Sunday, April 29, 2007

James 2:14-19 --- Got Faith?

Scripture:
14What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. 18But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. 19You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

Insight:
James is loved by many, but also questioned by many. Some people feel that James is a book that smells of legalism. Is James stating that works are a requirement of salvation? No. However, he is stating that we must question if we have true saving faith without the evidence of that faith in the form of good works. Our good works do not save. Rather, they are the indication of our faith. James is emphasizing that we must respond to our faith in Christ; that faith and deeds do not exist independent of each other; and that if we truly embrace Christ our actions will make this evident in good works and obedience to God.

Reading these passages challenges me to take inventory of my faith. Is my faith evident in how I live my life? Am I living out my faith with good deeds and obedience to all that Christ has commanded? How serious am I taking my faith? Am I going as far as Abraham – all the way to the altar? (V21)

Prayer:
Lord, may I respond to your incredible act of love, sacrifice, and atonement with a faith full of life. May I embrace all of you and live out who I now am because I am in you. May my life be characterized by good works and obedience; not because I am trying to earn salvation, but because I am saved; because you live in me. May I daily, like Abraham, take it all the way to the altar. I want a faith that the world can see. Not for my recognition but for your glory.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

2 Thessalonians 1:3-4 --- THIS IS NOT A GAME!

Scripture:
3We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing. 4Therefore, among God's churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring.

Insight:
Again, Paul demonstrates commendable qualities of the Christians in Thessalonica. He says that their faith is growing more and more, that their love for each other is increasing, and that they persevere in their faith even through the persecution and trials that they are experiencing. Would Paul say the same thing about us? Would he always thank God for us? Are we exhibiting these traits? Or, are have we become stagnant, lazy, idle, and comfortable in our faith. Do we persevere through the trials of life? Can we even handle a bad day or the basic inconveniences of life?

In light of the recent events involving the brutal murders of the three believers in Turkey last week, I thought of the Christian Church in Turkey as I read these passages. I have been to Turkey and will be returning this year. I also was blessed to spend time last week with one of the senior leaders of the Christian Church in Turkey. This prayer of encouragement and thanksgiving from Paul is so appropriate for the believers in Turkey. They truly are growing in their faith daily; their love for each other is growing because of Christ in them; they have been enduring persecution and trials for a long time. However, the persecution and trials have just reached and all-time high. Two of the Christians executed last week were the first Turkish martyrs who died specifically because of their faith in Christ. The other believer was a faithful missionary from Germany.

The Turkish believers understand “perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials”. They have a lot to lose because of their faith. They are willing to lose their jobs, social status, friends, family, and even their lives because of their faith. In the West we seem to have problems giving up our worldly pleasures and sin for Christ. May all Christians wake up to the reality that this is not a game. We are at war. No, not with Muslims. We are at war with our flesh, our sinful desires, and the temptation that so easily entangle us. We are at war with Satan and his works of destruction. We are at war with the darkness. How do you fight darkness? You shine the light! We must be like the Thessalonian and Turkish believers who grow in our faith, increase in our love for each other, persevere in our faith, and endure persecution & trials. THIS IS NOT A GAME!

Monday, April 23, 2007

Abide in Me - It's not a one-time transaction

Being a follower of Christ is not a one-time decision. It is not about the one time that you raised your hand and said yes to God. Rather, being a follower of Christ is about daily raising your hands to Christ in complete surrender. It is about daily serving him. It is about daily abiding in him and making him Lord of your life.

"Jesus’ demands are for a lifetime. He does not demand a single decision to repent or come or believe or love or listen. All these continue. The transformation of repentance continues. Coming to Jesus again and again continues. Believing in him hour by hour continues. Listening to his word as the daily source of spiritual life continues. Jesus demands the engagement of our minds and hearts every day of our lives.

A transaction with Jesus in the past that has no ongoing expression in our lives was a false transaction. When Jesus said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples” (John 8:31), he meant that if we don’t abide, we are not truly his disciples. And the opposite of true disciples is false disciples. That’s what we are if we count on past experiences without ongoing devotion to Jesus." Excerpt from "What Jesus Demands of the World" by John Piper

I urge us all to daily raise our hands and submit to Christ as his disciples; his followers. Abide and remain in him.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

1 Thessalonians 2:10-12 --- The Way We Live Matters

Scripture:
10You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. 11For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, 12encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.

