Posted in 1John

Staying Free from Idolatry

“Dear children, guard yourselves from idols.” 1John 5:21

I received a phone call while I was pastoring in Minnesota from a third grader.

“Pastor Tom, this is Taylor, and I need to talk to you.”

In all my years of ministry, I had never been called by a little kid and had rarely heard such urgency in anyone’s voice.  Then his mom came on the phone to set up a time when she could bring Taylor in for a meeting. What could this possibly be about, I wondered. Has he been abused? Is he having nightmares? Why couldn’t it wait until Sunday, or why couldn’t he just talk to his parents about it?

The next day, Taylor and his mom arrived at the appointed time and he opened his heart to me. “I love a video game more than I love Jesus,” was what he finally got off his chest. “It’s what I think about in the morning when I wake up and it’s what I think about when I go to bed. I used to think about Jesus, but now it’s this game. What should I do?”

I knew I needed to be careful. His tender conscience could easily have been convinced that all video games are wrong and that he should never play one again. It also would have been easy to minimize an experience he was having, where the Holy Spirit was making him aware that nothing should be more important than God. I ended up saying something like this:

“Taylor, there’s nothing wrong with playing video games; God wants little boys to have fun and excitement. But it’s also important to keep God first, and to not have idols. Why don’t we ask God to forgive you for putting this game before Him, and then you take a time of fasting from the game. After that, you could try playing it again, and we’ll see if God doesn’t break the hold it’s having on you now.”

He thought that was great and we had a time of prayer where he poured out his young heart to Jesus and asked His forgiveness. 

The Apostle John tells us to guard ourselves from idols. An idol is anything you regularly look to as a source of comfort and motivation that’s not God; something that takes God’s place. It can be a person, an addiction, money, work, looks, education, television, and yes, it could even be a video game. We need to guard ourselves from even good things that become too central in our lives.

Posted in 1John, 2Corinthians, John

Assurance of Forgiveness

“If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1John 1:9

 When we come to Jesus in simple faith and trust Him for our salvation we become “righteous,” or right with God.  The gospel isn’t about what I can do for God, but about what God did for me on the cross.  “He who knew no sin (Jesus), became sin, in order that we (I) might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2Corinthians 5:21)

 Yet as Christians we are still broken in many ways and that leads to unplanned sins.  God’s presence and power are in us and as we walk with Him He is gradually healing us, but it is a process and not an immediate result.  Until we’re completely healed (which actually won’t be until heaven!), we’re going to need many new beginnings.  God knew this, so He promised to forgive us along the way.

 His forgiveness is “just” in His eyes because Jesus already died for those sins.  He doesn’t arbitrarily forgive sins just because He loves us; He forgives us when we’re in Christ because the full punishment for sin has already been paid.  Because of Jesus, the only sin that can’t be forgiven is the one we are unwilling to confess. (See John 9:41)

 Be honest and be humble.  Keep short accounts with God and know that He is gradually healing you on the inside, so you won’t have to confess the same things over and over forever.  As we’re healed in one area, however, He will start shining His light on another.  All we have to do is keep walking in the light (John 1:7) which is another way of saying we simply need to walk with God.

Posted in 1John, John

Assurance of Salvation

“The testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.  He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son does not have the life.  These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” 1John 5:11-13

Assurance of salvation begins with the sinner’s prayer and the name of Jesus on our lips, and it grows as the nature of Jesus transforms our lives from the inside out. Salvation isn’t in a prayer, an altar call, or in a baptismal tank; it’s in a Person.  “He who has the Son has the life.”  Jesus said, “I am the way and truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except by Me.” (John 14:6)

God doesn’t want us to live trying to be accepted by Him.  We get to start the Christian life with assurance that salvation is not about our performance, but Jesus’ perfect sacrifice on our behalf.  We begin being accepted, forgiven, loved, and favored as God’s very own children. (1John 3:1-3)  To be in God’s family and to take His name is a great privilege, and God’s will for each of us.

But we must remain in Jesus to be saved.  We can’t reject the ongoing relationship and expect that an event in our past will save us; that’s presumption and produces a false assurance.  Jesus said it this way, “If anyone does not remain in Me they are cut off like a branch that withers and is thrown into the fire.” (John 15:6)

Jesus is the Friend of sinners and He takes all that come to Him just as they are. (John 6:37)  But we must receive Him just as He is, and He is both Savior and Lord.  We can’t take the benefits of forgiveness and reject the call to follow Him.  Here’s another way of saying it:  We can’t just add Jesus to our life and expect to be saved.  Jesus must become our life, and following Him must be our primary identity.

Posted in 1John, 1Timothy, 2Peter, Ephesians, Galatians, Hebrews, John, Psalms, Romans

The Value of Godliness

“Train yourself to be godly.  Physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” 1Timothy 4:7-8

 To train ourselves to be godly is to reorder our lives in a way that makes living close to God our highest priority.  Asaph said, “the nearness of God is my good.” (Psalm 73:28)  In what way is godliness good for us?

