The Narrow Minded….

Matthew 7:13-14

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

Tucked in the middle of Matthew 7 (the concluding lessons from The Sermon on the Mount) is this short discourse on the “two ways” wherein Jesus challenges us to consider our personal path and examine our steps. Jesus begins with a present imperative: “Enter through the narrow gate.”  The fact that the gate appears first and then a way implies that this is referring to one’s coming to know God in a personal way through Jesus’ teachings and then following where He leads. This verse implies that salvation is not an easy decision which fits in with the mainstream of culture, but a decisive change of life which issues in obedience to the principles of God. The fact that one way leads to destruction shows the ultimate outcome of those whose lives are lived independent of God.  Jesus is inviting the people to come to Him – to enter the Kingdom of Heaven through Him – in order to find true life … abundant life … eternal life.  You can see this metaphor with similar connotation used in the Gospel of John:

John 10:1-10 (NIV)

“Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for Him, and the sheep listen to His voice. He calls His own sheep by name and leads them out. When He has brought out all His own, He goes on ahead of them, and His sheep follow Him because they know His voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what He was telling them. Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

So Jesus is the “small gate” that leads to a “narrow road” whose destination is “life”; as contrasted by a “wide gate” that leads to a “broad road” whose destination is “destruction”.  And the issue of great concern here is the number of people who travel down each path.  Many are those who remain in the deception of the world and its darkness; and few are those who embrace the light of the Gospel and follow Jesus and obeys His commands. There is something of grave importance for us to observe from this passage … and we need to examine the direction of our walk before God.  Have we truly entered the narrow road (lifestyle) that leads to life through Christ Jesus; or have we entered the superhighway of the world and the culture (lifestyle) as its speeds toward its own destruction?  Sometimes it is hard to distinguish professing Christians from those of the world; and I think this parable anticipates that phenomenon….

If you continue to read beyond Verses 13-14, you will find a series of “contrasts” related to “religious” people

1.         The two ways of approaching God (Matthew 7:13-14)

2.         The two types of religious leaders (Matthew 7:15-23)

3.         The two foundations of a religious life (Matthew 7:24-27)

The question is not so much which lifestyle or group of religious people Jesus referred to; rather, the focus is on how people respond to their understanding of God’s will. Some discard God and religion altogether.  Some use religion to gain immediate praise and rewards from other people … but in vain. (Cf. Isaiah. 29:13-15; Colossians 2:16-23). True disciples; however, order their lives in light of Jesus’ words about the present and coming Kingdom of God.  He knows the sincerity our hearts!  As Jesus said, the time is now when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth – for they are the kind of worshipers that the Father seeks. (Cf. John 4:23-24) Until you have Jesus, you do not have the indwelling Holy Spirit. And without the Holy Spirit, you cannot worship the Father in the Spirit or in truth….  So the small gate and the narrow road are significant in our response to the lavish grace and mercy of God for our salvation. Jesus made it quite clear, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (Cf. John 14:6)

This parable from Matthew 7:13-14 is paralleled in Luke 13:23-27, and I would like to contrast the two so you can see the intent of the message:

Luke 13:23-27 (NIV)

23 Someone asked Jesus, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?” He said to them, 24 “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. 25 Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’ “But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’ 26 “Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ 27 “But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!’

Note here the “many” who will try to enter and will not be able to do so – because “the owner of the house gets up and closes the door”.  Herein lies the pressing nature of the Great Commission … the evangelical mission to share the Gospel and to urge people to “enter” through the “narrow door” while there is still opportunity to do so.  It is appointed for people to die once, and after that to face judgment. (Cf. Hebrews 9:27) When the door is shut from a hardened or deceived heart, death, or the Second Coming of Christ, there does not appear to be any more opportunity to intentionally trust Jesus Christ for salvation.  Again, “For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”  Jesus bids all people to enter through Him.  It may seem “narrow-minded” to have this view (as Christians are often accused), but Jesus declared He is the only way!  And as each day passes, the door inches a little more towards the frame and latch. Oh, I pray we will be about the Father’s business, inviting people through the door that leads to light and life – to an authentic encounter with our Lord and Savior. Amen.

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Finish The Race!

Acts 20:24

However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.

