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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

If someone can read 1John 3:1 with a ho-hum attitude, their view of God’s greatness is woefully inadequate. “We are counted as children of God.”  So if anyone has a puny view of God how can they be amazed to the point of being transformed by it? Folks, there’s real hope that in our future we shall be like him for we shall see him as he really is! What is the proper response to this good news? I’ll show up at church and even put a few dollars in the offering plate, OR, I won’t neglect meeting with the Bride of Christ to worship, serve, and encourage; I’ll be willing to give my resources toward helping build the Kingdom of heaven rather than just trying to create a little paradise of my own here.

What tests the mettle of true believers? Prosperity? Sudden loss? Idolatry (what do you wake up thinking about)? The amount of time spent in prayer for others’ needs? Preferring others over self?

Am I loving a brother/sister if loving costs me nothing? If we agree on interests, values, and have an equal level of intelligence, and can respect each other’s personal space – how easy it is to “love.”

Am I loving a brother/sister when I show grace and patience in spite of their poor choices: when I can forgive an intentional slight or injury to my reputation: when I’m tired but I get a text message that requires immediate attention? How costly it can be to love.

I’ve enjoyed Elyse Fitzpatrick’s books and I give her the credit for saying, “The family characteristic that should be most evident in us is summed up in these words, ‘walk in love.’ Every sin we commit, either by commission or omission, is a failure to love as we’ve been loved. Every transgression of the law finds its genesis in a stinginess of soul, a belief that we’ve got to protect our interests, fight for our rights, build our kingdom. . . . Any obedience that isn’t motivated by his great love is nothing more than penance.”

Is the Holy Spirit (the one who helps God’s children love the unlovely) a stranger? It’s the Holy Spirit who proves to believers that his home is in their hearts. Hallelujah!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

True belief, according to Jewish thinking, was more than just knowledge; it included action.  The knowing was confirmed in the showing, if you will.  John follows this same logic.

It’s no good to say that you know and love Jesus, if you don’t keep his commands and live like he did.  If you know Jesus, it will show.

That is a pretty general statement.  What commands are we talking about?  And what, exactly, does it mean to live like Jesus did?

John’s answer:  love one another.  Really.  Truly.  Genuinely.  Purely.  Selflessly.

If we choose to do what is best for the other person, we demonstrate that we really know Jesus.

We love our brothers and sisters in Christ by putting up with their quirks, forgiving them, not taking offense, including them, sharing our lives with them, rejoicing in their victories and weeping in their sorrows.  We also love our brothers and sisters in Christ by gently speaking truth to them and honestly confronting sin in their lives.  It’s not all fun, easy, feel-good stuff.

If we have, indeed, already entered into a reconciled relationship with God which is at the heart of “eternal life,” then this life will evidence itself in reconciled relationships among brothers and sister in the Church.

As far as indicators of true faith go, is it possible that relational unity in the community of believers is just as important as orthodox theology?  In other words, is showing true love just as important as knowing and loving what is true?

Loving truth and truly loving.  Knowing and showing.  Both are important.  They inform each other.  One can’t be completed without the other.

With the help of the Spirit, let’s do them both.  How will you today?

Monday, June 12, 2017

For those who want empirical proof, John says that he “heard,” “looked at,” and “touched” Jesus, who is eternal life.  Notice that John says the life “appeared.”  How does eternal life “appear”?

Maybe we need to adjust our thinking about eternal life.  In his Gospel, John records Jesus praying as follows: “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3).   In other words, the essence of “eternal life” is not time but relationship.  This is how John describes it in today’s passage: “Our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.”  Evidently, “eternal life” doesn’t begin with resurrection but rather with faith in Jesus.  Eternal life appeared in the person of Jesus, with whom we can have a relationship. John had already entered into the eternal life Jesus offers, and he invites us to join him in that life and its joy.

The next section of the chapter can seem self-contradictory and self-defeating.  On the one hand, John claims one can’t claim to have fellowship with God and, at the same time, “walk in darkness.”  On the other hand, John says that anyone who claims to be without sin is self-deceived and outside the truth.  Wow.  That sounds like a catch-22.  A no-win situation.  How do you unravel this one?

For starters, there is a difference between walking in darkness and having sinned.  Let me give you an example.  Twice in my lifetime I have gotten traffic tickets for running a red light.  I admit it.  I would be lying if I denied it.  It’s on the records.  You can look it up.  However, I don’t make a practice of running red lights.  It’s not a habit.  It’s not something I want to do, or try to do, or keep doing.  If I were to keep running red lights regularly, I would be on the wrong side of the law and soon dead from an accident or incarcerated.  However, I have acknowledged my violations, paid my fines, and am in good standing with the law.  I do not “walk in darkness” when it comes to running red lights; however, I have occasionally in the past and may possibly on rare occasion in the future run a red light.  Get the difference?

