jesus, the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and I…we have been completely filled in you.

You are the head of all rule and authority.

In you, our hearts have now been circumcised, the power of sin cut off away from us. We have been buried with you in baptism, and raised with you through the powerful working of the Father.

I was dead in my trespasses. But now I have been made alive with you. The Father has raised me with you and forgiven my sins, canceling the record of debt that stood against me.

All the things that came before in the ceremonial law, the food laws, the festivals, the Sabbath, they were the shadow. But you, Jesus, are the substance, the reality that all these things pointed to.

You are the one from whom the whole body, the church, is nourished and knit together, growing with a growth that is from God.

Thank you Jesus, for who you are. Thank you Jesus for all you’ve done.

Amen.

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Living by grace (Philippians 4:9)

Do what you have learned and received and heard from me, and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

Those are pretty remarkable words, don’t you think?

“Do you want the God of peace to be with you? Do what you have learned, heard, and seen in me.”

I don’t know that I would have the confidence to say that. And yet, perhaps the greatest lesson Paul taught the Philippians and all the other churches he ministered to was living by grace.

To not feel the pressure of performing in order to be approved by God. Rather, being fully confident that Christ had already made him righteous in God’s eyes. (3:2-9)

To live rejoicing each day in the grace he had received. Not only in the grace of the cross, but in the grace to live each day, whether facing plenty or hunger, abundance and need. (4:12-13)

And because of the grace he had received, he was willing to pour it out on those around him, even when they didn’t “measure up” to his expectations, disagreed with him, or were even downright hostile to him. (1:15-17)

Was Paul perfect in living by grace? Probably not. He had problems showing grace to Mark earlier in his ministry (Acts 15:37-39).

But he learned (II Timothy 4:11).

And he continued to learn to live by grace each day. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

May we all live lives marked by that same grace.

And may others see the grace that marks our lives and seek to know that grace as well.

If we do, truly the God of peace will be with us all.

 

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Rejoicing in Jesus (Philippians 3)

“So on a scale of one to ten, how would you rate your walk with God this week?” one-to-ten

I used to hear this question a lot when I was in high school in the discipleship group I was in.

A ten might be a week where you read your Bible and prayed every day, you went to church on Sunday, you shared your faith with someone, and you had victory over sin.

A one would be where you did none of that. Typically, people in our group would fall somewhere between 3 and 7.

But looking back, I think it is a bad question.

Why?

I think it tends to make us feel like our acceptance by God is performance-based. And that question can get us into trouble in two ways.

If we’re doing “well,” it’s easy to fall into pride.

“Yes, I was a pretty good Christian this week. God must be really pleased with me. Oh, you didn’t read your Bible this week? You didn’t pray? Well, you better get with it.”

If on the other hand, we had a bad week, we either think, “I gotta do better! I will do better!” putting pressure on ourselves to “perform” as Christians (usually by picking ourselves up by our own bootstraps), or we get discouraged because no matter how hard we try, we never seem to get better.

But God is not constantly putting us on a scale and weighing our performance. He’s not saying, “Oh, you really messed up this week. You’re only a 3 this week.” Nor does he say, “Hey, you shared your faith this week! That’s a 10 for you!”

Instead, Jesus tells us, “I have chosen you, taken hold of you, and made you my own. You don’t need to strive to make yourself righteous in my sight. The righteousness you have is not something that comes from your own striving and efforts. You are righteous in the Father’s eyes because of what I have done for you on the cross. So forget the scales. Forget how you failed this week. I know you have sinned. But I have already paid the price for your failure. So get up and press forward.”

Why can we rejoice in Jesus? Because we are already righteous in God’s eyes through Jesus’ work. Because Jesus has already called us and made us his own. And because one day, we will transformed into his image, with all our sins and failures completely washed away, and filled with his glory.

So rejoice in Jesus, brothers and sisters. Understand the surpassing worth of knowing him as your Lord. Rejoice in his work on the cross. Rejoice that you are his. And stand firm, not in your own efforts to be righteous, but in him and his love for you.

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The affection of Christ (Philippians 1:8)

For some reason, this verse struck me as I read it.

For God is my witness, how deeply I miss all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:8)

Oftentimes, we talk about the “love of Christ” for us so much that we almost become numb to it.

Perhaps that’s why Paul’s word choice struck me. The word he uses for “affection” usually refers to the intestines, which may seem strange to us, but in the Greek culture, the intestines were considered the source of compassion, tenderness, and love, much as people talk about the heart today.

