5 Understandable Words for Today

“…the Lord accepts my prayer.” Psalm 6:9b (ESV)

Theologians often describe this psalm as the first of the Penitent Psalms, which include psalms 31, 37, 50, 101, 129, and 142. These songs had the following characteristics: sorrow, humiliation, and hatred of sin. This psalm, like the last, is constructed of two sections: verses 1-7 and verses 8-10.

David enters into this penitential song knowing of God’s right to rebuke and discipline His children, and only asks that the punishment not be done in anger. Like a child cowering before an angry father, David would rather be punished for wrong-doing than to be used as a whipping boy: “O Lord, rebuke me not in your anger, nor discipline me in your wrath.” (v.1) Generations later, the prophet Jeremiah echoed David’s words with a clarifying note: “…lest you bring me to nothing.” (Je. 10:24) David was already worn out from regret, mourning over his sin (v.’s 2-3; 6-7), being to close to 'nothingness' for a rebuke that would completely destroy his being.

There was one simple, yet sure, remedy – to be saved through God’s redeeming grace. Though he knows he deserves God’s rebuke, David pleads for God’s salvation. (v.4) He knows God is able to restore him to good standing before The Creator. Without God’s total restoration, David’s expressions of worship would never reach Heaven’s throne, and if he died in his sin, he would surely never enjoy worshipping with the redeemed in the glory of heaven. (v.5)

In these first seven verses we find a broken man: guilty, insecure, and tired… oh, so tired. One can almost hear the minor key of the blues song being groaned in the shadows of the night. Then the key changes, and the tone of the song reveals confidence by a restored heart. David confronts the “workers of evil”, commanding them to disperse from their taunts and schemes. Isn’t it interesting how people are like coyotes which encircle their prey… we see it in the political shenanigans of our day, as well as from the antics of Hollywood. Crucifixions are as popular as ever… people just use insults and innuendo instead of crosses these days. David prophesied against those wicked people, writing: “All my enemies shall be ashamed and greatly troubled they shall turn back and be put to shame in a moment.” (v.10) When God’s deliverance comes, it comes certainly and swiftly. The condemning words of his enemies would prove to be the evidence to put them to shame.

Have you ever been surrounded by accusers who hurl insults, accusations, and disparage your character by innuendo throughout your community? We live in a world where we increasingly see people using inappropriate means to retaliate in such circumstances, causing further pain in the world. Kneel and pray to the God Who will save… The One Who restores the soul and one’s life to wholeness and purpose. Then you will be able to stand confidently before the world confidently say

THE LORD ACCEPTS MY PRAYER!

He is there waiting to answer…

5 Understandable Words for Today

“Hear my cry for help…”  Psalm 5:2a  (NIV)

Because of the age of these ancient manuscripts, one cannot claim to fully understand their meaning and translation. The Hebrew word, NEHILOTH, can be translated, “to bore through” or “to perforate”, leading the translator to conclude the likelihood of using a flute or wind instrument to ornament this song of ages past, described in the psalm’s title. In this psalm, the writer contrasts the positions of the righteous and the wicked before a holy God: the righteous being made restored through God’s grace, and the wicked who oppose God’s way. There are two distinct parts to the song, both crying out for God’s attention: verses one through seven and verses eight through twelve.

Have you ever asked yourself if your prayers reach God’s throne? Or do your words seem to dissolve into the great void of space, never to be recorded or attended? Have you ever felt pain so great that the only way to express it was through sobs of grief and personal agony?

David’s plea depicts a helpless, pitiful soul approaching the only One Who can make a difference in the dilemma he faces. With rapid-fire repetition, David cries out: “Listen to my word”; “consider my lament”; “Hear my cry for help” are all childlike expressions for attention. It’s the squeaky-wheel mentality, seeking the lubrication of God’s mercy to silence what, at first blush, appears to be David making a nuisance of himself. (v.’s 1-2) Beginning at morning light, the anointed future king persisted before the Throne of Grace. (v.3)

Notice, if you will, that David’s sung prayer expresses both verbal and nonverbal communication: “Listen to my words, Lord; consider my lament.” Charles Spurgeon provides his inspired insight: “There are two sorts of prayers – those expressed in words, and the unuttered longings which abide as silent meditations. Words are not the essence but garments of prayer.” To lament before God is to cry in anguish before Him. “Weeping,” Spurgeon asserts, “has a voice… which reaches the very heart of God.” Indeed, there are times when one cannot articulate the brokenness and hopelessness of a desperate soul. The Lord hears and translates the moans of the brokenhearted. To Him, those who release desperate sobs of unspeakable need are presenting a bitter sonnet which have an influence upon His heart which He cannot resist.

The prayers of the wicked are described as unheard… ignored by God… and justly so, for why should He answer the beckoning of another’s child. Jesus chastised the pharisees when He described them as being of their father, the devil. (John 8:31-47) Imagine a street savvy kid approaching another kid’s dad, demanding to be heard, while ignoring the discipline and direction of the adult. Do you think that dad would listen to the one who had just shown such disrespect? In the same way, David describes the prayers of evildoers not even making it to God’s throne. (v.’s 4-6)

Then there is the prayer of the one whose heart is contrite and who approaches God transparently, not hiding any sin or pretense, only approaching God in total reverence and humility. (v.7) It is a picture of the sinner Jesus described, who entered the temple, fell on his face before God, beat on his chest, and asked for God’s mercy toward himself – a sinner. (Luke 18:9-14)

Are you facing a hardship that is simply too devastating for you to navigate through or come out of in one piece? Do you feel like it is tearing you apart? Come apart to share your heart to God before it tears you apart. The One Who knit your heart will keep you together through the strength of His grace… completely sufficient in all circumstances of your life. You may not have to utter one word… just be real in your lament to Him… like a child crying on her father’s shoulder.

God is there…

 

5 Understandable Words for Today

“Who will bring us prosperity?”  Psalm 4:6a

This psalm of David reveals a leader calling out to God for guidance, strength, and deliverance in a time of low prosperity, high threats from other governments, and self-centered citizens who demand more and more from their own nation. (Sound familiar?) God answers immediately… but not to David personally, instead God chooses to address the nation with these words:

“How long will you people turn my glory into shame?
    How long will you love delusions and seek false gods?”
(v.2)

God breathed into David’s heart a confrontation to half-hearted people of faith who used their time of worship as a license to sell live animals to those who did not take the time to select the best from their own herd, or who did not want to give God the best from their herd in order to make more money on them at the market. God also confronted their continued infatuation with idolatry, which had been forbidden since the great exodus… yet, it persisted.

David, then seemed to exalt himself… yet, God was still inspiring David’s hand to record the holiness of God’s elect. When God chooses someone for His purposes, even the smallest act by that person becomes sanctified under the power of God. In the light of that awareness, David writes: “Know that the Lord has set apart his faithful servant for himself; the Lord hears when I call to him.” (v.3) God then speaks through the hand of the appointed ruler to tremble before almighty God, and to think before acting – holding every thought accountable to God (do not sin, v.4), instead, the sinner is to search his/her own heart and be still in contriteness before God. Then, and only then, is one worthy to come before God’s presence with an offering of thanksgiving, demonstrating trust in God to replace what is given to the giver – or even multiply the gift’s impact for God’s Kingdom. (v.5)

A prosperity gospel has been around since David’s day. People have always been presenting the question, “What about me?” – EVEN IN THEIR WORSHIP… people ask, “Who will bring us prosperity?” The issue at hand is an important one: WHEN IT COMES TO WORSHIP, IT’S ALL ABOUT GOD. GOD’S LOVE IS ALL ABOUT YOU, DEMONSTRATING HIS LOVE ON A CRUEL CROSS. WORSHIP IS NEVER ABOUT THE WORSHIPPER’S PREFERENCES, PRACTICES, TRADITIONS, OR AGENDAS… THERE IS NO MAGIC FORMULA FOR BRINGING IN A MOVE OF GOD’S SPIRIT. All we can do is pray and hope with expectation that The Father delights in surprising His children with His presence and power to change hearts and lives.