 First, Paul says it’s valuable in this present life.  Later in his letter he gives a qualifier: “Godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into this world, and we cannot take anything out.” (6:6-7)  The more we pursue godliness with contentment the more we live defined by God and the more all other definitions fade away.  We are not our financial net worth, or what other people think we are, or even how we define ourselves – we are God’s masterpiece! (Ephesians 2:10)  Only the godly grow away from the traps of this world into their true identity.  Letting the One who loved us and gave Himself up for us (Galatians 2:20) be the One who defines us is tremendously liberating.  His perfect love drives out fear and insecurity (1John 4:18), so that we can simply be ourselves filled with His Holy Spirit.

 Then Paul says godliness has value for the life to come.  Asaph says that those who live “far from You will perish; You put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to You.” (Psalm 73:27)  The ungodly will “perish like beasts” (2Peter 2:12) and “be consumed” eventually in the eternal fire (Hebrews 10:27), but the godly will share eternal life with God.  This is the simple gospel: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

 Godliness begins by forsaking our own works and by putting our trust in Jesus Christ because salvation is God’s gift to us.  “Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness (right standing with God!).” (Romans 4:4-5)

Posted in 1John, 1Samuel, John, Luke, Psalms

The Father’s Joy

“He brought me out into a spacious place; He rescued me because He delighted in me.” Psalm 18:19

David experienced the positive side of God’s passion. Knowing this delight is the secret to great faith.

God’s love and delight in me means that, of course, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” (1Samuel 17:37) Perfect love casts out all fear. (1John 4:18) Perfect love is not my love for God, it’s His love for me. When this truth goes from being our theology to our identity, great faith is easy.

Yet this truth can be hard to grasp in our hearts, so Jesus gave us three stories in Luke 15 to explain the Father’s joy in us. The Father is like a shepherd looking for a lost sheep. When he finds it there is great joy and this is how all of heaven feels when one sinner repents. God feels like the woman who searches for a lost coin of precious value (Notice that it doesn’t lose its value because it’s lost!). When she finds it, she rejoices, because that which was lost to her has been found.

And then He tells of an earthly father that runs to welcome back his prodigal son. Instead of reminding him of the hurt the son has caused, the father, in his joy, throws an extravagant party for him.

The prodigal thought it was all about his bad behavior so he planned on coming back as a hired man instead of as a son. (Luke 15:19) The older brother thought it was about his good behavior so he was confused as to why he hadn’t received more, and was angry about his father’s welcome of the prodigal. (Luke 15:29-30) But it’s not about behavior; it’s about relationship. God knows that apart from grace we can’t be good, and that when we’re in Christ we can’t help but bear good fruit. (John 15:5)

The Father’s joy is in you! Have you come into the party called grace or are you standing outside because of the shame of sin, or the self-righteousness of pride?

Say it to yourself: “I am God’s delight. Not because I’m good, but because I’m His.” This is not just our experience when we first receive forgiveness; this is our name, our very identity. Believe it!

Posted in 1John, John, Philippians, Psalms, Romans

The Will of God

“My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and accomplish His work.” John 4:34

Consider with me three things about the will of God: the delight, the cost, and the result.

The delight. David said that when Messiah came He would proclaim, “I delight to do Your will O My God, Your law is within My heart.” (Psalm 40:8) In the text above we have Jesus saying that the will of God is His hidden food, sustenance, and supply. Jesus’ yoke was easy and His burden was light because He never measured Himself by anything or anyone else – it was enough to do the will of God. Life can be very complicated, but when your passion is the will of God the questions change. It is no longer “what will I choose to do,” but only, “what is the will of God so I can obey.” Deciding to do God’s will, whatever it is, answers a thousand other questions for you. For instance, you don’t have to decide whether to forgive someone or not. You always forgive because He’s forgiven you.

The cost. Jesus prayed, “not My will, but Yours be done.” He didn’t finish the work God gave Him to do until He said, “It is finished,” on the cross. He did work for us that we couldn’t do for ourselves which is why the beginning of us doing the will of God must be putting our faith in Christ. But there’s a cross for us as well if we really want to accomplish God’s plan. Romans 12:1-2 says, “In view of God’s mercy, present your bodies as a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” We must offer ourselves before God as a sacrifice willing to do anything, before we will be able to walk out the specific plan He has for us.

The result. Because Jesus obeyed He was given the highest Name and the greatest place in all the universe. (Philippians 2:11) When we do the will of God we end up sharing in His glory forever and ever. “The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.” (1John 2:17)

Posted in 1John, John

Answered Prayer

“Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full.” John 16:24

Oswald Chambers is convinced that prayer is more about coming into union with God than it is about getting things. The condition Jesus places on answered prayer is to ask “in My name.” What does that mean? Is it just a postscript at the end of a prayer, “…and we ask this in Jesus Name. Amen.”, or is it something more? Jesus makes another reference to answered prayer in the chapter before: “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) Two conditions: union with His presence, “if you abide in Me;” and with His word, “… and My words abide in you.” What if “in My name” means “in union with My nature and purpose to the degree that it is no longer your prayer but our prayer?” Jesus always gets His prayers answered and we always get ours answered when we are so in union with Him that two have become one, and our prayer is indistinguishable from His.

