Parameters of Prayer…

This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of Him. ~ 1 John 5:14-15

We have been talking about being faithful in prayer; and this verse reviews some appropriate parameters of prayer….

First of all, we need to realize that asking God for anything must certainly be aligned with His will. For why would God grant anything that is contrary to His will and desire for us?  Think about that for a moment.  He allows or permits us to have thoughts and to conduct ourselves against His leading, guidance, and the precepts of His Word.  But if we ask Him to do so in prayer, it is not something that He will grant us.  No, John tells us that we must ask according to His will and He will hear us….

Therein lies the challenge for us.  If we want to know if our prayers will be answered … if we want to have confidence when approaching God in prayer … the key will be to know His will!  This means we need to have an understanding of what the will of God might be in order to have confidence that we will receive what we ask.  So some thoughts arise here as I mediate on this verse.  When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, we learn that God is to be approached with reverence and to acknowledge His authority over heaven and earth:

Matthew 6:9-13 (NIV)

“This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, 10 your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us today our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’

Luke 11:1-4 (NIV)

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When He finished, one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” Jesus said to them, “When you pray, say: “‘Our Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one’”

What is the difference between “your kingdom come” and “your will be done?”  Is not His kingdom … His sovereign rule in accordance with His will? I sense that asking for His kingdom to come so that His will is done is the point … the application. The kingdom of God must first come to our hearts in order for our thoughts to be changed so that our behaviors (conduct) will change. We know Jesus as Savior but we know Jesus as Lord also.  We must surrender all to Jesus if we are to ever to know His will and to ask according to it.  So what John shared is consistent with what Jesus taught….  Paul weighs in on this point as well; explaining that the intercessory prayer of the Spirit is in accordance with the will of God.

Romans 8:26-27 (NIV)

26 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 through wordless groans. 27 And He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

So what would be some examples of approaching God according to His will?  Do we have anything explicit in the Word of God to guide us in prayer according to His will?  Well, the Bible is filled with the will of God – expressed as His commandments, statutes, ordinances, and precepts. And we know that with the law comes the knowledge of sin (Cf. Romans 3:20) because sin is the transgression of God’s law by definition. (Cf. 1 John 3:4) Paul reasoned that whatever is not of faith is sin. (Cf. Romans 14:23) So when we sin, we are not acting in accordance with the will of God.  Thus, God will not answer a prayer that leads to sin; rather, His desire is for our obedience … our holiness.

2 Peter 3:8-9 (NIV)

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. Instead He is patient with you, not willing that any should perish, but that everyone should come to repentance.

John 6:29 (NIV)

Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the One He has sent.”

John 6:40 (NIV)

For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.

1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 (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 honorablenot in passionate lust like the unbelievers, 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.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-19 (NIV)

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 

1 Peter 2:15-16 (NRSV)

15 For it is God’s will that by doing right you should silence the ignorance of the foolish. 16 As servants of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil.

So, I am confident that anyone who prays to be obedient … to repent and believe in His Son … to receive salvation through Jesus will receive answered prayer.  I am sure that anyone who prays for sanctification will experience that process in their heart. I am certain that God receives our thanksgiving and praise in prayer. And I believe when you pray to do the right thing, God will hear you.  But what about prayers and requests that are improper … even asking in opposition to the will of God?  The Apostle James addressed this matter when he wrote:

James 4:1-4 (NASB)

1 What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You desire (lust) and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasuresYou adulterous people, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

It is probable that if we ask anything according to our own will, God will not be inclined to hear.  Unless our personal will conforms to the revealed will of God, John indicates that God will not hear that prayer. Silence is the response … the answer.  Indeed, James indicates that prayers focused on ourselves or our worldly passions are in opposition to God and offensive to Him.  He compares such prayers to infidelity and unfaithfulness.  The Prophet Isaiah makes similar commentary:

Isaiah 59:1-3 (NIV)

1 Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor His ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear. For your hands are stained with blood, your fingers with guilt. Your lips have spoken falsely, and your tongue mutters wickedness.

So what is the application here?  Confidence in prayer stems from confidence in faith! Anyone who comes to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him. (Cf. Hebrews 11:6) We cannot be double-minded or waiver when we approach God in prayer. James gives us this admonition: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”(Cf. James 1:5-8) Likewise, James instructed: “Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

As we can see, doubt or unbelief can be as great a hindrance to prayer as any other sin.  So, trusting God at His Word … asking according to His Will … and believing you have what you ask are great steps to take when it comes to prayer. This is what Jesus taught as well: “So Jesus answered and said to them, “Have faith in God. For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. 24 Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.  Indeed, our prayers will be heard when we position ourselves within these parameters of prayer that God has revealed to us.  And I hope this study will encourage you in your prayer time.  Be bold and courageous … and believe!    

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

1 John 5

Faith in the Incarnate Son of God

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. 10 Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. 11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

Concluding Affirmations

13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. 14 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.

16 If you see any brother or sister commit a sin that does not lead to death, you should pray and God will give them life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that you should pray about that. 17 All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death.

18 We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the One who was born of God keeps them safe, and the evil one cannot harm them. 19 We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. 20 We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. 21 Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.

A Taxing Situation

Romans 13:6-7 (NIV)

This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

I’m pretty sure this verse comes around on Income Tax Day each year…. While none of us really like paying taxes (and there are too many to count); taxes are quite necessary for the functioning of our society.  And understanding the necessity of taxes to fund needs for the common good and welfare, probably none of resent taxation itself. Yet, I believe our disgruntlement and frustration stems from how our tax dollars are allocated or spent. My personal criticism is how I feel tax resources are wasted by our government. Nevertheless, let’s look at our verse in the surrounding context and similar passages with this theme in mind:

Romans 13:1-8 (NIV)

1 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. 6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.

Thus, we are to submit to the authorities over us. This has been a principle for the people of God since the time of judges and kings being appointed over the people of God … and different forms of government have been forged over the millennia of history:

Ecclesiastes 8:2-6 (NKJV)

say, “Keep the king’s command for the sake of your oath to God. Do not be hasty to go from his presence. Do not take your stand for an evil thing, for he does whatever pleases him.” Where the word of the king is supreme; and who may say to him, “What are you doing?” He who keeps his command will experience nothing harmful; and a wise man’s heart discerns both time and judgment, because for every matter there is a time and judgment, although the misery of man is great upon him.

Titus 3:1-3 (NIV)

1 Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone. At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. 

