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 Ephesians, Matthew, Revelation

Choosing Jesus In The Darkness

“As I watched the Lamb broke the first of the seven seals on the scroll.” Revelation 6:1

In Matthew 24, Jesus gives to us the conditions on earth while the gospel is preached: false religion, wars, natural disasters, and persecution of the truth that in some instances ends in martyrdom.

In Revelation 6, we see these same four conditions but they are seen from heaven’s perspective. They are not incidental; they are necessary before the day of the Lord can come.

Seals were not part of a Jewish legal document – they were on the outside and represented conditions that had to be met before the document could be opened or enforced. Jesus is the only One who is worthy to break the seals which lead to the coming day of the Lord, but we must ask, “Why?” Why has God insisted that the gospel be preached in such darkness before He comes to actively rule the world?

Here’s my opinion: He wanted us to choose Him in the darkness, so we never reject Him again for all eternity. The first group, the angels, chose Him in the light and eventually a third fell away. Angels have free will even as we do, and a third of them chose self-rule over God’s rule even while living in a perfect heaven, and beholding God’s beauty face to face.

By having us choose Him in the midst of darkness, in the midst of the worst conditions and the ugliness of sin and horrors of the curse, it will be almost impossible for us to reject Him when we see Him face to face in the light and glory of heaven.

Ephesians 3:10-11 says this: “God’s purpose was to use the church to display His wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in heavenly places. This was His eternal plan, which He carried out through Christ Jesus our Lord.” “All” means both the angels that fell away and those who remained true.

Those who fell away are judged as they see the church choose Him even while they can barely see Him, when they had rejected Him while seeing the beauty, glory, and power with absolute clarity. Those who remained loyal see through Christ’s coming and the church’s devotion more of the beauty of God’s love and humility. This strengthens them, I can imagine, and further secures them from the danger of ever falling away in the future.

When the day of the Lord begins, every eye will be able to see God’s active judgment and redemption, but right now we must choose Him in the darkness. God Himself has ordained this!

Posted in Ephesians, Luke, Romans

The Generosity of God

“Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?” Romans 8:32

Any sense of entitlement in us will undermine our faith. God never gives to us because He has to; He gives because He wants to. The gospel starts by revealing to us that God owes us nothing but hell because of our sins, and then proceeds to show us His kind intention of adopting us as His sons and daughters. (Ephesians 1:4-6)

I was speaking in Uganda about entitlement and told a story where God revealed to me that I had been waiting for an apology from Him. I felt I had been mistreated just like Job and the older brother did (Luke 15:26-31), and that attitude was keeping me from experiencing the generosity of God.

After I was done speaking a woman found me and said I had to talk with her friend, Annette. Annette was laying on a mat on the floor of the church and was unable to get up because of crippling pain in her back. Through an interpreter, Annette told me that God spoke to her through the message. She had experienced a number of setbacks and had been angry with God. Now she was free because God showed her she needed to let go of her bad attitude.

I felt in my heart that God now wanted to heal her body, so I asked if I could pray for her back. After a brief prayer, I told her to move her back around and eventually told her to stand up. As she did, tears started to pour down her face.

“Ask her why she’s crying,” I said to the interpreter.

The answer was what I was hoping: “She says God is healing her back.”

Before my next teaching, she came to the front with the joy of the Lord on her face and gave testimony to what God had done in her heart and then in her body. Everyone then rejoiced in the generosity of God.

Sometimes we become focused on the outward miracle we need while having the wrong attitude in our heart. Do you feel God owes you something because of your obedience, sacrifice, or prayers? Why not lay down your disappointment, acknowledge that God is not in your debt, and focus on His generosity?

“He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all – how will He not, also along with Him, graciously give us all things” (Romans 8:32)

Posted in Ephesians, Psalms

The Heartbeat of Missions

“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints.” Ephesians 1:18

The modern missions movement is often cited as beginning in 1732 when two Moravians by the names of Johann Dober and David Nitschmann were willing to sell themselves into slavery to reach the natives of the West Indies with the gospel. It wasn’t their act of going that became the heartbeat of missions, it was why they were going. Why would they leave the comfort of their homes and families to go reach people they had never met?

It is said that they called out to their loved ones on shore as the ship pulled away, “May the Lamb that was slain receive the reward of His suffering!” It wasn’t their love for humanity that called to them; or the fear that people would perish in hell if they weren’t reached with the gospel; it was their burning love for Jesus.

The gospel promises forgiveness and eternal life for us, but the Father isn’t just thinking of what we get; He’s thinking about what His Son gets. He had promised Him in eternity that if He would be born as a son of man, He would be given the nations as His inheritance. (Psalm 2:7-8) Think of it: Jesus died and shed His blood for every human being that you know. If He got His full inheritance, everyone would worship Him, love Him, serve Him, and follow Him.