The question is still bantered around today in politics, sports, and business: “Who will bring us prosperity?” In God’s economy, all the gold in the world is only good enough to be used as pavement. Nevertheless, God understands the world’s systems and our needs, and David prays for the needs of his people in the closing statements of this psalm:

“Let the light of Your face shine on us. Fill my heart with joy when their grain and new wine abound.” (v.6b-7)

The King prayed in faith for a bountiful harvest! He trusted God completely; so much so, that he slept safely and soundly, knowing God was not slack in His watchcare over His beloved children.

Are we getting in the way of our selves when it comes to worship? Is the condition of our selfish heart inhibiting our access to approaching God’s throne? Who can ascend to the hill of The Most High? He who has clean hands and a pure heart. (Ps. 24:3-4; 2 Ch. 7:14) It is then when God will hear from heaven and heal the land.

Do you see the prosperity principle taking front seat across our land? Pray with me for a great awakening in our time, that we would first become rich in love and mercy, and wealthy in the knowledge of God’s Word deposited in our hearts and minds. THEN, we will have the wisdom and discernment to properly handle the gift of abundant material blessings God can send our way. It is then, we will come rejoicing as we bring in the sheaves of harvest. (Ps. 126:6)

Are Christians today unwilling to make the sacrifice to tithe? Have American Christians become a bunch of sanctimonious tippers? Are American Christians as guilty now as in David’s time of idolatry, glorifying the VIP’s of sports, business, and entertainment? Can we not see how these practices are holding back a great move of God? It is time for us to tremble before Him in awe; to search our hearts; and to seek His face in contrite submission to His way. God is waiting on HIS PEOPLE to humble themselves in pray. WE are the ones holding back a great awakening. Pray with me for Christians to awaken to our own self-worship, and our selfishness which resists God’s new and fresh anointing.

O, how I pray for godly leadership in the halls of our nation's government. I pray God moves across this land, releasing a move of His Spirit to bring a great awakening through the halls of Washington, DC, to the offices of Planned Parenthood, cleansing cities bent on sin and bringing about a new chapter of prosperity AFTER releasing the riches of His grace and mercy into our hearts.

In our time, Lord… please… in our time…

sf

5 Understandable Words for Today

“From the Lord comes deliverance.”  Psalm 3:8a

One of the saddest episodes in the life of David was when his son, Absalom, plotted against his father to gain control of Israel’s throne. The story is found in 2 Samuel 16:20-19:8. Today’s five understandable words were written after David fled from Jerusalem as Absalom was entering to depose him. The entire story is full of drama that seems to far fetched to be true, but many times the truth is stronger than fiction.

There are two perspectives given in this psalm: the first is that of Absalom, his co-conspirators, and his army. They believed they could take both the capital city and the nation in a swift military coup. There perspective is articulated in verse two: “God will not deliver him.” David recognized the situation as serious, for many foes had risen against him. Such is the case in the halls of power. Those who are underlings see an opportunity to advance their status by siding with those conspiring for control. They believe history smiles on those who at one point are seen as confederates, and then, after victory, are considered patriots. Their duplicity compels them to smirk at established authorities and dream of their own exaggerated significance.

David, the warrior-king, had both perspective and experience on his side. His faith perspective provided plenty of fuel to trust God for His intervention in re-establishing David’s rightful place as king:

“…you, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high.
I call out to the Lord, and he answers me from his holy mountain.”
(v.’s 3-4)

There is great peace in strength, and David’s strength was deeply rooted in God’s sustaining grace, allowing him to even sleep soundly while thousands are in pursuit of him. (v.’s 5-6) David is so certain that God’s hand is close for his rescue, that he is triumphant in calling upon God’s deliverance, just as God had shown Himself faithful in years past: when David slew the lion, the bear, and even a giant named Goliath. Time after time, David’s faith experience pointed his heart to God’s faithfulness to deliver the one who had a heart for God and His Kingdom. David even likens his enemies to the wild beasts he faced in his victorious challenge that God: “Strike all my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked.” (v.7) A wild lion or bear with a broken jaw and no teeth is much less a threat. It is from the vantage point of one who has walked by faith for years that David is able to clearly articulate the second and eternally stronger perspective found in today’s five understandable words:

“From the Lord comes deliverance.”

But David wasn’t only thinking of himself. He was confident in his life appointment by God to be a blessing to the nation in bringing stability and peace… a peace which his son, Solomon, enjoyed throughout his rule… the only lasting peace Israel has ever experienced in their national history. It was with that forward look when God breathed into the heart and mind of David to write: “May your blessing be on your people.”

Those who trust in God’s providential care may whisper the same mantra of today’s five understandable words, knowing God seeks to bless those who embrace His righteousness. When facing adversity or horror, allow God to breath these five words through your heart and mind… stay focused on God’s deliverance, for only HE is able to accomplish what concerns each of us today.

John 3:30

 

5 Understandable Words for Today

“…celebrate His rule with trembling.” Psalm 2:11b

Why tremble before God when celebrating His rule? To better understand the psalmist’s perspective, we must first read the entire psalm. The writer provokes the reader with the query, “Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain?” (v.1) What are they conspiring to do? In this diatribe the writer answers his own question: “The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against His anointed…” (v.2) The circumstances seem eerily familiar in our own time. Political correctness has marginalized Christianity out of our nation’s identity, and we are now missing the critical thread holding the fabric of our society and culture. It is a Christian worldview found in the Judaic premise of God’s revealed order which promised a society of peace, provision, and protection. Jesus referred to this order in the prayer He taught His disciples: “…Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Mt.6:10, KJV)

The political elite and people of influence have plotted to eliminate all vestiges of a Christian worldview, and even a Judaic worldview, from our national platform. This effort has embraced any and every form of religious practice which denies the existence and power of the risen Christ. What are the residual effects of such a departure from our founding principles? One need only look at the rise in opioid deaths, school shootings, deepening fractures between the races, erasure or revisions of history, and a host of social problems brought on by ignoring laws for immigration, thus burdening our educational and medical structures. The former worldview was deemed oppressive and too restraining, leading to a total rejection of the founding principles which guided our nation. (v.3)

Is God threatened by their rejection? Is He intimidated by their posturing? Verses four through nine shows otherwise. God has established His Kingdom which will have no end. (Is.9:6-7) God breathes a warning to the rulers of David’s day, and through the centuries to the rulers of today:

“Therefore, you kings be wise; be wise you rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear and celebrate His rule with trembling. Kiss His Son, or He will be angry and your way will lead to destruction…”.

David was seeking to transfer an eternal precept to the rulers of the earth: to be more afraid of The One Who can destroy both body and soul, than of mere man, who may be able to destroy another’s body. (Mt.10:28) All who take refuge in God are blessed with His promise to provide, protect, and know His peace which passes the world’s understanding.

When you write your congresswoman/man, senator, or president, send this blog and encourage her/him to read it and look to The Ruler of the Universe as our compass and guide.