Yet, we find that even kings and government authorities can abuse their roles and fail to fulfill their appointments by God:

Isaiah 10:1-4 (NASB)

Woe to those who enact evil statutes and to those who constantly record unjust decisions, so as to deprive the needy of justice and rob the poor of My people of their rights; so that widows may be their spoil and that they may plunder the orphans. Now what will you do in the day of punishment, and in the devastation which will come from afar? To whom will you flee for help?
And where will you leave your glory or wealth? Nothing remains but to crouch among the captives or fall among the slain. In spite of all this, His anger does not turn away and His hand is still stretched out.

And there can be conflict when we disagree with those authorities.  Here is an example that illustrates that tension:

Acts 4:18-22 (NIV)

18 So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, 20 for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” 21 And when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way to punish them, because of the people, for all were praising God for what had happened.

So where does this leave us?  What is the application?

1 Peter 2:11-17 (NKJV)

11 Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from sinful desires which war against the soul, 12 having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation. 13 Therefore submit yourselves to every human authority for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, 14 or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men— 16 Live as free people, yet not using liberty as a cover-up for evil, but as bondservants of God. 17 Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.

1 Timothy 2:1-4 (NIV)

1 I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

So, today, Father, I lift up and pray for all those in authority over us.  I pray that they will seek You, O God, for wisdom and understanding … to make laws and regulations that will conform to Your will for all people … that honor and protect widows and orphans … that will not oppress the poor … that will preserve the sanctity of life You have given … that will honor Your Word in all truth.  Protect and bless those in government who administrate your will for the peace and well-being of your people.  Rebuke, correct, and disciple those authorities who do evil in your sight and do not uphold Your Word.  May Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven through those You have appointed to govern over us.  And, Father, in all things, may we conduct ourselves in a manner that honors and glorifies You and Your Name … that we might expose darkness and bring light and hope to those around us.  In Your Name I pray.  Amen.

So Now You Know!

Have a Blessed Day!

He Was Despised

Isaiah 53:3-4

He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces He was despised, and we held Him in low esteem. Surely He took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered Him punished by God, stricken by Him, and afflicted….

It is the last day of March 2020!  Last day of the quarter!  Unfortunately, it is not the last day of the Coronavirus….  We are only a few days away from Palm Sunday … the start of the holy week leading up to the crucifixion … and then three days in preparation for the resurrection … Easter.  Somehow it all seems surreal at this moment in time and history.  Many of you, like myself, cannot remember an Easter Sunday when we were not at church for worship and celebration of our Lord Jesus.  I suspect this Easter will be a “first” of broken traditions in many ways….

When I read our verse for today … I had to pause again and reflect on its solemn tone and its prophetic description of the Messiah who would appear over 700 years later.  The words and imagery recorded by the Prophet Isaiah in Chapter 53 provoke such a deep sorrow within my soul every time that I read them. Yet within the lines of pain and anguish and sadness and brokenness lies a message of love so profound … so overwhelming … so unmerited and undeserved.  It reveals the incomprehensible depth of love God has for you and for me … that He would send His Son, Jesus, to bear the iniquities of us all … to bear our sin … to make intercession for us … to redeem us from the captivity and penalty of sin … to atone for the justice God required without hesitation or regret….

After the writer of Hebrews recounted those who lived by faith (Chapter 11), he commented: “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” (Cf. Hebrews 11:39-40) But more important, the writer concluded, “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 pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before Him He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Cf. Hebrews 12:1-2)

Did you see it?  Its reads: For the JOY set before Him, Jesus endured the cross. How many of us find or experience JOY in self-sacrifice?  Would any of us knowingly … willfully … joyfully allow ourselves to die on behalf of death row inmates?  That is what Christ did!  All of us … every one of us was on death row.  For the wages of sin is death! (Romans 6:23) That is the justice each human is destined to receive. But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ (the Messiah) died for us. (Cf. Romans 5:8) This is what … or rather who … Isaiah foretold would come.  This is what God had already planned before the foundation of the world!  How can any human heart not be compelled to respond to the love of God?

Ephesians 2:1-4 (NIV)

1As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful human nature, and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.

Indeed, for those who believe in Jesus Christ, God withholds the penalty of death due for our transgression. The death sentence is pardoned because of His great mercy! Likewise, for those who believe in Jesus Christ, God gives us eternal life for our reward.  The gift is unmerited … undeserved because of His grace! Again I ask, “How can any human heart not be compelled to respond to the love of God which is in Christ Jesus?”  Yet we still live in a world filled with disbelief … some even in vehement rejection … just as it was when Jesus walked among His own people:

John 12:35-41 (NIV)

35 Then Jesus told them, “You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. Whoever walks in the dark does not know where they are going. 36 Believe in the light while you have the light, so that you may become children of light.” When He had finished speaking, Jesus left and hid Himself from them. 37 Even after Jesus had performed so many signs in their presence, they still would not believe in Him38 This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the Prophet: “Lord, who has believed our message; and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” (Cf. Isaiah 53:1) 39 For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere: 40 “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn—and I would heal (save) them.” (Cf. Isaiah 6:10) 41 Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him.

The issue of faith can be distilled down to two forces: light and darkness.  There is a kingdom of light and a kingdom of darkness; and a person belongs to one or the other.  Jesus declared to all: “I AM the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (Cf. John 8:12) And in John 9:5, Jesus said, “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world!”  What is the implication of His statement? Well, as long as the Church (the Body of Christ) is in the world, we are the light of the world. As long as the Church follows Jesus and submits to His authority, we will not walk in darkness nor lead others into darkness; rather, we will shine the light of the Gospel that leads to life … eternal life.

Matthew 5:14-16 (NIV)

14 You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

Ephesians 5:1-14 (NIV)

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the Kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth10 and find out what pleases the Lord. 11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. 13 But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. 14 This is why it is said: “Wake up, sleeper,   rise from the dead,   and Christ will shine on you.”

So where am I headed with this train of thought?  Well, I had to ask myself the same question. Ha!  Let me cite another passage to bring this all together. In the conflict between belief and unbelief … in the conflict between light and darkness in our world …  the only light there is or will ever be is the light of God found in Jesus Christ!

