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The Incredible, Unfathomable, Steadfast Love of God

Lately I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and musing about the steadfast love of God. Well, not really “musing”. Musing implies that I’m sitting in a high-backed chair, in front of a roaring fire, smoking a pipe, wearing a robe, and sipping on sherry.

My love for the Lord and others is so fickle. Some days I’m hot, some days I’m cold, some days I’m thankful, some days I grumble. If someone does something to irritate me, my affection for them dries up. If I wake up with a headache, I’m more tempted to grumble than to rejoice.

But incredibly, God’s love is steadfast. Immoveable. Unchangeable. Faithful. In Lamentations 3:22-23 it says: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

Pause for a moment. Read that verse again. Let your mind be blown. Read the verse until you actually believe it. I’ve got to admit, this verse is a hard one for me to believe. God’s steadfast love for me never ceases. His mercies toward me never come to an end. I can’t out run or out sin God’s steadfast love and mercy. I can’t escape God’s faithfulness. All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies. (Psalms 25:10)

All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness. As I walk with the Lord, the road ahead is littered with steadfast love, and faithfulness, and mercies that are new every day.

This week has been a rough one. Jen came down with the evil step-mother of all stomach viruses, which meant that she was out of commission for the last three days, which meant I’ve been taking care of the girls for the last three days. I’m not good at taking care of the girls by myself. I need Jen! Our house looked like a tornado bomb went off in it. I also didn’t feel that great myself on a couple of those days, which didn’t help.

But in the midst of the insanity, and stress, and arguments with Ella over whether she was going to wear Winnie the Pooh underwear or Belle underwear, and me sinning in impatience, God’s love for me was steadfast. In the midst of all my ups and downs this week, God’s love for me did not fluctuate. His mercies were new each morning, and each hour, and each minute.

I’m so grateful that God’s love for me is steadfast. If his love for me was tied to my love for him, I would be in deep trouble. But his love is steadfast. His mercies are always present. And he is faithful. I need to regularly call this truth to mind, both for my spiritual health, and my sanity.

Stephen Altrogge is a writer who lives in Tallahassee, Florida. He’s married to Jen and has three little girls. You can find him on Twitter

Source: http://www.biblestudytools.com/

25 Life-Giving Statements Jesus Made

 

I only read one statement of Jesus, but I couldn’t go any further in my reading.

It was a statement I had read hundreds of times before, but this time it hit me differently. Deeper. More impacting.

I love when that happens.

I realized I often take a statement like that from Jesus for granted.

Jesus—the Son of God—said something. Something so profound, so life-giving, and yet it has become so familiar to me that I almost gloss over it when I read.

This time I stopped.

I stopped and thought about the many other truths Jesus shared—often in a single sentence—which are life-changing.

Perhaps some of these will be meaningful to you.

Read through the list—memorize a few of them (you probably already have many of them). But don’t read them as familiar quotes that are usually written in red. Let them soak deep into your heart and mind. Let them add life to you. Be better with truth.

25 life-giving statements Jesus made:

“Take heart, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

“The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few” (Matthew 9:37)

“Go and learn what this means ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice’” (Matthew 9:13)

“Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:2)

“Ask and it will be given to you…” (Matthew 7:7)

“If the Son has set you free you are free indeed” (John 8:36)

“For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:30)

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

“You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14)

“Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5)

“The greatest among you shall be your servant.” (Matthew 23:11)

“Take heart, it is I. Do not be afraid.” (Matthew 14:27)

“I am coming soon” (Revelation 22:7)

“With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26)

“If you love me you will obey what I command” (John 14:15)

“Your give them something to eat” (Mark 6:37)

“A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit” (Matthew 7:18)

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you” (Acts 1:8)

“This people honors me with their lips but their heart is far from me.” (Mark 7:6)

“You will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8)

“Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink…” (Matthew 6:25)

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do to them” (Matthew 7:12)

“I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

“This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:29)

“It is finished.” (John 19:30)

I realize some of these can be misunderstood if out of context, so feel free to read the context of each of them. But the fact is these are things Jesus said.

The Son of God—who is God—said them. Spoke them. Revealed truth to us.

And every word He said has life-changing value.

I wonder, if we really understood the magnitude of these words of Jesus and believed them—if they would change the way we lived our life? The confidence we have? The assurance in which we find hope?

Which of these do you most need to apply to your life today?

Ron Edmondson pastors Immanuel Baptist Church. Find out more at: http://www.ronedmondson.com/about

Source: http://www.biblestudytools.com/blogs

How to Fight the Good Fight for Joy!

Christians should be marked by joy. Joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit. If knowing Jesus doesn’t bring us a deeper joy than those who don’t know him, what’s the point? This doesn’t mean Christians don’t suffer and experience depression, discouragement, sadness and grief. Paul said in 2 Co 6:10 that he was “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” So somehow, even in the throes of sorrow, Paul had joy.

Jesus promised us joy. “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). Ultimately our fullness of joy will be in heaven. But Jesus wants us to know his joy now. Believers begin to produce the fruit of the Spirit in this life, and one of those fruits is joy.

Ps 16:11 says “in your presence there is fullness of joy.” Though fullness of joy awaits us in heaven, we begin to taste that joy in this life.

So how do we experience Christ’s joy now? As John Piper says, it’s a fight, part of the good fight of faith. Here are some ways to fight:

Realize that all lasting joy is found in Christ. Jeremiah 2:13 says “for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” When we look to anything else but Jesus for lasting joy we’ll come up empty.

Abide in Christ. Seek him, walk with him, rest in him, trust him. In John 15:9-11 Jesus said: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

Take in God’s Word. Jeremiah 15:16 says, “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart.” God’s word is a conduit of his joy to us. As we continue to take it in, believe and obey it, it becomes a joy and delight. His promises give us hope and make us glad.

