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Monthly Archives: November 2015

Two Prayer Requests in Act II of My Life

Enjoyed some good conversations with my college kids over this weekend. Delightful.

Josh mentioned the blessing of being used by God – and there is no greater blessing, really. It is what led Zechariah’s wife Elizabeth to call her cousin Mary, the mother of Jesus, “blessed”. After all, Mary wasn’t blessed because she was rich (she had more in line economically with a peasant). And she wasn’t blessed because everything was going well for her relationally. Her relational world was probably in a shambles when Gabriel came to say hello (the whole out-of-wedlock thing likely had something to do with that). But Mary was blessed because she was about to be used more than any human being had ever been used before. That’s blessing.

And that led me to wax eloquent about two big prayer requests I have as I am moving into Act II of my life.

  1. I want to be used by God.
  2. I want my children to know and love Jesus. That seemed to be John’s heart when he wrote memorably…

I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth. 3 John 1:4 (ESV)

I’ve written on this before, but we parents are pretty wrapped up in our kids, aren’t we? I think some can overdo this, but in general it is the way that God made us – He made us to have this natural, overpowering love for our children. And my kids are doing well now, and yet I will pray all of my life that they would walk with God in the truth until they breathe their last.

And more than that, I’ve begun to hear something about a phenomenon called grandchildren. We don’t have any of those yet, and we’re not rushing it, but we will welcome the day when they come. A godly friend of mine has described his heart for his grandchildren: he simply wants to spend eternity with them, a very reasonable request, and one he is regularly petitioning the Lord for.

And then there are those other “children”. After all, though my personal application on this verse is appropriate, I don’t think John was actually speaking of biological children when he wrote his letter to Gaius. He was thinking as a pastor. And he wanted his pastoral children to walk in the truth. This is my heart as well.

And when you think about it, isn’t it interesting how these two requests come together? We are most wonderfully used by God as He enables us to help others we love know and follow the Lord Jesus. Now that is true joy.

So if you think to pray for me, ask the Lord for these things, would you? And may God use you also, and cause any spiritual children…or biological children you have…to walk in the truth.

For Tuesday, December 1: Hey Jude

 
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Posted by on November 30, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Keep An Eye On Yourself, And This Is How…

Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward. 2 John 1:8 (ESV)

It’s a good idea to keep an eye on yourself. Not only did John tell us this, but Paul told Timothy to do the same…

Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. 1 Timothy 4:16 (ESV)

So what does it mean to watch yourself? Presumably, John would want to pay attention to what he has been talking about:

  1. Do you love your brothers and sisters? Is there love (and forgiveness!) in your heart? Do you behold your brother in need and close your heart against him? (1 John 3:17) This is one of the great messages that John comes back to again and again, for a very good reason – it is a message he heard from the Lord (John 13:34, 35).
  2. Do you know the true Jesus Christ? He came in the flesh and arose bodily (2 John 1:7). His resurrection was not “spiritual”. He was truly dead and truly came back to life. If you do not know the true Christ, you are not one of His.
  3. Does the truth abide in you? This truth would include…
    1. confessing (agreeing with God) that you are a sinner (1 John 1:8)
    2. believing in Jesus as the propitiation for your sins (1 John 2:2)

For Monday, November 30th: 3 John

 
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Posted by on November 27, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Thanking God for the CERTAINTY of Eternal Life

Some ideas blow your world apart, and 33 years ago, I heard such an idea when I was at West Point on bivouac. Bob Maruna, an upper class cadet, stopped by my tent and told me I could know whether I was going to heaven. I had never heard such a thing before, but it is clearly biblical:

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life. 1 John 5:13 (ESV)

John is wrapping up his letter, and the summation of all of it is in this verse. It is possible to know if heaven is yours. And if this is true, it stands to reason that there is only one way that is possible – eternal life must be a matter of faith, not works. If it were about being good enough, how could I ever know if I had met the standard, but if “the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin…” (1 John 1:7 ESV) then certainty was possible.

That was the idea that revolutionized my life at West Point in 1982: I needed not fear a Day of Judgment where my good works would be weighed against my bad. John said in verse 13 that certainty of eternal life came through believing in the Savior Jesus. In the two verses previous, it’s all about whether we have Christ:

And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. 1 John 5:11-12 (ESV)

John fills his letter with other ways we can know, clearly showing like James that works will follow our faith (James 2:22). As Martin Luther said, “Salvation is by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone.” So the true Christian will seek to obey the Lord and will love his brothers, but the reason all this happens is because Jesus has “cleanse(d) us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

So, today is Thanksgiving. Are you giving thanks…because you know? If you don’t know for certain, you can. As Paul said to the Philippian jailer:

Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved…” Acts 16:31 (ESV)

For Friday, November 27th: 2 John 1

 

 
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Posted by on November 26, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Test the Spirits to See Whether They Are From God

Don’t believe everything you hear. This truth, coming either from a pastor or a parent is good advice, and it’s the advice that the Apostle John passes on to his followers:

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 1 John 4:1 (ESV)

Here is John’s warning against false teachers, but notice he doesn’t say teaching; he uses the word “spirits.”  What John is saying is that whenever you hear someone teaching, there is a spirit behind it. It’s either the Holy Spirit or it’s an evil spirit. So test it. See if it is truth. Don’t accept every teacher who claims to be speaking for God, because everyone says that their message is true. But many teachers are spreading false ideas, so you can’t believe everything you hear.