Insight:
It almost seems incredible and arrogant that Paul can make a statement about how holy righteous and blameless he, Silas and Timothy lived when they were in Thessalonica. You don’t hear many people making such statements today. I think it is so important that we truly live out who we are in Christ and that this will be reflected in a life that has the characteristics of holiness, righteousness, and blamelessness. Paul is indicating that the way they lived among them was a powerful witness. We need to learn from Paul and his crew. We need to live out our faith in real ways. We need our outward lifestyle and actions to be a reflection of who we are in Christ. Why, because the way we live and what we do is a witness of who Christ is and what it means to be a follower of Christ. The way we live matters.

While the second half of this passage wasn’t written for the express purpose of teaching us how to parent our children, it did seriously challenge me in this area. Do I deal with my children in this manner? Is my parenting characterized by encouragement, comfort, and a daily urging of my kids to live lives worthy of God? Parenting is an awesome responsibility and blessing. It is our job to urge our children to live lives worthy of God. We can do this through encouragement and comfort. However, looking back at verse 10 it indicates that a very important ingredient is that we ourselves live lives that are worthy of God. We need to show our children how to do this by being an example and living this way ourselves. The way we live will be the most powerful witness. Just as the way Paul, Silas, and Timothy lived was a powerful witness to the Thessalonians. The way we live matters.

Prayer:
Lord, continue to sanctify me. Continue to make me a more compassionate, kind, and patient person. I truly want to encourage, comfort, and urge my children to live lives worthy of God. I also want to do this for others: family, friends, those I meet and those I minister to. Lord, may my witness become one that can be daily characterized by a lifestyle of holiness, righteousness and living blamelessly. This only will happen in you, through you, and as I respond to you. You are the change agent. God, I want this so that you will be glorified. I understand that the way I live matters.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

1 Thessalonians 1:4-10 --- Imitators

Scripture:
4For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. 6You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. 7And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. 8The Lord's message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, 9for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.

Insight:
Verses 4 – 5 are a picture of how I want to present the gospel: with power, the Holy Spirit and with conviction. Without the work of the Holy Spirit the impact of the message will be minimized and in many, or most, cases it will not bear fruit. The Holy Spirit brings the power and penetrates the hearts of those who hear the gospel and thus regenerates and brings the change. We need to speak with conviction. We need to confidently present the gospel. But, we must invite and cry out for the Holy Spirit to show up in power.

Verse 6 is an incredible statement that Paul makes. He actually commends the Thessalonians for being imitators of the Lord and also of himself, Timothy, and Silas. How many of us would be comfortable with someone imitating us? Are we worthy of imitating? Paul felt comfortable with others imitating him. We must live our lives as ones who are worthy of being imitated. That is a big task, but that is what we are called to do. For we are supposed to be imitators of Christ. We are supposed to be followers of Christ and live our lives as he lived his life. When we live like the new creations that we are, putting off the old self and clothing ourselves with the new self, we will be worth imitating.
What happened when the Thessalonian Christians imitated Paul and the Lord? They were able to endure suffering; they became model believers; their faith became known everywhere; and they turned from idols to serve the one true God. Basically, they lived for the Lord and spread the gospel throughout the land because of the way they lived for him. God used them because of their obedience and surrender.

Prayer:
Lord, may I be an imitator of you. May I continue to take of the old and put on the new. I want to be a model to all believers. That will require much more wore work in me. Please keep pushing me and changing me. Get me to the point to where it is ok for others to actually imitate me. Do you work in my life. I continue to surrender to you.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

IN-N-OUT BURGER, JACK IN THE BOX & THE CHURCH

IN-N-OUT BURGER:

Why does IN-N-OUT Burger have people lined up at three registers throughout the day and a line wrapped around the parking lot ordering at the drive-thru? Why is it that people get so excited about a new IN-N-OUT opening up near their home or office? Why do people make a point of taking their out of town guest to IN-N-OUT when they are visiting?

