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 Genesis, Proverbs, Mark, John, Romans, 1Corinthians

The Power of Words

“Have faith in God.  Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him.” Mark 11:22-23

 When God speaks everything changes!  There may be darkness and chaos, but when God speaks, light and order come in response to His word transforming the world. (See Genesis 1)  But what happens when we speak?  I don’t believe there is intrinsic power in our words, but I do believe that our words can be filled with power if we speak out loud what God has spoken to our hearts.

 Speaking expresses faith.  Romans 10:10 says we believe with our hearts and then speak with our mouths resulting in salvation.  What we believe about God and the world will affect what we speak and what we speak will then affect the world around us.  Proverbs 18:21 says, “life and death are in the power of the tongue.”

 So what is God speaking to this world?  May our hearts be filled with the truth of John 3:17: “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.”  We are not called to be positive in a negative world; we are called to be redemptive in a fallen world.  We don’t ever have to live in a bubble that denies the brokenness and darkness all around us; we only have to believe that God has a redemptive plan for everything and everyone who is broken and dark. 

 Moses allowed himself to become frustrated and hit the rock when God told him to speak to it.  The rock, which represented Christ (1Corinthians 10:4), had already been struck (a picture of Jesus dying on the cross), so God wanted Moses to have enough faith to just speak.  If he had spoken to the rock it would have flowed with water for all the people, for God was the One telling him to speak.

 Today He’s telling us to speak His redemption over our own lives, the lives of our loved ones, and over this nation.  What are you speaking?

Posted in John

Abiding in Christ

“Abide in Me and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.” John 15:4

 The Greek word for abide, meno, is from the noun, mone, which means home.  The noun form is used a few verses earlier, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and we will come and make Our home with him.” (John 14:23)  When I say to a guest, “make yourself at home,” I’m telling them to relax because they belong here.  Have we given God that kind of welcome?  Do we believe He gives us that kind of welcome?

Jesus invites us to make a new home with Him.  He doesn’t want to be a hotel we visit on Sundays, and He doesn’t want to be an apartment we rent from month to month to keep our options open.  He wants us to make the investment of our lives by building a home together with Him, and He gives us the blueprint of what the new home will look like.

 First, it will be large.  It must be because there seems to be room for everyone.  “This is My command, love another.” (15:12)  There’s room for all Christians, for strangers, and even for enemies.  It turns out Jesus is planning on inviting a lot of people over to the new home!

 Secondly, it’s a happy home.  “These things I command you so that My joy may be in you, and your joy may be full.” (15:11)  If we aren’t there yet it’s not because it’s not part of the blueprint, it’s only because the new home isn’t fully built yet.

 Thirdly, it’s a unique home.  “If you abide in Me and My word abides in you, ask whatever you desire and it will be done.” (15:7)  His presence and His word so purify our desires that who God has uniquely made us, becomes part of the new home.  The life of Jesus is going to be expressed differently in each of us, so it’s important not to compare ourselves with each other.  The home you build with Jesus will look different than the home I build with Jesus.

Posted in 2Timothy, John, Matthew

The One Behind the Scriptures

“All Scripture is God breathed…” 2 Timothy 3:16

The Bible is one of God’s most startling revelations of Himself. It was written over a period of 1600 years by over 40 different human authors with a variety of backgrounds, from three different continents, and in three different languages, yet it is one story, one history, with one message. It is by far the best selling book in history. You probably have one, or maybe even a few, lying around your house. The question is how does one read the Bible in a way that he will find God and not just be frustrated by the seeking?

There were two major religious groups at the time of Christ that had access to the Scriptures but didn’t find God: The Sadducees and the Pharisees. To the Sadducees Jesus said, “You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures, or the power of God.” (Matthew 22:29)  They were a group that had exalted intellect and human wisdom above the word of God. They didn’t believe in angels, miracles, or the resurrection of the dead, even though the Old Testament Scriptures taught these things. Because of this grave error they lost all understanding of spiritual things. Many in America have made a similar mistake. When you put your opinion above the word of God and only believe the parts of the Bible that agree with your thinking, you make yourself out to be the final authority and end up denying the God of the Scriptures. Submit your heart to the Scriptures, humble your mind before God, and you will find yourself being changed by God’s word as you seek to apply it to your life.