In other words, Christ has a deep emotional connection towards us. When he sees us, that is his heart towards us.

And Paul told the Philippians that he shared that same affection toward them that Christ himself had for them.

The question is, how often do we see our brothers and sisters in Christ with that same affection, compassion, tenderness, and love?

Although there doesn’t seem to be the same level of disunity in the Philippian church as there was in the Corinthian church, there did seem to be some friction among some of the brothers and sisters in Philippi (see 4:2, for example). And so Paul urged them to lay that aside their pride and selfishness, and with the same affection they had received from Christ (2:1), to be one with another, humbly serving  each other.  Instead of grumbling against and arguing with one another, Paul called them to act as children of God, who shine out in a world where there is so much friction and conflict between people. (2:14-15)

That’s what it means for the people of God to “work out their salvation with fear and trembling.”  (2:12)

For Paul, this was not merely an individual working out of one’s salvation (although that is important too). It was God’s people working out the salvation they had received in their love for one another.

How about you? How do you see your brothers and sisters at church? Do you see them with the same affection that Jesus has for them?

 

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What mark Christ’s people. What marks Christ’s church. (Ephesians 4)

Twitter, Facebook, Line, and other social networks can be a wonderful thing. But one thing I have noticed recently is a certain lack of Christ-like character in the things Christians sometimes post, particularly to one another.

In Ephesians 2-3, Paul talked about how God is building his temple from both Jews and Gentiles. Two peoples that were formerly divided as “the people of God” and “not the people of God,” now through Christ have been made into one. The hostility has been killed and we now have peace with God and with each other.

We are now “coheirs, members of the same body, and partners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” (3:6)

And now God’s desire is that his ” multi-faceted wisdom may now be made known through the church to the rulers and authorities in the heavens.” (3:10)

To that end, Paul prayed at the end of chapter 3 that we, the church, (the “you”s are plural there) would be rooted and established in God’s love, understanding as we relate with him and one another the length, width, height, and depth of his love, so that we, his church, would be filled with all of his fullness. (3:14-20)

And then Paul says, “Therefore,” pointing to all that he had just said.

Therefore I, the prisoner in the Lord, urge you to live worthy of the calling you have received…(4:1)

What does that mean? It means that our lives, our words, our relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ are to be marked by the following:

Humility.

Gentleness.

Patience.

Bearing with one another in love.

Making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. (2-3)

How often do these words describe us when we interact with one another in social media, particularly when we disagree on something?

From what I’ve seen on social media lately, precious little.

I suppose part of the problem is that debating issues over social media is a horrible way to do things anyway. Perception is a huge part of communication, and perception is easily distorted when we can’t see people’s faces, look into their eyes, and hear how they are saying things. You may think that you are speaking with humility, gentleness, and patience, but the written word too often fails to communicate that.

This is true not only of social media, but email as well.

The result? When we get upset with each other, we end up sinning. We let the sun go down on our anger. And we give the devil the opportunity to tear apart Christ’s church through our words and attitudes.

So as Christ’s body, whenever you send messages to your brothers and sisters on social media, email, or whatever, before you press “send,” keep Paul’s words in mind.

No foul language should come from your mouth, but only what is good for building up someone in need, so that it gives grace to those who hear. And don’t grieve God’s Holy Spirit. You were sealed by him for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, anger and wrath, shouting and slander be removed from you, along with all malice. And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ. (4:29-32)

How about you? Can those in heaven and on earth see the multifaceted wisdom of God and all his fullness in us, the church, as we interact through social media? Or do they see a splintered, factious group that is no different from the rest of the world?

 

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A God-centered salvation (Ephesians 1-2)

One thing I have been doing the last couple of days as I have read Ephesians 1-2 is noting all the “hims” and “his”s that are there, and really thinking through, “Who is this talking about, the Father, the Son, the Spirit, or God in Trinity?”

Sometimes it’s a little hard to tell. For example, in chapter one, three times Paul uses the phrase “to the praise of his glorious grace” or “to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14).

In the first, it’s certainly talking about the Father. In the second, it’s probably talking about the Father, but you could see how it could also be talking about the Son. In the third, it’s talking about the Spirit’s work, with no apparent reference to the Father, but with a definite reference to the Son in verse 13. But with verses 6 and 12 referring to the glory of the Father, it’s hard to say that Paul isn’t thinking about the Father’s glory here too.