Why is IN-N-OUT so popular and successful? Is it because they have a huge menu selection? Is it because they have stores on every corner? Is it because they heavily advertise? No, no, and no. The generally accepted answer to their success is that they only do a few things and they do it well. You see, they only serve hamburgers, fries, & drinks and they do it with excellence at a very reasonable price. They don’t sell chicken, tacos, egg rolls, salads, pizza, or desert. They only sell hamburgers, fries, and drinks.

JACK IN THE BOX:

Now let’s take a look at Jack in the Box. Jack in the box has taken the approach of being a jack-of-all-trades. They have a menu that attempts to meet everyone’s desires. They offer hamburgers, fries, and drinks. However, they keep going with chicken sandwiches, tacos, egg rolls, cheese sticks, desert, salads, and a host of other options at any given time. Additionally, you can find a Jack in the Box restaurant on every other corner. Finally, they advertise. You can catch Jack on TV every night of the week on nearly every station.

So, one would naturally conclude that the numerous menu items, the huge number of locations, and the constant advertising must make Jack in the Box extremely desirable. Jack in the Box must be more popular than IN-N-OUT Burger. But this is not the case because, like most jacks of all trades, they are masters of none. Their food is generally not fresh, not considered high quality, and not highly sought after by most. In fact, many people get stressed out trying to decide what to order from this overstuffed menu. Additionally, People don’t count the days until the next one will open. When a new restaurant is opened it is pretty much a non-event. The reason they need a store on every corner is because it is not the kind of food or experience you want to drive out of your way for.

THE CHURCH:

How does this relate to churches? Can we utilize this information to help understand the importance of focusing and setting priorities? What can a church learn from this example of competing fast food restaurant approaches?

Here are some thoughts. A Jack in the Box church will have a vast menu of ministries. It will have something for everyone. However, because there are so many areas of focus, the quality will be hard to control and the service to the congregation will end up being very mediocre. The location(s) of the church will be considered very important so that it will be easy for people to keep coming. Finally, there will be a huge emphasis on marketing and branding.

In contrast, an IN-N-OUT Burger church will be all about focus. It will determine its core values and set, at most, three priorities. This church will then execute these three priorities with excellence. The result will be a ministry that is fresh, attractive, and worth returning to week after week. The focus will not be on the location because people will be willing to drive out of their way to be part of it. In fact, people will want to bring their friends and family to experience this kind of church. Finally, the need for advertising will be non-existent due to the incredible word of mouth and grass roots following. The focus is on the product (changed lives) not on the brand.

There are many additional insights and practical truths that can be extracted from this study. I encourage all who are involved in church leadership to allow this simple illustration to challenge your thinking, your approach to ministry, and your view of the role of the church. For many churches it is time to get back to the basics and embrace the IN-N-OUT approach. While this will require some significant menu cutbacks, the result will be a renewed focus, a fresh simplicity, and an opportunity to deliver excellence.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

1 Thessalonians 1:3 --- Cause & Effect

Scripture:
3We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Insight:
What a wonderful picture of how all the good we are called to do comes from God. However, this verse is so easily passed over as just a nice little introduction from Paul to the Thessalonians. But it is full of incredible truth and important doctrine.

This verse is a fabulous depiction of the principle of cause and effect. When we have true faith in Christ we will produce good work; when we are truly filled with love for God and others we will be prompted to labor for the Kingdom; and when our hope is firmly in Christ we will be inspired to endure to the very end.

Wherever there is a true faith, it will work; it will affect both the heart and life. Faith works by love; it shows itself in love to God, and love to our neighbor. And wherever there is a well-grounded hope of eternal life, this will appear by the exercise of patience; and it is a sign of sincerity, when in all we do, we seek to approve ourselves to God. - esv commentary from biblegateway.com

So we had better ask ourselves; are we producing good works, are we laboring for the Kingdom, and are we enduring in our faith? If not, we need to examine our faith in Christ, our love for God & others, and our hope in Christ. It doesn't start with works, labor and endurance, but when we are in Christ (surrendered to him) these characteristics will be the fruit. This is really important stuff and has eschatological (eternal) ramifications.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Colossians 3:12-14 --- Please, clothe yourself!

Scripture:
12Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Insight:
This has been my prayer that I would be clothed and characterized by these attributes: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. I want and need more of these characteristics in my life so that I can treat others better and with true love.