Thank him and praise him for as much as you can. Thank him for spiritual blessings and material blessings. A thankful heart is a joyful heart.

Ask Jesus for joy. As David prayed in Psalm 51:12: “Restore to me the joy of your salvation.”

Contemplate your salvation and heaven to come. In Luke 10:20 Jesus said, “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

Tell yourself to hope in God. David took himself by the collar and shook himself in Psalm 42:5-6 and said, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”

Jesus came for our joy. Sometimes it’s not easy to experience, but if we continue to abide in Christ it will be worth it. No one in heaven will say it wasn’t worth going through what they went through on earth. So don’t give up. Keep fighting the good fight.


Mark Altrogge has been senior pastor of Sovereign Grace Church of Indiana, Pennsylvania, since 1982. He has written hundreds of songs for worship, including “I Stand in Awe” and “I’m Forever Grateful.” Mark and his wife, Kristi, have four sons and one daughter. Find out more on his blog, The Blazing Center.

 

Source: http://www.biblestudytools.com

How to Keep People from Sucking the Life Out of You

We are currently going through a teaching series at our church called, “come alive!”  As a part of this series, last weekend’s message was entitled, “How to Keep People from Sucking the Life Out of You.” During my sermon, I did an informal survey of the audience, and it became painfully clear that just about every one of us knows what it’s like to have hurtful people try to suck the life out of us.

Ticks are clearly one of the most revolting creatures in the insect kingdom. If you were walking through a woods, and you came across a sign that read, “Warning: Tick Infested Area,” I’m guessing that you would steer clear of that area. Ticks lie in wait for you to pass by so that they can climb aboard, dig their head below your skin, and begin to suck the blood right out of you. I hate ticks, and I have no desire to have them anywhere near me.

Some people seem to become “human ticks” around us. It feels like they want to suck the life right out of us. They put us down. They discourage us. They look for ways to trip us and cause us to stumble. When we stumble, they take great delight in watching us struggle. They are the first to let others know when we have failed – they will shout our weaknesses out for the world to know.

If you have experienced these life-suckers in your own life, you are not alone. We all have to encounter these people from time to time. Life-suckers even pop up in the Scriptures. For instance, King David was well aware of the devastation these life-suckers can bring.

Before you go further with this blog post, take a moment to read David’s life-giving words from Psalms 18:1.

As I read this passage, there were several important take-aways that jumped off of the page for me.  Let me share those with you now:

1)   When others are sucking the life out of you, lean into God.

David knew how to keep his eyes on God rather than on man. If you find people in your life who are hurting you, I would encourage you to find your hope and strength in God. Lean into Him. Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. He will keep you strong and allow you to prevail.

2)   When you call on God, he DOES hear.

Have you ever called out to God and felt like He was nowhere to be found? You can get that out of your head, because God truly does hear your every cry. And He is ready to defend like a “mama bear” who wants to protect her cubs. Now, His response may not be what you expect, and it may not even be completely obvious that He is active in your situation. But make no doubt about it; He is working in the situation and in the heart of that person about whom you have prayed.

3)   Focus on keeping your own hands blameless.

It’s so easy to get pulled into the “junk” when others are assailing you. But as you can see from Psalms 18, it is absolutely essential to keep your own hands clean — even when others’ hands are covered in filth. Focus on your own spiritual health, and let God handle the life-suckers.

4)   As you walk closely with God, He will deliver you … in His time.

As I read Psalms 18, I felt like God was saying, “I’ve got this.” The reality is that we don’t have to worry or fret. He is in control, and He will make sure that justice is served… in His way… in His timing. The way God handles your particular situation may not look exactly like the way that you would respond, but you can rest assured that His ways are perfect, and He will deliver you… in His time.

5)   Worship God in good times and bad.

One big principle you can glean from Psalms 18 is that David truly had a worshipful heart. He loved the Lord. He was passionate for the Lord. And David kept His focus on worshiping the Lord in good times and bad. Can you keep that focus? Can I? If so, we will be in a much better place for keeping others from sucking the life out of us.


For more, visit sensible faith.

Source: http://www.biblestudytools.com

7 Thoughts for More Effective Prayer

Hezekiah ruled over Judah and was a good and faithful king.

Hezekiah often became the target of warring nations. The king of Assyria, which was a much more powerful nation, made plans to overthrow Hezekiah’s kingdom. Throughout the stressful time in leadership, Hezekiah consistently used the same battle plan.

He went before the Lord in prayer—and—he followed the Lord’s commands.

Hezekiah relied on prayer to rule his life. This king knew how to pray and he prayed in a way that got results.

At one point, the Assyrian king launched a huge smear campaign against Hezekiah with his own people. It scared Hezekiah’s people.

Hezekiah heard about the threat and went before the Lord. God assured Hezekiah everything would be okay, but the Assyrians wouldn’t let up their verbal assaults. They kept taunting the kingdom of Hezekiah, throwing threats towards Hezekiah. Finally, they sent a letter by messenger to Hezekiah, which basically said, “The Assyrians are tough, and they are coming for you next.”

It was a credible, realistic threat. In a practical sense, Hezekiah had reason to be afraid.

What do you do when you are backed into a corner as a leader and you’re about to face something bigger than your ability to handle?

Well, Hezekiah received the letter with all the threats and began to pray.

We find this account in 2 Kings 19:14–19.

What can we learn from listening in as Hezekiah prayed?

Here are 7 Thoughts for More Effective Prayer from a Stressed Out Leader Named Hezekiah:

Hezekiah got alone with God. There is corporate prayer like we do at church, and there is prayer where a few are gathered. But probably some of the most effective prayer time of your life will be the time you invest alone with God.