A Very Prominent False Teaching

We should know that there is bad teaching out there, and one of the most prevalent messages is very subtle: today we are told that there are two realms of information: facts and values. Facts are the hard sciences like chemistry and biology and of course math. These things, people say, are a matter of truth, right and wrong. But then there are values. And that’s a whole different realm, these people say.

“You believe in Jesus?” They ask. “Well, I’m glad you found something that works for you! But I don’t think that would work for me.” So religion is put in the area of values. “It’s nice, and I’m sure it’s helpful to you,” they say somewhat condescendingly, “but let’s keep it out of the public square, and please keep your views to yourself, because your thinking is only a matter of personal opinion. It’s not in the true/false realm like science and math.” Ah, but Jesus is either risen from the dead or not. That’s not a value – that’s a true/false question, and the answer to the question is more important than all the quadratic equations in the world. So don’t believe every spirit.

Like every other age, we are living in an age of ideas. In John’s day it was Gnosticism and the Judaizers, who wanted to add works to faith. Both of these teachings are still going strong today, though they have morphed into something John and Paul might not recognize, but we should be able to. And there are many more things to suck us in – the strange appeal for some to radical Islam and everything else, from Oprah to Dr. Oz.

The moral of this story is that Christians need to be interested in doctrine.  Don’t let anyone say to you, “Well, I am just happy in Jesus. I’ve got my Bible and my Christian friends…and doctrine?…well, doctrine is boring. I don’t pay attention to that. I don’t get all caught up in theology and that sort of thing. I don’t need to be interested in doctrine.”  But you see, that’s just not true.  John says, “Test the spirits.”  But you can’t test the spirits unless you have something to test them by. Truth matters.

And more than that, whatever you say about doctrine, you do believe certain things. Not everyone likes the word doctrine, nevertheless, everyone has a doctrine, even those who say they don’t.  Because you see, theology is the study of God.  He’s the most important subject we can study, and everybody has thoughts about Him, even those who say they are not interested in theology.

So be careful to test the spirits, to see if they are from God.

 

For Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, November 26th: 1 John 5

 

 
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Posted by on November 25, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Understanding the Depth of God’s Love

If you want to think about incredibly deep love, it’s hard to do better than parental love. Most parents who are not caught up in addiction or extreme self-centeredness will ascribe deep, deep love for their sons and daughters. It’s only natural and right. And with this in mind, we probably don’t make enough of the fact that God calls us…His children. The Apostle John states that it is this kind of love which is gloriously high and wonderful:

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; 1 John 3:1 (ESV)

John says, “Do you want to know what kind of love the Father has for you? It’s like the love your parents have for you, or the love you have for your children…it’s that kind of love.” J.I. Packer writes well about this in his classic Knowing God

In adoption, God takes us into his family and fellowship—he establishes us as his children and heirs. Closeness, affection and generosity are at the heart of the relationship. To be right with God the Judge [justification] is a great thing, but to be loved and cared for by God the Father [adoption] is greater.

J.I. Packer, Knowing God

The Lord wants us to understand His love, for it is this love that compels us to live for Christ and His Kingdom (2 Corinthians 5:14). So, how do we come to understand this love? Well, first, we need to put our imaginations to work and with God’s help, try to understand His overwhelming love for us. To do this, we can spend time meditating on the ones we love, recognizing that God’s love for us is far greater than our love for those nearest and dearest to us.

But there is another thing we need to do: You see, we are mistaken if we assume that Christians automatically have an understanding of God’s love, because the Apostle Paul didn’t subscribe to this idea. We know this because the Apostle made the comprehension of God’s love a focus of his prayers for the Christians at Ephesus, giving us a model prayer that I often pray for myself, my family, and our church. As you read, notice Who He prays to…The Father:

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith– that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:14-19 (ESV)

For Wednesday, November 24th: 1 John 4

 
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Posted by on November 24, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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What Does It Mean To Be “God’s Chosen People”?

For 8 years I led a Bible study for inmates at “the Walls”, the castle-like maximum security prison in the middle of Waupun. During this time, one of the most interesting characters I met was neither a guard nor an inmate but another prison “minister” like me, an orthodox Rabbi not surprisingly named Moshe (Moses). Moshe was a delightful and somewhat quirky (who knows what he would say about me?) man, and the two of us developed a blessed, if not friendship, then “acquaintance-ship”. Through the years when we passed through the metal detector and were given a “ride” (the Walls’ term for being escorted in or out of the facility), I would occasionally pump him for information about his faith, and he was a fascinating tutor.