All that said, I think it would be safe to say that our salvation is to the glory of God in Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

And that I think is my main point for today. I really encourage you to take the time to highlight each reference to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit (including the “his”s and “him”s) in these two chapters. You’ll be stunned to see how they permeate Ephesians 1 and 2.

Read Paul’s words and think about how each person in the Trinity is involved in our salvation.

And when you do, I think you’ll start to appreciate the power of Ephesians 2:8-9 even more.

For you are saved by grace, through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is God’s gift–not from works, so that no one can boast.

So as we meditate on these two chapters, let us praise God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for his glorious grace which he has granted to us.

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Remembering grace (Galatians 6)

In the first part of this chapter, Paul tells us that when others are caught in sin, we are to restore them with gentleness. So many times, however, this is simply not done. Instead, often times, Christians do this with a spirit of condescension. Why is that?

I think a lot of it is due to the fact that we forget that we too stand by grace alone. And because we forget that, we get caught up in comparing ourselves with others.

You see this at the tail end of chapter 5, Paul told the Galatians,

 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. (5:26)

When we are conceited, we inevitably compare ourselves with others. In some cases that leads us to provoke others by our pride because we see ourselves as better than them. In other cases, we envy them because they have what we don’t.

Either way, when they fall, it gives us the chance to knock them down a peg. But that is not the spirit we should have.

We need to remember that we are all really nothing apart from Christ. All we are, all we have, is by his grace. And Paul says that if we forget that, we deceive ourselves. (3)

So grace doesn’t rejoice when others stumble because it somehow makes us look better. Rather, it causes us to look with compassion on the one who falls, and to want to help them out from under their burden of sin. Grace reminds us that we are judged not on a sliding scale based on how others perform. Rather, we are judged on God’s scale. And we are called to account for our own load of sin, regardless of how others “perform.”

All this leads to humility and gratefulness at the grace we have received, so that we don’t boast in ourselves, but in the cross of Christ and what he has done.

Grace also reminds us that none of our value comes from what we do, even in ministry. One of the reasons that the Jewish Christians wanted to get the Gentiles circumcised was so they could boast about what they had done among the Gentiles.

How many Christians get their value from their ministry? And because of this, they are always pointing at the people they have converted or discipled, and all the other things they do for Christ.

But Paul says,

But as for me, I will never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. (14)

Important as ministry is, it is not where our worth comes from. We stand, not because of what we do, but because of what Christ has done. And so Paul says,

 For both circumcision and uncircumcision (nor any other things you might boast about) mean nothing; what matters instead is a new creation.

And becoming a new creation is not something we did. It’s what God did.

So let us boast not in what we do, or who we are. Rather, each day let us boast in who Jesus is and what he has done.

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Losing our blessedness (Galatians 3-4)

What then has become of your blessedness? (3:15, ESV)

That’s a good question.

Many Christians today have lost their blessedness. Why?

They’ve forgotten who they are. And they’ve forgotten how they came to be what they are.

What do I mean?

The thing that you see time and again in this passage is Paul trying to pound into the Galatians’ heads, “You are already God’s children.”

Certain Jews were trying desperately to make these Galatians think they had to become Jews and follow the Jewish law in order to truly become “children of Abraham,” and thus, “children of God.”

But Paul says, “No. there is no difference between you and the Jews. For that matter, there is no difference between male or female, slave or free; you are all one in Christ.”

Unfortunately, however, the Galatians had bought the lie and were trying to attain by works what they had already attained by God’s grace through faith in Jesus.

And in doing so, they had lost their sense of blessedness, the blessedness that comes from a right relationship with God, just like Abraham had. The blessedness that came to Abraham not because of anything he had done, but because of what God had promised. The blessedness that David talked of (and Paul quotes in Romans 4) when he said,

How joyful is the one
whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered!
How joyful is a person whom
the Lord does not charge with iniquity. (Psalm 32:1-2)

But many Christians today don’t feel that blessedness. Instead, they constantly feel condemned because of their own sins. They feel that somehow they need to work themselves out of the pit they find themselves in.

But Paul says,

Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by the Spirit, are you now finishing by the flesh? (2:2-3)

We were not saved by our own efforts to be good. We came to God confessing our weakness and inability to save ourselves. And God in his grace poured his Spirit upon us, washing away our sins by the blood of Jesus. When he did so, the Holy Spirit cried out with our spirit, “Abba, Father!” confirming us as God’s children.