Pray for our nation to have a great revival!

sf

John 3:30

 

 

5 Understandable Words for Today

"...the wicked will not stand..."  Psalm 1:5

In my last blog, we discovered that those who put their roots deep into the rich soil of God's Word will become established, bear fruit, and be ever green with life. The psalmist contrasts this picture of health and life with the destruction awaiting those who reject God's purposes, His plan, His peace.... His presence in their lives.  To withhold the reality of judgment for them would be unloving... like a parent who does not warn his/her child not to touch a hot iron, or who neglects to educate the child how to safely cross the street, approach animals, or even interact with others. If the elect are to be held accountable for ministry opportunities (read Mt. 25:40-45), surely God will also hold possessors of salvation accountable for omitting to share the reality of both the good news and the bad.

The wicked - those who reject both the message and gift of Christ - are described as lives that will be as insignificant as chaff which has been blown away by the wind; literally just dust in the wind. God has a greater purpose for the lives of His children. We are to make an impact on this world as we imprint hearts and minds with the love of Christ. Today's five understandable words also describe the wicked at the time of judgment. They will not stand. Indeed, every knee will bow and every knee will confess that Jesus is Lord. (Philippians 2:10; Romans 14:11; Revelation 5:13) It will be too late for them, when kneeling before Him in judgment. They will be trembling with fear and dread while hearing the words of Almighty God, "Depart from me you workers of iniquity, for I never knew you." (Mt. 7:21-23) They will be rejected from the assembly of the righteous. (v.5) In the end, the way of the wicked will lead to destruction. There will be no eternal joy for them... no eternal peace... no eternal rest... nothing.

This tragic and sad description of those who reject Christ should embolden Believers to share the good news of His salvation, or at the very least to pray harder for their eyes to be opened.

Will you commit yourself to prayerfully ponder upon these words?

THE WICKED WILL NOT STAND

Kneel before Him now so that we will stand before Him accepted at the judgment.

John 3;30

5 Understandable Words for Today

The book of Psalms gets its English name from the Latin word, psalterium, meaning ‘a stringed instrument’. The Latin word was derived from the Greek word, psalmos, which was a translation of the Hebrew word, tehillim. (Which occurred in translating for the Septuagint) The Greek word means, a song sung with stringed instrumental accompaniment. Most of the writers of the psalms are identified in the superscriptions. David wrote the majority of them (73), and worked to organize and re-establish the temple ministry of the singers. (Read 1 Chronicles 15:16; 16:7; & 25:1) In fact, David is known as Israel’s “beloved singer of songs”. (2 Samuel 23:1) Eleven of the psalms were written by the sons of Korah (or Korahites); they served as temple musicians. (Psalms 42-49; 84, 85, & 87; also read 1 Chronicles 6:31; 15:17; 2 Chronicles 20:19) Asaph is recognized as authoring twelve psalms; King Solomon authored psalms 72 and 127; Ethan wrote Psalm 89; and Moses is credited with writing Psalm 90. Theologians, of course, cannot agree on the origin of many of these psalms, even with their subscripts.

Psalms is divided into five sections: 1-42; 42-72; 73-89; 90-106; and 107-150. The first three sections each end with a double “amen”; the fourth section ends with an “amen”, followed by a “Hallelujah”. The entire collection may have been commissioned by King David, with its completion many years after his death. David authored 37 of the psalms in the first section. Sections 2 & 3 may have been collected under the guidance of King Hezekiah’s attempt to copy and preserve the sacred texts. (Proverbs 25:1) Hezekiah was recognized as authoring inspired poetry. (Isaiah 38) The last two sections were likely collected during Ezra’s leadership in rebuilding the temple after the Babylonian exile. (Ezra 7:1-10)

The psalms are a diverse collection of writing styles and purposes, all written in the Hebrew poetic form familiar to the readers of antiquity and are an excellent guide for worship in every possible context: one will find history, laments, rejoicing, penitence, and imprecatory calls for judgment. Primarily, these writings point the heart to God, Who cares for His children, and Whose love is everlasting. While many psalms recognize God’s omnipotence, God is also described as a loving father Who keeps His promises. The psalms is a unique record of those who transparently emoted their fears, failures, hopes, and faith. The psalms are referenced in the new testament over 400 times!

Warren Wiersby offers these thoughts on the psalms:

“The psalms teach us to seek God with a whole heart, to tell Him the truth and tell Him everything, and to worship Him because of Who He is, not just because of what He gives. They show us when we’ve failed, they show us how to repent and receive God’s gracious forgiveness. The God described in the book of Psalms is both transcendent and immanent, far above us and yet personally with us in our pilgrim journey.” (The Wiersby Bible Commentary; OT; p.871)

The first psalm is about wisdom acquired through the study and proper utility of God’s Word. God blesses those who live by His Word, meditating upon its precepts and obeying it. Other psalms known as ‘Wisdom Psalms’ include: 10, 12, 15, 19, 32, 34, 37, 49, 50, 52, 53, 73, 78, 82, 91, 92, 94, 111, 112, 119, 127, 128, 133, & 139.

5 Understandable Words

“He is like a tree…”  Psalm 1:3

The first psalm: “…may not unfitly be entitled, the Psalm of Psalms, for it contains in it the very pith and quintessence of Christianity.” (Thomas Watson, in his Saints’ Spiritual Delight, 1660) Though somewhat short in content, it is complete in the purpose for motivating righteous behavior. Watson observed the blessing with which it begins, applying the carrot of appeal to run the race’s full course with all the fortitude of a well-conditioned contestant. As the Believer’s guide to a true faith walk, it reveals the pitfalls which are to be avoided at all cost, as well as the path with firm ground leading to the crown of life.

The one who is able to keep away from the counsel of the wicked - avoiding the audience which applauds evil and scoff at those whose walk is blameless, is the one blessed by time well spent in the secret place, away from the competing voices of the world, searching God’s precepts. (v.1) With sheer delight, the student of The Word is eager to discover God’s truths upon awakening, and is comforted by their reliability before laying down to sleep. (v.2) The ONLY counsel of the Godless heart is one which perpetuates the message and purposes of the prince of darkness. The psalmist aptly describes those darkened hearts that applaud evil and hurl insults at those who walk the path of light and life.

The reward for intimacy with God is a life of stability… like an apple tree by a mountain lake, bearing fruit upon maturity, and which never loses its foliage – a fruit-bearing evergreen! The wonderful promise found among the groves of fruit is abundance: the one who has found the path of life has found the path of abundant living. (v.3) The roots which dig through the resistant soil of past generations and discovers the well spring of refreshment establishes the soul compared to this life-giving tree. Be a life giver… like a tree planted by the water.

Go deeper….

Steve

John 3:30

 

 

5 UNDERSTANDABLE WORDS FOR TODAY

“….that we may work together…” 3 John 8

3rd John is a follow-up letter from 2nd John, addressing the issue of hospitality to strangers. In 2nd John, the exiled apostle approached the subject from a negative assertion, while in this follow-up letter, John approaches the issue more formally from a positive approach. In the previous blog, I highlighted the phrase, “…that we love one another.” It was from this perspective John took on the role of a loving father speaking to his children concerning those who ‘run ahead’ without proper accountability, devising all sorts of half-truths which distort the real truth of the gospel found in Jesus Christ. John even directed the first century church to not allow the false teaching among them, and to not even allow the propagators of such to enter their homes. (See the previous blog.) [Note: Though the letter was probably written to the same house church of 2nd John, the letters of the apostles were circulated through all the newly birthed churches of that day.]

