Posted in 2Corinthians, John, Matthew, Psalms, Romans

Satisfaction in God

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Matthew 5:6

Jesus knew what it was to hunger and thirst for righteousness, and the deep satisfaction that came when He did the next right thing the Father was calling Him to do. When He was at a well talking to a woman, the disciples offered Him food, but Jesus told them He had food they didn’t know about. When they asked about this, He replied, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work.” (John 4:34) When He was tempted in the desert, He told Satan that man lives on “every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4) The will of God and the word of God are how Jesus walked in righteousness and it’s how we experience the sustenance and life God gives today.

When natural hunger and thirst is satisfied by a delightful meal and beverage, it doesn’t mean that you’ll never be hungry and thirsty again. So it is with the will of God, the more you do it, the more satisfaction you have in it, and the more hungry and thirsty you are to have more of that which satisfies in the future.

But to do righteousness, you first have to be righteous. When we believe the gospel, God makes us right with Himself in Christ. He calls it the gift of righteousness. (See 2Corinthians 5:21; Romans 5:17) From this place of right standing with God, we can now hunger and thirst to do righteousness.

The good Shepherd promises to guide us “in the paths of righteousness for His Name’s sake.” (Psalm 23:3) He will always lead us to do the right thing (righteousness simply means doing what’s right) no matter what the circumstance. Even if we walk through the valley of the shadow of death or find ourselves in the very presence of our enemies, we never have to fear; all we have to do is choose to do what is right. If we will be led by righteousness, God promises that “goodness and mercy” will follow us all of our days. Jesus said something similar, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33)

We aren’t driven by fear that we won’t have the things we need; we are confident that we only need to hunger and thirst for righteousness, and God’s abundant provision will follow us. Yet our satisfaction transcends our bills being paid, and our mouths being fed; we get to experience the joy of knowing God and doing His will.

Posted in 1Corinthians, Ephesians, Philippians

Grace

“For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” Philippians 2:13

The Christian life is not difficult, it’s impossible. No one can produce what God desires in us other than God Himself. Religion of man may do a great deal of work and have impressive spiritual disciplines, but for all of its efforts, it cannot please God.

True Christianity is about grace through faith in Christ that produces both desire and power within a believer to do the will of God. It leaves no boast in the mouth of the believer except: “I am what I am by the grace of God.” (1Corinthians 15:10) In the way of grace, the believer stops “trying” to do good and learns to yield to the goodness of God inside of them.

The verse before the text quoted above reads: “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling…” (Philippians 2:12b) The recognition that God Himself is in us means that our “work” is learning how to yield to, and release, His wonderful grace within us. If we reflect more on what this means, there will be a greater sense of awe (fear and trembling) in our ordinary lives. Think of it: the uncreated God of eternity; the God who created the entire universe – lives in me. Wow!

We don’t read our Bibles, pray, worship, go to church, or do good works to gain intimacy with God. Intimacy is His gift to us through the cross. Our part is to accept this gift daily, and to learn how to “do” all spiritual things from the place of freely given grace instead of by a performance mentality of works.

Rejoice in the grace given to you by personalizing the following verse: “In love He predestined us (me) to be adopted as His children (child), in accordance with His pleasure and will – to the praise of His glorious grace which He has freely given us (me) in the One (Christ) He loves.” (Ephesians 1:4b-6)

Posted in John, Luke, Matthew

Is there a Fire in You?

“Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning.” Luke 12:35

We are called to carry a fire in us, the very light of life. (John 1:3) It is a fire of grace, meaning that only God can produce it and sustain it, yet we play an important part. Jesus commands all disciples: “keep your lamps burning.”

God’s revealed presence serves as the spark and lighter fluid to get the fire going. The Word of God in us serves as the kindling (the milk of the Word) and the large logs (the meat of the Word) which brings the fire to a blaze and makes a way for it to keep burning.

Jesus said, “If you abide in Me (His presence), and My word abides in you, you will ask whatever you wish and it will be done.” (John 15:7) When the fire of grace is burning in our hearts, our desires become purified to the point that they are unified with what God desires. When this happens there is great authority to bring the kingdom on this earth; our sin nature loses its hold without us having to try hard to fight it; and our lives bring others light and warmth in an effortless way. If you keep your lamp burning, everything else will kind of take care of itself!

