Wednesday, November 30, 2016

In loving others, we are Blessed

Read 1 John 3.

The Holy Spirit guided John to write an overarching principle by which followers of Jesus are to live.  Mark it in your Bible.  Memorize it.  Practice it.

"Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth." (v.18)

Demonstrating genuine love for other believers is a proof of a genuine faith.  We use our time and resources, being attentive to the needs of others and seeking to meet those needs.  We use our words to encourage and tell others of our appreciation of them.  In addition to helping someone else, there are tremendous personal benefits for putting that verse into practice.

1. We have assurance of the Truth. (v.19a)
The Scriptures teach us the absolute truth, right from wrong, and the difference between the philosophies of this world versus faith in Christ.  We can know for sure of God's forgiveness, life after death, escape from hell, and our home in heaven.

2. We have assurance of a clear Conscience. (vv.19b-21)
Freedom from guilt comes as a result of faith in the blood of Jesus Christ to forgive and cleanse us (1:9).

3. We have assurance of answered Prayer. (v.22)
This verse stipulates a qualification: "because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him."  Obedience produces confidence in our conversations with God.

4. We have assurance of fellowship with God. (vv.23-24)
When we seek to obey the Lord all the time, we find ourselves "abiding", or living, moment by moment with a sense of God's presence.  As we enjoy this personal relationship, the Holy Spirit keeps on encouraging us.

Loving other believers requires us to be in a committed group of other believers in Jesus.  As we gather each week to worship the Lord, our attention is likewise to be on each other.  "And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near." (Hebrews 10:24-25)

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Satan's big Three

Read 1 John 2.

John is often referred to as "the Apostle of love".  He frequently wrote about love of God and for each other in his Gospel, his three letters, and there are at least four references in Revelation.  In this chapter, John states that loving another follower of Jesus is not a new commandment.  But, then, in verses 15-17, he warned not to love "the world or the things in the world".

The reason for this admonition is that this world is temporal, while lovingly obeying God lasts forever.  The choice is simple.  Should a person spend their lives on things that they will surely lose or invest their lives in things that can never be taken away?

Satan has no new schemes.  " that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs." (2 Corinthians 2:11)  His goal is to distract, even believers in Jesus, to make wrong choices and, thereby, sin against God.

The temptations to waste one's life in sin are categorized in three areas.  These distractions can quickly turn to sin and break our fellowship with God and others.

1. The desire to Have.  The lust of the flesh is the urging for wrong indulgences.  It is an "uncontrolled appetite".  That lack of discipline could be anything from gluttony of food to wanting more material gain.  It is the wrong desire for possessions.

2. The desire to See.  This is the lust of curiosity that leads one to undisciplined behaviors in what entertains and fascinates them.  This is at the root of pornography and immorality displayed in movies and television.  It is the wrong desire for pleasure.

3. The desire to Be.  This is the boastful pride of life; the exaltation of self.  It is self-promotion and self-advertisement.  It is the wrong desire for personal power.

None of these is new.  Satan used the same three temptations with Eve in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:6): the tree was "good for food"; "it was a delight to the eyes"; "to be desired to make one wise".  Eve sinned.

Then, Satan tried the same three temptations with Jesus (Matthew 4:3-8): "command these stones to become loaves of bread"; "throw yourself down"; "all the kingdoms of the world and their glory...these will I give you."  Jesus prevailed.  He met each temptation with a specific Scripture that rebutted Satan with the truth of God's word.

Memorizing verses that can help and encourage us to do what is right is a key spiritual growth.

Monday, November 28, 2016

4 questions for those with Doubts

Read 1 John 1.

This book settles the question once and for all that we have a "know-so" salvation.  We are not guessing about eternal life.  We do not live with a "hope-so" faith, waiting to see how this will all turn out after we die.

Depending upon the translation, the word "know" appears between 26-31 times in these five chapters.  In addition, the words "knows" and "knowledge" are used.  For anyone who may have doubts about their faith in Jesus, a great exercise is to read this book and circle each time the word "know" appears".  Nothing will build one's spiritual confidence like a good dose of reassuring Scripture.

A series of questions about our faith and the Bible are answered in this first chapter.
1. How did the Apostles know for certain that Jesus was who He said He was?
Over a period of some three years, John and the others lived and traveled with Jesus.  During that extended time they "heard" all He said, they had "seen" all that He did, they "observed" carefully the evidences before them, and they "touched with our hands".  Beyond this list, John saw the eternal Christ on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-8), stood by the cross at the death of Jesus, and was the first man to enter the tomb after the resurrection (John 20:4).  Such an eyewitness account would hold up in any court of law.