Hezekiah’s prayer was immediate. His prayer wasn’t an afterthought. It was prior to making his plans. We are so geared to react as leaders that it’s hard for us to go first to God. He may be second or third or first when we are backed into a corner and have no choice, but we need to develop a discipline and habit to make God the first place we turn in our lives. Like Hezekiah.

Hezekiah’s prayer was open and honest. Hezekiah was transparent before the Lord. I love the imagery here in this prayer story of Hezekiah. He took the letter, went to the house of the Lord, and spread it out before Him. I get this visual image of Hezekiah, and this letter—laying it there on the table, and saying, “Okay, God, what now? What do I do next? What’s my first move?”

Are you in a tough spot right now? You may just need to get you some note cards—write down all the things you are struggling with—lay them out on a table and say, “Okay, God, here are my struggles. I can’t do anything about them. What now?”

Writing your prayer requests before God is a great idea for 2 reasons.

a. It helps you remember to pray for them.

b. It helps you to watch as God answers. We get more answers than we realize if we only ask.

Hezekiah’s prayer was honoring, humble, and respectful of who God is. Hezekiah knew his place as king—and he knew God’s place in the Kingdom. Hezekiah was king of a nation and that is an important job, yet Hezekiah willingly humbled himself in prayer, because he knew his place before the King of kings.

Hezekiah’s prayer was bold. He said, “Give ear, O LORD, and hear; open your eyes, O LORD….” Hezekiah had the kind of relationship with God where it wasn’t a surprise when Hezekiah showed up to pray. They talked frequently; probably throughout the day. Because of that relationship, Hezekiah didn’t wonder if God would be there when he came before Him. He knew he could ask God to act on his behalf.

The more you grow in your relationship with God, the bolder your prayers can become, because the more your heart will begin to line up with God’s heart.

Hezekiah’s prayer was dependent. In verses 17–18 he prays, “It is true, O LORD, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste these nations and their lands.” Hezekiah knew he was out of his league facing the Assyrians. From the way I see that Hezekiah responded to life, however, I don’t think it mattered the size of the battle. Hezekiah was going to depend on God. Every time. In every situation.

Hezekiah’s prayer was certain. Because it was based on his personal faith and trust in God. In verse 19, Hezekiah prayed, “Now, O LORD our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O LORD, are God.”

Hezekiah had a faith in God that allowed him to pray with confidence. You need to understand that faith is always based on the promises of God. Some things God has promised to do—and some He hasn’t. God has promised to always get glory for Himself and always work things for an ultimate good. He hasn’t promised to rid everyone of cancer or to heal every bad relationship. Or settle every leadership issue we face.

(That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pray for everything. We don’t know His will, but we can’t guarantee God to do that which He hasn’t promised to do.) Sometimes we get upset because God doesn’t do something we asked or wanted Him to do, but the fact is He had never promised to do it.

Hezekiah knew God had promised to save His people. He knew God had placed him in the position of authority over them. He had confidence that God would do what He had promised to do. Hezekiah trusted God to be faithful to His word so he was willing to act in faith.

What situations are you dealing with today that you know you are helpless to do on your own and you desperately desire God’s answer?

Are you a stressed out leader?

Get alone with God, spread your problems out before Him honestly, humbly, and boldly; then, allow His will to be done, as you wait for His response.


Ron Edmondson pastors Immanuel Baptist Church. Find out more at: http://www.ronedmondson.com/about

Source: Content from OnePlace.com.

The Blessing of Holy Fear- “The Fear of the Lord”

Let us hear the conclusion for the whole matter “fear God and keep his commandments, for this is man’s all”. Ecclesiastes 12:13

The secret of the Lord is with those who fear Him, and He will show them His covenant. Psalm 25:14

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (Proverbs 1:7). Knowledge of what? The fear of the Lord is the beginning, or starting place, of an intimate relationship with God. Intimacy is a two-way relationship.  The secret of the Lord is with those who fear him (psalm 25:14). The Lord said we cannot even begin to know Him on intimate terms until we fear Him. In other words, an intimate relationship and friendship with god will not even begin until the fear of God is firmly planted in our hearts.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all those who do His commandments. Psalm 111:10- “To fear God is to obey him and even when it does not seem to be our advantage. When we fear HIM, He calls us friend and reveals the why or the intentions and desires of his heart-You are My friends if you do whatever I command you” John 15:14”

The fear of God includes, but is not limited to, respecting and reverencing him, for we are told to tremble at His presence.  Holy fear gives God the place of glory, honor, reverence thanksgiving, praise and preeminence He deserves (notice it is what He deserves, not what we think He deserves.)

God holds this preeminent positon in our hearts and lives as we esteem His desires over and above our own, hating what He hates and loving what He loves, trembling in His presence and at His word. Here this and meditate on it: “You will serve whom you fear”.

If you fear God, you will serve him. If you fear man, you will serve man. You must cho0se. To fear man is to stand in alarm, anxiety, awe, dread, suspicious or cowering before mortal men. Those entrapped by this type of fear will live on the run, hiding from harm or reproach, constantly avoiding rejection and confrontation. They become so busy safeguarding themselves that they are soon ineffective in their service for God. Afraid of what men can do, they deny God what He deserves.

Let us remember Solomon who pursued wisdom throughout his entire life. He obtained and it ushered in great success. However, he went through a period of torment and vexation in his latter years. The fear of God in his heart had waned. At the close of his life, he looked back and after much medication wrote the Book of Ecclesiastes. In this book, Solomon examines life part from the fear if God. His response to every probing question was, “Vanity!”

At the very end of the book, he concludes that the whole matter of life is summed up in fearing God and keeping His commandments!