John 1:1-13 (NIV)

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made. In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankindThe light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through Him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize Him. 11 He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him. 12 Yet to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

So here is the application.  A person cannot become a child of God except through faith in Jesus Christ.  We cannot become children of light … we cannot be the light of the world … we cannot expose the darkness of this world … unless we have some to faith in Jesus Christ … the Word of God … the Messiah … the Holy One of Israel … the Light of the world. So, what is the glory of this Messiah that Isaiah saw and declared to Israel? Who is this Messiah that came to His own and His own did not receive Him?  In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  I want to remind us to remember and reflect upon the Messiah … our Lord and Savior Jesus … the One whom we have not seen except through the eyes of faith! Peter said, “Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:8-9)

Do you want to see Him … the One you love … the One in whom you believe … the One whose love for you is undeniable? Behold Him, the Lamb of God, who takes away our sin….  Remember this portrait! This is Jesus … our Messiah!  He is the love of God.  He is the light of life … the light that shines in darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it….  Amen.

Isaiah 53 (NIV)

1 Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces He was despised, and we held Him in low esteem.

Surely He took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered Him punished by God, stricken by Him, and afflicted.
But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth;
He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He did not open His mouth.
From arrest and judgment He was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people He was punished.
He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in His death,
though He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.

10 Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer, and though the Lord makes His life an offering for sin,
He will see His offspring and prolong His days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in His hand.
11 After He has suffered, He will see the fruit of His suffering and be satisfied;
by knowledge of Him my righteous servant will justify many, and He will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will give Him a portion among the great, and He will divide the spoils with the strong,
because He poured out His life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors.
For He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

So Now You Know!

Have a Blessed Day!

Saved For Sanctification

2 Peter 3:3 (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.

Our verse today continues to focus on the issue salvation for sanctification. I think we should add Verses 4-8 to it so that we would have a broader context for our study.  We have been looking at the gift of salvation … and the plan God ordained to save us from the darkness of this world before the Creation was spoken into existence.  It is fascinating to ponder the foreknowledge of God and His will as manifested through His love.  Like the Apostle John, the Apostle Peter, also an eyewitness of the majesty of Jesus Christ, came to understand that faith in Him gives us the right to become children of God.  Yes, all who receive Him into their hearts … who believe in His name … He gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. (Cf. John 1:12-13) And so as children of God, we will grow in our faith to bear His image because our salvation was provided for this purpose … to be set apart … to be sanctified … to be holy just as He is holy. (Cf. 1 Peter 1:15)

When we are born-again of the Spirit of God through faith in Jesus Christ, His Spirit comes to indwell us.  The outcome of this event is what Peter spoke about in this passage.  Peter declared, “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!  His divine power was given to us through the indwelling Holy Spirit.  As Paul corroborated, “He has saved us and called us to a holy life – not because of anything we have done but because of His own purpose and grace.  This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time….” (2 Timothy 1:9)And Paul, in his Letter to Titus observed, “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:4-7)

Through these (His own glory and goodness), God has given us His very great and precious promises (salvation and eternal life), so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

I hope this is making sense.  God ordained our salvation because of His own glory and goodness.  It was His mercy and love that brought grace to existence.  And, again, it is clear that God desires us to “participate in His divine nature”.  This is our calling to holiness!  This is our empowerment to become holy in all that we do!  As Paul exhorted:

Ephesians 2:1-10 (NIV)

1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the lusts of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages He might show the incomparable riches of His grace, expressed in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

And so Peter goes on to explain that there is an ultimate purpose for faith to be formed in us.  The initial purpose of faith is to bring us the light of the Gospel and to receive Jesus as Lord and Savior.  “In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (Cf. John 1:4) Jesus said, “I am the Light of the World. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (Cf. John 8:12) And we can infer that in the beginning,  God ordained for light to be separated from darkness. (Cf. Genesis 1:4) So it follows that our salvation through Jesus Christ was accomplished in order to separate us from the Kingdom of Darkness in this world and to transfer us into the Kingdom of Light.  As Paul concluded, “For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the Kingdom of the Son He loves.” (Colossians 1:13) This is consistent with what John declared, “This is the message we have heard from Him and declare to you: God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1:5)

I want us to look at the passage below wherein Paul stands before King Agrippa and shares what the Lord Jesus said to him during their encounter on the road to Damascus:

Acts 26:12-19 (NIV)

12 “On one of these journeys I was going to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. 13 About noon, King Agrippa, as I was on the road, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, blazing around me and my companions. 14 We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ 15 “Then I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ “ ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ the Lord replied. 16 ‘Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen and will see of me. 17 I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them 18 to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.19 “So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven. 

Wow! God desires for His people to be turned from darkness to light … from the power of Satan to God.  His purpose is to sanctify us through the salvation received in faith!  His purpose is to separate us unto Himself!  This is what it means to be “sanctified by faith in Jesus Christ”.   And this is what Peter is driving at in his epistle.  There is process of sanctification  for us to enter after we have come to faith in Jesus Christ!  I invite you to look at this process as we continue with our verse:

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.

Is this not the process of sanctification laid out for us?  Add to your faith goodness … knowledge … self-discipline … perseverance … godliness … mutual affection … love!  Yes, the light of Jesus should be moving you and I along in the pursuit of love itself … the giving and sharing of the same love which God demonstrated to us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Cf. Romans 5:8) Through the process of sanctification we are conformed to the same depth of love we received in Christ Jesus. “For those God foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son….” (Cf. Romans 8:29a)  Again, I hope this is making sense….

If people think that reciting the “sinner’s prayer” in repentance, and confessing Jesus as Lord and Savior is all that God has called you to do, I challenge them to look at these Scriptures again. “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified!” (Cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:3) Our sanctification IS the objective! Indeed, no one can become set apart for God without first receiving the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit! “Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.” (Cf. Hebrews 11:6) But it is clear that we must ADD to our faith in order to fully love as we have been loved….

I will close with a couple of Scriptures for us to meditate on.  I believe these passages are a call to the Prodigal … to the wayward and unfaithful among us.   Take some time and allow God to speak to your heart and mine about the perseverance of faith … required to complete the process of sanctification we must all undergo under the hand of God.  Oh, He is testing us!  He is refining us.  God wants us to see the value of faith … for it is of greater value than pure gold.  (Cf. 1 Peter 1:7)  So let us move on in sanctification to accomplish the holiness God desires for us to be like Him.  For without holiness, no one will see the Lord. (Cf. Hebrews 12:14) Amen.

Hebrews 10:32-39 (NIV)

32 Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering. 33 Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. 34 You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. 35 So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. 36 You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised. 37 For, “In just a little while, He who is coming will come and will not delay.” (Cf. Isaiah 26:20; Habakkuk 2:3) 38 And, “But the righteous one will live by faith. And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back.” (Cf. Habakkuk 2:4) 39 But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.