2. How did John describe Jesus? 
-"That which was from the beginning..." (v.1a)  As the eternal God in the flesh, Jesus was there in Genesis 1:1.  He is the Creator of all things (Colossians 1:16).
-"The word of life..." (v.1b)  Belief in Jesus changes one from spiritual death to spiritual life.
-"The life..." (v.2) and "the eternal life..."  Jesus said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life." (John 14:6)  Definite articles all.  Without Jesus one misses all three.
-"...manifest.."  Jesus was publicly and externally apparent.  There was no mistaking His true identity.
-"...the Father and his Son Jesus Christ." (v.3) The conclusion from all the evidence could not be clearer than John 1:1-"And the Word was God."  

3. Why did Jesus come? (vv.3-4)
-that we might have "fellowship" (partnership) with God, Himself, as by faith we become part of the family of God.
-that we might have fellowship (partnership) with the earthly family of believers.
-that we may experience the joy of sins forgiven and the full assurance of our salvation.

4. What robs us of our joy and assurance? (vv.5-10)
Sin in the believer's life will result in a loss of joy in Jesus.  Sin violates our consciences and brings guilt.  Unresolved sin causes doubts to creep in about what God has said in His word.  An unwillingness to admit sin is proof of unbelief in Jesus.  Agreeing with God about personal sin is the way to forgiveness and cleansing "of all unrighteousness".

Friday, November 25, 2016

What are you waiting For?

Read 2 Peter 3.

If believers are to grow in their faith, they need more than dependence on God's grace.  They also need knowledge of the truth (3:18).  In chapter two, Peter helped his readers to identify false teachers, who were disguising themselves as followers of Christ.  Here, in chapter three, the attention turns outside the church to the scoffers of our faith.

A scoffer is one who mocks, jeers or derides the Scriptures.  They do this, not because they have done a reasonable investigation and come to a sound conclusion.  No, they talk like that in order to protect and defend "their own sinful desires" (v.3).  What believers should remember (v.1) is that there will always be scoffers.  One of their chief errors in thinking is that history has always been linear and uninterrupted by God (v.4).  Therefore, if there is a God, then He does not care and will not intervene.  But Peter reminds his readers that this is willful ignorance.  "They deliberately overlook" (v.5) the fact of the world-wide flood in the days of Noah.  According to Genesis 6-9, the earth and its atmosphere experienced catastrophic changes.  But more than that, the flood was a world-wide judgment on sin.  God did intervene and He will again!

The admonition for believers is that we "should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles" (v.2).  Ignoring the prophecies concerning the second coming of Christ will stunt spiritual growth in us personally and in our congregations.  Yet, the imminent anticipation of our Lord's return has unparalleled impact on our daily lives.

1. It reminds us of the patience of God. (v.9)
The scoffer asks, "If God is going to judge the world, why has He not done so?"  The answer is that in His mercy the Lord is giving every opportunity for "all" to repent of their sin and turn to Him for salvation.  This is why in the eternal judgment no one will have an excuse for not giving their lives to Jesus.

2. It reminds us that this world is not our home. (v.10)
One day, every one of us will leave all our stuff behind.  And, in that day of God's judgment, everything on earth "will be burned up and dissolved".  Sin will be eternally gone as believers will live in a "new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells" (v.13 and Revelation 22).

3. It reminds us of how we are to live now. (vv.11-12a)
God's expectation of us in the meantime is that we conduct ourselves in ways that are marked by "holiness and godliness".  "And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure." (1John 3:3)  The one who says they believe in Jesus must examine themselves by that standard and then take the necessary corrective measures.  Because we do not know when our Lord will return, we are to live each moment "waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God".

So, today, what are you waiting for?

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

7 ways to spot a false Teacher

Read 2 Peter 2.

Christianity has always been infiltrated by charlatans.  It remains one of the schemes of the devil to oppose the advancement of the kingdom of God.  They do not wear signs hanging around their necks stating, "I am a false teacher.  Do not listen to me."  Just the opposite is true.  They appear to be followers of Jesus and sound as if they are.  But, in truth, they are unbelievers, cloaked in religious garb and jargon, deceiving the unsuspecting.

The purpose of the writing of 2 Peter is to encourage believers to "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."  The prophet Hosea recorded the LORD's contention with His people: "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge..." (Hosea 4:6).  In other words, they did not know the truth of what God had said.  Even church attenders are sucked in by false teaching because they are not growing in their knowledge of God's word.  As a result they are immature in their faith and are not able to discern the difference between truth and error. (Ephesians 4:14)