While the fear of man ensnares (Proverb 29:25), the fear of God:

  1. Positions our Hearts to receive answers:  Hebrews 5:7
  2. 2.       Assures that God’s great goodness abounds : Psalm 31: 19
  3. 3.       Promises angelic protection: Psalm 34:7
  4. 4.       Secures God’s continual attention: Psalm 33:18
  5. 5.       Supplies His provision:  Psalm 34:9
  6. 6.       Contains great mercy: Psalm 103:11
  7. 7.       Provides assurance of food: Psalm 111:5
  8. 8.       Promises protection: Psalm 115:11
  9. 9.       Fulfills our desires and delivers us from harm: Psalm 145:19
  10. 10.   Provides wisdom, understanding and time management: Proverbs 9:10-11
  11. 11.   Is our confidence and protection in the face of death: Proverbs 14:26-27
  12. 12.   Provides peace of mind: Proverbs 15:16
  13. 13.   Results in complete satisfaction: Proverbs 19:23
  14. 14.   Leads to riches, honor and life: Proverbs 22:4
  15. 15.   Will keep us on the path: Jeremiah 32:40
  16. 16.   Produces a secure household: Exodus 1:21
  17. 17.   Provides Clarity and direction: Psalm 25:12
  18. 18.   Results in enjoyment of our labor and full rewarding lives:  Psalm 128:1-4 NLT
  19. 19.   Produces successful leadership: Exodus 8, 21, 2 Samuel 23:3

These are but a few of God’s promises for those who fear him. There are many more. I encourage you to find them in your time of reading and studying God’s Word.

The apostle Paul strongly exhort us to pursue holiness, for if we do not, we will not see God (Hebrews 12:14-15). Notice again that Paul talks about receiving the grace of God in vain! We can fall short of it! He goes no to describe what keeps grace active and productive in our lives: “Let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear (v28). The fear of God prevent us from receiving His grace in vain. It keeps us from the desire to have a relationship with the Word. It is the grace of God, coupled with the fear of God that produces holiness or purity of heart. God promises that if ewe cleanse ourselves from the filth of the world, He would well in us in His glory. Hallelujah!

 

Source: The Fear of the Lord, John Bevere (The greatest book I have ever read… encourage you to read it too)

Do We Have to be Poor to Follow Jesus?

By Aaron Devine

There is a well-known story in the Gospels where a rich man asks Jesus about the requirements to inherit eternal life. Luke recounts the story in this way:

And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said, “All these I have kept from my youth.” When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” But he said, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” (Luke 18:18–27; ESV)

A question that naturally surfaces in this reading is whether Jesus considers wealth to be compatible with a life of faithful discipleship. Some interpret this story to say that material things and following Jesus do not mix well. This interpretation is sometimes based on a plain reading of passages like this, but it can also be motivated by material excesses in Christianity that make us uncomfortable. Too much focus on material blessing as a necessary indicator of God’s approval can stifle efforts at legitimate Christian disciplines, such as frugality, generosity, and financial sacrifice. As such, divesting material wealth is sometimes seen as a corrective to bad prosperity theology.

So, what then is Jesus saying about material wealth? Is it better to be poor than to be rich? Does one have to give up everything in order to follow Jesus? Does wealth itself ever keep people out of the kingdom of God? These are important questions, as they have implications for one’s personal call to discipleship and also for the ability of the Church to address social issues that require financial resources.

To provide context for interpreting this passage, it is helpful that Luke has a lot to say about material wealth throughout Luke-Acts. One of Jesus’ woes is against those who are rich (Luke 6:24), and it is intentionally contrasted to the blessed poor who inherit the kingdom of God (Luke 6:20). There is the story of the rich fool who stores up material wealth to the point that his life is found forfeit by God (Luke 12:13–21). There is the parable of a rich man who finds himself in Hades, while poor Lazarus looks on from comfort in the afterlife (Luke 16:19–31). We are told about Ananias and Sapphira who die because they lie to the Apostles about the status of their possessions (Acts 5:1–11). Our things, it seems, can certainly get in the way of the right kind of life in the kingdom of God.

However, it is also clear that Luke does not condemn material things outright. We are told that while Jesus’ lifestyle was sparse (Luke 9:58), there were women who contributed to the needs of his ministry through financial means (Luke 8:1–3). Joseph of Arimathea had significant social prominence and was able to afford a private tomb for Jesus at his death. He was considered  “good and upright… himself waiting for the kingdom of God” (Luke 23:50–53). There were also those in the early church who used significant financial resources to support the advances of the gospel. Lydia of Thyatira, for example, was an early convert of the Apostle Paul and was a “dealer of purple,” a lucrative enterprise that made her wealthy. As such, she was able to provide a location for the first house church in Europe from her resources. This community became the church in Philippi that Paul wrote to in one of his New Testament letters with much affection (cf. Acts 16:13–15, 40). As such, it is clear that material resources were used in the early church to benefit the gospel, without requiring every individual to divest themselves of all possessions in order to be in right standing before God.

How then might we reconcile these various perspectives in Luke? It is a question that scholars of Luke have considered for awhile. A helpful model for framing Luke’s teaching on wealth is one that Christopher M. Hays promotes in his study Luke’s Wealth Ethics: A Study in Their Coherence and Character. It is a technical work and a comprehensive research project that seeks to reconcile passages on money and possessions that sometimes seem to be in tension throughout Luke-Acts. For example, does Luke’s understanding of wealth require us to give up all things, or is there a legitimate place for having some (or even significant) material resources? Why did the early church pool its resources communally in Acts, and to what extent is that model required of others? Why do we see some people condemned in the handling and keeping of their possessions, while other wealthy people are commended as being righteous? We will not answer all of these questions here, but part of the solution, Hays says, is to see the moral directive as not one that necessarily requires individuals to divest themselves of all possessions, but rather one that renounces everything in service to God’s purposes. Depending on vocation and social location, this can have various means of expression that are specific to individuals, vocations, or communities.