So why do so few Christians today seem to have a fire burning in their hearts? Some love the presence of the Spirit but neglect the word. Their hearts are like pouring lighter fluid on a little kindling, lighting it, and watching it burn impressively for a brief period of time. When the fire goes out, they have to look for another meeting where the “Spirit’s moving,” and so eventually become disillusioned.

Others only want the word and neglect the importance of the presence of God. They presume, like the Pharisees, that because they diligently seek the Scriptures they are close to God. (John 5:39) This is like having a big log in your fireplace that is unlit. It may have great potential, but it can’t warm or purify anyone because there’s no fire.

Building a good fire is an art; keeping it going is a discipline. Jesus said He would not put out a smoldering wick (Matthew 12:20), so if we acknowledge our need He will bring us His flame again. John the Baptist said He came to “baptize us with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Matthew 3:11)

Posted in Hebrews, Isaiah, Psalms

Laying a Solid Foundation

“Let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works…” Hebrews 6:1

On August 1, 2007 a bridge in Minneapolis that crossed the Mississippi river collapsed killing 13 and injuring 145. The irony was that work was being done on the bridge at the time of the collapse; but it was the wrong work. One article summed up the types of things that were being done: “The construction taking place in the weeks prior to the collapse included replacing lighting, and guard rails. At the time of the collapse, four of the eight lanes were closed for resurfacing.” Because the foundational work was left undone, all the other work proved to be in vain. This is how it is in a Christianity that lacks repentance. It doesn’t matter how much we do, if we haven’t really repented and aren’t living a life of repentance, all our works are dead in God’s sight.

Hebrews 3:7-8; 3:15 and 4:7 all say the same thing: “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.” Repentance is not possible until God speaks to us. He can speak through His word as we read it, or through a preacher at church, or by a dream or vision in the night, or through an honest friend, or in difficult circumstances.  God has lots of ways to speak to us when He wants to get our attention.

When God speaks we need to agree with Him. David said, “Against You, You only, I have sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You are justified when You speak.” (Psalm 51:4) When we agree with what God says we justify Him; when we defend ourselves by making excuses for what we did, we justify ourselves. Hardening your heart toward God can actually mean softening your heart toward you by giving yourself unwarranted and unsanctified mercy for evil you have said, thought, or done. “It wasn’t that bad,” “he had it coming,” “I only spoke the truth,” “I was tired,” “Yeah, but she did that wrong thing first,” are just a few excuses that quickly come into our hearts when we seek to justify ourselves.

Let’s not live resurfacing the bridge when what it needs is foundation work. Rather, let’s each take time to seek our hearts and fully repent. Isaiah 30:15 gives the blessing that will result, “In repentance and rest you will be saved, in quietness and trust is your strength.”

Posted in John, Philippians, Psalms

Wanting what God Wants

“If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” John 15:7

Jesus gives us here the secret to authority in prayer. When we truly abide in Him by His Spirit, and allow His word to abide in us, our desires are transformed in such a way that what we want will be what God wants. Then we only need to ask with faith, so that heaven’s will can be done on earth. The difficulty of course is that no one perfectly abides in Him, nor does His word perfectly abide in anyone, so we are confined to a process of transformation. As we walk with Him there is more and more authority in our prayer life because we become more and more filled with His desires.

This truth also gives light to another remarkable promise: “Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be full.” (John 16:24) Some have thought this to be a simple matter of tagging the name of Jesus on to your prayer and you will get whatever you ask for. After praying in this way, you will find that this isn’t how it works and may conclude that Jesus exaggerated in His promise because you “… prayed in Jesus name according to this promise and it didn’t work!” Praying in His name means more than a postscript to a request we make of God. It means to be in union with Him, it is in fact a matter of the vine (Jesus) giving life to the prayer that comes out of the branches (us). As we live in His name, we will find increasing confidence to pray in His name.