This chapter is filled with exact descriptors of false teachers.  It is important to note that no pastor or Bible teacher is without sin.  Occasionally, we may learn of a godly person who fell, overcome by some sin, and it became known.  Such a person is not who Peter has in mind here.  False teachers are those "who will secretly bring destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them" (v.1).  They are not followers of Christ but posers.  Jesus died for them, as He did for all (John 3:16), but they act as ministers for their own benefit.
1. They are SUBTLE. (v.1)
"For such are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.  And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.  So, it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness." (2 Corinthians 11:13-15)
2. They are SENSUAL. (v.2)
Their teachings concerning immorality and marriage contradict what God's word clearly states.  They will dismiss the Bible's teaching concerning sexuality as either culturally irrelevant or as merely the human author's opinion.  This is done under the themes of acceptance and unity.  At the root is their own lust.
3. They are SALESMEN. (v.3)
The Greek word has to do with "an emporium".  They make merchandise of people for their own gain.  They equate godliness with prosperity and greed.
4. They are SELF-WILLED. (vv.10-13a)
Their words are presumptuous, arrogant, daring, and bold, even to the point of rebellion against authorities.  They reject any personal accountability for their theology, their finances, their behavior, their lifestyle, or their empty promises.
5. They are STAINS on the Body of Christ. (vv.13b-16)
Their misrepresentation of God's word and their sinful behaviors leave ugly marks on the ministry without shame.
6. They are SPEAKERS of empty promises. (vv.17-18)
They look good. They sound good.  They tell great stories.  They make people laugh.  They move them emotionally.  But what is the spiritual outcome?  Consistently, these liars give false, earthly hope to discouraged hearers based upon their own clever words.  Meanwhile, they omit the eternal hope that comes through faith alone in Christ.  Positive thinking and temporal prosperity will never relieve anyone of the awful burden of guilt for their sin.  
7. They are SLAVES to sin. (v.19)
These phonies preach freedom of one kind or another, when they are actually in bondage to their own passions.

Our defense against being deceived by any false teaching is to personally read, study, and be taught the truth of the Scriptures.  There is no substitute.  It is the foundation to growing in grace.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

How to grow as a follower of Jesus

Read 2 Peter 1.

The purpose of writing 1 Peter was to encourage those being persecuted because of their faith.  2 Peter was written to the same readers (3:1) to encourage them to keep growing in their faith.  "But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." (3:18)

In the opening verses the Apostle, "being carried along by the Holy Spirit" (1:21), taught some basics about growing in that grace and knowledge.

1. The Promises of Grace. (vv.3-4)
It is usually a surprise for a new believer to discover that God has already supplied "all" or "everything" we will ever receive or need to live a godly life.  That includes the indwelling presence and power of the Holy Spirit.  "For He gives us the Spirit without measure." (John 3:34).  The clear teaching of the Bible is that we do not need more of God; He wants more of us!

We stand on these "great and precious promises" that the Lord has made to us.

2. The Practice of Grace. (vv.5-7)
Since everything we need to spiritually grow has been supplied, our responsibility is to put these things into practice.  "For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith..."  Here is a list of seven habits of eternally effective people.
-Step one is moral purity.  Without a personal commitment to rid one's life of all immoral behaviors the rest of this list will not result in life-change.
-Knowledge referred to here is the information of God's word.  Without reading, studying, and being taught the Scriptures we would never know how to live as a Christian.
-Self-control means to master "desires, passions, especially sensual appetites".  Without it knowledge can lead to tyranny.
-Steadfastness is not a type of perseverance often described as gritting the teeth and toughing it out.  The Greek word is literally "a calm delight, a cheerful hopeful endurance".  Only one who possesses hope in Christ beyond this life can exhibit such a behavior.
-Godliness, being pious, or living a life of piety is a good thing, according to the Bible.  Webster defines it as having respect and reverence for God.  This new life in Christ is to exhibit a consciousness of God's presence 24/7.
-Brotherly affection requires that believers treat each other as family.  We are to consistently demonstrate mutual concern and care for one another.
-Love that we learn from God is selfless, sacrificial, and acts in benevolent ways for other people.  This is particularly true when we loving act toward those who do not want it, perhaps do not deserve it, and could not return the favor.    Why?  Because that is how God treats us.  "But God showed his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8)

3. The Product of Grace. (vv.8-11)
The results are stated negatively in the text.  If we will practice these things and keeping growing in the use of them, we will become useful and fruitful for God!  What is more astounding is the statement in v.10: "...if you practice these qualities you will never fall."

Monday, November 21, 2016

4 promises for suffering Saints

Read 1 Peter 5.

The Apostle Peter wrote this letter, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to encourage believers who were suffering for their faith.  They endured great losses, and though they lived in exile, they continued to be persecuted.

"But what about me?" is a common and expected question for one to ask in such circumstances.  Rightfully so, hurting people want relief.  Healing, resolve, and answers to prayer do not always come immediately.  Most often, these things take time, if ever, in this life (Hebrews 11:39).  For the follower of Christ, it is the patient endurance through these tests that prove the genuineness of our faith (1 Peter 1:7).

What we are to do.
So, what are we to do in the meantime?  There is a list of five action items provided in verses 6-9.  The marvelous truth contained in verse 7 is "...casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you."  It is the unyielding trust in our unchanging Lord that sustains us through every trial.