Coming back to the story of the rich ruler, there are two things to notice. First, Jesus does not say that it is not possible to enter the kingdom of heaven and have riches, but rather that riches can provide a significant kind of difficulty in doing so. Additionally, when Jesus addresses the issue of wealth with the rich ruler, he switches from God’s universal expectations in the law to something more personally directed: “You still lack one thing.” Apparently for the rich ruler, wealth encouraged a specific type of vice that, while not a guaranteed pitfall for all who have much money, was not uncommon, either.

It is not a coincidence that Luke immediately precedes this story with another one that talks about entrance to the kingdom of God. Here is the story:

People were even bringing babies to Jesus for him to touch them. When the disciples saw this, they spoke harshly to the people. But Jesus called the little ones to himself and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not prevent them, for of such is the kingdom of God. I tell you the truth, anyone who does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will in no way enter into it.” (Luke 18:15–17; translation mine)

There have been various opinions regarding what it is about little children that models the trait that allows entrance to God’s kingdom. Humility is perhaps the most common suggestion, and as such, it is often recommended that we should humble ourselves before God, as do children.

Although humility is commendable, in this case the children who were initially brought to Jesus were quite small, literally “babies” (Greek brephos). It is the same word used by Luke to describe children yet unborn (cf. Luke 1:41, 44) and also Jesus in his swaddled state (cf. Luke 2:12, 16). As such, they were probably not yet overtly exemplifying commendable models of biblical virtue. What is it that we might discern about very young children, then, that could possibly be held up as a model for adults? If we imagine little bundled children being brought to Jesus, there is perhaps one thing that we do know for certain that all children naturally affirm, not as a virtue but as a brute fact of reality: they are utterly dependent on resources outside of themselves for their well being. As an adult, this trait is not generally considered commendable, perhaps even less so to those who have acquired significant material resources. However, if we are honest, it is often an inflated sense of self-sufficiency that prevents us from responding in trust to God regarding our deepest spiritual needs.

Jesus called the rich ruler to recognize an utter lack of self-sufficiency in himself before God, just as very young children naturally recognize their dependence on others. To enter the kingdom of God, the man needed to put his trust in God to do something that he could not do for himself, namely be spiritually well before God. Spiritual realities can seem a step removed from our material possessions. However, significant financial resources can isolate many from the existential concerns of a fallen world that mirror our spiritual lostness and can thus discourage a trust in God that is spiritually transformative. As such, Jesus asked the rich man to renounce his wealth in a very specific way (i.e., full divestiture) that was specific to his need, such that he redirect his trust to God instead. In this case, it was a radical antidote to the most pressing spiritual need of the man. That the rich ruler insisted that he had done perfectly well on all of the other legal requirements suggests that self-sufficiency was at the heart of his specific need, and about which his significant financial resources served to obfuscate.

We can learn something from this episode and from Luke-Acts more broadly about the relationship between our possessions and the kingdom of God. For one thing, it may be a good thing that more of us are not significantly wealthy, as it can encourage a common problem in the spiritual life that Jesus describes. However, we should also be grateful that there are those with spiritual sensitivity who have been blessed by God with material resources, as it can serve the Church in significant ways, as it did the early church.

God is ultimately concerned with the condition of the heart in relation to our possessions, as we have simply been given temporary stewardship over material things that can be used in his service. God is also concerned that our things do not create barriers to the kind of transformative work that he wants to do in our lives, either for entrance into the kingdom of God or in service within it. The kind of trust that provides an initial entry into God’s kingdom is the same kind of trust that sustains us within it as well.

It leads us to pointed questions about our own possessions and God’s kingdom, just as it required of the rich ruler. Do I trust significantly in my own ability to take care of myself, or do I trust in God for my ultimate well-being? As such, in what ways does God ask me to loosen my grip on my possessions for the kingdom of God? Does this require full divestiture of certain things, or reappropriation of them towards other ends? The questions of wealth that pressed those in Jesus’ day are the same ones that press us now, not only as we seek to be faithful with the things we have been given, but as we develop hearts of trust that are sensitive to the work of God in the world.


For more, visit the Good Book Blog, a seminary faculty blog from Talbot School of Theology.

5 Destructive Lies You Tell Yourself Every Day

Just go ahead and admit it. You’re lying to yourself today. Life gets complex, relationships get sticky, loneliness creeps in—and sometimes we just feel the need to bend the truth to make it through the week. We need our lies to keep the pain tucked away where it can’t get to us. That deceitful heart of ours has a way making it easy for us to be okay with these lies (Jeremiah 17:9)—that is, until they’re drawn out by God’s scalpel (Psalm 139:23).

These lies don’t just cover up the pain of life, though. They actually make it harder for us to grow in our faith and in our connection with others. We’ve gotten so numb to them that we don’t necessarily even see the damage they do.

But here’s one time when it’s definitely okay to “name it and claim it.” If we’re to get beyond these lies that we drag around with us, we have to identify them and call them what they are.

Have you seen any of these 5 lies in yourself today?

1. I’m Okay.

We don’t like to dig around inside and examine what’s going on. Why? Because when we start looking, we often find areas that need some major renovations. That gets messy, and most of us are far too busy to go and look for things to fix.

So, we just tie on the “I’m okay” superhero cape and trudge onward. It’s usually only when some sort of tragedy strikes that we finally realize we aren’t as okay as we thought.