Nothing changes once we become Christians. We don’t deal with sin in our lives by our own efforts to be good. We deal with it by coming before God, confessing our weakness and inability to save ourselves. (Does this sound familiar?)

And when we do, God in his grace, continues pouring his Spirit upon us, filling us with himself, and and washing away our sins. And the Spirit confirms to us once again, we are God’s children.

We don’t have to earn our status as God’s children. We already are God’s children. And though we struggle with sin, God will not stop working in us until we are completely remade into the image of his Son.

That’s the blessedness of a child of God.

How about you? Have you lost your blessedness?

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Out of step with the gospel (Galatians 2)

Verse 14 really strikes me.

…I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel… (14, ESV)

Obviously, in this context, Peter’s conduct was out of step with the gospel in that by his actions, he was once again calling what God had made clean, “unclean.” He did this, not only in terms of the food they were eating, but more importantly, in terms of separating himself from the Gentiles at the dinner table. By doing this, he restored the dividing wall of the law that stood between Jew and Gentile, and threatened to destroy the unity of the church, for whom Christ died. (Ephesians 2:11-22)

And by walking out of step with the gospel, there was a serious breach between what he preached and what he did. Namely, that it is through grace, apart from works, that we are justified before God, and that it is our love for Christ that now drives our every action. (15-20)

Peter’s actions, however, threatened to undo all that he believed and preached to the church at Antioch.

We may not be out of step with the gospel in that sense, but are we out of step with the gospel in other ways?

Do we look down on other Christians for their “immaturity” and “failings” while forgetting that we ourselves stand only by the grace of God?

Granted, we are to help our fellow believers reach maturity, but there is no room for pride in our own “maturity” as we do so. We have only reached the point we have by the grace of God. And even now, if we are truly closer to Christ’s light, we should see our own flaws even more clearly. Before, we probably didn’t even notice them because of the size of our “bigger” sins. But in the brightness of God’s light, our multiple “lesser” flaws should become even more visible to us. And if you can’t see those flaws, you’re either perfect, or you’re not as mature as you think you are.

We all stand by the grace of God alone. If you don’t see that and weep, you’re probably out of step with the gospel.

On the other hand, some people are out of step with the gospel in that they are constantly beating themselves up because of their sin. But they too, in a sense, are living in pride. Pride that they should be able to clean themselves up. And the fact that they cannot devastates them. But the gospel says we are to throw away that pride. We are all completely dependent on God’s grace, and it is because we cannot clean ourselves up that Jesus had to die on the cross. To insist that we should be able to clean ourselves up, and to weep because we can’t, is to nullify the grace of God in our lives. For if we could do so, and thus save ourselves, Christ died for no purpose. (21)

And finally some people are out of step with the gospel in saying, “Well, now I’ve been forgiven, so I can live anyway that I wish.”

But the gospel says our old life has been crucified with Christ. And it is no longer we who live, but Christ lives in us. And Christ does not live a willfully sinful life. Neither should we. Instead, the knowledge that the Son of God loved us enough to give his life for us should cause us to live each day in gratefulness to him, and put a desire in our hearts to live each day for him.

How about you? Are you walking in step with the gospel.

 

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A grace and love that is not weak (2 Corinthians 12-13)

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (13:13)

Those are extremely famous words. But I wonder how often they are misunderstood.

Some people think of the grace and love of God, and they think of it as this soft and fluffy thing.

But Paul says this at the end of some extremely hard things he had to say to the Corinthian church. Some were questioning his apostleship. Others were living in unrepentant sin. (12:20-22)

And so Paul warns them, “If you do not get things right by the time I get there, I will have to deal with you. And you will not like it.” (13:2)

Then he tells them,

He (Christ) is not weak in dealing with you, but powerful among you. For he was crucified in weakness, but he lives by the power of God. (13: 3-4)

Does that sound like a soft and fluffy love and grace to you?

And so Paul tells them,

Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith. Examine yourselves. (13:5)

He said something very similar in his first letter to the Corinthians when talking about the judgment that was coming upon them for not treating the Lord’s table with proper reverence.

 If we were properly judging ourselves, we would not be judged, but when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined, so that we may not be condemned with the world. (I Corinthians 11:31-32)

If we, who are the Lord’s, will not properly test and judge our own actions and motives, the Lord will discipline us. Not because he hates us, but out of his love and grace so that we will not be condemned with the world.

