Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Shield of Faith

We are to take up the shield of faith, by which we can extinguish all the fiery darts of the evil one (Ephesians 6:16). Now faith is oftentimes misunderstood. It is relying on the promises of God (Romans 4:16-25; Hebrews 11:13-16; 2 Corinthians 5:6-8). It is not believing in the face of intellectual arguments. These must be dealt with when they arise. But in the face of circumstances, feelings, and desires. Whatever we believe intellectually, it is difficult to maintain faith in God when going through tough times. I have found that the most helpful thing to do here is to look to the cross, where I see God loves me (Romans 5:6-11; John 3:16-18 ; 1 John 4:9,10). Also, even if there are no difficult circumstances, feelings tend to come and go, and when we are feeling down or dry, it can result in our struggling with our faith. Once more, it is good to fix our faith on the fact of Christ and what He has done, rather than our current feelings (Hebrews 12:1,2; Philippians 3:12-14; 2 Timothy 2:8). And sometimes, when we want to do what is wrong, we let our faith go weak so we can have our desire. In this case we need to confess and turn away from the sin we wish to do (Proverbs 28:13; 1 John 1:9; Psalm 19:12,13). Therefore, is is important to nurture and build our faith so it may be strong when it is tested (Proverbs 3:5,6; Romans 10:17; Hebrews 10:19-25).

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Morality Is Not Enough

Isn’t it enough to be a good, moral person? This is an objection often made to Christianity. But Christians too can fall into this idea. We can see ourselves as being good, moral people and our Christianity as just some extra help in being this. I remember when I was teaching a class on basic Biblical principles being asked why many of the people who come to church are not involved in ministering to one another. I did not know the answer, but I went home and prayed about it. And the answer I got was that we really do not believe we are sinners. One of the common beliefs of our culture is that we are all (with the possible exceptions of the Hitlers and Jeffery Dahmers) good people. And it is easy, even as Christians, to be satisfied with that and not go on from there in following Christ. This is not what the Bible teaches. We are all sinners (Romans 3:23), our heart is deceitful and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9), and our good deeds are as filthy rags before God (Isaiah 64:6). God’s standard is perfection (Matthew 5:48), and He will judge all the secrets of our hearts (Romans 2:16; 1 Timothy 5:24,25; Hebrews 4:12,13) and not just look at our outward deeds but our intentions (Matthew 5:21-48; 6:1-24). But God has sent His Son to pay the price for our sins (John 3:16; Romans 5:8; 1 Peter 1:17-21) that we might respond by loving Him (1 John 4:19) and might grow in Him as we remember what was done for us (2 Peter 1:9). 

Simply a desire to be a good, moral person is not enough; we must love God based on knowing His forgiveness of our sins. Marcus Aurelius was a good, moral person. He believed in doing the right thing. He believed in a vague God who encouraged him in following his principles. He was also emperor of Rome. Rome had by that time degenerated into serious immorality, and a number of the earlier emperors had led the way down that path. Not only was Marcus Aurelius unable to turn things around, but after his death his own son, who grew up with the temptations to pride and immorality that went with being the imperial heir, lived a life of cruelty and debauchery and led the empire further down the road to ruin. Now Marcus, being a respectable sort, felt he needed to oppose this strange new sect of Christians. He started a persecution to suppress them and succeeded in causing some Christians to waver. Then there was a little slave girl who refused to submit and continued to do so in spite of all the extremes of torture the Roman state could devise. And others who were wavering, seeing her faith and courage, returned and stood firm. Then the Faith of the little slave girl went forth and conquered the empire. Which side do you want to be on?

Monday, November 28, 2016

A Touch of Humor - Who to Work With

To what extent can we work together with people we disagree with? What are the limits?

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Old Erich Proverb

The worship of God begins with praise and thanksgiving.

Friday, November 25, 2016

A Voice from the Past - Bernard of Clairvaux

In the daily trials and arising from the flesh, the world and the devil, that are never wanting to those who live devout lives in Christ, you learn by what you experience that man's life on earth is a ceaseless warfare, and are impelled to repeat your songs day after day for every victory won. As often as temptation is overcome, an immoral habit brought under control, an impending danger shunned, the trap of the seducer detected, when a passion long indulged in is finally and perfectly allayed, or a virtue persistently desired and repeatedly sought is ultimately obtained by God's gift; so often, in the words of the prophet, let thanksgiving  and joy resound. For very benefit conferred, God is to be praised in his gifts.

Bernard of Clairvaux, 1091-1153, Sermons on the Song of Songs, Sermon 1, V, 9, ( The Works of Bernard of Clairvaux, quoted in Readings in Medieval History, Patrick J. Geary, University of Toronto Press, 2010, p. 344).