What an interesting personal assessment Paul gives here in this verse: “I consider my life worth nothing to me.”  He goes on to provide some context for his statement – which I think is important for us to include so that the value of his life … our lives … is put into better perspective.  Up to this point in Acts:20, Luke has been documenting the missionary journey undertaken by Paul and the evangelical opportunities for ministry afforded to him along the way.  It has been a fruitful journey, but there have been hardships and challenges in the midst of preaching the Gospel and discipling elders in the churches he labored to establish.  This is the backdrop when we reach Verse 22.

Acts 20:22-24 (NIV) – Paul is speaking

22 “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. 23 I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. 24 However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.”

This is a more useful context to understand what Paul meant regarding the “worth of his life.”  It was not that Paul thought his life had no value; rather, it was a comparison to the calling of preaching the Gospel and completing the “job” which he had been “assigned” to do.  I think this is the more salient point for us to consider.  Each of us has a life given to us by the grace and will of God.  I say will of God because if He did not ordain for you to be conceived, then you would not exist.  Likewise, I say the grace of God because if He had not orchestrated a course around all of the threats and obstacles to your life, you would not continue to be here.  In short, our lives are miracles on many levels of contemplation, and we have been allowed our own free will to navigate it towards meaning and purpose within our mortal limitations.

When we find Christ Jesus … when the testimonies of the Apostles and the Word of God convince our souls of the Truth, a new dimension of life enters our existence.  Our spirits … our beings are born again!  Our concept of “self” is radically altered with the knowledge of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  We are changed!  The old has gone, the new is here! (Cf. 2 Corinthians 5:17) And so the value or worth we placed on our previous existence is changed as well.  What we thought we valued for our lives becomes replaced with a “purpose” of far more significant value … eternal value.  Our lives, hidden in Christ, have a new motivation … to live worthy of the Lord and to please Him in every way and to be productive in His Kingdom for His glory!

I think when Paul said, “I consider my life worth nothing to me,” I believe he was referring to his former life and the former meaning he had placed on it.  In light of his authentic encounter with the risen Lord Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul was radically changed and his new life in Christ took on a “life of its own” … a life lived in the context of a close, personal relationship with Jesus and his new assignment to be an ambassador of the Gospel in all its fullness and truth.  In essence, Paul was saying that nothing (prison or hardships) would deter him from completing the good work he was created in Christ Jesus to do, which God had prepared in advance for him to do.” (Cf. Ephesians 2:10) And he expressed this in terms that we can relate in a way to communicate that whatever the risks of following the Lord Jesus and accomplishing His will for my life is more important … of great value … than my own inward, personal aspirations for this experience of life.  It represents a complete surrender to the will of God, and I believe this is an important principle for us to embrace in our journey of faith….

As Pastor Steve shared during his sermon Sunday morning about the life of Joseph (Cf. Genesis 37-47), he observed that Joseph from a youth had a life within the will of God, and yet, Joseph suffered being ridiculed, mocked, abuse, threatened with murder, sold into slavery (human trafficked), lied about, imprisoned, and forsaken, before he finally came to the place of accomplishing what God had purposed in advance for his life.  Surely, all of these horrific hardships and challenges tested his faith in God, yet he remained steadfast in his belief in the ultimate goodness and love of God. The entire time, Joseph was within the will of God, yet his life was far from “perfect” from a human perspective.  Yet Joseph spiritually understood that God was ever present in his life to bring about His will … His good purpose … and with perseverance he awaited it in faith.

Genesis 45:4-8 (NIV) 

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.  8 So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God

Genesis 50:15-21 (NIV)

15 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” 16 So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died: 17 ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept. 18 His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. “We are your slaves,” they said. 19 But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. 21 So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.

As we contemplate the visions and dreams God has instilled in our spirits for our lives … as we seek significance, purpose, and meaning for our lives … let us remember both Joseph and Paul – who despite tremendous opposition and hardship – went on to complete their respective roles in the Kingdom of God.  They did not consider their “own” lives worth anything compared to the rewards of faithfulness to what God called them to do.  And the application of these biblical lessons is for us to persevere in faith to accomplish the work God has given each of us to do in Christ.  As the writer of Hebrews suggested:

Hebrews 12:1-3 (NIV)

1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

So I pray that each of us will run the race; reach the finish line; and receive the reward – the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. (Cf. James 1:12) I pray we will remain courageous and steadfast in the pursuit of the visions and dreams God has given each of us to guide our journey of faith … and to bear much fruit to the glory of God the Father.  I encourage you to read John 15:1-17.  As Jesus shared with His disciples (and with us), we must remain (abide) in Him in order to bear fruit.  Further, we should understand that the Father will “prune” us in order to bear even more fruit; and that in Christ Jesus we were chosen (appointed) to bear fruit and that it should remain….