What God will do.
In verse 10 is the ultimate encouragement for suffering saints.
We recognize that the impacts of all losses are temporal and at worst for "a little while".  Our hope is fixed in "the God of all grace" who loves us and is working out His eternal plan in and through us.  Among His many promises to followers of Jesus include these four actions from the Lord.  Notice how personal these actions are.

1. He will restore you.
When one is suffering a loss, they want back what was taken or replaced with something even better.  This is not necessarily a material restoration, though God restored to Job a double amount after his suffering (Job 42:10).  Most often, in this life, what is of even more value is the emotional healing that is needed to make us feel whole again.  He is "the God of all comfort" (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).  In addition, the rewards that await us will make all these earthly losses quickly fade from memory.  Those gains will never be taken away.

2. He will confirm you.
When one is suffering a loss, they will normally experience some doubts about their faith and their future.  Not only confidence of faith but self-confidence can easily waver.  In 2 Peter 1, our standing with God is confirmed as we practice the godly qualities found in verses 5-10.  Endurance means we keep going even when we do not feel like it.  As we maintain our spiritual disciplines, God confirms His word and His love to us.

3. He will strengthen you.
When one is suffering a loss, they will often have feelings of weakness and helplessness.  Memorize some of God's promises.  "Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."  (Isaiah 41:10)

4. He will establish you.
When one is suffering a loss, they will feel unsettled.  The foundations of their life have been shaken.  It is in these times that our faithfulness in every direction is being tested.  "Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor in not in vain." (1 Corinthians 15:58)

Friday, November 18, 2016

Serving while Suffering

Read 1 Peter 4.

As Peter sought to encourage those who were being persecuted for their faith in Christ, he wrote: "For to this you have been called because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps." (2:21)  "Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." (2 Timothy 3:12)

This is not something that comes as a result of our wrong behavior but solely because of our faith and stand for Jesus.  In 3:15-16, believers were instructed how to share their faith in the midst of rejection and not back down when challenged.  Here in chapter four the instruction concerns how to keep serving Christ in such an environment.

1. Arm yourselves with the same way of thinking. (vv.1-6)
Literally, "arm" means "to equip with weapons".  2 Corinthians 10:4-5 states, "The weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.  We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ."

2. Be self-controlled. (v.7a)
Even the apostles had to discipline themselves in order to maintain integrity while serving Jesus.  "But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified." (1 Corinthians 9:27)

3. Be sober-minded. (v.7b)
In 5:8, Peter wrote, "Be sober-minded; be watchful.  Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour."  Satan wants you!  If he cannot keep a believer out of heaven, his desire is to discourage us to slow or stop serving Christ.

4. Keep loving one another earnestly. (v.8)
"No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us." (1John 4:12)  An obedient follower of Jesus incarnates the love of God.  When we love each other as we should, the people around us see God in us.

5. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. (v.9)
Hospitality is a requirement of church leaders (1 Timothy 3, Titus 1).  In addition, all believers are told to practice hospitality.  "Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality." (Romans 12:13)  The word refers to entertaining strangers, or fond of guests.  In other words, a true follower of Jesus likes to have people in their home.

6. Use your gift to serve one another. (vv.10-11)
At salvation, the Holy Spirit endows each believer with a special spiritual ability to serve Christ effectively.  Every genuine Christian has a spiritual gift and these are not for personal use.  "To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good."  (1 Corinthians 12:7)  We do not have to seek it.  He "apportions to each one individually as he wills." (1 Corinthians 12:11)  Our responsibility is to get busy and use what God gave us.

7. Rejoice as you share Christ's sufferings. (vv.12-18)
Perhaps, no one endured hardship and suffering for Jesus more than Paul.  Yet, his desire was "That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death..." (Philippians 3:10)  Suffering for Christ is not an end in itself.  There are rewards waiting for those who are faithful.  God is preparing the day when He will exalt us with Christ.  "...provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him." (Romans 8:17)

8. Entrust your soul to a faithful Creator while doing good. (v.19)
In Daniel 3:16-28, three young men stood firm in their faith against an ungodly government persecution.  The men trusted God no matter what and the result was a death sentence.  Countless believers have paid for such a commitment with their lives.  But in this case, the LORD performed a miracle.  They had boldly honored God and He honored them with a personal appearance.  The king saw Jesus!

Serving Christ is never about us.  It is always for the benefit of others so they may see Jesus.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

4 commitments for telling our Story

Read 1 Peter 3.

One of causes of personal suffering may come when a Christian shares their faith with an unbeliever.  Sometimes the result is experiencing the pain of rejection and/or the loss of a relationship.  Again, Peter wrote to those who were being persecuted and suffering because of they were genuine followers of Jesus.  It was not their fault.  It was not their message.  They simply placed their eternal faith in Christ and sought to live accordingly.

If one attempts to speak the good news of Jesus in an unkind or untactful manner, the rejection will probably be due to their behavior, not the gospel.  Dr. Bill Bright used to say that people are not gospel hardened as they are gospel ignorant.