We all have loved ones we want to reach for the gospel because we want them to be with us in heaven. Maybe instead of praying God would save them for their sake, or for our sake, we should pray that the Father would draw them, so that the Lamb of God might receive the reward of His suffering!

Posted in 2Chronicles, Ephesians, Isaiah, Proverbs

Standing Firm in Your Faith

“If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.” Isaiah 7:9b

News that Ephraim and Aram had joined forces to attack Judah resulted in king Ahaz being gripped with fear. The Bible says his heart was “…shaken, as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind.” (Isaiah 7:2) He would either stand firm in his faith, or he would fall – those were the only two options. In easier more peaceful times you can get by without really believing, but when everything is shaking around you, you either believe God, for real, or you become a victim of fear.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” (Proverbs 3:5) When our situation is confusing and intimidating we must lean on God directly, not on our understanding of the circumstances, or even on our understanding of God. He is able to make us stand in the storm, and after we have passed His test, is equally able to speak “peace, be still,” to our situation. When He does the wind and waves of our circumstances will calm down, and we will see the deliverance of God. But it all starts with us standing in faith while everything still looks bad.

“Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then…” (Ephesians 6:13-14a) If God tells you to do something, do it, but after doing it, only “stand firm.” Don’t worry, don’t strive, don’t doubt, don’t wrestle… just stand. Evil will take its swing at you and me, and God will allow it, but if we stand in our faith, it will come to nothing. Believe in God’s promises; trust in His character; and then “stand still and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf.” (2Chronicles 20:17)

Posted in Ephesians, Matthew

Asking Prayer

“Ask and it will be given to you.” Matthew 7:7

In seeking prayer we seek God for who He is; in knocking prayer we persistently knock for the influence of the Holy Spirit on others; and in asking prayer we ask for our own needs. Jesus said we didn’t need to use many words in asking prayer because “your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” If He already knows, why ask? God wants us to get to know His generosity and love through answered prayer, and He strategically uses delays in answers to refine our character.

Believing is especially central to asking prayer. Jesus said, “And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.” (Matthew 21:22) Believing what? Believing that God will give it exactly when and how you want it? Or do we simply believe God is good; He hears our prayer and He will answer it in His own way and in His own time? Martin Luther believed it was the latter:

“We are to lay our need before God in prayer but not prescribe to God a measure, manner, time, or place. We must leave that to God, for He may wish to give it to us in another, perhaps better, way than we think is best. Frequently we do not know what to pray as St. Paul says in Romans 8, and we know that God’s ways are above all that we can ever understand as He says in Ephesians 3. Therefore, we should have no doubt that our prayer is acceptable and heard, and we must leave to God the measure, manner, time, and place, for God will surely do what is right.” (Devotional Classics; pg 117)

A couple of months ago I was praying about a frustrating situation and instructing God exactly when He needed to have this problem fixed by, and if not, I was going to have to do something drastic. After I was done with my little tirade, I heard a one word whisper in my mind that I believe was the Holy Spirit speaking: “Really?” I was instantly repentant of my attitude. I’m not going to take over; I’m going to wait for God’s timing and allow the process to refine my soul.

Ephesians 3:20 is a verse that gives God a lot of latitude in how He answers prayer: “God is able to do far above all you ask or think…” We don’t have to ask perfectly or even think of how God might do it; our part is to pray with childlike faith and trust that our God will take it from there. Ask and it will be given to you.

Posted in Ephesians, James

Sinners or Saints?

“Paul,…to the saints that are at Ephesus.” Ephesians 1:1

“Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” James 4:8

So which are we sinners or saints? I think we’re both and need to keep in touch with both identities.

Some go by the saying, “only a sinner saved by grace.” If all we are is forgiven sinners then the only message we have to the world is forgiveness. However important this message is, it is often hard for unbelievers to see their need when they don’t see any difference between their lives and ours. The “sinner” identity certainly makes you relatable to people, but it won’t change your life. We are more than sinners saved by grace. In Christ we are new creations who have His very life in us transforming us from glory to glory. If we have a message of forgiveness but no real changes in our life to back it up, why would anyone think that our message is any more true than what they’re already believing?

Others are so excited about being “saints,” they no longer want to be identified as sinners. One group in Christianity changed the words of Amazing Grace because they felt the words “saved a wretch like me” no longer described them. The problem with the saint’s only identity is that it eventually leads to hypocrisy because Christianity never promises to take away our sinful nature. God’s plan was not to replace the old with the new but to add the new to the old leaving believers the daily choice of which nature they live out of. We need to die daily to the old nature because it’s still there. Pretending that real Christians shouldn’t struggle any more, does nothing to help new believers who are trying to figure out what is going on inside of them. The other problem with the “saints only” identity is that it tends to divide the world into “good” people and “bad” people. When we believe we’re good and others are bad we become hard and self-righteous and lose any possible chance of reaching the people Jesus died for.