The other group who had access to the Scriptures was the Pharisees. Jesus said to them, “You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is these that bear witness of Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me, that you may have life.” (John 5:39)  The Pharisees believed every jot and tittle of the Scriptures from Genesis to Malachi, but they had exalted them to the place of God. They lived for rules and interpretations and spent much of their time arguing doctrines and splitting hairs over who was the most right, while attacking anyone who didn’t share their insights. Unfortunately many Bible believing people get caught in this trap today. The Bible is not an end in itself. Its purpose is to reveal a living Person who is in love with us. Truth itself, Jesus said, was not a belief system, but found in His Person. He said, “I am the truth…” (John 14:6)  He is the Word that became flesh. He is the One that the Scriptures were written to reveal. Read your Bible to find the One behind it and you will find life in Jesus Christ.

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 Isaiah, John

Kingdom Mode

“Of the increase of His government and peace (shalom) there will be no end… The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.” Isaiah 9:7

The Father has promised the Son that His kingdom (government) and His presence (peace) will continually increase. The Father’s own zeal will accomplish this – not man’s efforts or programs. Where will this increase happen? In and through you and me, His adopted children. We are carriers of the kingdom and the Presence of the King Himself!

When the world goes into crisis mode, we can go into kingdom mode. On September 11th, 2001, I received a phone call from the manager of the area wide Christian radio station. The church secretary had to find me because I was in the sanctuary praying and meditating on the morning’s One Year Bible reading from Isaiah 8:12-14: “Do not call conspiracy everything that these people call conspiracy; do not fear what they fear, and do not dread it. The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, He is the One you are to fear…and He will be a sanctuary (for you).”

The manager told me that one of the twin towers was hit by terrorists and that another plane was hijacked and he was asking pastors to pray over the air. There was such a presence of God on me because I knew that He had prepared me for this. Darkness was having its day, but God didn’t want us to focus on what the world was focusing on, or respond in the way the world would respond. We were to fix our eyes on Him and find sanctuary in Him, and that’s what I prayed for everyone who was in the midst of this horrible crisis.

The world goes into crisis mode when there is a crisis and many wrong decisions are made because they are based on the hurt, fear, anger, or frustration the situation has caused. This is when Jesus wants to increase His government and peace in us – we are to fix our eyes on Him and go into kingdom mode. Don’t focus on darkness or respond to it.  What is God saying? What does God want you to do? All you need to do to break darkness is bring a light into it. Light is always stronger than darkness.

“In Me you may have peace, in the world you will have trouble. Let your heart take courage for I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) In every situation around us we are either a thermometer that simply reflects the environment, or a thermostat that sets it. God’s plan is that we would so host His presence, and have such confidence in Him that we would automatically go into kingdom mode when a crisis arises and be thermostats of His kingdom and peace.

Posted in John, Psalms, Romans

The Glasses of Faith

“I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the Lord.” Psalm 27:13-14

My daughter, Anne, and I went out for a date together during one Christmas break and saw the movie, “Partly Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.” The main reason we wanted to go was that it was in 3-D and required special glasses to view. I loved it. A couple of times I took my glasses off to see what the screen looked like without them. Although you could tell something was there it was all hazy and confusing. If people had slipped into the wrong theater they never would have guessed the beauty that was there right in front of them. You can’t see right if you don’t have the right glasses.

Life is like that. If you put on the glasses of faith you are able to see God everywhere and behind everything. Even bad things that He allows are able to be worked for something good if we will give them to Him. (Romans 8:28) Jesus said in John 5:17: “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working.” God is working – He may not be doing what we want Him to do, He may not be moving at the pace we’d like Him to move at, but He is working if we choose to see Him.

Now the devil is also working all the time. Much of what he does in this world is quickly reported on the news, so if we get the wrong glasses on we can easily fall into despair. It takes discipline in this world to keep seeing God because our God glasses easily fall off in the midst of life’s difficulties. Without the glasses of faith you easily focus on your problems and that only leads to anxiety and discouragement. Church, prayer, and Bible reading are important because they help us keep our glasses on, or to get them back on if they’ve fallen off.

David said, “I would have despaired unless I had believed…” He had to choose to believe that God was in control and that His goodness would be revealed at some time in the future even though his present circumstances were horrible. 

The need of the hour was to wait for God to come through. There was nothing he could do to make his circumstances better, only God could. He needed to courageously trust God and refuse to give into despair. Is that where you are today? Let me encourage you to wait for God. You will see the goodness of the Lord in your circumstances if you’ll just remember to keep putting on the glasses of faith.