2 John 4-9 (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 say this because many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch out that you do not lose what we have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully. Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.

So Now You Know!

Have a Blessed Day!

Where Do I Stand

Job 23:10-11

But He knows the way that I take; when He has tested me, I will come forth as gold. My feet have closely followed His steps; I have kept to His way without turning aside.

I read this verse and I had to pause for some self-examination. Surely God knows everything!  It’s a given that He knows the way I take.  And I pondered, “Will I come forth as gold when I am tested? Will I persevere under trial? Just how close do my feet follow in His steps?  Have I consistently, faithfully kept my steps from turning aside?”  The final question … when I asked the question … is could I have answered or responded confidently like Job? Then I thought, maybe I should just read the entire Chapter 23.  So when I did, the answers to my questions seemed further away. My inquiry took me on a journey that I will share with you; and I apologize for the length, but perhaps, it will resonate with you at the conclusion. I do encourage you to read Job 23 in order to understand what Job was feeling and questioning in the midst of his own predicament and suffering.

Understandably, there are some theological points to challenge us in this passage and the entire book. As Job continues to complain about the personal suffering he is enduring … the unfairness and injustice of it … it appears that Job begins to consider the possibility that his complaint to God could be a form of rebellion (sin) in itself. Why? Because Job is in essence asserting that God has been unjust or unrighteous with him in this situation.  God has inflicted or allowed the infliction of severe pain, unrelenting distress, and great physical anguish. Job believes the “punishment” is unexpected … unbearable … and undeserved. Yet, Job also knows that neither injustice nor unrighteousness could come from the heart or nature of a loving God. To accuse God of doing wrong is … well … wrong itself. Like all of us, Job wants desperately to understand what God is doing … why He allows righteous people to be afflicted … why He permits bad things to happen to good people.  Indeed, this is an ongoing theological question that has been difficult to resolve with our limited human perspective or reasoning.

Many of us might assert that we live righteous lives … Christian lives … and perhaps even contend that our “goodness” should inoculate us from hardship in life. Yet, the experience of Job demonstrates that the absence of suffering will not necessarily be the case. So, if we should become bitter at God over the afflictions and hardships we encounter or experience during the course of life, what does that “response” convey about our own attitudes toward God? Like Job, our concept and knowledge of God is incomplete. We only know in part. (Cf. 1 Corinthians 13:9) His ways are higher than our ways … and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts. (Cf. Isaiah 55:9) And frankly, our knowledge of ourselves can be inaccurate as well.  As the Prophet Jeremiah observed, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.  Who can understand it? I, the Lord, search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve.” (Cf. Jeremiah 17:9-10) And yet, David reflects that God, in His great mercy, does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. (Cf. Psalm 103:10) Both points are valid and add to the theological tension we must consider….

I am drawn to Psalm 139, where David meditates on the intimate knowledge that God possesses of each of us.  It is difficult to even comprehend how God knows each one of us individually; personally; deeply; and yet, still loves us so passionately.  Though knowing the holiness and righteousness of God … knowing that he and each person falls short of His perfection … David still trusted and embraced the love of God when he prayed, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Cf. Psalm 139:23-24) I think this is what Job was doing as He desperately attempted to figure out the “reason” for the cascades of misfortune that had befallen him.  Job had followed the rules. He had lived blamelessly. Job contended that he has done nothing wrong … or at least nothing that should have deserved the loss of everything – short of his life itself. But then, I was reminded of the story about the rich young ruler:

Matthew 19:16-22 (NKJV)

16 Now behold, one came and said to Jesus, “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” 17 So He said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.” 18 He said to Him, “Which ones?” Jesus said, “‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ 19 ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” 20 The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect (complete), go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” 22 But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

The young ruler claimed a righteousness like that of Job. He had kept all the commandments! Yet, Jesus exposed a deeper issue … a heart issue … that the young man had not considered. Jesus revealed that in his heart, the young man was not “spiritually” where God wanted him to be. The young ruler trusted in himself and his own outward goodness … not realizing that his spirit was focused inward and filled with pride. Perhaps he mistakenly supposed that his riches sustained his life rather than the God who created him. Indeed, more “refining” was needed if the man wanted to have intimate relationship with God.  And as Job observed in his discourse, “God is unique, and who can make Him change? And whatever His soul desires, that He does. For He performs what is appointed for me, and many such things are with Him. Therefore I am terrified at His presence; when I consider this, I am afraid of Him.” (Cf. Job 23:13-15) Job knew that he was missing something … that He lacked full knowledge of what God desired. Job had maintained his integrity before God, and I don’t believe that Job was self-deceived about his own righteousness … though his so-called friends had tried to convince him as much. Yet, it appears there was something more God desired of Job or wanted to accomplish in Job. And it eluded Job until God later confronted him and revealed Himself.  I encourage you to read Job Chapters 38-42. Here is an excerpt to give see where I’m headed with this study:

Job 40:1-8 (NIV)

The Lord said to Job:

“Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer Him!” Then Job answered the Lord: “I am unworthy—how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer— twice, but I will say no more.” Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm: “Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. “Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself?

Perhaps there is a deeper “refining” process that transcends our attempts and abilities to “keep” the moral commandments of God.  And that might be the point we should note. As hard as we might endeavor to be obedient to the commands of God in our flesh, we still lack what is more desired by God – the transformation of our hearts through faith, hope, and love.  Through faith we discover and embrace the love of God; and through love, obedience is accomplished.  But faith in our works … in our own accomplishments … is quite misguided. And I believe this is what “righteous” Job learned through his experience. As Isaiah would later declare: “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” (Cf. Isaiah 64:6) And Paul later affirmed, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Cf. Romans 3:23) So, while I think we should all keep a healthy perspective of ourselves, I sense we need to consider that the afflictions and injustices that we encounter in life might not always be associated with sin or God’s righteous judgment of our sin.  Maybe God permits what humans might view as “injustice” to accomplish the greater purposes of faith, hope, and love!

John 9:1-3 (NKJV)

1 Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

One might consider that God was “unjust” to allow this man to be born blind. Now, think about all the birth “defects” that have occurred among the human population. Is God unloving or unjust to allow these things to occur to the innocent?  Yet, these “permitted” situations provide a great context for faith, hope, and love to be accomplished within us. Would we learn compassion for one another if our bodies were perfect and never ill? Would we learn to love one another in the absence of physical deformities or infirmities? If Job had never suffered in the manner he did, would he have sought to know God as deeply as he ultimately did? Think about the final outcome of this blind man’s life. His physical blindness was reversed and healed; but the greater result was that the work of God was revealed! As Jesus declared, “The work of God is this: to believe in the One He has sent.” (Cf. John 6:29) Think about the final outcome of Job’s life. God blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning…. (Cf. Job 42:12) Oh, there is an “outcome” that God desires for each of us … something deeper … more personal … more intimate! There is a desire for us to believe Him!  There is a desire for us to be holy, just as He is holy! (Cf. 1 Peter 1:15-16) There is a calling for us to be conformed to image of His Son! (Cf. Romans 8:29) What God desires in us requires FAITH!