So, how can we tell others of what we have discovered in Jesus in the best possible way?  Here are four phrases that set the standard.

1. "Honor Christ in your hearts as holy." (v.15a)
Do not fear "them".  Fear God.  He is bigger than they are.  Peter is actually paraphrasing Isaiah 8:13.  Honor the Lord as the One who is sovereignly in control, even when (especially when), it does not appear to you that He is in control.  God is holy.  His truth is pure.  He makes no mistakes.  We are His obedient servants.

2. "Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you." (v.15b)
Why do you believe in Jesus?  Why do you choose to believe the Bible is true?  Can you take your Bible and show someone?  Are you ready?  That does not mean every Christian must be a Biblical scholar.  It does mean that a follower of Jesus should be prepared to tell their story.  A believer's personal experience of life-change is undeniable by anyone!  You are the expert on "the reason for the hope that is in you."

3. "...yet do it with gentleness and respect..." (v.15c)
That is still is not a guarantee of another person receiving Christ or that they will not reject you.  Building relationships, being prepared, and honoring God in our behavior will put us in the strongest position for the Lord to use us.

4. "...having a good conscience..."
In this context that means, even years later, we may look back upon the conversation and have no regrets about the way we presented the gospel.  We cared about the other person and their eternity.  We were gentle and respectful.  We said and did the right thing.  This was the Apostle Paul's commitment also.  "So I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man." (Acts 24:16)

Why should we put those four phrases into practice?  " that" even if you do suffer for doing what is right, "those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame." (v.16b)

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

7 identities of those who follow Jesus

Read 1 Peter 2.

Writing to Jews living in exile due to their faith in Christ, Peter's letter encouraged them in their time of suffering.  After reminding believers of what God has already provided, the message moves to who we are in Christ.

Many similes are used in the Bible to describe those who trust Jesus as Savior.  Among them are the family of God, the household of faith, the Church (or called out ones).  Here, we have seven more identities, each is rich with meaning.

1. A living stone. (v.4)
Precious gems are mere pretty rocks, dead, earthly.  Once a person believes in Jesus, they become spiritually alive for eternity.  We living stones are precious to God and are being used for His planned construction project for the kingdom of God.

2. A spiritual house. (v.5a)
Christ is the Cornerstone of this "building" project (vv.6-8).  In masonry, the cornerstone, or sometimes called the foundation stone, is the first stone set in place.  It is crucial because all other stones will be set in alignment in reference to that one.  Jesus is the standard by which this spiritual house is measured.  Ignoring this fact, rejecting God's plan, and trying to build one's life apart from Jesus will only cause a person to stumble and fall.

3. A holy priesthood. (v.5b)
When the Old Testament Law was changed so was the priesthood. (Hebrews 7:12)  With Jesus as our High Priest, New Testament believers in Jesus are the priests who now offer spiritual sacrifices: of themselves (Romans 12:1), of praise (Hebrews 13:5), of good works (Hebrews 13:6), and of generosity (Hebrews 13:16).

4. A chosen race. (v.9a)
When God chose the descendants of Abraham in Genesis 12, it included a blessing for all nations.  Personal faith in Christ brings us into the enjoyment of that blessing.  It is the redemption of the curse of our sin, purchased on the cross.  (Galatians 3:13-14)  Believers, Jew and Gentile alike, are now one in the family of God.

5. A royal priesthood. (v.9b)
Hebrews 7:11-12 explain that the Old Testament High Priest and his priests of necessity were of the tribe of Levi by birth.  But, Jesus was humanly of the tribe of Judah, the royal lineage of Israel.  As the new and everlasting High Priest, His followers must be born again into His family to serve as priests to God.  Therefore, we shall rule and reign with Him in His kingdom.

6. A holy nation. (vv.9c-10)
We are a people group set apart for God Himself, "his own possession".  We are twice His: once by creation and then by redemption.

7. Sojourners and exiles. (vv.11-12)
Literally, these terms describe believers in Jesus as being without citizenship, traveling in a foreign land.  This was true of those to whom this book was originally written (1:1).  This world is not our home.  Our true citizenship is in heaven. (Ephesians 2:18-22)

Do not miss why God has done this for us?
"...that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light." (v.9d)

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

To those who are Suffering

Read 1 Peter 1.

The book of 1 Peter was written to Jewish followers of Jesus who left Israel due to persecution.  They fled to the northern Roman Provinces which comprise modern day Turkey.  They experienced the loss of their homeland, their home, their friends, etc. only to discover that the Roman government under Nero was committed to ridding the Empire of Christians.

The teachings and principles of 1 Peter may be applied to most any suffering that we did not bring on ourselves.  If one suffers due to something they did wrong, then that is another story.  This book is targeted for those believers in Jesus who are experiencing adversity when it was not their fault.  All of us endure times of relational misunderstandings, economic turn downs, the death of a loved one, and so on; things that are totally out of our control.  No one signs up for such suffering.  It will find you.