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Wisdom From Heaven

James 3:17-18

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

Wisdom….  We all need it.  We are urged by the Apostle James to ask for it.  “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” (James 1:5) But we need to distinguish the wisdom that comes from God … and the wisdom that comes from the world and human intellect.  In seeking the wisdom for living that comes from God, James writes:

James 3:13-18 (NIV)

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. 17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

Here we have a challenge … that our very lives should emulate the character of Christ Jesus. And James has some fairly salient points for us to consider.  He starts with the premise that those who are wise and have spiritual understanding demonstrate their “depth of faith” by living a “good life”.  And then he defines a “good life” as “deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom”.  So as to further explain his instruction, James then contrasts the differences between the “earthly” or “carnal” wisdom of the world with the “heavenly” or “spiritual” wisdom that comes from God.  I think it might be useful to breakdown these “distinctions” James brings to our attention:

Wisdom that does NOT come down from heaven is labeled earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. It is manifested in human conduct such as “harboring bitter envy” or “selfish ambition” in your heart.  He goes on to observe that wherever you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.”  In other words, envy, jealousy, pride, covetousness, idolatry, and greed proceed from a pattern of life that is sensual, brutish, and of this world.  Such behavior is inconsistent with a life rooted in the love of God. By contrast, we see that those who live a “good life” through the wisdom that God gives are:

            Pure                            (i.e. seek holiness and self-control)

            Peace-Loving             (i.e. seek resolution to conflict and reconciliation)

            Considerate               (i.e. seek the good of others above themselves)

            Submissive                 (i.e. not only to God but to each other)

            Full of Mercy             (i.e. readily forgiving)

            Full of Good Fruit    (i.e. acts of service and compassion)

            Impartial                    (i.e. righteous judgement; unbiased)

            Sincere                       (i.e. genuine; unpretentious, faithful)

So we can infer from these “distinctions” in wisdom for living what is best, good, and wholesome in our relationships with others versus what is immoral, destructive, and unrestrained to the extent that physical, emotional, and spiritual harm ensues to another.  Only the wisdom that comes from above equips a person to live the righteous life God intends for each of us to live!  Perhaps that is the very reason God has drawn us to believe in His Son – so that we might be filled with His Spirit … the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord. (Cf. Isaiah 11:2).

No doubt, to be filled with the Spirit of God is essential to living a “good life” as James envisions it.  And I can almost hear Paul chime in with his Letter to the Galatians on this matter … parsing out the same contrasts as James:

Galatians 5:13-26 (NIV)

13 You, my brothers and sisters, have been called to liberty. But do not use your liberty to indulge the flesh (and its nature); rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Cf. Leviticus 19:1815 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. 16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.)

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires (the wisdom that comes from heaven). 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

So my prayer is that we will seek wisdom … ask for wisdom … and apply wisdom to our hearts so that our lives will be good and beneficial to others.  This is HOW we are to love one another as we ourselves have been loved by God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  So I will conclude with an excerpt of the prayer Paul offered up for the believers in Colossae: “I do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, pleasing Him in every way, bearing fruit in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God.” (Cf. Colossians 1:9-10)

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Love As You Are Loved

Romans 12:10

Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.

I know we have seen/read this particular verse before – but it is always a good reminder for us because it is based in the commandments of God.  We know from Jesus that the commandments of God are summed up into two “great” commands – basically: Love God. Love People.

Matthew 22:34-40 (NIV)

34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together.35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested Him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ (Cf. Deuteronomy 6:5); 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Cf. Leviticus 19:18) 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.

Luke 10:25-28 (NIV)

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 “What is written in the Law?” Jesus replied. “How do you read it?” 27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ (Cf. Deuteronomy 6:5); and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Cf. Leviticus 19:18) 28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

The Apostle Paul would go on to refine distill these two commandments into one:

Romans 13:8-10 (NIV)

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” (Cf. Exodus 20:13-17; Deuteronomy 5:17-21) and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Cf. Leviticus 19:18) 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

The Apostle Peter affords us with the same perspective:

1 Peter 1:17-23 (NIV)

17 Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. 18 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 20 He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. 21 Through Him you believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and glorified Him, and so your faith and hope are in God. 22 Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from a pure heart.   23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. 