But that’s not the biblical model. In the Bible, the Psalmist continually cries out for God to search him and test him and examine him so that He can keep doing the necessary renovation work (for example, Psalms 11, 17, and 26). The attitude of Scripture is more like this:

“Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the LORD.” (Lamentations 3:40)

Honestly, admitting daily that we’re not okay and that we need God’s help can be scary. It means owning our weaknesses and doing the hard work of self-examination on a regular basis. But thankfully for us, God specializes in weakness, especially when we aren’t sure where to start:

“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.” (Romans 8:26)

We’re weak. He’s strong. And that’s the best truth there is.

2. No One Will Ever Find Out.

If we’re ever looking for justification to do something dumb, we usually start here: No one will ever know. True, there might be a thousand variations on that theme, but it almost always comes back to anonymity. That’s why private browsing on the Internet and personal devices such as smartphones and tablets can be some of the most dangerous tools known to humanity. (They’re not necessarily bad, but “personal” devices do have drawbacks.)

No one will know if I watch this. No one will know if I go here while I’m on that work trip. No one will know if I post this anonymous and hurtful comment. No one will ever know.

First of all, there’s no such thing as true anonymity in our world. What we do in “private” very often has a way of being found out and exposed. (Just pay attention to all those hacking breaches you see in the news.)

More importantly, though, God has a way of making our “no one knows” sins come out—and He doesn’t miss any:

“You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence.” (Psalm 90:8)

Day by day, we let this lie bring us low and keep us from living the life God has planned. You see, God knows—He always knows the dumb things we do.

But He still loves us:

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

You can’t hide… and you don’t need to.

3. No One Will Get Hurt.

This lie really could be 2b, since these two excuses are like twins. If it’s not enough that no one will know, we also like to tell ourselves that no one will get hurt. If it’s behind closed doors, if it only involves two responsible adults, if it only impacts me, then it’s got to be okay.

However, what we usually mean is that no one will get hurt that we can see right now. We often don’t like to follow the chain of problems beyond the moment or the immediate circumstances. But what we don’t always consider are the spiritual ramifications that could pop up or the problems that might not be so obvious.

We also don’t take into account that God Himself is grieved and pained by our bad choices. God felt major pain because of raging sin before the Flood (Genesis 6:6), the rebellious grieved His Holy Spirit in Israel (Isaiah 63:10), and Jesus longed to gather His people to Him when they refused to accept Him (Matthew 23:37).

In other words, our sins always inflict grief and pain. And they do so to the very one we should want to please.

4. That’s Just the Way I Am.

Often, the easiest way out of dealing with a destructive pattern in our lives is simply to make it an acceptable or unchangeable part of who we are. Whether we see it as a part of our nature or simply as something we “can’t fix,” this lie helps us avoid feeling responsible. We can’t stop it because it’s just too deeply embedded.

But what we don’t like to admit is that God is the one who made us. We were intended to look like, act like, and be like Him (Genesis 1:27; 1 John 3:2). Sure, we all trip up somewhere on the way to that goal, but saying something is “just the way I am” means saying that God messed up or was taken by surprise by our struggles. We’re really just saying that He can’t change us.

Thankfully, we’re wrong. He specializes in making broken things new.

Your struggles are real. Just confess that first. They stink; they hurt; they mess us up. Once you get that out of the way, you can begin the often very long, very painful process of being made like Christ. Just keep this promise in mind:

“… he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)

Got that? He’s not going to give up halfway through because you mess up or because you’re just a special case. He will complete the work.

We just have to admit that it is a problem before we’ll ask and seek transformation.

5. I Can Do That Tomorrow.

Tomorrow is the time for Bible study, for that new morning prayer routine, for that meeting with our pastor or Christian friend. Tomorrow is when we’ll tell our spouse the truth. Tomorrow is when we’ll get honest with God.

But—and this is the truth—many times that “tomorrow” never comes. Even in the midst of how miserable some of our bad life choices make us, we just don’t like to make changes today. We look for a more opportune time—when it won’t be so hard.

That’s why the Psalmist and the writer of Hebrews make sure that we get focused on today:

“So, as the Holy Spirit says: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts…” (Psalm 95; Hebrews 3)

Telling yourself that you’ll make a change tomorrow certainly makes you feel better about today’s failures, but it rarely ever changes us. We must remember that a lack of commitment to change today comes with a steep price:

“But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” (Hebrews 3:13)

We don’t even know if we’ll have a tomorrow, but we do know we have a right now. And God is faithful in that right now.

“He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.” (1 Corinthians 5:8–9)


 
Source: Article first appeared on BibleStudyTools.com.

 

5 More Verses You Just Won’t Find in Your Bible

With the rise of social media, the spread of biblical sounding phrases has—well—gone viral. Beautiful images filled with inspirational phrases slowly take on the status of being “somewhere in the Bible.” But when you take a closer look, you’ll have a great deal of trouble finding them. That’s because they aren’t really there—and sometimes they’re even contrary to what God actually says.

There’s so much wisdom in Scripture that these false verses can often lead us down the wrong road. So, in addition to the ones we already covered, here are 5 more “verses” to watch out for:

1. “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” 1 Memes 7:77

When some difficulty arises in the life a believer (or anyone else), this supposed verse gets tossed out there like a Scripture bomb. Sure, it sounds compelling, and it does remind us of God’s care and concern for each of us. After all, He knows exactly the number of follicles growing out of your cranium:

“Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Luke 12:7)

But it’s because God loves us and knows us that He must give us more than we can handle. After all, we humans have a tendency to think that we can do everything on our own. Our pride has a way of dragging us down:

“Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18)

To keep us grounded in the reality of our need for a Savior, God graciously allows us to see just how much we can’t handle. He put the prophet Elijah’s back against the wall and made him depend upon birds, He gave Moses 600,000 impossible-to-please travelers, He tasked the 11 apostles with spreading the gospel all over the world, and He’ll give you way more than you can handle, too.