Question: What has God provided for those who are suffering? (vv.3-5)
Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Peter reminded his readers of four unchanging provisions from the Lord.
1. We have God's great mercy.
Mercy is not receiving what we deserve.  I the midst of trials, we are tempted to think, "I deserve better than this."  But the truth is if we got what we deserved we all would be in hell today.  God's mercy sustained these persecuted followers of Christ through it all.

2. We have a living hope.
All religions and philosophies of this world are based upon man-made ideas.  The persons who made them up are now dead.  Their ideas are dead end ideas.  And, those who place their hope in those ideas are going to be sorely disappointed at the end of their lives.  There is no hope in them.  Christians are unique in our beliefs.  Our hope is a living one, based upon our resurrected, living Savior.  That hope will only get better and better in our future.

3. We have an eternal, unchanging inheritance.
Believers are part of God's family.  All that belongs to Christ is ours.  One day we will leave all our earthly possessions behind.  Our inheritance and what God has in store for us is much more than we can imagine.

4. We have God's power guarding us.
We are being kept by God for that day when we will receive our full inheritance in Christ.  We did not save ourselves and we cannot be good enough to keep ourselves in the faith.  The Holy Spirit has sealed us until the day of our redemption out of this world.

It is knowing and being assured of these four things that Peter can write, "In this you rejoice" (v.6).  Such times of suffering are temporary and are tests of the genuineness of our faith (v.7).

Friday, November 11, 2016

How to live under Pressure

Read James 5.

Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Apostle James wrote to Jewish believers who had to leave Jerusalem due to persecution.  They scattered throughout the Roman Empire only to discover that the government also persecuted Christians.

From the opening verses in chapter one, James encouraged these suffering believers to be steadfast during these trials of their faith.  Here in chapter five, he returned to that theme.  I borrowed the outline below (not the content) from the writings of J. Ronald Blue, professor at Dallas Theological Seminary.  It was just too good and simple not to use.

1. The Essence of Patience.
Repeatedly, in this paragraph, patience is urged.  It is a different Greek word but essentially the same message of James 1:3.  We are to be faithful and steadfast during the trials of our faith, so that we build up our endurance.  All trials and times of suffering are temporal.  Waiting for relief from the stress, pressures and pain that come in every person's life is difficult and may seem that if will never end.

The hope that is expressed by James is the imminent return of Christ.  Our hope is not in this life.  If it is, disappointment, disillusionment, and depression will be our lot.  No, a follower of Jesus understands that we are only here for a few years at best.  Our goal is to be good managers of these days and use every opportunity for God's glory.  When we see Jesus, either by death or rapture, it will be worth it all.  

2. The Examples of Patience. 
Everyone waits.  But when we are experiencing tough times, we may feel like we are the only ones.  James provided some practical and Biblical examples of those who depend on God while they wait.
-The farmer (v.7) prepares the soil, plants the seed, and tends the field, working hard as if the crop depends solely on him.  All the while, the farmer is dependent also on weather conditions beyond his control.  He works and then waits to see what God will do.  The harvest is worth the endurance.
-The prophets (v.10) faithfully preached what God gave them to say.  Yet, they were often abused, rejected, and some were killed.  Hebrews 11 states, " they might rise again to a better life."
-Job (v.11) was the most upright man Satan could find.  But overarching all of the hardships he suffered, Job endured declaring, "the LORD is compassionate and merciful."  God gave him a double reward in the end.

3. The Evidence of Patience.
Our behavior during trials proves the validity of our faith.  This is not referring to "grit your teeth," "grin and bear it," "tough it out," and "suck it up."  No, this is the "calm and cheerful delight" that comes from the Holy Spirit ministering to us while we trust God for the outcome.  "The Judge is standing at the door." (v.9)  In other words, not only is the return of Christ imminent but He is listening to every word.  Therefore, we are not to grumble against others, nor are we to swear.  James previously lectured on bridling our tongues.  We tend to get in trouble using useless adjectives.  Just try, for instance, saying, "Yes" or "No".  Keep the communication simple.
Are you suffering?  Pray.
Are you cheerful?  Sing.
Are you sick?  Ask others to pray for you.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Understanding and dealing with Conflict

Read James 4.

In contrast to the peaceful words of wisdom at the end of chapter 3, the Apostle James turned to explain the causes and effects of "bitter jealousy and selfish ambition" (3:14).

1. The source of conflicts. (vv.1-6)
With people.
Sensual pleasures and personal desires to obtain more for oneself will produce rivalry, the wrong sort of competition, and arguments with others.  Such inner feelings are based on the sin of covetousness.  It is a jealous longing and frustration regarding something unfulfilled.  The world's definition of success is achievement of a personal want at any price.