I think the Book of Job provides us with great insight into the complexity of faith and its vital role for fellowship with God. It supports the theological foundation of what Paul would later posit: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Cf. Ephesians 2:8-9) As a possible contemporary of Job, Abraham embodied the power of faith to accomplish what God desires in his people. Regarding the faith of Abraham, Paul wrote: “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was imputed to him for righteousness.” (Cf. Romans 4:2-3) Likewise, Paul notes in Romans 4:5-8 how David understood the imputed righteousness of God: “But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one to whom the Lord shall not impute sin.” Here Paul is quoting from Psalm 32:1-2.

So, why is this important? Because the truth of the Gospel is found through faith! As Paul declared, “ I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” (Cf. Habakkuk 2:4) This truth has been revealed in Job … in Abraham … in David … and in those mentioned in the Hall of Faith (Cf. Hebrews 11).  If you will take time to read their stories, you will discover what those who “lived by faith” also had to endure all types of suffering in their lives! And you will observe what their faith produced during and through times of incredible testing and trials.  You will see, “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” (Cf. Hebrews 11:39-40) That something better was Jesus Christ – His Son! This is what Paul brings to our attention:

Romans 4:18-25 (NIV)

18 Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” (Cf. Genesis 15:5) 19 Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. 20 Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, 21 being fully persuaded that God had power to do what He had promised. 22 This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.” 23 The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, 24 but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. 25 He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.

When we think about the possible injustices that God has allowed in our world … in the lives of His people … there is one great injustice that He ordained that stands out in my mind. For God made Jesus, who know no sin, to be sin for us – so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21) Was it unfair of God … to sacrifice Himself for the world?  Was it unjust of Him … to determine that the justice we deserve would be borne by His only begotten Son?

Hebrews 5:5-10 (NIV)

In the same way, Christ did not take on Himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to Him, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.” (Quote is from Psalm 2:7) And He says in another place, “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” (Quote is from Psalm 110:4) During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, He offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the One who could save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverent submission. Son though He was, He learned obedience from what He suffered and, once made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him 10 and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.

Isaiah 53

1 Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him; nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces He was despised, and we held Him in low esteem. Surely, He took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered Him punished by God, stricken by Him, and afflicted.
But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; He was led like a lamb to the slaughter; and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He did not open His mouth. From confinement and judgment He was taken away. Yet who of His generation protested? For He was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people He was punished. He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in His death, though He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth. 10 Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer, and though the Lord makes His life an offering for sin, He will see His offspring and prolong His days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in His hand. 11 After He has suffered, He will see the fruit of His suffering and be satisfied; by His knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and He will bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore I will give Him a portion among the great, and He will divide the spoils with the strong, because He poured out His life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

Let these passages sink deep into your spirit for a moment. Let them unearth every thought you might have about any personal unfairness or injustice you have experienced.  Whatever you are going through … whatever you are experiencing … whatever hardship or affliction or suffering or despair of life … I want to encourage you to seek God in fervent prayer today. In His body, Jesus experienced every form of human suffering. He knows firsthand the intensity of your physical or emotional pain! He knows what you are enduring! He knows where you are! Oh, His light may reveal the presence of sin within your heart for you to confess; but I believe there may be something far greater that He desires to do in your life.  Allowing suffering may just be the “refining” work that He is doing for your faith – your precious faith that is of greater worth than gold! There may be a special work that God has chosen to reveal in you … so that others will receive the fruit of your suffering.  You may be closer to the image of Jesus than you realize! Perhaps this is why Paul declared, “I want to know Christ – yes, to know the power of His resurrection and participation in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death. (Cf. Philippians 3:10) For God is producing a faith in you and me that understands righteousness is imputed and not earned … that salvation is received because of who He is and not because of what we have done.  Yes, He is filling you and me with a faith to know His grace is sufficient … with a faith that can be harnessed to move mountains … to do the impossible! You and I may not see the final outcome of what God is doing in and through our lives, but I am certain that we should trust Him and His great love for us as we travel along this journey of faith….

1 Peter 1:3-9 (NIV)

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealedThough you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

We are not able to choose the method or circumstances by which God determines to cultivate and refine our faith in Him.  But we know that His will is for faith to be formed and to grow within us so that it may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed! Without faith, it is impossible to please God. (Cf. Hebrews 11:6) Our faith must be genuine … it must be sincere.  So, I believe God will work (as His sovereignty determines) to bring each of us to an authentic faith … as we look to Jesus, the author and finisher of faith. (Cf. Hebrews 12:2) For Jesus will distribute (just as He determines), the gifts of faith for the benefit and common good of all. (Cf. 1 Corinthians 12:4-11) Because it is faith that will advance His Kingdom, it is through faith that we are equipped for works of service, so that the Body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Cf. Ephesians 4:12-13)

So, I have come to believe that the Book of Job ultimately teaches us the purposes of faith … its role in hope … and its fulfillment in love. As Paul would later explain: “12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:12-13) If you have read this far, I appreciate your hanging with me on this side excursion into the topic of suffering.  I hope it has presented some ideas for you to ponder … or better still … encouraged you to dig deeper into the Word to discover more for yourself. (Cf. Acts 17:11) Regardless, if you are experiencing deep anguish in body or soul, I pray you will know in your inmost being that God is there with you.  He is the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort. (Cf. 2 Corinthians 1:3) May you and I, along with Job, in faith proclaim: “I know that my Redeemer lives and that in the end He will stand on the earth.  And after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God – whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes behold, and not another.  How my heart yearns within me! (Cf. Job 19:25-27)

So Now You Know!

Have a Blessed Day!