Posted in John, Luke, Matthew

The Next Event

“When you see all these things, you know that it (His coming) is near, right at the door. I tell you the truth this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” Matthew 24:33-34

Jesus does not say His coming will be in their generation; He says it will be “at the door” in their generation. He says the sign of His coming will appear “immediately after the distress of those days…” (Matthew 24:29) Immediately, on God’s calendar, means imminently; His coming is the next prophetic event and has been since the fall of Jerusalem.

While the first rescue and judgment event was preceded by an abundance of signs so that God’s people would be prepared for the distress of their generation, the second rescue and judgment event will come unexpectedly.

While first century Christians were warned not to be trapped in Jerusalem, Jesus warns us not to be trapped in the things of this world before His coming in the clouds: “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth.” (Luke 21:34-35) We need to live ready for His coming!

The rescue in the first century required Christians to leave Jerusalem. The rescue at the Lord’s coming won’t require anyone to leave, we’ll be taken. “Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.” (Matthew 24:40-41) The word translated “taken” is “paralambano” in the Greek and means: “to receive near to one’s self in any intimate act.” (Strong’s, 55) It is used in Matthew 1:24 when Joseph “took Mary home as his wife.” 

It is used of the rapture again in John 14:3 where Jesus makes this promise to His disciples: “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take (paralambano) you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” Jesus is coming for His beloved bride. If He came today would you be ready?

Posted in 2Corinthians, John, Luke

The Joy Serving

“Now that you know these things, you will be blessed (happy, joy-filled) if you do them.” John 13:17

When people arrived at a feast in that time, it was customary for a slave to wash everyone’s feet as they entered, but in all the preparations for the last supper the disciples had missed this detail. Each of them apparently felt that this job was below them, so it appeared it would go undone. Then the unthinkable happened. One far above them went lower than they were willing to go. Not only did Jesus wash their feet, He called them to wash each other’s feet (willingly serve each other), and in the text above said this was the key to their happiness.

He explained that this attitude was also the key to their greatness: “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like one who serves.” (Luke 22:25-26)

Our level of joy is not to be a victim of our own sense of entitlement. In other words, we don’t have to wait until we are treated in a certain way to have joy. Our joy can be found in God’s delight in us regardless of how other people are treating us. I found out this truth the hard way while pastoring in northern Minnesota.

A group of thirty wanted me out of the church and had started a secret campaign of visiting members in their homes to try to get the necessary votes to remove me. God was moving in the congregation and so was the enemy. There was a deacon who represented the thirty, but whenever I tried to meet with them it got postponed. It finally occurred to me that they didn’t want to be reconciled, they wanted me gone. This was their church and they weren’t going to leave, so I would have to.

How do you pastor a church Sunday after Sunday when this is happening? The Lord made it clear that they didn’t have to like or respect me, for me to serve them. I wasn’t to defend myself or be offended by their attitudes.  I was to serve them for His sake. (2Corinthians 4:5) His affirmation was better than theirs anyway!

Emptying ourselves, rolling up our sleeves, and serving whoever God puts in front of us is the key to lasting joy.

Posted in Colossians, Isaiah, John, Philippians

Are You Willing?  

“If you are willing and obedient you will eat the best from the land.” Isaiah 1:19

A minister in the 1950’s was complaining to God saying, “God, you said if I was willing and obedient, I would eat the best of the land and I’ve been obedient.”

He had been a pastor when God told him to start traveling because he wasn’t really a pastor, he was a prophet and a teacher. Even though it was difficult to leave the security of a pastorate, he obeyed God. The problem was that he wasn’t making it. His shoes were worn out, his wife and kids were barely surviving, and there was constant financial pressure on his home. All this when he had only obeyed God and stepped out in faith.

The Lord answered this man with a whisper: “You’ve been obedient, but you haven’t been willing.” When he told this story, he said that he instantly became willing in response to God’s prompting, and it started to change everything in his life.

Did you know you can be obedient and not be willing? You can do the will of God and carry out your responsibilities as “have tos,” but that’s not good enough for God. He only releases His full blessing over us when we “want to.” It’s not enough for Him that we serve Him; He wants us to be happy about it.

The sweet Spirit of God was given so we would have both power to God’s will as well as the “want to.” Philippians 2:13 says, “It is God who works in you to will (the want to) and to act (the power to do) according to His good purpose.”

The way we change all of the “have tos,” in our lives into “want tos,” is by embracing the cross and doing them for God instead of for man. Jesus said that no one took His life from Him; “I lay it down of my own accord.” (John 10:18). You and I have the choice of resenting our “have tos,” or of making them “want tos,” by doing them for God.

How we do what we do changes everything and puts us in the place of God’s full blessing. “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” (Colossians 3:23-24).