The Old Testament scripture that underlies this truth is found in Psalm 37:4: “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” When we delight in God by allowing His Spirit to dwell in us and His Word to be our daily food, He gives us His desires and puts them in our hearts, so that what we want is what He wants. True freedom is not just having the power to do what is right; it is having the desire to do what is right. As we become one with God through Jesus our life becomes easier and easier because our own carnal desires are put down and His desires become stronger in us. As Paul said: “It is God at work in you, both to will (desire) and to work for His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13)

Posted in Hebrews, John, Romans

The Purpose of Pruning

“Every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.” John 15:2

When we lived in Montevideo, MN we had some friends that decided they were going to surprise us while we were away at a conference by working on our yard. Included in their work was the pruning of our front bushes. When I first saw them I was shocked. Our once large, robust bushes looked like they were little, puny twigs stuck in the ground that were about to die. Fortunately one of the women saw my concern and assured me that this was actually a good thing, and that the pruning process was important for the bush. I took her word for it, but still thought that anyone passing by in the near future would be very unimpressed with our bushes.

Jesus said that if we please God by bearing fruit, God will prune us back, so that we will eventually bear more fruit. God always sees things from His eternal perspective. He sees our pain, but He still does what is best for the long term with, what seems to us, little regard for our short term comfort. As human beings we usually consider short term comfort before long term benefit, and can easily be offended that God doesn’t see it our way. “If God truly loved people then He would…” Our own ideas of what God’s love should look like can easily rob us of faith.

God’s end is to transform us into the image of His glorious Son. (Romans 8:29) He is firm in His purpose, so our lives will be a lot easier if we agree with His plan and try to work with it instead of resisting it. Hebrews 12:5 gives the two wrong responses to the pruning process called the Lord’s discipline:

  1. Don’t take it lightly – embrace God’s dealings with you and respond quickly. Blowing off conviction will only lead to God bringing the correction at a later time and usually in a bigger way. 
  2.  Don’t become discouraged – when life is hard we often conclude that God is angry with us or is somehow not pleased. Don’t jump to conclusions! Check your conscience, and if everything is clear then just trust that the God who delights in you is doing a little pruning so that your long term joy will be maximized. 

Part of God’s plan is that we supply comfort to each other while they are being pruned. Let’s be sensitive, gentle, and loving to people who are going through difficulties knowing full well that we may need comfort from them tomorrow.

Posted in Galatians, John, Matthew

The Root of all Fruit

“I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” John 15:5

The problem with this passage is that God allows people to do a lot apart from Him. People are busy everywhere promoting themselves and their ambitions, building their little mini-kingdoms, and constructing towers that reach to heaven just like Babylon of old. And God allows it all, for a time. When Jesus says, “…apart from Me you can do nothing,” He means nothing that is born of God, nothing that is beautiful, and nothing that will last. The fruit He would give those who allowed His life to live through them, He promised, would remain, not just through time, but for all eternity. (John 15:16)

The root of this fruit is a humility which agrees with God that we can do nothing truly good apart from Him. Without this agreement our Christianity amounts to sincere people trying to look like Jesus by their own commitment and constantly failing, instead of fully surrendered lives which allow Christ to live His powerful life through them. The gospel doesn’t just call us to do good, it shows us the way. We must die to our old selfish nature, not dress it up with the appearance of good, and then we must allow Christ to live through us by the new nature He has given us. Paul, one of the most fruitful Christians who ever lived, said it this way: “I am crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

Jesus gave in the first beatitude the secret to all the other ones, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:1) When we agree that we have no righteousness of our own, we are able to embrace His. When we embrace our poverty apart from Him, all of heaven’s resources become ours. Four times in the gospels Jesus says the words, “whoever exalts himself will be humbled, but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

Benjamin Franklin, a deist who never embraced Christianity, sought with all his power to master the virtues. He claimed that after many years of seeking perfection there was only one virtue that escaped him: humility. The difficulty was that whenever he did a good job being humble he found he was proud about it. The pride in a human heart can only be conquered by the Savior.

Posted in 2Corinthians, Isaiah, Romans

The Righteousness of God

“I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes; first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’” Romans 1:16-17

The good news (gospel) is that a righteousness from God is available to us today because of what Christ did on the cross. This righteousness cannot be earned but only embraced through faith; it is God’s gift to those who will receive it. God is so holy that even our seemingly righteous acts appear like filthy rags to Him, (Isaiah 64:6) so He sent His Son to do for us, what we could not do for ourselves. “God made Him who had not sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2Corinthians 5:21)

God’s Spirit made this passage in Romans come alive to a young, miserable monk named Martin Luther while studying in Wittenburg, Germany in 1513-1515. Here are his words about the experience:

“I sought day and night to make out the meaning of Paul; and at last I came to apprehend it thus: Through the gospel is revealed the righteousness which availeth with God – a righteousness by which God, in His mercy and compassion, justifieth us; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.’ Straightway I felt as if I were born anew. It was as if I had found the door of Paradise thrown wide open. Now I saw the Scriptures altogether in a new light – I ran through their whole contents as far as my memory would serve, and compared them, and found that this righteousness was really that by which God makes us righteous, because everything else in Scripture agreed thereunto so well. The expression, ‘the righteousness of God,’ which I so much hated before, now became dear and precious – my darling and comforting word.”