Where the analogy breaks down is that, when it comes to sin, I didn’t pay my fine.  Jesus did.  Since he paid my fine for sin, I am no longer to walk in sin.  That is to say, I should not want to sin, try to sin, or keep sinning.  My life should not be defined and characterized by willful sin.  You simply can’t honestly say you love Jesus while pursuing a lifestyle of sin at the same time.  We don’t get to have that cake and eat it, too.  That’s called grace abuse.

However, it would be ridiculous for any of us to claim that we never sin.  We do sin.  And God has made a way for us to stay in fellowship with him, even after we have blown it.  It’s called confession.  God forgives and purifies.  He doesn’t purify us so that we can get all dirty again, though.  He purifies us so that we can walk with him, and in walking with Him learn not to sin.

Unfortunately, Christians tend to swing to extremes here.  They either beat themselves up in distraught, despair, and fearful hopelessness, because they can’t seem to completely stop sinning.  Or they assume grace covers everything and choose to feel no guilt or remorse about a sinful lifestyle.  Both responses are wrong.

Jesus redeemed us so that we might walk in holiness.  That is what he has saved and called us to.  Holiness and purity should be the direction of our lives.  Along the way, we will struggle with temptation and sometimes give in.  We shouldn’t ignore that, as if it doesn’t matter.  We need to confess with genuine sorrow.  However, we can have confidence in God’s love, grace, and forgiveness.  And that is what should define us.

Friday, June 9, 2017

You are alone on the streets of New York City, and you are only 9-years-old. Because you are an immigrant and have only recently arrived in the U.S., you only know a few words of English. Unfortunately, your parents both died on the ship on the way to America, so you have no relatives, no one to help you, no money. You are homeless and hopeless.

You have no choice but to scrounge in garbage cans for food or steal. In the dead of winter you huddle and shiver with kids like yourself in cardboard boxes under as many blankets as you can find. Sickness is rampant; death is just around the corner.

One day you hear about a minister who is corralling hundreds of children like yourself and loading them on trains. You have no idea what it’s all about, but anything would be better than life on the streets. Before you know it, you’re on a train headed for an unknown destination.

The train makes numerous stops, and each time a couple of adults come on the train and escort one or two children off the train. At one of the stops, a nice-looking couple lay their hands on your shoulder and invite you to come with them. They are very kind and gentle, and you feel strangely loved. As the papers are signed, you hear their names and their town: Mr. and Mrs. Henry Ford, Detroit, Michigan.

You go for your first-ever ride in a car to their home. It’s the nicest home you could ever imagine. It even has your very own bedroom. They explain to you that they have other children, but that you are being accepted into their family as one of their own. You can’t believe it! Everything they have is yours to enjoy. “Make yourself at home” are the sweetest words you’ve ever heard. “We’ll help you to become the best person possible.” It’s a miracle!

In the year 1850 it is estimated that 30,000 homeless orphans roamed the streets of NYC. As the situation worsened with more and more boats of immigrants coming to the U.S., a 26-year-old minister began organizing “orphan trains.” He sent advance notice to cities where the trains would be stopping, that anyone could adopt a son or daughter from the hundreds of orphans on each train.

It was a risky endeavor, but it worked magnificently. In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, over 100,000 orphans were taken in across America and given new life. Many went on to be very successful, one becoming a U.S. congressman, two became governors of their states, etc.

What an incredible story! Kudos to the NY minister, to all those who helped fund the project, and especially to all those who welcomed disadvantaged children into their families. What an example of compassion and self-sacrifice!

But there’s an even more incredible story, and it’s recounted in Ephesians 2:1-21. Every one of us were formerly orphans following the ways of this world. We were without hope. But God came on the train and laid his hands of grace on our shoulders and welcomed us into his heavenly family. Suddenly everything changed. We were given new life. God remade us to do good works (2:10). He redesigned us so we could join together with other members of his family and become a spiritual temple in which he himself dwells (2:21).

Wow! Praise be to God! “To him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Eph 3:21).

Proxies: Romans 5

Thursday, June 8, 2017

A common theme in literature is the idea of one person standing in for a whole nation/people. As goes the single person, so goes the nation. The best example is David and Goliath in 1 Samuel 17:9 where Goliath challenges Saul to pick one champion. “If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but if I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us.” It goes both ways: either the Israelites all fail or all win.

Similar motifs occur in Lord of the Rings, where Frodo is responsible for the whole fate of Middle Earth. Star Trek has Captain Picard on trial for all of humanity under the judgement of the super-alien Q. Can you think of other examples in literature? As goes the single person, so goes the nation, or all of humanity.

I have to confess, I cannot think of too many cases where this has happened to me directly in my lifetime, but it happens to a lesser degree with choices I make affecting future generations: I can leave a fortune or a debt to my descendants, I can choose where my kids are born and that may determine their citizenship and to a degree their freedoms or obligations (consider people born into slavery or royalty). Beyond my control, I may pass a genetic trait or disease to my children, again either good or bad. It is not even appropriate to ask if this is “fair,” this is just the nature of descendants: my children inherit my estate, both financially and biologically. Have you benefited or been penalized by your inheritance from your natural parents?