Now, the Bible does say that God won’t allow you to be tempted beyond your limits:

“No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)

And that is certainly great news. We all need the assurance. But temptation is not usually what people mean when they say this supposed verse.

2. “If God brings you to it, He will lead you through it.” Suburbians 3:9

This so-called verse does conjure up images of the Israelites passing through the Red Sea or Joshua leading God’s people through the Jordan River. We can see David’s Shepherd guiding us through that Valley of the Shadow of Death. Plus, it rhymes.

However, this isn’t necessarily what the Bible teaches.

It is true that God is with us always, no matter what we face, just as Jesus said:

“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:20b

But oftentimes we use this supposed verse to mean that God will always remove us from a bad situation. Tough job? God will get you out the door. Struggling marriage? God will fix it before you know it. Made a dumb decision? God will take care of it.

Could He get you out of that tough spot? Sure. Will He? That’s up to Him and His perfect will.

With the prophet Daniel, for example, God led the boy off into captivity. But He never brought him “through” Babylon and back to Israel. Instead, He kept him there through king after king, battle after battle, danger after danger. Daniel grew old and died far from home—never seeing the land he longed for. But God used that time for some amazing displays of His power.

So, you may never get “through” your struggle. God may lead you to stay right where you are so that you can have an impact there—and He can get the glory.

3. “If God closes one door, He’ll open another (or a giant window).” Ingressions 2b

You could say this folksy verse is closely associated with number 2 above. It has the same potential for stock image inspiration in your social media feed, and it does have some truth to it. The Bible does promise that God will keep us headed in the right direction:

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you. (Psalm 32:8)

But the “way you should go” doesn’t necessarily mean God will make an escape hatch for us when times get tough or when we don’t seem to be making progress. In fact, God often does some of His best work in our waiting, and He teaches us to trust Him more:

“Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.” (Psalm 37:7)

If God closes a door, we need to stop and consider what’s going on in our life. Perhaps we’re trying to force our way into something that He wants to protect us from. Looking for another door or window may make us miss the lesson because we’re sure we should be doing something—anything. We keep trying to go where God wants to protect us from.

If God stops you, don’t immediately look for another way through. First, stop and ask Him if that’s truly what He wants you to do. Otherwise, you could be like Peter who tried to keep Jesus from being arrested when arrest was exactly what God had planned (John 18:10).

4. “ ‘Your wish is my command,’ says the Lord.” Genie-says 1:1

Okay, so you may never have heard this supposed verse put so bluntly before. But the sentiment has certainly been shared all over the Internet. If you keep asking, if you believe enough, if you have faith enough, then God will give you whatever you want.

We have to be careful here, of course, because God does promise many times to hear the prayers of those who call on Him (2 Chronicles 7:14; Micah 7:7; 1 John 5:14). We also know that God answers those prayers (Psalm 120:1; Matthew 7:7; etc.). We’re even told this:

“Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4)

But there’s much more here than God being some sort of genie in the sky. Whenever God promises to hear our cries or to answer our prayers, there’s always an important stipulation—whether explicit or not. Take Psalm 37:4 as an example. God will give us the desires of our heart… when we delight in Him. And that’s the point: He is what we truly need—not fame, fortune, or anything else this world can offer. When we seek Him first and His righteousness, we have exactly what we truly need.

So, does God answer our prayers? Absolutely. Should we bring our needs to Him? Every single one. Should we expect Him to answer our prayers exactly as we want? No—not unless we’re mainly praying and desiring for His will to be done. He knows way better what we need than we do.

5. “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life!” Limnentations 3:16

Years ago, this phrase became a staple of evangelism, and since then, it’s taken on an aura of something biblical. The problem, though, is that it suggests an idea that’s not biblical at all. How? Let’s break it down.

We can be sure that God loves us, the first part of this phrase. After all, the most famous verse in the Bible assures us of God’s love (John 3:16), and He sent His Son to prove that love (Romans 5:8). So, there’s nothing amiss there. God sent Jesus to save us, and that’s solid ground for evangelism.

But the trouble starts when we add to that the idea that once we’re saved, everything will suddenly be awesome. Despite what it may have meant at one time, that “wonderful plan for your life” part sounds an awful lot like “He’ll fix all your problems.” The truth is that following Jesus may actually cause problems for the believer.

Jeremiah obeyed God’s call, and he ended up at the bottom of a cistern. David trusted God, and he spent years running for his life and dodging spears. Paul surrendered to Christ, and he forfeited prestige for prison. And this apostle wasn’t one to hide what following Christ means:

“So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God” (2 Timothy 1:8)

God loves us and has a wonderful future in store for those who love Him:

“Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” (Romans 8:17)

But in the present age? Not necessarily. The road will likely be very hard.


This article first appeared on BibleStudyTools.com.

The Future and Prophetic Scenarios

Speculations concerning the future multiply as fast as snowflakes in a blizzard. As this decade comes to a close, Christians need to know that not all end-times opinions are facts. Jesus told His disciples:

“No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father….Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come” (Matt. 24:36, 42, NIV).

This passage seems to dismiss study and speculation about the Second Coming. But look closer: the second portion of Jesus’ statement commands us to pay attention and eagerly expect His return: “Therefore keep watch…” The best way to keep watch is to know what God has revealed about the future, and to attempt a biblical understanding of events around us.

Jesus’ disciples attempted to understand the future, often questioning Him about prophetic events. They even wondered if His first coming would result in political and military upheaval and the overthrow of Israel’s oppressors (Acts 1:6). They were wrong in that case, but they never lost hold of the central end-time events: the final judgment (Matt. 25:46); the resurrection of the dead (1 Thess. 4:13-18); the glorification of God’s people (Col. 3:4; Matt. 16:27); and the “destruction” of death (1 Cor. 15:25-26).