So how do we clothe ourselves in these beautiful garments? I don't know about you, but I am ready to just start putting them on. But wait, in verse 5 it tells us to "put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature"; in verse 8 it says "rid yourselves of all such things"; and verse 9 says "since you have taken off your old self with its practices". You see, we must first take off our old garments that are filthy, torn, and filled with the stencth of sin and worldliness. It is after we take off the old that we can then put on the new. I have tried in the past to put on the new clothes over the old ones, but the new clothes didn't fit right and the stench of the old eventually came through. We can't just cover up the old, we must take them off and get rid of them.

So the progression is (1) take off the old rags of the world and then (2) put on the new garments of the Kingdom. To simplify it: take off - put on. To really simplify it: off /on.

Prayer:
Lord, help me to continue to take off the old ratty clothes I have been wearing all of these years. I want those rags gone forever so that these new garments of compassion, patience, humility, gentleness, and love will fit perfectly. Continue your work in me so that you will be glorified.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Discipleship and Starbucks

I heard Joey Bonifacio, the senior pastor of Victory Christian Fellowship in Manila, speak on Sunday in Chandler, AZ. He oversees ministries representing about 26,000 in the Philippines. I then had the opportunity to spend some time talking with him on Monday night about discipleship. I look forward to him providing input and guidance into my ministry.

Joey's life is about discipleship. He is in the business of making disciples and teaching others to make disciples. Here is a link to his blog posting called "discipleship and starbucks". It is just a flavor of this guys heart.

"Sometimes churches are too busy building their brands rather than building their product. Others have relied on the brand – “The Church”, yet Jesus said - “I will build my church….” Matthew 16:18. Instead, He challenges us to go and make disciples" - Joey Bonifacio.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Colossians 3:1-10 --- Being Renewed?

Scripture:
1Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. 5Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. 7You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.

Insight:
What an incredible picture of both justification and sanctification at work in the life of a believer. It depicts the importance of both and demonstrates how sanctification flows out of justification for someone who has truly been raised with Christ. You see, this clearly shows how justification and sanctification will, no must, be a daily experience and expression of who we are in Christ.

Let’s look at how clearly these two components of salvation and the Christian life are broken out in these passages.

Justification (the indicative statements): you have died – v3; you have been raised with Christ – v1; you are hidden with Christ (with him); you have taken off old self – v9; you have put on new self – v10.

Sanctification (the imperative statements): set your hearts on things above – v1; set your minds on things above – v2; put to death what belongs to your earthly nature (stop sinning) – v5; rid yourself of all practices that characterize the unregenerate self (stop sinning … continued).

In summary, if we are truly justified then we will be actively living out sanctification. Verse 10 also depicts the process of sanctification, or the putting on of the new self, as a process. It states that the new self is “being renewed”. This indicates a process. Sanctification is a process. Here are some questions that we should be asking ourselves: am I actively engaged in the process; do I daily seek to put to death what belongs to my earthly nature; am I setting my heart and mind on the things of God, or am I living for myself?

Prayer:
Lord, continue to challenge me. Thank you for clearly revealing how justification and sanctification work together and are your holy components of salvation. Thank you for your grace that is both atoning and transforming. Thank you that the transformation happens now and not just when I die and meet you in heaven. Thank you for the present reality of salvation.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Colossians 1:21-23 -- If You Continue!

Scripture:
21Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 23if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel…

Insight:
We were enemies of Christ because of our evil behavior. But when we became reconciled to God through Christ, we were made clean, our past sins were cleared, and we became empowered to stop our evil behavior. Why, because we are now in Christ. However, there is a big “if” statement. Verse 23 states that we are able to be presented holy, without blemish, and free from accusation IF we continue in our faith, established and firm – not moved. What does it mean to continue in our faith? One thing I notice from this passage is the possibility of not continuing in our faith. Paul was writing to a Colossian church that was besieged with heretical teachings that was apparently causing some to not "continue" in the faith.

The use of the phrase “if you continue” indicates that our faith is a daily decision, not a one-time event or proclamation. We must daily take up our cross and follow Christ. We must remain and abide in him. We must continue in our faith! Let's always remember that it is only by the grace of God and because of Christ that we are reconciled and that we can continue. It is all Jesus, but requires our responding to him.