That’s why Paul clarified that when he exercised his authority to bring discipline upon them, it was not to tear them down, but to build them up. (2 Corinthians 13:10)

And his prayer in all this was that they would become mature (11).

It is with all this in mind, that Paul then concludes,

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (13:13)

This grace and love is not a soft grace. It is a grace that disciplines, so that we might be one with him in the Holy Spirit, and one with one another.

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Characterized by surpassing grace (2 Corinthians 9:14)

There are more than a few famous verses in this passage related to giving. But today, it was one less often quoted verse that struck me today. In talking about how people would respond to the generosity of the Corinthians, Paul wrote,

And as they pray on your behalf, they will have deep affection for you because of the surpassing grace of God in you. (9:14)

When I read that, I thought, “What do people see in me? When people look at me and think of me, is “the surpassing grace of God” the first thing they think of? Do they think of me with deep affection because of the surpassing grace of God within me?”

I have my doubts.

I do try to be gracious. But maybe that’s part of the problem. Grace is not something we should have to consciously think about turning on in our lives. It should naturally flow from us every moment of every day.

When Jesus came, John says that he was full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

Jesus spoke truth while he was on earth, even when it was painful for others to hear. He himself was truth.

But most people didn’t shy from him because he was also full of grace as well. And that grace showed in his attitudes, words, and deeds.

That’s what I want to be. A man marked by others as one filled with and overflowing with surpassing grace.

How different would this world be if we, the church, were marked not only by the truth we proclaim, but by the surpassing grace of Jesus Christ within us?

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Because we are loved (2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1)

Something struck me as I read this passage for perhaps the thousandth time.

A single word: beloved.

Paul says in chapter 7, verse 1,

Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God. (ESV)

The CSB and other translations often translate “beloved” as “dear friends,” which of course gives the impression that it is Paul who loved the Corinthians.

And certainly Paul did love them.

But I wonder if perhaps in this case, he did not primarily mean “beloved of God.”

When you look at the previous verses, he says,

For we are the temple of the living God, as God said:
I will dwell
and walk among them,
and I will be their God,
and they will be my people.,

Therefore, come out from among them
and be separate, says the Lord;
do not touch any unclean thing,
and I will welcome you.,
And I will be a Father to you,
and you will be sons and daughters to me,
says the Lord Almighty. (6:16-18)

All these reflect the special relationship, we have with God, and the love that he has for us. And it is immediately after this, that Paul says,

Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God. (7:1)

It is because we are God’s temple, and he dwells and walks among us that we are to be separate from this world.

It is because he is our God and we are his people that we are to cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit that comes from sin.

It is because he is our Father, and we are his beloved sons and daughters, that we are to fear him, longing to be holy as he is holy, not being satisfied where we are as Christians, but bringing holiness to completion in our lives.

That is our motivation for holiness. Or at least, it should be. Is it yours?

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The glory of Yahweh (2 Corinthians 3:7-18)

The glory of Yahweh.

Those words bring up a lot of images to my mind. You find those words repeated time and again in the Old Testament.

(For those of you who don’t know, whenever you see LORD in all capital letters in your Bible, it stands for God’s divine name, “Yahweh.” So every time you see “glory of the LORD” in the Old Testament, it’s talking about the glory of Yahweh.).

I think of Moses beholding Yahweh from behind the rock, but unable to see his full glory.

I think of the tabernacle, and then later the temple, being filled with the glory of Yahweh, so that the priests could not enter.

I think of Isaiah seeing the glory of Yahweh, with the seraphim singing, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is Yahweh Almighty.”

And of course, how could you not think of the glory of Yahweh appearing before the shepherds at the time of Jesus’ birth?

In the New Testament, the word, “Lord” is often used to translate the Old Testament word “Yahweh,” as is seen in the last example. But at the same time, it is also used to refer to Jesus, both in the gospels and the epistles.

Many times Paul uses the word “Lord” to refer specifically to Jesus, but in this particular passage, I think we see an exception, or perhaps a double meaning. For there is no doubt that Paul did believe Jesus was indeed Yahweh, that is, Yahweh the Son, in comparison to Yahweh the Father, and Yahweh the Spirit. (I know, we usually say “God” instead of “Yahweh,” but we’re saying the same thing.)