The Plans I Have For You

Jeremiah 29:11-13

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

This is a very familiar verse for most of us!  It is often quoted, and many of us have memorized … even memorialized these prophetic words.  No doubt that any one of us want to have a positive outlook on life … a hopeful future … and a purpose directed by God.  These things are central to our human experience and longing.  But Jeremiah looks deeper into what hope and purpose entail.  There are actions on our part that are fundamental to the realization of those plans God has promised to bring about in our lives.  In Verses 12 and 13, he states, “Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

I think we need to look closer at those words in the context:

  • You will call on Me
  • You will come and pray to Me AND I will listen to you
  • You will seek Me
  • You will find Me WHEN you seek Me with all your heart

I sense there are people who want to know God’s will for their lives.  They want to know HIS plans for their lives … the future HE envisions … the prosperity and protection HE promises.  Yet they do not pray … they do not sit still and listen … they do not seek God with their whole heart.  They have their own ideas for happiness … their own conceptions of prosperity … and they simply want God to bless what they want to do … based on their own plans for their lives.  This is not what the Word of God teaches us; and I urge anyone caught in this inner struggle and take a step back and examine themselves and their motivations….  We need to consider what the Prophet Isaiah wrote:

Isaiah 55:6-9 (NKJV)

Seek the Lord while He may be found, Call upon Him while He is near. Let the man of iniquity forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; Let him return to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon. “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.

This is why we need to come to God … to pray to Him … to listen to Him … to seek Him with our whole hearts … in order to know what HE has planned and ordained for our lives IN HIM.   A few days ago, I mentioned this verse: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” 10 But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. (Cf. 1 Corinthians 2:9-10) Here, Paul quoted Isaiah 64:4 which reads: “For since the beginning of the world people have not heard nor perceived by the ear, nor has the eye seen any God besides You, who acts for the one who waits for Him.”  Since the beginning people have not understood what God has planned and purposed for us; yet Paul indicates that God HAS revealed these things to us through His Spirit.  Indeed, God has made known the riches of His wisdom. But you and I cannot find out the plans God has for us … the future and hope He has ordained for us … if we do not have an intimate relationship with Him.  As Hebrews 11:6 asserts, “But without faith it is impossible to please God, for the one who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.

Do you want to know the plans that God has for you? His desire to give you abundant life? (Cf. John 10:10) Eternal life? (Cf. John 3:15-16) Then you need to call upon God.  You need to go to Him and pray.  You need to listen.  You need to seek Him with your whole heart.  For we read in Jeremiah 29:14 where God has said, “I will be found by you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back from your captivity; I will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you to the place from which I cause you to be carried away captive. Do you see what the verse is telling us?  “I will bring you back from your captivity.”  Captivity?  Yes, we have held ourselves hostage … imprisoned ourselves with our own thoughts and our own plans … our own visions of the future and not the plans God has designed and purposed for us.  He allowed us to be held captive there … in those thoughts … so that we could see and experience the futility … the servitude … the enslavement … of man-made dreams!  But God has something better … something greater … something more fulfilling and satisfying for our souls … if we would but seek an intimate relationship with Him who is our Creator … our Savior … our Lord.

Here are some exhortations that come to mind:

Psalm 33:10-11 (NKJV)

The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; He makes the plans of the peoples of no effect. 11 The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of His heart to all generations.

Psalm 146:3-4 (NIV)

Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing.

Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV)

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge (submit to) Him, and He will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 14:22 (NIV)

22 Do not those who plot evil go astray? But those who plan what is good find love and faithfulness.

Proverbs 14:22 (NKJV)

21 There are many plans in a man’s heart, nevertheless the Lord’s counsel—that will stand.

Proverbs 23:17-18 (NIV)

17 Do not let your heart envy sinners, but always be zealous for the fear of the Lord. 18 There is surely a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off.

Proverbs 23:17-18 (NIV)

“Woe to the rebellious children,” says the Lord, “Who take counsel, but not of Me, and who devise plans, but not of My Spirit, that they may add sin to sin….

Matthew 6:24 (NIV)

24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

Matthew 16:24-25 (NKJV)

24 “Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. 25 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.

Matthew 22:37-39 (NKJV)

Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’

James 4:3-5 (NKJV)

You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. 4 Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”?

So what is the application?  God knows the plans that HE has for you!  His thoughts toward you are thoughts of peace … not of harm.  His thoughts are for you … not against you.  The future He offers is the hope of eternal life … given to us through Christ Jesus our Lord.  God is asking us to come to Him for answers … to call upon Him and pray to Him.  God is asking us to seek Him with all of our heart … to trust Him in all things and not lean upon our understanding.  Our understanding is limited.  We only know in part. (Cf. 1 Corinthians 13:12) But what we do know is more than sufficient!  For we know the love of God … His great love (Cf. Ephesians 2:4) … His lavish love … that we might be called His children. (Cf. 1 John 3:1).  Yes, we can trust God for our future because we can trust God for His love. Amen.

So Now You Know!

Have a Blessed Day!

Be Reconciled To God

2 Corinthians 5:17-20

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And He has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.

Although we have reviewed this passage in recent days, I wanted to take a fresh look at it again.  Perhaps there is something we are missing for it to come up again….

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

This is our primary launch verse for the New Year … perhaps even for the New Decade.  The old has gone, the new is here!  We desire and pray for new creation to come and fill us … to fill the prodigal … to fill our homes … to fill our church.  We must break the old patterns and the old habits … the sin that so easily ensnares us (Cf. Hebrews 12:1) God declared that in Christ, He is doing a new thing! This is what the Lord says— “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. (Cf. Isaiah 43:18-19) And this shall be the message for 2020.  God will redeem and restore those who have forgotten Him … those who have wandered and become lost … those who are broken and in need of His power to heal and to save! 

 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 

Indeed, God has declared this year to be a year of reconciliation … for all to experience reconciliation with Him through Jesus Christ! He reconciled us who believe and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.  ALL THIS IS FROM GOD!  Forgiveness and reconciliation is His will! “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.  (Cf. John 3:16-17)

19 that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And He has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 

The Good News … the Gospel … is this very passage.  God is reconciling the world to Himself!   The Father is doing so through His Son … the Lord Jesus.  His will is active … perpetual … steadfast … unchanging.  God is faithful even when we fail.  His mercy endures forever!  His love endures forever! His love is unfailing! These are the truths confirmed in Scripture and fulfilled in the Son.  God has demonstrated His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Cf. Romans 5:8) Jesus bore the ultimate penalty for our sins.  Only through faith in Him is our sin not imputed against us. This is the message of reconciliation that has been committed to us. For our modern culture, perhaps the hashtags should be #redeem #reconcile #restore #resurrect #revive #rest.

20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.