Paul describes Adam passing on a fatal condition to his descendants by his choices (interestingly Eve gets a bye on this one). We are all born into slavery, slavery to the Fall and its consequences of death. If Adam is your (great-great-great-…-grand) father, then this is your inheritance. But a major premise of the NT is that you can pick your father! You can give up being Sons of Adam (born of the flesh) and become Sons of God (born of the spirit, John 1:12-13). It would be “unfair” of God to consign us to punishment based on the sin of Adam IF WE COULDN’T DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT, but the Good News, the Gospel, is that God has provided a means of “curing” our genetic/ancestral curse, and we can be adopted into a new family, a new nation of kings and priests (Exo 19:6, 1 Pet 2:9). This is a gift from God (Rom 5:15-16), but you have to ask for it to receive it. I pray you would take this time to establish yourself in Christ. May you be among “those who receive abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness will reign in [your] life through the One, Jesus Christ.” (Rom 5:17)

–SFF

Come    Isaiah 55

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

How do you come to God? With rejoicing? With weariness? With a thirst for his righteousness? In spite of feelings or circumstances, the important thing is to come. Come openly with readiness to drink from the fountain of wisdom and truth. Psalm 119 is loaded with ways David was nourished with God’s Word. He quenched his soul’s thirst for comfort (vs. 50), for assurance of eternal life (s. 123), and for peace (vs. 165). My personal favorite is Psalm 119:68, “You are good and what you do is good.”

I have an English professor friend who knows that good, engaging literature has tension and conflict in the plot, so  therefore she believes heaven would be boring since there will be no tension there. But if this professor (whose parents are believers) might secretly hope for a second chance after death it would be too late. Isaiah 55:6 implores, “Seek the Lord now while he may be found.” Those who seek him will want to repent of sin. Then, what great joy it is to discover that God’s love is lavish with mercy and forgiveness. Being part of this covenant with God causes believers to want to pay attention to the Lord’s life-nourishing words instead of wasting resources on the world’s junk-food ideologies. Just today I was told by a well-meaning person, “God just wants us to be happy.” If you knew the context in which this was said, you’d understand that this was an attempt at giving me a large serving of self-centered junk food!

I’m glad to believe that God’s way surpasses man’s wisdom, abilities, and plans because he is holy in his eternal omniscience. Amazing but true – this sovereign God, maker and sustainer of all things, invites me to come to him, to abide in him. “Oh God you are my God. Earnestly I seek you. My soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you as in a dry and thirsty land,” Psalm 63:1.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Only days after Israel had shouted out in euphoric unison “Everything the Lord has said, we will do,” they broke the covenant vow they had made before God.  They sinned by making a golden calf, worshipping it, and indulging in pagan “revelry.” God was ready to wipe them off the face of the earth, and probably would have, had Moses not intervened on their behalf.

This is Moses’ request in Exodus 34: “Although this is a stiff-necked people, forgive our wickedness and our sin, and take us as your inheritance.”  This will not be the last time a prophet intercedes on behalf of the people, asking God to forgive (see Nehemiah 1 and Daniel 9 for examples), culminating in Jesus’ petition on the cross: “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

Since Adam and Eve rebelled in the garden, the question that hung in the air is this: Will God forgive us?

Exodus 34 is important because God reveals himself to be, by his own nature, a forgiver:  When God thinks about himself, these are the first five adjectives that come to his mind: compassionate, gracious, loving, faithful, and forgiving (verses 6 & 7).  YES!!  If that isn’t good news, I don’t know what is.  If that is how God thinks about himself, that’s the way we should think about Him, too.

So, God answered the question himself.  Yes, God will forgive.  Whew!  There is hope for us!

Notice a couple things, though.

In pleading for God to forgive the people, Moses starts by saying, “If I have found favor in your eyes…”  God’s decision to remain with the people is based partly on his relationship with Moses and Moses’ humble obedience.  This principle holds true for us today.  God forgives us, not simply because he is a forgiving God, but because Jesus, our representative, found favor with Him.  We have a two-fold reason to be confident in God’s forgiveness: 1) It is God’s nature to forgive and 2) Jesus’ humble obedience has found favor with Him.

Finally, God can’t be mocked.  Don’t take him lightly.  The guilty (which would be all of us), who do not confess and repent, will be punished.  God is by nature a forgiver, but that doesn’t mean he ignores justice.  Grace isn’t free to God.  In order to show grace, God had to satisfy the demands of his own justice by taking the punishment we deserve upon himself on the cross.  So, forgiveness should not be taken lightly, glibly, or for granted.  God’s forgiveness should produce a joyfully serious commitment to obedience, rooted in whole-hearted worship.