It is when we continue in our faith that we can continue to put (keep) our evil behavior to death. Daily submitting to him is the only way we can be sanctified. Paul is again presenting the importance that both justification (being reconciled to Christ, v.21-22) and sanctification (continuing in our faith, v.23) play in our salvation.

Friday, April 13, 2007

You mean he wasn't born with it?

Jesus didn't begin discipling and ministering to others until he had gone through a process of preparation. For instance, contrary to some conventional wisdom, Jesus wasn't born with knowledge of the scriptures. He had to get it the old-fashioned earthly way - he had to read and study. Why are we so arrogant to think that God is going to use us to change lives and do his work without our willingness to prepare? If Jesus needed preparation, don't you think we do too? The following is a list of the preparation that Jesus engaged in prior to being launched into the ministry for which he was created.

1. He studied the scriptures. Luke 2:46-47; 49-52.

2. He was baptized and received the Holy Spirit. Luke 3:21-23.

3. He prayed and fasted. Luke 4:1-2.

4. He said no to temptation. Luke 4:2 and 13

5. He then called his disciples and began his ministry. Luke 5:10b-11

God wants to use us to do his incredible work here on earth. He wants us to be world changers. Let's follow the lead of Jesus and spend the effort and time to be equipped and prepared to be mightily used by God.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Impossible Task of Making Disciples?

The Great Commission
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” Matthew 28:19-20.

Did Jesus say to go and make converts or to simply invite people to church? No, he told us to make disciples.

Did Jesus tell us to teach them all my commandments? No, he told us to “teach them to obey all my commandments”.

Anyone can teach someone all of his commandments. That is easy and just an exercise in basic instruction techniques and memorization. But teaching someone to obey all of his commandments like repenting, worshipping Jesus, and loving our enemies is another story.

The new life of a disciple is a life of obedience to Jesus' commandments, or it is not a new life at all.

In Luke 14:27, Jesus sheds some additional light on what it means to become a disciple "Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple."

What does it mean to "bear our own cross"? Bearing a cross does not mean primarily having a bad day or going through hard times. It means going to Golgotha (the cross). It means dying with Christ—dying to the old attitudes of envy and strife and jealousy and anger and selfishness and pride; and turning to follow Jesus in newness of life.

When we make disciples, we exhort people to come and die to their old, destructive ways and to live for Jesus, who loved them and gave himself for them.

So, are you up for the impossible task of teaching someone how to obey everything Jesus has commanded of us? Are you yourself even up to the task of being a follower of Christ and obeying what he has commanded?

Here’s the deal, being a disciple and making disciples seems impossible and it is – without God. "With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God" Mark 10:26.

So, how can we be strong enough to make disciples? It is not about our own effort or strength - although it takes a lot of effort and strength. Rather, being a disciple and discipling others requires tremendous spiritual power. And Christ was so gracious to leave us with a word of comfort and power: "and surely I am with you always to the very end of the age" (Matt. 28:20).
The reason that promise is packed with power is that the one who made it has all authority in heaven and on earth (Matt. 28:18) “therefore Jesus came to them and said, ‘all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me’”.

In Christ, who has the authority and power, we can excel at the seemingly impossible task of being a disciple and discipling others. The great commission is wrapped in powerful grace, and so are we.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Collosians 1:9-14 --- Rescued!

Scriptures:
9For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. 10And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully 12giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. 13For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Insight:
Paul is praying that the faithful Christians at Colosse, who he has not personally met, would be filled with knowledge of God’s will so that they will live a Godly life, produce good fruit and glorify God. And this should be our prayers for ourselves. All of this because of what Christ has done for us. It is all rooted in the fact that Christ has rescued us. Because of what Christ has done for us, we are now to live a life that is pleasing, obedient, and productive for God and his kingdom. Because we are forgiven we will want to serve God with everything in us. The more we know God’s will and are rooted in who he is and what he has done for us, the more we will serve him and produce good fruit. God will give us the strength to serve him and even fill us with peace, joy, and thanksgiving as we stop living for ourselves and instead serve him with all that we are. This should drive us to a desire, no an urgent need, to know God; to be in his Word; to seek his will in every area of our lives.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Philippians 1:9-11

Scripture:
9And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, 11filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.