Indeed, we are His ambassadors because we have put on the mantle of Christ and followed Him. As I read this last verse of the passage, the thought kept coming to my mind: “Today is the day of salvation!” In 2 Corinthians 6:1-3, Paul wrote: As God’s co-workers, we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. For He says, “In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.” I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation. There is a sense of urgency … a sense of imminence … to the message. We implore the prodigal, the wayward, and the lost to be reconciled with the Father.  God is appealing, and that through us, to a world that has been ravaged by darkness and rebellion and unbelief.  And though people may have hardened their hearts because of the abuse, pain, rejection, bitterness, and brokenness they have experienced in this fallen and sinful world, God is still calling out to them … speaking to their inner hearts … and asking them to listen and to hear His voice.  And He says, “Do not harden your heart … just believe me!”

Hebrews 3:7-19 (NIV)

So, as the Holy Spirit says: “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the wilderness, where your ancestors tested and tried me, though for forty years they saw what I did. 10 That is why I was angry with that generation; I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.’ 11 So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’” (Cf. Psalm 95) 12 See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. 13 But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. 14 We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end. 15 As has just been said: “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.” 16 Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? 17 And with whom was He angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies perished in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did God swear that they would never enter His rest if not to those who disobeyed? 19 So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.

This is the appeal God is making through us because He committed to us the message of reconciliation.  Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) And so through prayer and fasting, God is preparing us.  His church will itself experience a new birth.  It will become a new creation. The old has gone, the new is here! Oh, how I pray that each of us will become obedient to this call upon our lives. All this is from God…. May each of us, “Reach One. Teach One.”  Amen.

So Know You Know!

Have a Blessed Day!

Children of God

Galatians 3:26-28

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Our verse today has huge theological implications that cannot be ignored … nor is the text ambiguous.  Let’s follow it and look at other supporting Scriptures.

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.

Simply stated, for a person to be a child of God, he or she must be in Christ Jesus through faith in Him.  Compare this assertion from Paul with the declaration of John:

John 1:11-13 (NIV)

11 He came to that which was His own, but his own did not receive Him. 12 Yet to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

Our right to become children of God was GIVEN by Jesus Christ through receiving Him into our hearts … through believing in Him!  We do not have the right to claim that we are children of God except that it has been given us through the authority of the Son.  And of those who reject Jesus, John writes:

John 8:31-47 (NIV)

31 To the Jews who had believed Him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33 They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” 34 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 37 I know that you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are looking for a way to kill me, because you have no room for my word. 38 I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence, and you are doing what you have heard from your father.” 39 “Abraham is our father,” they answered. “If you were Abraham’s children,” said Jesus, “then you would do what Abraham did. 40 As it is, you are looking for a way to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things. 41 You are doing the works of your own father.” “We are not illegitimate children,” they protested. “The only Father we have is God Himself.” 42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I have come here from God. I have not come on my own; God sent me43 Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. 44 You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! 46 Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me? 47 Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.”

Wow!  Being physical children of Abraham does not in itself confer the right to become children of God.  Jesus said, If you were Abraham’s children, then you would do what Abraham did.  So what did Abraham do?  What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” (Romans 4:3) A person has to believe God at His Word to become His child through the adoption of sonship (as we have seen in previous studies).  Even John the Baptist, in preparing a way in the wilderness for the coming of Jesus, said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Cf. Luke 3:7-9)

So a child of Abraham is a child who believes God. And to believe God means to believe in the Son that He has sent – Jesus. As the Apostle John wrote:

1 John 5:1-13 (NIV)

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves His child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out His commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep His commands. And His commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. This is the One who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truthFor there are three that testify: theSpirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which He has given about His Son10 Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made Him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about His Son. 11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. 13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.

To me, there can be no other conclusion.  Only those who believe in Jesus Christ … the Son of the Living God …  become children of God.  And to become a child of God means that you have been saved and you receive the gift of eternal life.  Yes, and God has revealed these truths through His Son … through His Spirit … and through the Apostles who testified of His Son. As the Father Himself testified, “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased. Listen to Him!” (Cf. Matthew 17:5; Mark 9:7; Luke 9:35) As Peter testified, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) And Jesus Himself proclaimed, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6)

For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.

This is what it means to be IN Christ … in order to become a child of God through Him.

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

In Christ, the diversity of our identities become irrelevant.  In Christ, there is only unity of believers.  There is unity among the children born of God because we love the Father and the Son … and one another.  Indeed, we are commanded by Christ to love one another as He loved us.  And He loved us in all of our individual uniqueness and diversity.  Yes, He even loved us while we were still sinners. (Cf. Romans 5:8) So there should be unity in “family” of God … even there is also diversity in the gifts of grace that have been given to each of us to serve in the Body of Christ.  These gifts were ordained and apportioned as Christ determined for each of us according to the uniqueness with which He created each person.  Therefore, we should submit ourselves to one another in the effort to please Him who saved us.  As Paul admonished:

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.

So Now You Know!

Have a Blessed Day!

Humble Yourselves

James 4:10

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up.

Our verse today was short … but it has profound theological application for us.  Let’s put it in context first:

James 4:1-12 (NIV)

1 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.  You adulterous people (those unfaithful to covenant with God)! Don’t you know that friendship with the world (desiring the things of the world) means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that He jealously longs for the spirit He has caused to dwell in us? But He gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” (Cf. Proverbs 3:34) Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up. 11 Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a fellow believer or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. 12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?

When we look at our verse in context, it takes on deeper meaning and challenges us to look at the issues of humility and submission.  James begins with our own desires … the desires of our hearts.  He exposes the intensity of desire by describing the “carnal” behaviors associated with it … when personal desires exert themselves above what God wants and desires for us.  Sometimes our own desires drive us to murder or kill (and that could be with the tongue). Sometimes our own desires drive us to quarrel and fight.  Sometimes we believe that God should grant us what we pray for … but we have asked Him with wrong motives in our hearts ~ because what we want is often self-centered and not God-ordained.  James describes all of these behaviors as “friendship with the world” because they come from the desires of our flesh … and not from the Spirit of God.  And when a believer acts in these ways it creates “enmity with God” and he or she is in opposition to what God has called them to be in Christ Jesus.  Such conduct is not of the indwelling Spirit; rather, that person has grieved the Spirit (Cf. Ephesians 4:30), or worse, has quenched the Spirit (Cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:19) within them.