As strong as John’s directives were against false teachers, he was just as strong in his counsel for welcoming those who sacrificially distribute the truth of Christ. The letter is directed to a dear friend named Gaius. Theologians are unsure as to which Gaius was being addressed, as it was as popular a name in that time as ‘John’ or ‘Logan’ is today. There was a companion of Paul by the name Gaius, a Macedonian, mentioned in a confrontation which occurred in Ephesus between the silversmiths and worshipers of Artemis and Paul. (Acts 19:23-41) The name is found in scripture two other times (1 Co. 1:14; Acts 20:4), though there is no way to determine if he was one and the same as Paul’s companion.

John had previously written a letter which was intercepted by Diotrephes (v.9), who liked to dominate the church’s leadership and influence the new converts. It appears he took John’s earlier letter and applied John’s directive to all who claim to teach the truth, without vetting their credentials first (v.10), thus hindering the continued development of these babes in Christ. John exposes his duplicity and demonstrates his authority as an elder:

  • ·       in the opening of the letter (v.1),
  • ·       by commending the church for walking in the truth (v.’s 2-4),
  • ·       by providing clarification on the issue (v.’s 5-8),
  • ·       by exposing Diotrephes as a malcontent (v.’s 9-10),
  • ·       by directing the church to follow good, not evil (v.11),
  • ·       by his recommendation of Demetrius (v.12),
  • ·       by his discernment of things that should be spoken face to face (v.’s 13-14).

John had always recognized himself as the one whom Jesus loved (John 13:22; 19:26; 21:7), and as one of he first-called disciples, he is recognized as one who walked with Jesus, giving him the credentials, privilege, and responsibility of being an elder in the first century church. However, John not only recognizes himself as an elder, but as THE elder… the leader of elders. It was John who was often taken aside by the Savior, along with Peter and James, to pray or converse, making John all the more qualified to speak authoritatively on the issues facing the Believers of his day. So, as the elder, John offers the church certain directives on welcoming those who sacrificially carry the truth of God. The Greek word used in verse eleven for “imitate” is “mimeomai”, from which came the English word “mimic”. The one who walks in the truth does not mimic evil. Paul taught the Thessalonians to not even give a hint of evil. (1 Thessalonians 5:22) The evil John exposed was the lack of kindness which had infected the church through the bully, Diotrephes. Their actions had no room for demonstrating love to worthy teachers of the Word, re-emphasizing John’s teaching on how to love.

In the final assessment of things, we are to possess love which wisely welcome the teachers of God’s Word who are rightly qualified in their holy living, their scholarship of study, and their love. This important lesson equips us

THAT WE MAY WORK TOGETHER

in the work Jesus has called us to… namely, making disciples… fully devoted to Christ and the Kingdom of God.

O, that the church in America would work together in rescuing souls from Hell’s wrath.

John 3:30

steve

5 Understandable Words for Today

“…that we love one another…” 2 John 5c

This second letter by the exiled apostle, as evidenced by these five words, reinforces the Lord’s new command to love one another. They confirm John’s authority as an apostle and one who walked with Jesus. (v.’s 5-6) It was the new command to love one another that was to be the signature of an authentic evangelical group of Believers. (Read John 13:35) Love was to be the one qualifier distinguishing between those who walk in light and those who walk in darkness.

This letter’s main thrust, however, is directing the first century church to walk in The Truth - knowing and abiding in Christ. John also warned against false teachers who oppose the truth: Jesus, the embodiment of truth, Who lived a sinless life, died on a cross for the sins of mankind, and rose from the dead on the third day after his death… AND Who is coming back again!

John presents three points on The Truth:

1.       We share the same knowledge of the truth of Christ. (v.’s 1-3) In the salutation, John addresses what appears to be a dear friend in Christ, who also seems to have a house church. (v.’s 1-3) Some theologians suggest the friend was named, Martha. J.L. Houlden supports this notion in revealing the Greek word for “lady”, kuria, being equivalent to the well attested Aramaic name for Martha. Knowing the truth of Jesus equips Believers to identify those who masquerade as Christians, taking advantage of Christian hospitality while spreading false teachings which bring division within the churches, compromising the message of Christianity. John, however, asserts Christ’s Lordship as equal with the Father with his opening blessing “from God the Father, and from Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son…” Who dwell with us in truth and love. (v.3) Ite is vitally important to teach the truth of Christ within the home. The old saying is true: “As the home goes, so goes the nation.” Pray for a great awakening across our country, in our time, that the truth of abundant life and eternal joy in Christ be unashamedly shared.

2.       We encourage each other to walk in the truth. (v.’s 4-6) John applauded those in this home church for their consistent walk in the truth of Christ, reminding them to continue exhibiting the love of Christ to all. (v.’s 5-6) He even described their obedience of walking in the truth to give him great joy! In his next letter, John would attest he knew of no greater joy than to hear of his “children” walking in truth. (3 John 4) I find it quite interesting that John specifically mentioned walking in the truth, just as The Father commanded. In doing so, John connects with the first century Christians, most of whom were Jews who identified with The Law. Jesus embodied The Law, even giving clarity to The Law in His sermon on the mount. (Matthew 5-7) The Law was recognized as The Ten Commandments . The truth, then, was identified in those commandments and in the person of Jesus Christ. The Ten Commandments are parameters given by our loving Father, Who know our tendency toward selfishness and self-centered living. They are not just rules given by a strict judge, as each one is an expression of love in the context of universal moral law. God’s will is revealed through the love shown in protecting His children. In the same way, our obedience to God’s Word is a testimony of our love for God, not our of fear of judgment, but of our confidence in knowing His truth.

3.       We abide in His truth by looking out for each other and watching out for imposters. (v.’s 7-11)  Encouraging each other by consistently pointing to God’s Word helps eliminate the competing voices of this world which seek to distract us from our faith walk and detract us from our mission. The forces of darkness have a mission totally contrary to ours, which provides plenty of motivation for those dark imps to work non-stop in hindering the perpetuation of God’s Word and the love He gave to the world through His Son, Jesus Christ.

We look out for each other by warning our fellow Believers to not look back. (v.8) Paul declared it was his purpose to press on to the high calling of Jesus Christ, forgetting what was behind. (Philippians 3:13-14) Looking back can cause us to lose what one has already gained. False teachers propose to offer a new teaching, something not yet attained, only to lose what you already have. Embracing false teaching leads to wrong living. Truth and life go together: true knowledge leads to truthful living.

We also look out for each other by warning our fellow Believers about moving ahead of the guidance provided in God’s Word. (v.9) Modernism has introduced one compromise after another in holy living, leading not only to liberalism, but to license toward all sorts of ungodliness. The word translated, “transgress”, means to pass beyond assigned limits or run ahead too far. Those who propagate liberalism often lead others into a denial of the truth of God’s Word, leading to the denial of Christ’s transforming power and redemption.

We look out for each other by warning our fellow Believers about welcoming those who are known to bring ideas opposed to Christ’s transformational love. By doing so, it could lead to another’s eternity without the joy of Christ. Our neighbors, friends, and work associates who have not experienced being born again may be unknowingly deceived by being told, “Mr. Jones let me in.” Rejecting false teachers exposes his heretical doctrine which can impact the lives of others eternally. That’s not to say the Christian cannot entertain a nonbeliever or practice ‘friendship evangelism’.

The ‘ecclesia’ – the church – are gathered not only to worship, but are joined in the common mission of making disciples fully devoted to Christ… and it is all bound together in knowing, THAT WE LOVE ONE ANOTHER!