With God.
This was written to followers of Jesus.  So, James touches on another common inner frustration, that of unanswered prayer.  How often has a Christian prayed and if their prayer was not answered when and how they wanted, they decided to take matters into their own hands?  They gave in to sin or gave up on God.  The problem was not with the Lord.  The conflict was the selfish reasons for prayer as opposed to God's glory.  A broken fellowship with the Lord places the believer in a losing position.  Instead, God is eager ("yearns", v.5) to administer His all sufficient grace to every situation, not our selfish desires.

So, how are we to face and maintain right relationships with God and with people?  How do we get to enjoy more of the sustaining favor of God?  "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble."  God hates pride, arrogance, and hubris.  So, what are we to do?

2. The solutions to conflicts. (vv.7-12)  
Submit yourself to God.
Bowing one's will to trust the Sovereign will of the Lord to take care of us is step one.  Without doing this first, nothing else will matter.

Resist the devil.
Satan's schemes are always in conflict with God.  Recognize the spiritual war that is at work.

Draw near to God.
Intentionally increase time invested in reading the Scriptures and prayer.

Cleanse your hands.
Has the Holy Spirit revealed areas that need repentance?  Grieve over the sin.  Confess it and receive His cleansing (1 John 1:9)

Do not speak evil against others.
Words of slander and condemnation of other people is forbidden.  Of course, we may observe wrongdoing in others and many are in positions of authority to take necessary actions.  But, this exhortation has to do with how we speak about others.  Without authority, we need to let God be the ultimate Judge.

But what about me and my genuine needs?  Jesus said, "...your heavenly Father knows..." (Matthew 6:32)  "Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you." (v.10)

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

5 truths about our Words

Read James 3.

The book of James is one of the most practical of all the books in the Bible.  His instructions penetrate our daily behaviors and provide some specific corrections.  Nothing betrays our true commitments like our daily communications.

1. All words have meaning.  
One of the satanic schemes in this generation has been to speak words that do not match the dictionary's definition and, then, to seek to redefine words in order to allow for evil behaviors.

2. Words have influence.  
It is for this reason the chapter begins with a caution about being a teacher.  Everyone teaches those around them all the time.  But one who has a position as such intentionally communicates to help others learn.  With this warning comes the reality.  No teacher, or preacher, is perfect (v.2).  Those who listen need to keep that in mind.  Therefore, self-control of one's life and words are crucial.  With this greater influence comes greater accountability to God for what we say and how we say it.

3. Our words reveal what is in our hearts.
Jesus said, "For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks." (Matthew 12:34)
An uncontrolled tongue is called "a restless evil, full of deadly poison" (v.8).

4. Our words are to be marked by the meekness of wisdom. (vv.13-16)
Pride is condemned in both the Old and New Testaments.  "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble." (James 4:6b)  The opposite of self-promotion for earthly success is to serve others with a sincere heart.  Leading with meekness appears to be an oxymoron.  Jesus was meek but not weak.  He demonstrated that one's personal power may be voluntarily kept under control to meet the needs of others. (Philippians 2:5-8)

5. Our words are being measured by wisdom. (vv.17-18)
Many have speculated on what Solomon meant in Proverbs 9:1 regarding the seven pillars of wisdom.  James 3:17 appears to be the Bible's answer.  This list of seven characterizes what God means by wisdom.  It is well-worth our time to regularly use this for self-examination.  Do these seven match my words during each day?  What is missing?  What needs to change?

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Is belief in God Enough?

Read James 2.

Occasionally, someone with no religious affiliation or practice at all may say, "Yes, I believe there is a God" or even, "I believe in God."   But if that is all the person has they are in bad company.

James 2:19: "You believe that God is one; you do well.  Even the demons believe--and shudder!"

To shudder in the original language has to do with getting chills, trembling in fear, or to be horrified.  It is the only time in the New Testament where this Greek word is used.  The demons of hell know more about the living God of heaven than any human on earth.  They already know God's eternal power and have experienced some of His judgment.  They also are keenly aware that their eternal fate is only a matter of time.  That same Lake of Fire awaits all those who refuse to embrace Jesus as their Savior from that punishment (Revelation 20).

Belief that there is a God is insufficient.  The unfolding story of the Bible reveals how God wants individuals to deal with their personal sin.  That is why Jesus came.  "Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God." (John 3:18)

And, there is more.  Our eternal faith in Jesus will be evidenced by how we serve God and serve others.  The book of James is not talking about something his readers do not understand.  Clearly, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, he wrote this to "brothers" (2:1 and 14), fellow believers.  Without the intentional practice of our faith, verse 20 calls that kind of belief "useless"; of no value.

The comparison of this truth is found in chapter one.  If a person looks in the mirror and sees something that needs attention, yet does nothing about it, what good is that?  Spiritually, it is willful disobedience.  The only ones being deceived is ourselves.