Anyway, like I said, Paul seems to be using “Lord” here primarily to refer to the triune Yahweh, in contrast to Jesus only. Why do I say so? A couple of reasons. One is that he refers to Moses encountering Yahweh in the book of Exodus, and second he refers to the “glory of the Lord.” You can, of course,  definitely refer to the glory of Christ, because he shares  the glory of the Father. But since Paul referred to Moses, it seems best to think of it as the “glory of Yahweh” that Moses saw in Exodus, instead of merely the glory of the Son.

Anyway, back to my point, one thing you note time and again in the Old Testament is that it was impossible for people to gaze upon the full glory of Yahweh and live. They were always “veiled” from it in one way or another.

But here, Paul says, “Where the Spirit of Yahweh is, there is now freedom.”

Because of Jesus and what he did for us on the cross, we can now behold Yahweh’s glory unveiled.

And now, that glory doesn’t destroy us. Rather, it transforms us into God’s image from one degree of glory to another.

I don’t know about you, but to me that’s amazing. So each day, let us take time contemplating the glory of Yahweh, the glory of our salvation, and the glory of God’s grace. And as we do, we will be transformed.

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The grace shown us in ministry (II Corinthians 2:14-3:6)

It’s been a slow week in terms of blogging for me this week. I suppose I shouldn’t feel bad about it since I made no guarantees about how often I would blog.

I think that for me, this has been a week for chewing on the Word, which makes for good meditation, but not necessarily for blogging. (I have no idea if that makes any sense or not).

One thing I’m chewing on is this passage from II Corinthians.

But thanks be to God, who always leads us in Christ’s triumphal procession and through us spreads the aroma of the knowledge of him in every place. For to God we are the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To some we are an aroma of death leading to death, but to others, an aroma of life leading to life. (2:14-16)

Paul tells us here that when God sees us in the midst of the unbelievers around us, he smells the aroma of Christ in us.

That’s an amazing thing when I think about it. Why would I have the fragrance of Christ, when there is still so much sin in me?

A single word: Grace.

The grace that God pours out on me through the cross of Christ.

It is not that I intrinsically bear the fragrance of Christ. But his grace has so been poured out on me, that to God, it fills whatever room that I am in.

And when I preach the word to those around me, they sense that grace in me as well. To some, it is the fragrance of life. To others, it is the stench of death. But to God, in Christ, I am a sweet smelling fragrance to him.

Paul then says in chapter 3,

Such is the confidence we have through Christ before God. It is not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God. He has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (4-6)

So often, I look at myself, and I don’t see myself as that fragrance that God sees me as. I see all my frailties and weaknesses. And yet, by his grace, God makes me competent to make a difference in the lives of the people around me. Because the thing is, it’s not I who gives people life. It’s the Spirit of God living in me that does that.

All I have to do is what Paul did:

Speak with sincerity in Christ,

as from God and

before God. (2:17)

And God will do the rest.

It is very similar, in fact, to what Paul said in chapter 1.

The testimony of our conscience is that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially toward you, with godly sincerity and purity, not by human wisdom but by God’s grace. (1:12)

I don’t know about you, but that’s how I want to be. That’s how I want to live.

Living in godly sincerity.

Living in purity.

Living not in worldly wisdom that leads to jealousy, selfish ambition, and boasting (James 3:14).

But living by grace.

And it is that grace that will make a difference not only in us, but in the lives we touch.

May we live each day walking in that grace.

 

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Joy (Psalm 30)

This psalm was written by David, probably after his sin that took place in I Chronicles 21. And it talks about the joy of forgiveness and restoration.

But I also see Jesus in this psalm.

On the cross, the Father hid his face from Jesus. But Jesus wasn’t suffering for his own sins as David did. He suffered for ours.

And while David, cried, “What gain is there in my death, if I go down to the Pit?”, there was great gain in Jesus dying for us. On the cross, he paid the price for our sins. But he didn’t stay dead. The Father brought him back up from the grave and has lifted him up, giving him the name above every other name.

And because Jesus suffered God’s wrath for a moment, now we can enjoy his favor for a lifetime…for eternity.

Because he wept, we now have joy.

So whatever you’re going through, remember the cross. Remember that because of Jesus, we have hope.

And let us sing with David:

Sing to the Lord, you his faithful ones, and praise his holy name. (4)

I will exalt you, Lord…Lord my God, I will praise you forever. (1, 12)

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