John 3:30

steve

 

5 Understandable Words for Today

“…so that you may know…”  1 John 5:13

As we saw in my last blog, there are three that testify to the validity of Christ: the Spirit, the water, and the blood… and they are all in agreement. John asserts that we believe a person’s testimony, so it is only reasonable to believe God’s testimony through Jesus Christ – His sinless life, the miracles, His sacrificial death, and His resurrection. It all points to God Who is pointing us toward the hope of heaven given to us through Christ and Christ alone. So, John is offering another witness: the testimony of God’s inspired Word. In fact, John may have recognized the letter he was writing to the first century church as inspired by God, when he asserted: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” (v.13) The witness of the written Word breathed into the heart and hand of the writer by God Who revealed the first three witnesses would continue to breath truth into the hearts of those who had walked with Christ.

We can have confidence, then, in knowing we have eternal life. It doesn’t have to be a shadow of hope for heaven. We can have the joyful hope of heaven as certainly as we know the path before us at night when using a powerful flashlight. The light scatters the darkness, allowing the one directing the flashlight to expose the path and any potential dangers. It gives the confidence needed to continue. The Greek word for confidence here is literally translated, “freedom of speech”. John described the confidence (freedom of speech) given to us for approaching God, The Creator and Sustainer of all there is: “…that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that he hears us – whatever we ask – we know that we have what we asked of Him.’ He is not asserting a ‘name it – claim it’ practice of prayer, for notice the one prerequisite: “according to His will”.

The faithwalker must be so in tune with God as to know His will in matters which he/she would otherwise be clueless. John seems to show an assumption of the one approaching God in prayer as being spiritually mature enough to ask for things pertaining to God’s kingdom or which will bring God glory on earth. Following in the Master Teacher’s footsteps, John even provides an example to make his point: “If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life (abundant life in Christ). We are praying for God’s will to be accomplished in that person’s life, just as Jesus taught, “…Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Mt. 6:10)  Robert Law’s guidance on prayer is true: “Prayer is a mighty instrument, not for getting man’s will done in heaven, but for getting God’s will done on earth.” More often than not, we may only be able to pray, “Not my will, but Yours be done”, for we may not know God’s will for a situation, though the guidance of God’s Spirit, His Word, and the discernment God gives us enlightens the direction of our prayers.

Now, we KNOW the truth of Christ as Savior and Lord; we KNOW we have eternal life; and we KNOW God attends to the prayers of those who abide in His will. John then offers three final certainties for the those redeemed by the blood:

1.       “We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin…” (v.18)

2.       “We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.” (v.19)

3.       “We also know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding…” (v.20)

We, of all people, are without excuse, for we are presented with the knowledge of salvation which leads to understanding for abundant living. (John 10:10) We are to take the treasure of this heavenly knowledge and tell others, teach others, and treat others by the knowledge of holiness.

5 Understandable Words for Today

“…the three are in agreement.”  1 John 5:8b  (NIV)

The three in agreement here are: the water, the blood, and The Spirit. John provided these ‘witnesses’  to substantiate that Christ is God. The Law of Moses required two or three witnesses for a matter to be settled before a judge. John’s three witnesses are infallible proof of Jesus being the Son of God, the promised Savior, The King of Heaven, and The One Who will return again to earth as her victorious King. We receive the testimony of men and women in our courts of law, so wouldn’t it be imprudent to reject the testimony of God? Let us examine the witnesses more closely.

In the testimony of the water, John is probably reflecting on Jesus’ own teaching about being born again: “…no one can enter the Kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.” (John 3:5-6) Jesus Himself had a physical birth, though the conception was immaculate. The testimony of the water may also refer to Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River when God’s voice spike saying, “This is my beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased.” The Spirit of God descended upon Him in the form of a dove, recognizing the Prince of Peace. (Read Mt. 3:13-17)

The second ‘witness’ is seen in the blood of Jesus’ sacrificial death and the supernatural miracles associated with his suffering: the earthquake and the temple’s veil being torn from top to bottom. (Read Mt. 27:45, 50-53) Matthew records the centurion (a seasoned veteran soldier in command of one hundred or more soldiers), who was stationed at the cross, exclaiming after the earthquake, “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Mt. 27:54) It is only through the blood spilt upon that cross whereby sinners are restored into a relationship with God.

The third ‘witness’ is the Spirit of God. The Spirit was sent to bear witness of Christ’s authenticity. (Jn. 15:26; 16:14) Warren Wiersbe makes this astute observation: “The Holy Spirit is the only Person active on earth today Who was present when Christ was ministering here. The witness of the Father is past history, but the witness of the Spirit is present experience. The first is external, the second is internal – and both agree.” Indeed, in writing to the church at Rome, Paul described the dynamic this way: “…you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God.” (Ro.8:15-16) The Spirit validates the reality of Christ, showing us nothing else makes sense. Life itself would not make sense without the hope of heaven, and it was Christ’s redeeming work that made us eligible to enter as sons and daughters.

In providing these three ‘proofs’ of the authenticity and Lordship of Christ, John centers the first century church to truth, even remarking that the Spirit is the truth. (v.6) It is the Spirit Who guides us in all truth (Jn. 16:13), and even provides the inspired Word when we are persecuted before the world. (Lk.12:12)

Now, let your own testimony be heard as well. Tell the world how Jesus saved you… how he delivered you from darkness to light… how you were once blind but now you see… how the insanity of this world tormented you, but now you have the peace that passes understanding. (Pp.4:7)

Let your agreement with these three witnesses echo to this generation.

John 3:30

steve

Five Understandable Words for Today

"...His commands are not burdensome..." ! John 5:3b

Think about it... all creation - even in its fallen state - acts in obedience to God's commands. The orbit of earth around the sun, giving us four predictable seasons; the tides governed by the moon set in place at God's command; the expansion of the universe; the water cycle; and even the food chain are all subservient to the purposes of God. The psalmist even asserted that fire, hail, snow, clouds, and stormy winds all fulfill His Word. (Psalm 148:8) The book of Jonah teaches us a similar lesson when the winds, waves, a giant fish, a plant, and even a little worm all accomplished their purposes for which God directed. On the other hand, mankind prefers to exalt the trinity of self over the trinity of God. Me, myself, and I asserts one's own life direction and purpose, while ignoring God's loving plan for the pinnacle of His creation. 

While disobedience to God's will is akin to witchcraft (1 Samuel 15:23), reluctant obedience presents problems in the life of the Believer who grudgingly "cave" to the Father's will. Like any parent, God delights in His children's loving obedience. He doesn't want His children to act obediently our of fear or necessity. Just as we are directed to give cheerfully, not under compulsion, so we should live in like manner. (Read 2 Corinthians 9:7) So, how do we obey God joyfully? The apostle John asserts it is a family matter: we love and serve a God Who adopted us as His child, rescuing us from the refuse of life, and redeeming us for His eternal purposes. One of those eternal purposes is to love our sisters and brothers in Christ. We demonstrate God's love in us through the relationships we lovingly nurture between our sisters and brothers in Christ. By so doing, we fulfill Christ's command to love each other, being the ultimate reflection of our devotion to Him.