No religious effort or philosophical ideal can produce what God Himself has done for us in Christ. In Him we are righteous! Embrace it, speak it, and walk it out because this simple truth has the power to save everyone who believes.

Posted in John

The Seriousness of Sin

“’Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?’ She said, ‘No one, Lord.’ And Jesus said, ‘I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.’” John 8:10-11

Yesterday we looked at how the power to overcome sin is in hearing deeply in our hearts the truth of the cross, “I do not condemn you.” Today I want to look at the phrase after forgiveness has been secured, “From now on sin no more.”

Sin is not a popular topic in America today. We like to do our own thing, in our own way, and in our own timing without any interference from God. God is fine when we need help, but He had better not encroach on our “freedoms.” Hollywood has relentlessly told our culture that there is no sin in immorality and this message has taken a firm hold. Think for a moment of the price America has paid for neglecting God’s law in this one area.

If we had obeyed God’s boundaries instead of our passions there would have been no abortions (or the guilt and shame that go with them), no venereal diseases, no aids, no pornography industry, no rapes, no molestations, few divorces, few single parent homes, and no need for all the government programs that try to meet all of these needs. There would also be much less heartbreak as well as less depression and despair that often accompany a sexual relationship that has gone bad.

But before we blame America, let’s look at the church. The church has seemingly little power to “sin no more” according to all of George Barna’s research on church morality. As long as we’re acting just like the world, how can the world be expected to repent and turn to Jesus?

What is the gospel’s position on sin? Is it, “Go, and keep on sinning because I’ve died for you?” or “Go, for there is no such thing as sin anymore?” or “Go, sin’s not a big deal now that I have died for you?”

Jesus said, “Go. From now on sin no more.” He came to wash us of sin and the shame and guilt that accompany it, but He now expects us to be pursuing a lifestyle that is at least seeking to be free from sin. He forgives us again when we are seriously trying but fall because of weakness and immaturity, but that is different from a flippant attitude that presumes on God’s grace.

Let’s purpose to hear in our hearts His words of grace, “I do not condemn you,” and go from that place empowered to live for Jesus free from sin’s grip.

Posted in 1John, John

Free from Condemnation

“’Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?’ She said, ‘No one, Lord.’ And Jesus said, ‘I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.’” John 8:10-11

Today I want to write about the first part of what Jesus said, “I do not condemn you, either.” Tomorrow we will look at the second phrase, “From now on sin no more.”

The Pharisees witnessed an outward act of sin and were ready to stone this woman who they roughly threw before Jesus. Jesus looked at her and saw not just the act of sin but everything behind the act: the fear, the previous abuse at the hands of men, the financial need, the guilt and shame… whatever it was that brought this precious creation of God to this horrible place of darkness. This is why Jesus warns us about judging people.  We simply don’t know all of what is going on in a person’s heart or the circumstances that are behind their present behavior. When Jesus saw her, He saw the reason that He had come. “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” (John 3:17)

Jesus loves you and me. When He comes to our darkness it is not to punish or condemn us, but to call us into the salvation He has provided. When condemnation rests on our spirit we feel shame and guilt that only serve to keep us doing the things that brought the shame and guilt in the first place. If you think God is only saying in a stern voice, “Sin no more,” you won’t be able to stay free because the power of freedom is in knowing that He has freed us from condemnation.

Jesus gives the truth that frees us from the slavery of sin later in this same chapter: “The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:35-36) The slave’s place in the house is only secured by performance and so the slave lives driven by the fear of not being good enough. The way Jesus frees us is by making us children that know they have a permanent place. The key is first believing that we really are children, dearly loved by the Father (1John 3:1-3), and then living out of that identity. This is easy to agree with in our heads, but it’s only when it is real in our hearts that we find the power to “sin no more.”