How can we develop the habit of thanking God for our spiritual victories? Is it important to develop this habit?

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Basis for Thanks

When we give thanks we should not neglect to give thanks for the fundamental truth of God's coming into the world to save us. One of the basic truths of Christianity is that God became a man (John 1:1-18: Philippians 2:5-11; Hebrews 2:6-10). Sometimes familiarity can cause us to lose the impact of a great truth. The God who calls the stars by name (Isaiah 40:26; Job 38:31-33), who controls the weather (Job 38:19-30), who provides for all his creatures (Psalms 104:10-18), before whom all human opposition is nothing (Psalms 2:1-6; Isaiah 40:22-24) became a human being. He was born as a human baby (Luke 2:1-7). He worked as a carpenter (Mark 6:3). He went to weddings and provided wine when the wine ran out (John 2:1-12). He challenged a powerful religious leader (John 3:1-21) and dealt with a social outcast from a despised race (John 4:7-38). He ate with tax collectors and sinners (Matthew 9:9-12) and rebuked those who trusted that their own righteousness would commend them to God (Matthew 23:23-28). He was tempted in every way like we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15). He was put to death as a criminal to pay the price for our sins, but rose again on the third day (1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Romans 4:22-25; Colossians 2:11-15). Now the main point of God’s becoming a man is that it was to pay the price for our sins (Mark 10:45). But in doing so, He left us an example of how human life is to be lived (Ephesians 5:1,2; Philippians 2:5; 1 Thessalonians 1:6). Further, He not only is our example, but He promises to be with us through the Holy Spirit to work these things out in our lives (Matthew 28:20; John 14:16-21; Romans 8:9-13).   

Now sometimes we can be more “spiritual” then God. We can try to confine God to “spiritual” contexts and separate Him from the rough and tumble of everyday life. But this is a mistake, for wherever we go in the rough and tumble, He has been there before us and goes with us. This can be both reassuring and scary. It is reassuring in that however difficult our situation is, He is with us, He understands, and He is there to comfort us. Scary because wherever we go and whatever we do, God is there and there is no evading His presence or hiding anything from Him. But as He came to be in this world and not of this world, He calls us to do the same (John 17:14-21; Romans 12:1,2; 1 John 2:15-17). Therefore, we need to go forth into the everyday affairs of life with a recognition of His presence with us and His example before us. We must not put God into some sort of Sunday morning box, but we should understand He goes with us into the ups and downs of everyday life. For when God became a man, He broke down all such artificial barriers.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Our Plans and God's Plans

It is easy to see all of life as centered around us. The important thing is what my plans are, what I think of things, what my goals are. But this is the exact opposite of what God wants. Instead of trying to get God and others to fit in with our plans, we need to learn to love God and our neighbor (Matthew 22:34-40). Other people can be a problem. They may not fit in with our agenda. They can get in the way of what we think needs to be done. We can even cover this over with a nice spiritual coating. We can claim that surely they are not really in touch God and what He wants. If they would just repent and get spiritual, they would see things our way. We can also start to see God as our servant. The One who is there to use His ability to accomplish our purposes. A magic genie to grant our wishes. And when He fails to do what we want Him to do, we can become discouraged and angry with God over it.   

One of the first Bible verses I ever learned was Romans 8:1: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (I am told will probably be on on my tombstone. The arrangements are made it is.) But one of the things God taught me early on was that this verse has with it a reverse English. If there is no condemnation for me because I am in Christ Jesus, there also is no condemnation for that other believer because they are in Christ Jesus. We are told we need to avoid passing judgments on other believers (James 4:11-12; Romans 14:4; 1 Corinthians 4:3-5). Now this does not mean there does not need to be correction on specific issues (Galatians 6:1; Matthew 18:15-20; 2 Thessalonians 3:14,15). But we need to avoid making an overall judgment of their person or character; we should leave that in the hand of God. And we particularly need to avoid sitting in judgment on them because they do not fit into our plans.

But we also need to put our plans in subjection to God’s plan. We need to realize that He is the One who is really in charge of the world and is working to accomplish His purposes (Ephesians 1:11; Isaiah 43:13; Romans 8:28). But we need to realize that what He has planned may not be what we have planned. And we must recognize the temporariness of our present life compared to His eternal majesty (James 4:13-17; Isaiah 40:6-8; Psalms 90:1-6). Therefore, we need to be careful of putting too much trust in our own plans, but need to trust in Him to accomplish His purposes in our lives (Psalms 127:1,2; Ephesians 2:10; Proverbs 3:5,6). For life is too short to waste on trying to fulfill our purposes. But rather, we should carry out God’s purposes in our lives, to serve Him and serve others (Philippians 2:3-11).