But I would like to remind us of the greater expectation and demonstration of love that Jesus “commanded” us as recounted by the Apostle John:

John 13:34-35 (NIV)

34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another35 By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.”

Reflection:     “To love one another” was not a new commandment (Cf. Leviticus. 19:18). What was “new” was that believers were to love each other as Jesus loved them. Jesus commanded that we MUST love one another as He loved us. There is no ambiguity as to His command: “Love each other as God has loved you!” And John often resonated this “imperative” throughout his writings:

John 15:12,17 (NIV)

12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 17 This is My command: Love each other.

1 John 2:3-10 (NIV)

We know that we have come to know Him if we keep His commands. Whoever says, “I know Him,” but does not do what He commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys His word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in Him: Whoever claims to live in Him must live as Jesus did. Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard.Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and in you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining. Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. 10 Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. 11 But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them.

1 John 3:11-18 (NIV)

11 For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. 12 Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s actions were righteous. 13 Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters,  if the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. 15 Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him. 16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

1 John 4:7-12,19-21

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us.

19 We love because He first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And He has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

2 John 5:4-6 (NIV)

It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us. And now, dear lady, I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another. And this is love: that we walk in obedience to His commands. As you have heard from the beginning, His command is that you walk in love.

I realize that I have been quite exhaustive with this list of Scriptures in response to a single verse.  But I just find in my soul that loving one another is so central to the life and teachings of our Lord Jesus and a manifestation of HOW we show our love and devotion to Him as His disciples – how we demonstrate love as His Body in the earth – through loving one another.  Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35)  So Paul urges us to be devoted to one another in love … to honor one another above ourselves.  And Paul will go on to write “practical applications” to encourage us in this pursuit to “walk as Jesus walked.” 

2 Corinthians 13:11 (NIV)

11 Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.

Galatians 5:13-14 (NIV)

13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh[a]; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Ephesians 4:1-6 (NIV)

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

1 Thessalonians 4:3-10 (NIV)

It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister.  The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit. Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. 10 And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more….

So why have I delved so deeply into this topic? I’m not sure.  I have mediated and reflected for hours now.  Perhaps, this is something I just needed to “preach” to myself …  to remind myself that love … sincere love for others … is not optional for a life in pursuit of Christ-likeness.  When it hurts to love because someone has hurt us … when it is not convenient to love because it takes of our time … when it is difficult to love because we disagree on politics, theology, or other personal differences … when love requires financial sacrifice to provide for the needs of others … I often wonder HOW I will ever live up to His standard? I am reminded of His command to love as He has loved me … and I feel so inadequate.  As much as I would like to think that I live in the light of His love, I sometimes feel deflated knowing that I fall short of loving others with the same love that I have received from God. I hear Paul affirm, “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) So how do I put that unmerited, compassionate, agape love into action – in real terms?  Then I considered that Jesus addressed this issue for us in great detail in His “Sermon on the Mount”:

Luke 6:27-38 (NIV)

27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you. 32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most-High, because He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. 37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

(See Also Matthew 5:43-48)

I think the key thought for me to remember is that the love God has expressed toward me in His Son is “unmerited”.  His love for me was unmerited.  There is nothing I did to earn it or deserve it.  I am a sinner saved by grace alone.  And so I believe it follows that I am to love others without consideration of “merit”.  We should love others regardless of whether we think or feel that they merit or deserve our love, forgiveness, or compassion.  Just as God causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends His rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Cf. Matthew 5:45), so we are to love others and be merciful to them fully for the sake of love itself (as modeled by Christ Jesus) … while they too are yet sinners (such as we were before coming to faith).  That is HOW God has loved us … without merit!

Philippians 2:1-5 (NIV)

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus….

When Paul instructs us to “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit,” I think there can be a tendency within any Christian to be filled with “spiritual pride” because of their “knowledge” … not remembering … “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (Cf. 1 Corinthians 6:11).  In humility, we need to show the love of God which we ourselves “received” by His grace! As Paul concluded, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Cf. Ephesians 2:8-9)

So I conclude that I must keep all these points in mind as I self-examine and as I consider HOW to best emulate to others the love which I have received from God through our Lord Jesus Christ. It means to be devoted to others.  It means to encourage others.  It means to honor others.  It means to empty myself of myself for the well-being of others.  It means to be steadfast and faithful to others.  It means that I need to pursue holiness in my own life – not to feel superior to others but to be “sincere” in my relationships and not covetous. If I have no self-discipline or self-control, how can I truly be an effective witness for the glory of God?