Jesus told His followers in John 15:8, "By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples."  Yes, Jesus has expectations of those who claim to know Him.  He expects His followers to put their faith into practice.  He wants to see the proof.

If the body is alive, it will show some sign of life.  If it does not respond (there is no breath, no heartbeat, no evidence at all), the Coroner will pronounce the body dead.  "For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead." (v.26)

Monday, November 7, 2016

Is your religion True?

Read James 1.

The Greek word translated "religion" here refers to ceremonial observances.  To many, religion is defined by a building and, particularly, the architecture of the facility.  Secular universities have long relegated the study of religion to the philosophy department.  Untold numbers of people claim a religious affiliation without any real evidence of such.  Millions go through regular rituals and routines at their religious building but remain unchanged once they leave.  Even Evangelicals have their routines of songs, announcements, offerings, and sermons.  None of these is true religion as defined by this passage in the Bible.

It is quickly obvious that the Holy Spirit desired to communicate something far more than rituals and ceremonial observances.  "But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves." (v.22)  This verse raises three questions about the validity of our "religion".

1. How are we being deceived?
Verses 23 and 24 explain it.  Attending a church service and feeling inspired in the moment can cause a misdirection and result in a delusion.  The deception is that we had our dose of religion and now we are okay.  The proof of whether we are deceiving ourselves is seen in what happens next.  Is there any change in our relationship with God, in our personal behaviors, and in our treatment of others?  If not, that "religion is empty and we have, in fact, been misdirected away from God.

2. What is true religion?
It is not found in a religious service but in practical service.  It is not the inspiration of the moment but the perspiration all week long.  Doing, not merely hearing, makes the difference.  Learning is important but unless it is translated into life action that religion is worthless.

3. What are we to be doing?
First, James is not referring to busyness.  Most work-a-holics lead empty personal lives.  This is very specific: "Be doers of the word."  If one's religion is based on ceremonial rituals and not upon the teaching of the word of God, it is a false religion.  If one's religion is not equipping people to implement the word of God during the week, it is a deceptive religion.  All of us need to know the Bible in order to understand how to please God in real life.

The Apostle James provided three examples of "religion that is pure and undefiled."
       A. Controlling our speech.
Jesus said in Luke 6:45 that what we say comes out of our hearts.  Offensive language only reveals what the sin that is being kept inside a person's heart.  Gossip, slander, being argumentative, and speaking unkind words are all condemned in the Scriptures.  Jesus also said that we will be held accountable at the Judgment for every word (Matthew 12:36).
       B. Visiting orphans and widows.
The point here is to encourage and be of service to those in need and, especially, those who cannot return the favor.
       C. Keeping oneself morally pure.
Evidence of a pure religion is a life of purity.  Piety, or godliness, is a good thing according to the Bible.  It means we respect and revere God's name and His presence all the time.  Therefore, we live each moment to please Him.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

5 core ways to practice our Faith

Read Hebrews 13.

The writer of Hebrews has invested twelve chapters encouraging these stressed and persecuted Jewish believers.  He told them to hold on to their faith, to maintain their confidence, to keep their eyes on Jesus and the promise of eternity with Him.  Now, the book closes with a rapid fire list of ways to put faith into practice.

The list actually begins at 12:28 with the word "Therefore".
1. Worship God with thanksgiving. (12:28-29)
In the midst of adversity, He is our hope.  Thank Him for what He has already done.  Worship Him "with reverence and awe".  Those two characteristics appear to be lost among many churches today.

2. Demonstrate love for people. (13:1)
The verse uses the word "continue".  There is an assumption that hospitality is already being practiced.  Hospitality is an act of generosity in hosting or entertaining guests.  Jesus mentioned that this is especially commendable when hospitality is shown to those who cannot return the favor (Matthew 25:37-40).  Three of those possible opportunities are mentioned here: strangers, prisoners, and the mistreated.

3. Honor the commitment of marriage. (13:4)
God instituted marriage, not a culture or government (Genesis 2).  Claiming otherwise is dishonorable to God and His word.
Any attempt to change God's definition of marriage from one man and one woman for life is dishonorable.
Sexual practice outside of a marriage commitment is immoral, sin against God, and is dishonorable.

4. Learn to be content. (13:5-6)
Why?  Because the Lord is with us.  He will not forsake us.  He will provide our needs (Matthew 6:31-33).  "Contentment is not having what you want; it is wanting what you have." (Ray Steadman)

5. Imitate the faith of our spiritual leaders. (13:7-17)
All followers of Christ are to be actively involved in a local body of believers.  We are to learn from, follow, and obey our godly leaders.  We do so, not because they are perfect (no human leader is) but because of their calling and appointed leadership in our lives.  The Apostle Paul was not perfect, but he could clearly state: "Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ." (1 Corinthians 11:1 NIV)

In my view the benediction in verses 20-21 is unmatched and a great summary of this encouraging book.  "Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever.  Amen."