Insight:
This passage demonstrates a powerful progression of decisions, responses, and outcomes that result in a life lived for the glory of God. May we all live out this prayer of Paul’s.

Here is how it is played out. Our love increases and is more effective when we increase in the knowledge of God and have additional insight into his will. Where do we primarily find knowledge and insight? The bible. Out of this comes the ability to be able to know what is right – to know God’s perfect will. Rather than living for ourselves and making selfish, sinful, and destructive decisions; we are able to make the right decision and choose the Godly path which is the pure and blameless path. Choosing this path produces the good fruit of true righteousness. However, this whole process will fail and produce nothing without Christ. All of this is only possible because of our dependence upon and subsequent obedience to Jesus. Finally the ultimate result of this lifestyle is a life lived for the glory and praise of Almighty God. This reminds me of the Westminster Catechism which states: “man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever”.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

1 John 1:8-10 --- Who, What, Why?

Scripture:
8If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.

Insight:
Who was John writing to? He was writing to “Christians” in the churches of Asia (modern day Turkey). What was going on at this time? What were the issues facing the early church? The primary threat to the church was Gnosticism. One of this early heretical movement’s ideas was that the flesh was evil and the spirit was good. When they took this to the extreme they believed that whatever the flesh was engaged in didn’t matter because only what the spirit did mattered. Therefore, they did not see the sinful actions of their bodies as being true sin. The actions of the flesh didn’t matter because the flesh didn’t have anything to do with the spirit or the person’s relationship with God.

This brings us back to 1 John. Why did John write these passages? Let’s interpret 1 John 8-10 with this context and the reality that many “Christians” were being influenced by Gnostic thought were buying to the heresy. The Gnostics were claiming to be without sin because of their belief that what the body/flesh did wasn’t a factor in their relationship with God. Therefore, John in verse 8 clearly states that “if they claim to be without sin, they deceive themselves and the truth is not in them”. And in verse 10 he further underscores the danger of following the Gnostic belief by stating that “if we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives”.

Interpreting and studying these verses in the context of the author, audience, and circumstances sheds light onto these passages and why John would be making these statements to Christians. Some use these verses to argue that all Christians still sin and that it is a natural aspect of a Christian’s life. In context, this does not appear to be the point that John is trying to make or the issue he is attempting to address. In fact, John later states in 1 John 3:6 that “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him”. So, it does not correlate that John is making the argument in chapter 1 that all Christians continue to be bound by sin. Rather, he is urging Christians to not believe the Gnostic lies that the sin of the flesh is not sin and to instead get into the light and stop sinning.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The Cost of Discipleship - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ. It remains an abstract idea, a myth which has a place for the Fatherhood of God, but omits Christ as the living Son. … There is trust in God, but no following of Christ.” - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

This is just a taste from a compilation of excerpts from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book “The Cost of Discipleship”. It provides a very challenging view of discipleship and its necessity to the Christian life.

Galatians 5:22-26 - Keep in Step with the Spirit

Scripture:
22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. 25Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

Insight:
I finished my 3-day fast this month with a focus on seeking God for more compassion, gentleness, kindness, and mercy. I want these characteristics to be ever more present in my life. I want these characteristics to be who I am. I want these characteristics to be very active in my relationship with others especially my wife and children. God provided insight this morning as he directed me to the passages in Galatians 5 admonishing us to live by the Spirit. It is when I live by the Spirit that I will produce the fruit of gentleness, kindness, and compassion. How do I live by the Spirit? Paul seems to be stating that it is when we put to death our sinful nature that we are able to truly live by the Spirit. We must wage serious war on our sinful nature. In my study of these passages I read the following commentary:

Paul concludes his two lists of the acts of the sinful nature and the fruit of the Spirit with a summary statement about putting to death the sinful nature (v. 24) and living by the Spirit (v. 25). The death of the sinful nature opens the way for the life of the Spirit. This movement from death to life is parallel to 2:19-20 and 6:14-15, where death is also followed by new life.