So who are we? We are saints that have been set aside for God’s glory and have been given a new nature which is slowly transforming our minds and souls into the image of Jesus. But we’re also sinners that need Jesus’ blood and forgiveness as much now as we did on the first day we said “yes” to Him!

Posted in Ephesians, Proverbs

Being Honest

“Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.” Proverbs 27:6

“Charm is deceitful…” Proverbs 31:30

We live in a culture where people are often offended so it is easy to become comfortable with being less than honest. Little white lies may smooth things over in the short run, but they eat away at our integrity. Charm is deceitful because it appears to be kindness; but it’s not. Charm has an agenda!  It’s nice to you because it wants something from you. If you don’t give charm what it desires, watch out. All those kisses had an agenda behind them that had nothing to do with loving you for your sake.

An enemy appears nice to you in person and then gossips behind your back. A friend wounds you in person, if they have to, and will defend you to the death behind your back. You and I can’t make people be loyal or genuine to us – that’s in their hands. What is ours to decide is what kind of person we are going to be. Are we always about our own agenda or are we willing to lay ourselves out for the sake of others? Will we say what needs to be said or only stick with what others want to hear so they’ll like us?

The truth can hurt which is why Paul encourages us to “speak the truth in love.” (Ephesians 4:15) Just because something is true does not mean I need to say it right now or in front of other people. We need to be careful how we speak the truth, but we do need to speak it!

When I was in high school, Billy Joel was one of my favorite artists. Some lines from a song he wrote called Honesty come back to me: “Honesty is such a lonely word, everyone is so untrue; Honesty is hardly ever heard, it’s mostly what I need from you.”

Let’s purpose to be honest to God and honest to people. If we have an agenda let’s be forthright about it and not play games. I think we’ll stand out in a world that seems comfortable with deceit.

Posted in Ephesians, Mark, Matthew

Part of the Bride

“For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.” Ephesians 5:31-32

If you have accepted Christ you are a son or daughter of God, but you are not a bride of Christ. Jesus doesn’t have many brides, only one. The two will become one – Jesus is one and the church together is the other one. When we accept Christ we become part of the bride so to fulfill our destiny we must learn how to connect with each other. When we become one unified church, the beauty of the bride will go forth drawing people to Christ, the Spirit and the bride will announce the gospel, and finally, Jesus will come back and take us to the marriage supper of the Lamb. We don’t need anyone but Jesus to become a child of God, but we need one another to really be the bride. That’s why He is so insistent on unity.

Ephesians 4:3 says, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” “Make every effort” means work at it!  Jesus said if someone has sinned against us we are to forgive them without even going to them. “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” (Mark 11:25) He said if someone has something against us and we know about it, we are to go to them and try to make it right. “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24)

This is real Christianity that really shows God we are serious. When we make things right, even if we don’t feel like it, the Father is able to bring healing to the bride and prepare us for the coming Bridegroom.

Posted in 1Corinthians, 1Thessalonians, Ephesians

Concerning Spiritual Gifts 

“Pursue love and earnestly desire spiritual gifts.” 1Corinthians 14:1

The world needs more than what you’re good at; it needs what only God is good at. God has placed each of us in His body (1Corinthians 12:18) just as He pleased. We don’t choose our part; we can only, at best, discover and embrace it. This is called our ministry. Paul said there were a variety of ministries (1Corinthians 12:5) and a variety of expressions of similar ministries. (1Corinthians 12:6)  God loves to reveal Himself through our differing, unique contributions to His body, so we must accept our part and learn to honor everyone else’s part.

But the supernatural gifts are different from our ministries. These work “as the Spirit wills” (1Corinthians 12:11) and are dependent on His moving, not ours. Whereas your ministry has already been set, the gifts of the Holy Spirit are dynamic. Every believer has the potential of being used in any one of the nine supernatural gifts Paul lists. We are to pursue loving people so much that we want more for them than what we can do. While loving them, we are to “earnestly desire spiritual gifts,” those things that require the supernatural.

Paul gives nine gifts and each is powerful when meeting the needs of the person we’re ministering to. The gifts can be divided into three general categories:

The revelation gifts: Word of knowledge, word of wisdom, and discerning of spirits. (1Corinthians 12:8, 10)

The power gifts: the gift of faith, gifts of healings, and the working of miracles. (1Corinthians 12:9-10)

The oral gifts: prophecy, diversity of tongues, and the interpretation of tongues. (1Corinthians 12:10)

When we cease to love people, we grieve the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30), and when we don’t make a place for the manifestation of God’s power, we quench the Holy Spirit. (1Thessalonians 5:19) God wants both His beauty and His power revealed through the church.

Jesus is so great that He can use flawed, normal people to do His amazing works through. This was His plan! We can’t do His works without Him, and He won’t do them without us. He’s calling us into an adventure of walking with Him. Let’s say “yes” to the beauty of His character and to His desire to use us in power.