Central Themes of the End Times

Almost one hundred passages refer to the end times. However, many of these can be grouped into six end-times themes. An easy way to remember these themes is to relate each of the six topics to the six letters of the word F-U-T-U-R-E.

F — Final Judgment. The final judgment of humankind is described clearly in passages like Acts 17:31, Hebrews 10:27, and Revelation 20:4-15. Scripture indicates that Christ Himself will be the Judge (John 5:22; Acts 10:42; 2 Tim. 4:1).

U — Unknown Hour. No one can know the exact time of the Second Coming. Despite the sensationalistic ideas you may have heard from cult leaders as well as from well-meaning but mistaken Christians, no one knows the timing of the Second Coming. Several biblical passages emphasize this, including Matthew 24:27-42 and Acts 1:7.

T — Time and Eternity. Though Christians have differing views on the timing of certain end-time events, they agree on the future eternal state. Following the final judgment of humankind, time will give way to eternity.

Jesus spoke of the eternal state when He said that the wicked “will go away into eternal damnation, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matt. 25:46). Everyone must ultimately be ushered into one of two final states: eternal heaven or eternal hell (Rev. 20:11-15; Luke 16:26; Matt. 25:41-46). Christians will spend eternity with God in heaven; unbelievers will spend eternity apart from God in hell.

U — Unbelief. Apostasy — a widespread defection from the true faith — will characterize the time immediately preceding the second coming of Christ (Luke 18:8; 2 Thess. 2:3; 1 Tim. 4:1-3; 2 Tim. 4:3-4; and 2 Pet. 2:1-3). There will also be widespread mockery of the truth by nonbelievers (2 Pet. 3:3-5). At the final judgment, unbelievers and mockers will have to answer for their actions.

R — Resurrection. The resurrection of the righteous will occur at the Second Coming. Jesus’ resurrection — the “firstfruits” of resurrection life — guarantees and typifies the resurrection of the righteous (Luke 14:14; 20:34-38; Matt. 22:29-32; Mark 12:24-27).

E — Essential. The Second Coming is a foundational fact. All Christians and all Christian churches since the time of the apostles have affirmed the Second Coming as an essential or foundational belief. All early church creeds include the Second Coming, such as the Apostles’ Creed — “He will come to judge the living and the dead.” While Christians unite in the belief that Jesus will literally and physically come again, cults, by contrast, commonly deny a literal and physical Second Coming. The Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, teach that Christ’s return was “invisible” and occurred secretly in 1914.

Scenarios of the End Times

Above are some key facts about the future, and Christian opinions concerning the end times must be compatible with them. Over the centuries many biblical interpreters have set forth prophetic scenarios of the end times. Such scenarios are not necessarily bad, as long as we remember the difference between what is factual and what is opinion. Reasonable, well-developed scenarios can help us to understand and organize incomplete information. But they are not infallible.

I think it is noteworthy that while the various scenarios differ on the timing of end-time events, they agree on the “essentials” of the end times. That is, they agree there will be a Second Coming of Christ, a resurrection, a final judgment, and an eternal state.

There are three main scenarios concerning the millennium (Rev. 20:1-4). Premillennialism understands Scripture to teach that the Second Coming will take place before the millennium, after which Christ will personally rule for a literal thousand-year period on earth. Following the millennium will be a resurrection, a final judgment, and the ushering in of eternity.

Postmillennialism understands Scripture to teach that the Second Coming will take place after the millennium, following which there will be a resurrection, judgment, and the ushering in of eternity. In postmillennialism, the reference to 1,000 years in Revelation 20 is not taken literally. Some in this camp believe the “millennium” refers to the interadvent age — that is, the time between Christ’s first coming and His second coming. Many believe that during the present “millennial” age the church will progressively “Christianize” the world. In this view, while the church is not the kingdom, it takes part in building the kingdom through the worldwide spread of the gospel.

Amillennialism understands Scripture to teach that there will be no literal thousand-year kingdom over which Christ will rule, but rather that the “kingdom” represents Christ’s present rule over the church on earth (though some amillennialists believe the kingdom promises are now being fulfilled in heaven). Generally speaking, amillennialists believe that world conditions will become increasingly worse until the Second Coming, after which there will be a resurrection, judgment, and ushering in of the eternal state.

Premillennialists often make reference to what is called the “Rapture.” The Rapture is a word that refers to the instantaneous removal of the church from the world preceding (or at) the Second Coming (1 Thess. 4:16-17). As was true regarding the millennium, there are different scenarios regarding how to understand the timing of the Rapture. Some scholars place the Rapture before the seven-year Tribulation period (pretribulationism); others in the middle of the Tribulation (midtribulationism); and others immediately after the Tribulation (posttribulationism). Each variation on premillennialism is an attempt by interpreters to understand the details of the end times that are not clearly stated in Scripture.

No matter which view you believe best represents the end times, remember that any legitimate view must affirm the clear “essential” teachings outlined above — such as the Second Coming, the resurrection, the final judgment, and the eternal state. And regardless of your particular position on the above issues, we can all join together and rest secure in the knowledge that our eternity with Him is guaranteed through what He has demonstrated already — most notably, in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. With a solid foundation in Scripture, we can join Paul in proclaiming: “We wait for the blessed hope — the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good” (Tit. 2:13-14).


Hank Hanegraaff serves as president and chairman of the board of the North Carolina-based Christian Research Institute. He is also host of the Bible Answer Man radio program, which is broadcast daily across the United States and Canada—as well as around the world through the Internet at www.equip.org. Widely regarded as one of the world’s leading Christian apologists, Hanegraaff is deeply committed to equipping Christians to be so familiar with truth that when counterfeits loom on the horizon, they recognize them instantaneously. Click here to listen to the Bible Answer Man broadcast at OnePlace.com.