The remarkable feature of Paul's statement about the crucifixion of the sinful nature in verse 24 is the use of the active voice: Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Galatians 2:19 and 6:14 say that Christians have been crucified with Christ, but 5:24 says that they themselves have acted to put to death their sinful nature. Believers are responsible to crucify their sinful nature. Since Roman crucifixion was a merciless, painful means of execution, Paul's statement describes an absolute and irreversible renunciation of evil. The past tense may point to the time of baptism, when the Christian publicly identified with Christ. A common liturgy of baptism expresses it this way:
“Do you turn to Christ? I turn to Christ. Do you repent of your sins? I repent of my sins. Do you renounce evil? I renounce evil.”

If this repentance and renunciation of evil is as decisive as crucifixion, it means that Christians have said an absolute, unconditional no to all of their sinful desires and passions. Renunciation of evil is not only a baptismal vow, it is a practical everyday discipline. When my sinful nature subtly suggests paging through a pornographic magazine, I shout a defiant no to my sinful nature. When I hear a juicy bit of gossip and start to repeat it, I close my mouth and say "no way" to my sinful desire. When another Christian criticizes me unfairly and my flesh screams for revenge, I say "absolutely not" to my sinful passion.

The fact of warfare against the sinful nature, described in verse 17, indicates that the sinful nature is never fully eradicated in this life and therefore this “no” must be continually renewed. But the fact of the execution of the sinful nature described in verse 24 shows that goal of the war against the sinful nature is not a negotiated peace but final execution.

Both the continuous war against the sinful nature and the absolute execution of the sinful nature must be kept in mind if we are to have the full picture. The perfectionists who talk as if the sinful nature has been or can be totally conquered in this life have lost sight of the need to fight the war every day. The pessimists who are halfhearted in battling the flesh because they never expect victory have lost sight of the victory that is ours through active identification with Christ on the cross.

The active execution of the sinful nature is followed by an active expression of new life in the Spirit: Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit (v. 25). Paul's combination of an indicative (we live) with an imperative (let us keep in step) is parallel to the same combination of indicative and imperative in verses 1 and 13. The indicative describes God's gift to us: freedom in Christ and life in the Spirit. The imperative expresses our responsibility: to protect our freedom from slavery under the law, to use our freedom to serve one another in love and to keep in step with the Spirit. Keep in step is a military command to make a straight line or to march in ordered rows. The Spirit sets the line and the pace for us to follow. Keeping in step with the Spirit takes active concentration and discipline of the whole person. We constantly see many alternative paths to follow; we reject them to follow the Spirit. We constantly hear other drummers who want to quicken or slow down our pace; we tune them out to listen only to the Spirit. Excerpt from BibleGateway.com


Prayer:
Lord, I am in a battle. I am at war with my sinful nature. I know this and am prepared to keep up the good fight. Thank you for the victory that is mine in Christ. Pour out your grace on me as I fight so that I may be victorious in all battles. I thank you for the Spirit. I desire that my entire life be in step with the Spirit. I declare that I am in Christ; I no longer am a slave to my sinful nature; my sinful nature has been crucified; I am a slave to righteousness; I am now led by the Spirit. For the glory of God and by his grace.

Monday, April 02, 2007

1 Peter 3:7-8

Scripture:
7Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers. 8Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. 9Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.

Insight:
I am seeking God for additional breakthrough in the area of compassion, gentleness, tenderness, and mercy. During my study of his word on this subject I again read these passages in 1 Peter. It was striking to see that there are real spiritual results in relation to our compassion, respect, sympathy, and humility. For instance, It is so frightening to read that my prayers may be hindered when I am not considerate, loving, and respectful towards my wife. Additionally, it is sobering to understand that the way I act towards others matters tremendously. Not just to the people I am interacting with, but to God himself. Receiving his blessings is related to how I treat others. Here’s what I got out of these passages in 1 Peter. It matters how I treat others. It matter to God. He cares so much about others that when I mistreat them, I am mistreating God. This causes strain in my relationship with God and hinders my prayers and affects his desire and/or ability to pour his blessings out upon me. Here’s the deal, I am called to love God and others. When I show love, things are as they should be.

Prayer:
Lord, thank you for your word. Thank you for showing me how serious you are about compassion, love, respect, and humility. I understand that the way I treat others affects my relationship with you. You care about others. Lord, renew a right spirit within me. Fill me with compassion and love for others. Change my heart. I desire to love others as you love them.