Posted in 1John, 2Corinthians

Taking the Trash Out 

“But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place.” 2Corinthians 2:14

Alice and I once returned to our home to a horrible smell. Something was rotting in our trash can so we quickly tied up the bag and moved it to the outside garbage bin in our garage. The smell was so bad that I was already looking forward to Monday morning when I would take it to the curb and the trash man would take it off our property forever.

A Christian’s life is supposed to smell like faith, hope, and love; “the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him,” but sometimes it smells like something else. In our trash cupboard there is one bin for trash and one for recyclables. There are at least three bins in the Christian life that need to be quickly tied up and given to God or a bad smell starts coming from our lives.

  1. The sin bin – When the Holy Spirit makes it clear to us that we have sinned against God or people we need to quickly and fully confess and repent. If we justify ourselves it doesn’t go away, it starts smelling like condemnation. The Holy Spirit exposes our sin because it comes between us and God and wants only for us to confess it so we will have confidence again. (1 John 1:9)
  2. The trouble bin – Part of living on this planet is that we face various types of troubles every single day. If we don’t get them to God right away our lives start smelling like anxiety and eventually fear. God allows troubles because He wants us to trust Him and to get to know Him through His intimate care of us.
  3. The disappointment bin – When we are disappointed with God or people we become vulnerable so we must give our disappointments quickly to God. When we don’t, they turn into discouragement and if we let discouragement go long enough, it becomes depression.

You know, there’s an interesting thing about our trash man – he will only take the things that are at the curb. He never comes into my garage looking for the garbage. If it’s not at the curb, it doesn’t get picked up. It’s time to let go and let God!

Posted in 1John, Luke, Matthew

Increase Our Faith

“The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’” … “So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have done only that which we ought to have done.’” Luke 17:5; 10

In response to His disciples request for increased faith, Jesus told about a servant who shouldn’t think he deserves anything special for all his work. What does this have to do with faith?

If you approach God as a servant who is looking for pay you will limit grace in your life because grace isn’t given on those terms. Serve God and keep His commandments because you love Him, but don’t allow a spirit of entitlement to get on you because of your sacrifice or great devotion. After you’ve obeyed God completely, remind yourself, “I am an unworthy (undeserving) servant. God owes me nothing.”

In obedience, we must think of ourselves as servants, but in prayer we must take our position as beloved children. (1John 3:1)  A master gives a servant wages based on the servant’s performance, but a father gives his children gifts based only on his love and available resources. Jesus said to us, “If you being evil know how to give good gifts to your children how much more will the heavenly Father give good things to those who ask Him.” (Matthew 7:11) In Luke’s gospel He says the Father gives “the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him.” The Father gives good gifts, natural and spiritual, not to those who are good, but to those who ask as His children.

Jesus said to pray as children of God, saying, “our Father.” We are adopted children who come to God through the blood of Christ with only the claim that we are loved, and we are His.

One of my favorite Dennis the Menace cartoons shows Dennis and his friend, Joey, eating a plate of cookies. Joey asks: “I wonder what we did that Mrs. Wilson made us a plate of cookies?” Dennis explains: “Joey, Mrs. Wilson doesn’t make us cookies because we’re good; Mrs. Wilson makes us cookies because Mrs. Wilson is good!”

The gospel is not about our performance, but about God’s generosity. To have increasing faith, we need to think of ourselves as both unworthy servants, and God’s favored children.

Posted in 1John, Hebrews, James

Cleansed from Dead Works

“How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” Hebrews 9:14

What an amazing verse showing a glimpse of the Trinity working together in our redemption. Christ, who shed His blood for us, offers Himself through the Holy Spirit to God the Father who accepts His sacrifice on our behalf. The result is that we are cleansed of dead works. What are dead works? I think they may look like good works, but are from a wrong motive so they are dead in God’s sight even though they may be considered right in man’s. Hebrews 10:2 says that the power of Christ’s sacrifice is that we no longer need to feel guilty for our sins. It’s why His sacrifice is superior to the Old Testament sacrifices that could never remove the feeling of guilt but only added to the consciousness of sins.

It is easy as a Christian to live in guilt instead of grace. We feel guilty or condemned so we let that motivate us to do the right thing or, “to do our duty,” regardless of how we feel. We hope that by performing the act that guilt demands we will be relieved of guilt’s hold on us. The problem is that when we are done performing that act we will only feel guilty again for not performing another. Guilt is an insatiable taskmaster that makes you miserable and everyone around you miserable.

God has another solution for our guilt; He wants us to bring it to Him. If it is legitimate guilt because of sin, He wants us to ask forgiveness so that He can cleanse us, not by our performance, but by Christ’s performance for us on the cross. (1John 1:9) If it is illegitimate guilt, or condemnation, He wants to expose its source so we can take a stand against the accuser. “Submit yourselves then to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7) If Satan can’t keep us from Christ, He will try to make us unfruitful in Christ.

God loves us and He has died for us, so that we will have a life-giving and guilt free relationship with Him. “What can wash away my sin?  Nothing but the blood of Jesus!”

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.