Well, if you have read this far, I thank you for your time and indulgence.  I hope that something in this meditation challenges you or encourages you to reflect on His command to “love one another as I have loved you.” While straightforward in principal, it is not so simple in practice. We still have our human nature to wrestle, and we need spiritual power to have the same mindset as Christ Jesus. As John insisted: “He who says he abides in Him (Jesus) ought himself also to walk just as He walked.” (Cf. 1 John 2:6) I believe it is possible for us to do so … or at least a worthwhile pursuit.  So I pray for the courage to try … for the ability to perform … and for the wisdom to live worthy of His calling.  I pray for each of you to likewise progress in your journey of faith.  For I am confident of this very thing … that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.  (Cf. Philippians 1:6)

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

A Gentle Answer

Colossians 4:5-6

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

I think this passage is familiar to most of us … and its message is one of humility in our attitude and conduct.  Too often, I have seen Christians view themselves or project themselves to others as “superior” because they have come to a knowledge of the truth and believe that Jesus is the Son of God … sent to be our Savior, to redeem us, and to reconcile us to God the Father.  Sometimes they allow themselves to become filled with pride over their salvation … forgetting they did nothing to earn or deserve the unmerited kindness and mercy shown by God.  Salvation, at its core, is the most humbling experience a human being can undergo because we are utterly dependent on what God has done for us and there is nothing that we can add to it….  Salvation does not make us superior; rather, it makes us indebted to the One who gave us freedom from the penalty and power of sin.

That said … when we encounter other people, and especially those who are non-believers, Paul instructs us to be wise in how we act and speak toward them.  We are to approach others with the same attitude and grace as Christ Jesus:

Philippians 2:1-8 (NIV)

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage;rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!

Why is this important?  Why does Paul instruct us to be careful in how we approach seekers and non-believers?  Because we ourselves received Jesus Christ through faith … and this was not of our ourselves … it was the gift of God. (Cf. Ephesians 2:8).  It was the kindness of God that led us to repentance in the first place. (Cf. Romans 2:4) So we are to be kind to one another … compassionate … forgiving … just as in Christ Jesus God forgave us. (Cf. Ephesians 4:32) As Paul related to Timothy, the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, and not resentful. (Cf. 2 Timothy 2:24) So let our conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that we may know how to answer everyone.  This will equip us to make the most of every opportunity we are given to lead others to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ….

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Rock of Ages – Stumbling Stone

Acts 4:10-12

then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. Jesus is “‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone. Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

Our Verse of the Day captures a portion of Acts 4; however, I think it best to go ahead and include a little more of the context so that you get a better sense of the declaration that Peter made to the people.  I encourage you to read the entire chapter today, though.  It’s good stuff!

Acts 4:5-12 (NIV)

The next day the rulers, the elders and the teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and others of the high priest’s family. They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?” Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, 10 then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. 11 Jesus is “‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’ SEE NOTE  12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

NOTE: Here, the Apostle Peter (filled with the Holy Spirit) is boldly quoting Old Testament Scriptures which the Jewish rulers and elders would have been familiar.  We can find the references to this spiritual metaphor in Psalm 118:22-23 and Isaiah 28:16. And it is prophesied in Zechariah 10:4 that the “cornerstone” would be a descendant of Judah.  Even Jesus quoted this passage; and this is recorded in the three Synoptic Gospels at Matthew 21:42-43; Mark 12:10-11; and Luke 20:16-18.  And Peter later quotes and discusses in his first epistle as shared below:

1 Peter 2:4-10 (NIV)

As you come to Him (Jesus), the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to Him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion,  a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in Him will never be put to shame.” (Cf. Isaiah 28:16) Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” (Cf. Psalm 118:22) and, “A stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.” (Cf. Isaiah 8:14) They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for. But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

The theological significance of Psalm 118:22-23 and what Peter is sharing cannot be underestimated.  References to God as a “Rock” or a “Stone” abound in the Old Testament.  The metaphor speaks to the power of God; His steadfastness; His unchangeable character; the secure, unmovable nature of His love; a place of spiritual refuge; and His salvation.  This metaphor is first used of God in Genesis 49:24 as Jacob blesses Joseph before his death. Moses uses this imagery of God in Deuteronomy 32:4 affirming,God is the Rock, His works are perfect, and all His ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is He.” This theological construct is developed further in the remainder of Chapter 32, and I advise you to read it beyond the excerpt I share below. 1 Samuel 2:2 states: “There is no one holy like the Lord; there is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God. 2 Samuel 22 captures a Song of Praise written by King David that begins, “The Lord is my Rock, my fortress, and my Deliverer; my God is my Rock, in whom I take refuge….”  And many of the Psalms make similar references to the Lord as “my Rock” and is it paired with the Lord my Savior or Redeemer.