Love is not an ideal where one checks off the list of characteristics describing it; love is a dynamic relationship guided by the ideal. We can learn to love more deeply through the ideal, even though we can never "check the box" of having achieved it. Paul described the ideal of love beautifully in his letter to the Corinthian church. (Read 1 Corinthians 13) Jesus, however, described the dynamics of love in stories of how people are treated: 

Sympathetic love was shown by a Samaritan to a traveler who was beaten and left for dead by the side of the road (Luke 10:25-37); 

Merciful love was shown by Jesus to the woman who washed His feet with her tears (Luke 7:40-47)

Restoring love was shown by the father to his prodigal son who returned home (Luke 15:11-32)

For the Christian, our love for our fellow Believer, as well as for the world, is founded upon the cross. It is our personal experience with God's love toward us through Christ's sacrificial death on the cross that motivates our love toward others. It is an outward expression of the inward experience, when God whispered our name, calling us to Himself, and pouring faith into our hearts. After awakening to the redeeming work of God's love, we then share that love to others in need of the same. We become the conduit of God's love to a fallen world. 

Will you join me in displaying sympathetic, merciful, and restoring love to those beaten down by life, weighed down by a ton of guilt and shame, and who are looking for a way back to life? Be the hands and feet of Jesus this day to those whose lives you cross, as you discover

HIS COMMANDS ARE NOT BURDENSOME!

John 3:30

steve

Five Understandable Words for Today

“This is love for God…”  1 John 5:3

As John writes his concluding remarks in his first letter to the newly birthed church, he reminds us of the one essential and unique dynamic of Christianity – being born again through faith in Christ. (v.1: “…born of God.”) His letter provides evidence that some Christians in the first century church may have doubted their faith. John assures the new Believers that everyone who loves the Father demonstrates their faith through the love and acceptance for other Believers. (v.1d) John approaches the issue as if teaching elementary students when he states: “This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out His commands” (v.2) He presents a simple rationale to the newborn of the faith: love for God must come before love for our fellow man. When we love the Father, we are motivated to draw near to Him, know His heart, and learn from His precepts. A child is often more a statement of the parents than of the child him/herself. This is not always true, as I have close Christian friends who have multiple children where one took a totally divergent path from his biblical upbringing, breaking his parent’s hearts and living a life of confusion and recklessness.

In drawing near to God, one grows to understand salvation’s story woven through history and culminating in the person of Jesus Christ. The heart of God was demonstrated in offering His only Son as the perfect sacrifice for our sin(s). It was always about God’s heart reaching out to our heart and making it new. As part of the family of God, we are exposed to the ways of His family – the working understanding of His goodness and holiness. So, in today’s five understandable words, John teaches the reader the one dynamic of demonstrating love for God: obedience.

This world doesn’t like that word very much. It is actually a very positive word. Obedience recognizes both authority and subordination. One must embrace the system of authority to work effectively within it. Obedience also conveys accountability. One who takes direction from a superior must expect a point of inspection – proof of compliance to the command. To reject the system of obedience is rebellion. The Bible describes rebellion as in the same league as witchcraft, and inferring one arrogantly snubs one’s nose at God while worshiping the idols of this world. (Read 1 Samuel 15:23)

What could be so objectionable about loving others anyway? Why is it such a hard thing to do for some people? Are we really empowered to love those who are difficult? What about those who hate us? How about loving those who are completely polar opposites of us? If you are from a family with multiple children, you know all about the fights between siblings and the territorial rivalries over everything from bathroom privileges to who sits where at the dinner table. The same thing happens in God’s family… really. You may not believe me, but I’ve seen conflicts between Christians about the most ridiculous things: how many times a chorus is sung; the color of the nursery walls; should there be choir robes; hanging a screen for projection, etc. These conflicts between church members can divide friendships, small groups, and sometimes churches.

Loving others IS difficult, that’s why it’s important to first love God with all your heart, soul, and strength. (Read Luke 10:27; Matthew 22:37) When we love God first, we are given His heart to love His children as a testimony before the world that we are, indeed, God’s children and followers of Christ. It is critically important to get that right first, THEN loving one’s Sisters and Brothers in the faith may still face challenges, but it will be more fully understood and embraced as the only way to proceed with The Great Commission TOGETHER… that the whole world may know the joy of life in Christ and the hope of heaven!

Because of Christ,

steve

Five Understandable Words for Today

“…because He first loved us.”  1 John 4:19

After John’s convincing argument for no fear in death, he once again returns to explaining the power of God’s love in and through each Believer. The disciple whom Jesus loved presents the source of love, the power to love our ‘brother’ or ‘sister’ – those with whom we share this faith walk. John clearly states we are able to love… we are empowered to love supernaturally, because He first loved us. This precept cannot be dealt with in a casual way. Believers are called to love each other as the signature of their discipleship to Christ. (Read John 13:35)

John is summarizing the primary thoughts which were presented earlier in the letter:

(1) Love cannot be authentic, unless validated by actions and shown in truthful forgiveness. (3:18)

(2) Loving each other fulfills the requirements for the new commandment Christ presented to His disciples. (3:22-24; 4:21)

(3) A Believer cannot declare love for God while hating his brother or sister in the faith. Hating someone is obvious, observable, and obstinate toward God’s development of peace.

Has anyone in your faith family ever made you so angry that you refused to speak with him or her. Have you ever been treated so unfairly by a Brother or Sister in Christ that you wish you could exact revenge upon the offending person(s)? Many pastors have been treated so harshly within a church as to be brought before a tribunal of sorts, faced with the embarrassment of being ‘defrocked’ before some group of self-appointed ‘leaders’. It’s no wonder there is such a high turnover rate of pastors in churches, especially in smaller churches.

It’s been happening since the first century church. If Christ’s own people were willing to crucify Him, why should it be any big surprise to pastors to be treated in better? There are arguments that occur within churches concerning teaching styles, teaching materials, preferred musical styles, the treatment of one’s children, the length of the worship service, and even the color of the carpet. It is never pleasing to God to see His own children locking horns over peripheral issues which distract the church from the great commission. (Read Matthew 28:16-20)

Satan and his imps of darkness wreak havoc within the church as one Believer contends with another Believer. When we fail each other in the redemptive courses of love, we prostitute the name of God before the world, thereby acting as a barrier to the message of salvation. Could we be charged with the obstruction of God’s message before the judgment throne of God?

There is not much talk of God’s judgment these days. Much of the world is presented with a picture of all roads leading to heaven, with no standard of righteous living expected. Perhaps the most righteous act we can ever do is to love our fellow brothers and sisters in the faith, and work together to bring God’s love to the world.

Connecting hearts to the heart of God… it’s always been God’s plan. All of us might want to take a second look at the Great Commission and consider what we are doing to fulfill it.

Have a blessed week…

steve

John 3:30

FIVE UNDERSTANDABLE WORDS FOR TODAY

“…perfect love drives out fear…”  1 John 4:18

 Many years ago, I was in the hospital where my first child was born, near Charleston, SC. It was after working hours, nearing 7:30pm actually, when an urgent appeal for a minister came through the announcement system. I called the front desk and was given the room number. Upon entering the room, I met an elderly couple: the wife was sitting at the foot of the bed where her terminally ill husband lay. She explained to me that they were both believing Christians, however her husband was experiencing some anxiety over his soon pending death.

I then approached the husband, asking if his wife’s explanation was accurate, and he confirmed that he was anxious over the coming final experience of this life. I asked him if he was sure of his salvation, which he assured me he was confident Jesus lived in his heart and had forgiven him of his sins. I came to discover his anxiousness was rooted in two things: (1) Would he have a hard death? And (2) What if he didn’t meet up to God’s expectations?