Now, along the way in life I have known or heard of people who once considered themselves Christians but who followed Moshe and many others in converting to Judaism. When I hear of such a conversion, I often want to ask the person kindly, “Have you thoughtfully considered what you’re doing?” I don’t know if they have, but it seems to me that these folks imagine that everything must be honky-dory, even with Jesus Himself; because, after all, the Jews are “God’s chosen people” and to follow Judaism is simply to get back to the foundations of the “Christian” faith, right?

Sorry…I don’t think so, at least not according to the teaching of the New Testament.

Here’s the problem: to adhere to the tenets of Judaism, you must deny that Jesus is the Messiah. Jewish people, after all, are still looking for the One who is to come. However you shake it, in their eyes, Jesus wasn’t “it”. So, unless you are a “Messianic Jew” (code for Christians with Jewish ancestry who often observe Jewish festivals and such), you reject Jesus. John makes it clear why this is a problem…

Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. 1 John 2:22-23 (ESV)

Do you see the problem? Deny that Jesus is the Christ (Messiah) and you show that you do not know the Father. Deny that Jesus is the Christ and you lose any hope of God’s provision for propitiation (1 John 2:2). The Jews are “God’s chosen people,” but Paul makes it clear that being a real Jew is a matter of sharing the faith of Abraham, who “believed God, and it was counted to Him as righteousness” (Romans 4:22; Genesis 15:6).

All this is why Paul was so heartbroken over the state of his ancestral people. Speaking of his Jewish brothers, he said…

Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Romans 10:1-3 (ESV)

Moshe was a great guy, and definitely sincere, but notice that it’s not about that – some people raise sincerity to an all-important level, and in fact, Paul says that many Jews have a sincere “zeal for God.” But take note…you can be sincerely wrong.

Paul describes the heart of the Jewish problem in Romans 10:3 (above), and in so doing he describes not only Jews but also followers of all other religions, and even many who today would consider themselves Christians – Paul says they are “trying to establish their own righteousness”. But the Old Testament prophet Isaiah made it clear that any righteousness we can offer is only “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). Jesus Himself says that not all who call themselves His followers will be with Him in eternity; for on Judgment Day, He warns that He will reject the many who come pleading their case with what they have “done” in His name (Matthew 7:22, 23).

So, if your current plan as you approach That Day is to point to what you’ve accomplished for God, hurry and throw the plan out the window. For the teaching of the Scriptures (Old and New Testaments) is clear: the only hope of the Jews and everyone else for salvation is…the atoning sacrifice of the Messiah who has already come…2,000 years ago.

And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. Acts 4:12 (ESV)

 

For Tuesday, November 24th: 1 John 3

 
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Posted by on November 23, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Do You Have a Fire in Your Bones?

There are moments during worship at Edgewood when I just can’t wait to get up behind the pulpit and start preaching. It often happens when we’re all singing (and the worship through song is great at our church), and true confessions, I just can’t wait for it to be over because I’ve got something that I need to get up and say. At the impetuous risk of mentioning myself in the same breath with Jeremiah, it seems similar to what he describes…

If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot. Jeremiah 20:9 (ESV)

I’m guessing that this is something that God does with His spokesmen and women: He gives them something to say and then they feel like they will die if they don’t get it out. I vaguely remember hearing the story of a pastor who fell ill and was unable to preach anymore, eventually dying. To his great lamentation, he had prepared a sermon that he was, of course, unable to preach. Talk about a bad way to go – he had a fire in his bones, and he couldn’t put it out.

So I think I know what’s happening to John when he says this…

And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. 1 John 1:4 (ESV)

He’s writing to a congregation of his spiritual children, and some from their midst have left the faith (2:19). Surely that was enough to make those remaining discouraged, so John has a message of truth and encouragement to pass on to them and make them spiritually strong. He’s got a message he needs to get out, and he’s bound and determined to do so.

Apparently, his joy is on the line.

All true believers have probably experienced this phenomenon at some time or another. When you understand that eternity is on the line for someone you love deeply, you get blood earnest to pass on the message. I often run into parents whose children are straying, and who are anxious to correct them with the truth. Oftentimes they aren’t quite sure how to get the truth to them, but they are raring and ready to do it one way or another. Overall, I think this is healthy, though of course there is a way to pass on truth without overwhelming someone, and we need to be careful to heed the Spirit in our communication. Jesus didn’t unload everything all at once on His disciples (John 16:12).

How about you? Do you have a passion to communicate truth to those you love? You’ll know you’re on the right track when you find you can’t be happy until the ones you love know and believe the truth of the gospel.

 

For Monday, November 23rd: 1 John 2

 
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Posted by on November 20, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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