So I believe it is safe to say that when Jesus quoted Psalm 118; the Jewish rulers and leaders understood its theological implications. (Cf. Luke 20:19) Likewise, when Peter quoted the same Scripture to the Jewish rulers and leaders, the focus was on their “rejection” of the Stone or Rock … their crucifixion of the Messiah … Jesus the Son of God. As the Apostle John wrote: “He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize Him. He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him.” (Cf. John 1:10-11) Yet, rebellion against the revealed will of God is nothing new for man in general … or Israel in particular.  And what is amazing is how much indifference we find in people – even ourselves – after we have experienced first-hand the supernatural power of God in our lives.  You will find the same historical “hardness of heart” recorded centuries before in Deuteronomy 32:

Deuteronomy 32:15-20 (NIV)

They abandoned the God who made them and rejected the Rock their Savior. 16 They made Him jealous with their foreign gods and angered Him with their detestable idols. 17 They sacrificed to false gods, which are not God— gods they had not known, gods that recently appeared, gods your ancestors did not fear. 18 You deserted the Rock, who fathered you; you forgot the God who gave you birth. 19 The Lord saw this and rejected them because He was angered by His sons and daughters. 20 “I will hide my face from them,” He said, “and see what their end will be; for they are a perverse generation, children who are unfaithful.

Surely the Pharisees knew the references … and the application should be a forewarning to us!  As Peter declared: “Jesus IS ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’ Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”  What is Peter saying here? When you reject the Rock, you reject God! The Jews and unbelievers today have not only rejected the “Living Stone”, the “Rock of Salvation”, and the “Rock of Refuge” … they have refused to accept that Jesus is the “chief cornerstone”!  Everything is built upon Him! There can be no other plausible conclusion.  When Jesus asked, “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter professed, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And how did Jesus respond? 

Matthew 16:13-18 (NIV)

13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” 14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 “But what about you?” He asked. “Who do you say I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, (the Greek word for Peter means rock) and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.

You see, “rock” represents something solid … something you can depend on to not fall or fail when weight or pressure is exerted upon it.  In this context it represents a trustworthy, pillar of truth upon which to build our lives.  Christ Jesus has been building His Church on this foundation of all Truth: He is the Messiah – the Son of the Living God!  He is the cornerstone on which the rest of the building … His Body – the Church is set … square and plumb … true and level.  Jesus is the head of the Church, His Body, of which He is the Savior. (Cf. Ephesians 1:22; 5:23; Colossians 1:18; 2:19) So we need to understand this is the ultimate question every human ever born or to ever be born MUST answer regarding Jesus.  Jesus testified, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) So now, each of us has to answer Jesus when He asks us: “Who do YOU say I am?”  And the answer people give determines if Father God embraces them as His own … or if God hides His face from them as unfaithful children.  And it is this question to which we have been called to urge everyone to embrace Jesus as Lord and Savior.  For Jesus IS the stone that causes people to stumble and fall if they do not obey the message and come to Him to receive salvation and eternal life….

Father God, I pray even now, that each of us would let this bold sermon from Peter penetrate our hearts and minds.  Convict our hearts, Father God, and any who are not fully persuaded that You are the Rock … the chief cornerstone … the foundation of ALL light and truth! Bring us into submission and the obedience of faith – for you have appointed Jesus as the head over every power and authority in heaven and on earth.  Keep us within you … and abide in us … that we might be faithful children to declare your praises because you have called us out of darkness into the wonderful light of your Son.  Thank you, Father God, for your everlasting mercies … and may the mercies of your love and salvation be the rock upon which we continue to build our lives! May we always be living stones … laid upon the sure foundation of your Son.  For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ! (1 Corinthians 3:11) Amen.

Well, I think that I will stop here….  I feel a bit carried away at the moment because I believe so strongly that we need to hear and share this message!  Jesus is the stone the builders rejected … but to those who believe – who have come to faith in His Name … Jesus is the only name under heaven by which we must be saved!  No one comes to the Father except through Jesus.  We need to reach out to those who “stumble and fall” through unbelief in the message.  Remember, faith comes by hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ. (Romans 10:17) This is the rock-solid truth upon which the Kingdom of God has been forged! Jesus IS the Messiah – the Son of the Living God!  Upon this rock the Church – a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession – is built and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it!