When asked if he believed in the saving grace of God, he confidently responded, “Yes!” Then I explained that just as he experienced saving grace, God has given him living grace which assisted him in life’s trials through the years. I asserted if God had provided both saving and living grace, wouldn’t He also provide His dying grace, as well? I explained His dying grace would resolve his anxiety over his first issue of anxiety; God’s saving grace provides the antidote for his second anxiety. It was this very issue John was addressing and which our five simple words are used to dispel such anxiety and fear:

“This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (v.’s 17-18)

I then proposed a Bible verse to encourage him through the moments to come: “I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13) I asked him to repeat it after me, then again, and again. Then I asked him to repeat, “I can live through Christ Who strengthens me.” Finally, I asked him to repeat, “I can die through Christ Who strengthens me.”

We prayed together, with his wife, and I left the room.

About two weeks later, I received a call from his wife who thanked me for responding to the request for a minister that evening at the hospital. She described how his anxiety was assuaged by God’s Word, allowing him to transition into eternity quite peacefully.

I’ll never forget the moments I spent with this dear couple: a wife concerned for her husband’s welfare; the Word God supplied in those moments; and the transparency of the man’s urgency. God provided and the sufficiency of His grace was demonstrated in a powerful way.

Allow God’s perfect love to drive away all fear and anxiety you may have concerning death. Live in the strength of Christ, Who’s power we can both live by and die in. Paul described it to the Christians in Rome this way:

“For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. 8 If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. 9 For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.” (Romans 14:7-9)

Have a blessed week…

steve

5 Understandable Words for Today

“…His love is made complete…”  1 John 4:12 (NIV)

Using well known teaching techniques of his day, modeled to Him by the Master Teacher, John had revealed the litmus test for a true disciple: love for others, a sacrificial love shown to us by Christ’s sacrificial death. John contrasted God’s way with the world’s way; the purity of God against the polluted world; the darkness of sin shattered by the light of His goodness. We are not to love worldliness (2:15), for this world and all the desires we experience in it will pass away. The one who does the will of God lives forever. (1:17) John pointed to Christ’s return, and the confidence one can possess knowing no shame upon seeing Him as the returning conquering King. (2:28-29) In this, we discover that God is greater than our past. (3:20)

And we, too, will be like Him (3:2) on that day we behold Him as He really is… as He has been from the beginning: one with God, reigning forever as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. However, He is not some King alienated from His people. He is the sovereign Who demonstrated His unmatched love for His Kingdom by laying down His own life for all, and conquered death and hell through His blood and His resurrection. (3:16; 4:9-10)

John invited the first century church to beware of teachers who may compromise the simplicity of God’s redemption – devising new requirements, actions, etc. to be recognized as a true believer. (4:1-3) John engaged the new converts to understand the dynamic of the faith community: love in action. God loved us; we love each other sacrificially; and we show the world sacrificial love. When this dynamic is working, God lives in us and the cycle of love is made complete as He loves through us. His love is made complete in the evidence of changed hearts no longer ruled by the selfishness of worldly gain, but by the joy of spiritual giving… demonstrating Christ’s love in a practical way that will connect hearts to the heart of God. (v.’s 16-17) In so doing, we will have confidence on the day of judgment (2:28; 3:21; 4:17), a point John repeated three times (recognizing the value of repetition in teaching).

There is a void in each person’s soul that can only be filled by Jesus. People may try filling the void with success, power, drugs, illicit relationships, sex, denial, etc., though only Jesus fits the desperate need in each person’s heart for significance and fulfillment. When we agree with God concerning the sin that separates us from Him, and invite Christ into our hearts as we thank Him for His redeeming work upon the cross, we experience a wholeness we’ve never had before and… HIS LOVE IS MADE COMPLETE in us.

John 3:30

steve

20171204       

 

5 Understandable Words for Today

“…let us love one another…”  1 John 4:7 (NIV)

Why would John feel the need to broach the subject of love once again in this short letter? What dynamics were at play for John to provide this urgent appeal to the first century church?  The emergent church, built on the rock of faith in Christ, was like a newborn infant and needed constant nurturing and oversight by the disciples and those who rose within the church providing wise counsel while modeling a sacrificial life. The church was under persecution by Rome and those seeking to halt any proselyting within the Jewish tradition. Those who had been born anew in Jesus Christ faced hostilities from the government, family, and their local clergy (Nearly all those converts at Pentecost were Jewish). It was during this time the church began meeting secretly… and growing exponentially.

Oftentimes, and sadly even in churches, when a family or group comes under hardship, division may occur from within as personalities clamor for control. People may disagree over the minutest details and ugliness can arise from the most unlikely people. It happens today and it was happening even in the first century church. Acts 6 chronicles how the disciples handled such problems, though contemporary church culture has wandered far from the biblical principles of church leadership – mainly because of corrupt leaders ruining the perspective and mission of the church. C.S. Lewis wrote an insightful book, creating a written dialogue between an imaginary demon named Screwtape and his apprentice demon, Wormwood. In it, the reader is exposed to the intentionality of dark forces seeking to undo the redeeming work of Christ by creating division and chaos within the life of a Christian and within the church. It was a divide and conquer mentality.

The single most effective weapon against the forces of darkness is love, and the second is God’s Word. If our lives are surrendered to God’s standard of love, there would be less time to argue styles of ministry, modes of operation, budgets, etc. and more time to fulfill The Great Commission. John’s argument for us to demonstrate love lies in the very nature of God Himself… for God is love. (v.8b) Since the essence of God’s character is love, then we are endowed with divine love, enabling us to love each other and the world. Jesus said that love would be the litmus test of being a true disciple. (Read John 13:35) John further asserts that those who cannot demonstrate a life of loving actions does not know God. (v.8a)

John further clarified the meaning of love as being sacrificial. He argues that there is no evidence in our love for God without sacrifice, as evidenced in Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross. (v.’s 9-10) Just as God demonstrated His love through Jesus suffering and crucifixion, so we demonstrate our love for one another in the sacrifices we make for each other. (v.11)

What lengths will we go to in securing the bonds of love within the fellowship of faith? Have we sought reconciliation with those who have offended us? I know this is difficult, for I am willing but my flesh is so weak in reconciling with those who have acted hatefully and spitefully. We should pray for God to provide an opportunity to demonstrate God’s sacrificial love to those who have ignored John’s counsel and do all we can to preserve the fellowship of the saints.

John 3:30

steve

20171122

 

5 Understandable Words for Today

“…do not believe every spirit…”  1 John 4:1

One of the worst feelings is realizing you’ve been hoodwinked… tricked… deceived by someone or some information that seemed true, but is a patent lie. It has happened to me more than once on social media, making me very untrusting of any ‘news’ I find on the internet. The issue of ‘fake news’ drove a large part of our most recent national elections, and the news media hasn’t been more highly scrutinized by the public since the civil war era. It seems we are a people craving for truth. There seems to be ‘truth mills’ aplenty, spinning out fabrications of believable nonsense at a rate never before seen. The spirits of divisiveness, cruelty, meanness, and pride has seemed to grow right along with them. The worst spirit seems to be the one working to dismantle and destroy anything to do with Christianity.

Just as the 21st century church is under the attacks of post-modernism, the first century church was under attack by a myriad of apostacies. Many false teachers had arisen, preaching many ways to heaven… or at the very least, any way that pointed away from the atoning work of Christ on the cross. Roman hedonism continued to rot away the core of their civilization. Corruption in government and business was driven by the egos of narcistic men and women. They were the models for their day… the stars, the VIP’s, the pinnacle of ‘success’. John, however, challenged this world view when he directed Believers NOT to love the world (2:15-17), and then provided two proofs of true discipleship in chapter three: obedience to the law (3:4,22-24); and the calling card of love (3:16-18; 23).