1John 5:14-15 would be in agreement with this thought: “This is the confidence which we have before Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him.” The key is being one with His will which means intimacy before asking. We shouldn’t be trying to get what we want from God, but rather, trying to get what He wants inside of us. Before His will is done on earth someone needs to voluntarily pray it from here but I don’t think we can do that unless we are intimate enough to really pray in His name. Prayer is vital, but for it to be effective our first goal must be union with God. Only then will our joy be full.

Posted in 1John, Acts, Matthew, Romans

Overreaching

“The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed…We who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” Romans 8:19; 23

My favorite board game is called Ticket to Ride. It involves “tickets” you choose to keep or throw away based on whether you think you can build the trains necessary to connect the two cities listed on the card; it’s all about risk and reward. The problem, of course, is that if you overreach and take a ticket you can’t fulfill, it counts against you in the end. You can be having a great game but then, in a moment of presumption, overreach in a way that causes you to lose in the end.

Overreaching in preaching leads people to disillusionment. Some very zealous teachers today believe that this is the time that the sons of God are going to be fully revealed and begin to remove the curse on creation. As we walk in our full authority, they maintain, everything will change for the better on this earth.

While it is critically important for us to know our identity in Christ, the event creation is longing for only occurs at the return of Christ where our adoption is completed and our bodies are redeemed. The full manifestation of the sons of God happens at the second coming; not in this present age. John said it like this: “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not yet appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.” (1John 3:2)

Right now we groan with all of creation and the Holy Spirit within us also groans (Romans 8:26-27) because things aren’t right yet and they won’t be until Jesus comes back. Life in this present age is hard, but God is still good. When Jesus described the time we’re now living in He said the wind and the waves were going to hit every life. He promised that those who obeyed His words would survive the storms, not be saved from them ever happening. (Matthew 7:24-27)

I love it when people are excited about Jesus, but we never have permission to overstate what we have been promised. No matter how much we may like a preacher, we have a responsibility to judge all that we hear by what the Word of God actually says. (Acts 17:11)

Posted in 1John, 2Corinthians, Hebrews, Isaiah, James, Matthew, Revelation

Drawing Near

“Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” James 4:8

The remarkable thing about the New Covenant is that it gives us as much of God as we want. The Old Covenant featured a veil which stood between sinful humanity and a holy God. It served as a reminder that God needed to keep a safe distance from us, or we might easily be struck down by the consuming fire He is. (Hebrews 12:29)

Everything today has changed because of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The veil, it turns out, was a picture of Christ’s body. (Hebrews 10:20) When Jesus was crucified as the sacrifice for our sins, the veil in the temple was torn from top to bottom. (Matthew 27:51) We now have access to God 24/7 and are encouraged to “draw near with confidence having our hearts cleansed from a guilty conscience.” (Hebrews 10:22)

We don’t have to live far from God! Don’t let fear, confusion, regrets, discouragement, distractions, or even struggles with sin keep you away from nearness to God. No one cleans up before they take a shower – the purpose of the shower is to clean you up. Don’t clean up for God, draw near and God will clean up your life without you even focusing on it. Here’s how He cleans us up in His Presence:

  1. His perfect love casts out fear. (1John 4:18)
  2. The clouds of confusion are cleared by the lens of eternity. (2Corinthians 4:18)
  3. He gives us His beauty in place of the ashes of our regrets. (Isaiah 61:3)
  4. He releases joy which replaces discouragement. (Isaiah 61:3)
  5. His blood silences every accusation against us and gives us a new beginning without sin. (Revelation 12:10-11)

God likes us, and He has done everything to welcome us into His presence which is the ultimate answer to every one of our problems. To live far away from God is to miss the main purpose for living.

Posted in 1John, John

A World at Spiritual War

“I have given them Your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world.” John 17:14

When Morpheus offers Neo the choice of two pills in The Matrix he explains that the blue pill will put him back in his bed and back under the deception the world lives under. The red pill will give him the truth and a life of discomfort because he will see “how deep the rabbit hole is in Wonderland.” Neo said earlier that he sensed deep within himself that something was wrong with the world, but the reality of how bad it is will be shocking to him.

When John says that “…the whole world lies in the power of the evil one,” (1John 5:19) he is only expounding on the worldview of Jesus. There is something deeply wrong in the world around us beyond what the eyes can see. The spirit of the world, “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life,” (1John 2:15) is being breathed on by spiritual darkness that is in opposition to God and His rule. Human beings have been born into this conflict and every one of us has to choose each day whether we will pretend all is well, or to embrace the truth. If Neo chooses the blue pill, Morpheus tells him he will find himself back in the comfort of his bed and then he can “believe whatever he wants to believe.” A lot of that is going on today, even in Christian circles.

It becomes us to embrace the worldview of Jesus so that we will live wisely in this present age, and be a light to those in darkness. The only way those under the world’s spirit will be able to see Jesus is if we look different than them yet continue to love them. This is the challenge in a world at spiritual war.