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

This Is My Story….

1 Peter 3:15 (NIV)

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect….

This verse is connected with the themes we have been reading about the past week on sharing the Gospel.  Interestingly, I believe this passage is the most succinct instruction we can find in the Bible regarding evangelism in its “simplest” form.  We do not have to pass out “religious tracts” in the mall or door-to-door in order to be evangelists; although there might be occasion to do that sort of activity.  We do not have to stand on street corners with banners and megaphones heralding Scriptures; although if the Spirit directs you to do so … you should obey.  But if you think about it, when most of us were “touched” by the Gospel message, the context was probably somewhat different.  Your exposure to the message about Jesus Christ probably came through someone with whom you had a relationship.  It could have been a parent, a sibling, a family member, a friend, a co-worker, or simply an acquaintance.  Maybe someone did hand you a gospel tract, or a religious billboard caught your eye and planted a spiritual seed. But most likely it was seeing “something different” in the life of another believer or hearing the personal, spiritual experience of someone you trusted that inspired or encouraged you to have a “real” relationship with God….

As I read this verse, I connected with its instruction of “how” to be an effective witness of the Gospel.  First of all, Peter indicates that we must have a “strong” relationship with Jesus ourselves.  In our hearts we are to “revere Christ as Lord”.  This means we have humbled ourselves and surrendered our lives to His authority.  This means He is worthy of our praise and worship.  This means we have experienced His life-changing grace in our hearts and desire our lives to reflect the holiness for which He saved us.  As the writer of Hebrews admonishes us: “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14) If we revere Christ as Lord in our hearts, we will pursue a life that reflects that faith and hope and love.  As Peter wrote in his second pastoral epistle:

2 Peter 1:3-11 (NIV)

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness. Through these He has given us His very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins. 10 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, 11 and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

If we are living a life that is reflective of a genuine relationship with our Lord Jesus, then others will see it. And sometimes … your life in Christ will produce curiosity in someone who is seeking to have “more” of that “something” you appear to have in your life. It will be attractive to them because you reflect the light of God found only in Jesus. And so Peter instructs us: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” Note the extreme language: ALWAYS. To be prepared means we have “practiced” in order to be ready. We have “fine-tuned” our thoughts about our own personal encounter with Jesus. We have “reflected” on our own experience of His faithfulness in our lives. And then sharing the Gospel … well it simply becomes sharing our own story!

But do this with gentleness and respect,” Peter writes. This all sounds very similar to what Paul advised, “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” (Cf. Colossians 4:5-7) And this is why I think we need to reflect on how to best communicate and share the good news of Christ Jesus. The manner and the circumstances in which we shared the Truth with someone can determine your effectiveness and mine in reaching that person for God. If we appear pious or superior in our tone, we do not reflect the One who said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” (Cf. Mark 9:35) So the question to ask is are you and I “prepared” to answer anyone about our faith and our hope in Christ? But a more crucial question to ask might be: “Is our love for others evident in our walk … enough so that it would be a conversation starter for a stranger or an unbeliever?”

Okay, I’m going to stir some conviction…. What is a definitive application for us to consider here? Well, for unbelievers to respond to the Gospel … they need to see a “real” Gospel. They need to see a genuine outcome of the power of God to believe it exists and that it is authentic. We live in a generation and a culture that increasingly dismisses or rejects the existence of God, and more specifically, the message of Jesus. I believe some of this intellectual skepticism can stem from inadequate “evidence” of the work and power of God in the lives of those who profess faith in Him. We cannot see the wind, yet we can observe its movement and impact. Likewise, we cannot see the Spirit of God, yet a person should be able to discern His manifestation in the life of a believer. I believe when the presence of God is seen because His impact is observable, faith is formed. So if our lives do not authentically reflect the transforming power of Christ, then how is there evidence for an unbeliever to move from skepticism to the reality they are searching to find? I pray that each of us will be introspective and consider if the “wind” of our lives is sufficient to “stir the leaves” in the hearts of unbelievers. If it is, I would venture to say that someone is going to ask about the faith they “see” you have in Christ Jesus. So be prepared to tell them your story. It is a great one to share!

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!