This week’s five understandable words provides, yet, a third test of discipleship. John’s letter is speaking to us through the centuries to be people of the law, and people who love… but to also be people leery of those claiming the truth. The word John used for “spirit” was the Greek word, pneuma, with the generic meaning, “wind”. Like a sailor testing the elements before setting off on a voyage, the Christian is to know the prevailing winds of society and use God’s Word in discerning the best route to navigate through the tempestuous seas of life. The ESV words, “do not believe” are also translated “to test” (infinitive form). The Greek word is, dokeo, and literally means “to think something over”. In other words, we should closely scrutinize any information being portrayed as true… for God is the God of all truth, and will always be glorified in truth – whether it be in history, science, mathematics, etc. His instruction to test the spirits pointed to the resistance of the gospel in that day. The spirits of today’s secular post-modern perspective is not much different from that found in John’s day: narcissism, hedonism, power, pride, and corruption in every facet of society. We are to have a keen awareness of the socio-philosophical trends which exist around us and navigate through it by the guidance of God’s Word (Mt.16:18), while being a light to the world as we go. (Mt.5:14)

John, being an eyewitness to the truth of Christ’s life: His miracles and sacrificial death; and having interacted with the resurrected Christ, posed the other side of the coin to this third proof of discipleship: recognizing and pronouncing Jesus as the Christ… The Redeemer, Savior, and Risen Lord. (4:2)

John’s third test was a basic litmus test for every Believer, and is straight from the Lord’s teaching. John must have remembered the Lord’s query recorded by Matthew (16:13-20) when He asked, “Who do men say that I am?” It was Peter who declared Jesus to be the Son of God, eliciting this response: “…on this rock I will build my church…”. It is upon the bedrock of faith in Jesus Christ that souls are born into God’s Kingdom, and which will continue to build His church, and to Whom all heaven celebrates as the Lord of Lords and King of Kings.

Fellow Sojourner, will you come away with me to God’s Word? Away from the heresies of this world? Away from the those carrying the ‘secrets to success’? Away from the spirits of deception, pride, and prejudice? Do not believe every spirit, but draw near to The Way, The Truth, and The Life. By doing so, you will discover the way is as obvious as a highway in the desert (Is.40:3; Jn.1:23); the truth will set you free (Jn.8:32); and the life is an abundant one (Jn.10:10)!

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5 Understandable Words for Today

“…we have confidence before God…”  1 John 3:21

The confidence John described has more to do with what God has done for us in Christ than for any righteous act we have done. Nevertheless, it is the very work Christ accomplished on the cross which empowers Believers to be like Him in sacrificial living. (Go back and read verses one and two.)

The greatest commandment given to us is to love one another… to love one’s neighbor as yourself… to love as Paul described to the Corinthians (1 Co. 13). In my last blog, I concluded my vignette with an exhortation to love… not only in word, but also in deed (v.18). I presented the great national need before us. When we respond to an obvious need, we see God’s love in action through our lives, and the truth of God’s love is validated in each of our hearts (v.19a). That validation affirms our faith to enter before God’s presence in peace… even when our hearts condemn us. (v.19b)

One of my favorite verses follows, when John declares, “For God is greater than our hearts, and He knows everything.” (v.20) God is greater still… greater than the strength of those bonds we find ourselves in from time to time: sometimes it’s from sin; other times from pride; and still, other times from ignorance. God is still greater. And because He is greater, we have confidence before God to approach Him as His child… fully accepted on the merit of His Son, and validated by His power working in and through us to make a difference in the lives of others.

There is a benefit for ministry in being declared free from condemnation: the confidence to come before God and receive from Him anything we need to do what pleases Him (v.22). We are only as much in His will as He is in us. By that, I mean, the more we are in His Word and in prayer, the more we become like Him. The more we are like Him, the more of Him lives in and through us. John concludes this portion of the letter with these words (v’s 23-24):

“And this is His command, to believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as He commanded us. Those who obey His commands live in Him, and He in them. And this is how we know that He lives in us: we know it by the Spirit He gave us.”

The commands John is referring to come from the ancient sacred texts… the decalogue and the Levitical law point to The One Who claims ownership over our hearts, and thus has the right to expect His children to conform to His will and way. As His children, may we never neglect the benefit of time well-spent in His Word… in becoming more like Him. In John’s gospel, He summed this precept with these words: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” In today’s vernacular it could be understood as, ‘more of Him, less of me’. Jesus must become greater simply because, God is greater than our sin – and He demonstrated from the cross. May Jesus’ name become greater throughout the earth!

Because of Him we have confidence before God!

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5 Understandable Words for Today

“…we should love one another.”  I John 3:11b

My generation grew up in a time when the word “love” was tossed around like a bag of chips. Peace and love were the theme of the Vietnam War era on college and high school campuses across the country. Yet love seemed always out of reach: because of social division; political unrest; the advancing liberal agenda on sexuality in the media; the growing drug epidemic; and the earliest signs of the breakdown of our most sacred link in the chain of society – the home. One of the popular songs of that day had the mantra of: “If you can’t be with the one you love… then love the one you’re with.” The institutions of marriage, home and family, the church, and even government were crumbling… leading to today’s reality of more than 50% of marriages ending in divorce; a marginalized church, shrinking in numbers; and an unrestrained, undisciplined federal leviathan that gobbles up more of our freedoms with each passing year.

Still… John’s words echo through the centuries, that we should love, not in word but in deed. John clarifies this new commandment given by the Lord (Jn. 15:12) through examples found in the sacred texts. He began with what love does NOT look like: the story of how Cain murdered his brother. (Ge.4:1-16) The example strikes at the center of society… within one’s family. John reiterates to the readers not to be surprised when the world demonstrates hate and rejection toward followers of Jesus Christ, demonstrating the same hatred shown by Cain’s actions… which serves to remind Christians to count the cost of being a disciple of Christ. In Paul’s words, while we live, we live in Christ, and to die in Christ will be all the better (the reward of heaven). (Read Ro.14:8; Pp.1:21) Those who hate as Cain do not receive the joy of heaven… only the judgment before God. (v.15)

John instructs us to love, not just in words, but with actions. (v.18) Love is a verb… it is always active… and it will always be demonstrated through sacrificial acts toward others. Just as Christ laid down his life for us, so we lay down our lives for each other, even by sharing of our possessions materially. (v.’s 16-18)

Our nation has recently been devastated by hurricanes in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico. It has stretched our government’s resources to the breaking point to address the devastation… but it has only served to strengthen the charity within our hearts to be present and offer aid to our fellow citizens. Men with flat bottom boats from Louisiana helped rescue people in the flooded Texas neighborhoods. National guard personnel and first responders have risen to the call for those in Florida and Puerto Rico. Yes, there is still much to do, and churches and parachurch organizations like Samaritan’s Purse are working together to plan relief efforts for years to come. We are demonstrating the love that comes from the very foundations of our country… a Christian worldview. Though the catastrophic damage is severe, it is refreshing to see our citizens – many who are quick to point to their faith in Christ – being the hands and feet of restoration… showing God’s love in very practical ways to those in need.

My we exercise every possible opportunity to make a difference in the lives affected by these unprecedented storms by our continued efforts to not only pray, but to work in offering remediation to those who need our help so desperately. Join a crew that will offer water and meals to the devastated areas, or a work crew to help clear debris, or even join teams that will go to assist in rebuilding these areas. And give of your possessions, especially by giving to responsible organizations that will use funds you give to make a difference.

This is not a time for us to sit back and watch… our brothers and sisters needs us. Please don’t be satisfied with a one-time monetary gift. Keep these communities in your prayers, and seek ways to be a part of addressing their needs in the years to come.

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