So in Verse 7, James confronts believers who have allowed themselves to be filled with everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life— because these come not from the Father but from the world. (Cf. 1 John 2:16) He admonishes us to submit ourselves to God and to resist temptation and to flee from what will destroy intimacy with God.  James calls for repentance … a change in direction … a change in our mindset lest the enemy gain a foothold (Cf. Ephesians 4:27) which can then become a stronghold.  James advises that if we desire something for ourselves, then we are to humble ourselves before God and allow Him to exalt us … allow Him to grant it according to His will and purposes….  That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” (Cf. Proverbs 3:34)

Our Lord Jesus afforded the greatest example of what humility before the Father should look like; and we examined this in a recent study.  I will repeat it here because it is apparent that God wants to address our propensities to exhibit pride and self-exaltation:

Philippians 2:3-11 (NIV)

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! Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Oh what this world would be … what the Body of Christ would be … if we would just submit ourselves to God and humble ourselves before Him. As believers, we have been invited to a great feast … to the marriage supper of the Lamb.  We are the wedding guests! But our seats at the table have been determined by the Host according to His own will and counsel.  There is plenty of room at the table for everyone to enjoy the celebration! But when we covet the best seats at the banquet … when our own spiritual or religious pride deceives us into thinking we hold a higher position or place of prominence in the Kingdom, God is not pleased.  He becomes jealous for His Spirit … who He placed within us. As Jesus taught,  “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Cf. Matthew 23:12; Luke 14:11; Luke 18:14)

Here are a few of the stories that Jesus shared to illustrate the necessity of humility in our walk of faith:

Matthew 11:11 (NIV) – See Also Luke 7:28

“Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

John 13:3-5; 12-17 (NIV)

Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under His power, and that He had come from God and was returning to God; so He got up from the meal, took off His outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around His waist. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash His disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around Him.

12 When He had finished washing their feet, He put on His clothes and returned to His place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” He asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

Mark 10:35-40 (NIV) – See Also Matthew 20:20-23

35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” 36 “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked. 37 They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” 38 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” 39 “We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, 40 but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.” 41 When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. 42 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”

Throughout the Scriptures, God asks His people … those who He called to be His own … to humble themselves!  And I believe humility begins with reverence for God; understanding that His Will … His Word … is the final authority over all He created; including us!  God is sovereign. Submission to Him means obedience.  We are to obey the Lord our God in all that He has commanded us.  As Moses wrote in Deuteronomy 8:3, “Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep His commands.”  Likewise, God opposes the proud … those who would exalt themselves.  For the proud do not seek God; in their thoughts there is no room for God. (Cf. Psalm 10:4) As King Solomon observed, “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” (Cf. Proverbs 11:2) And, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Cf. Proverbs 16:18) And Solomon advised, “The end of a thing is better than its beginning; the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit. Do not hasten in your spirit to be angry, for anger rests in the heart of fools.” (Cf. Ecclesiastes 7:8-9)

Lord, I pray that we your people, will humble ourselves under your mighty hand … and allow You to lift us up in due time.  For you will not yield your glory to another … and whoever exalts themselves will be humbled. You, Lord,  are the potter; and we are the clay in your hands. You, O God, determined in advance the works you have prepared for your people to accomplish.  You, O Lord, appointed gifts for your people as you determined.  What you chose for one you did not choose for another … so that we might submit ourselves to one another … so that we might serve one another in love as you taught us.  So I pray, Lord, that we will respond to this wisdom you have given us … that we, your children,  might be meek and lowly in heart … that we might not think more highly of ourselves than we ought. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. So let us exercise our gifts according to your grace so that YOU and you alone are exalted! In your name, I pray.  Amen.

So Now You Know!

Have a Blessed Day!

An Audacious Request

Luke 11:13 (NIV)

If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”

As you can see, the topic of prayer (communication with God) is being examined … and more specifically … the aspect of “asking” God for real needs in our lives.  I think it very important to examine this verse in the surrounding context because it follows Jesus’ teaching of a “model prayer” … followed by a parable … that leads to a teachable moment … and culminates with the life application of our verse … which should itself prompt us to seek and ask God for His incredible gift … His indwelling Holy Spirit!  Follow along with me:

Luke 11:1-13 (ESV)

The Lord’s Prayer

Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when He finished, one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” And He said to them, “When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins (debts), for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.”

Parable of the Inopportune Friend

And Jesus said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves,for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence* (or persistence) he will rise and give him whatever he needs. (*The NIV Translation renders the expression “shameless audacity”.)

Teachable Moment

And so I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 11 What fathers among you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone; or if he asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; 12 or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?

Application

13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”

Now, given the background and foundation laid here, it is evident to me that the focal point of this passage is Verse 13.  Jesus begins with teaching that prayer is about connecting with God the Father.  Prayer acknowledges God is … His dominion … His power.  We are to show Him reverence – “hallowed be your name”.  “Your Kingdom come,” means God has authority and sovereignty over all HIS creation … including us.  Jesus encourages us through prayer to ask for our physical needs … to request forgiveness … and to avoid the temptation of evil.  But then, Jesus shares a parable to emphasize our need to be “persistent” in prayer.  It is as though we are urged to be bold and tenacious in the expression of our hearts before God.  But why the need for perseverance?  Perhaps our resolve and steadfastness in prayer reflects the sincerity of our hearts … that we have not come before God with just some vague hope laced with doubt or a general wish for something without deep expectancy to receive it.

I find confidence in that Jesus moves into an imperative concerning prayer at this point: “And so I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”  If prayer was futile or pointless, why would Jesus instruct us to ask, seek, and knock during prayer AND assure us the Father will favorably respond?  Jesus goes on to compare the responses of human fathers to their children when they “ask” for various physical needs.  He observes, “if sinful human fathers know how to respond to requests based upon their mortal capacities to give, then how much more will our perfect Heavenly Father know how to respond to His children when they ask for even greater needs … something so “audacious” or “outrageous” as to want the Holy Spirit?  Yet, Jesus indicates that the baptism or infilling of the Holy Spirit is exactly what we should be asking to receive!  I dare say, He is indeed our greatest need!

I know that I have quoted this passage quite often, but I believe it shares great insight into this issue:

2 Peter 1:3-4 (ESV)

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence, by which He has granted to us His precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.

  1. His divine power (the Holy Spirit) is a gift. (Cf. Acts 1:8; Acts 2:38; Acts 10:45)
  2. His divine power (the Holy Spirit) is promised. See Joel 2:28-29. (Cf. Acts 1:4-5; Acts 2:33, 39; Ephesians 1:13)
  3. His divine nature is effectuated in us through the promised gift of the Holy Spirit (Cf. Acts 10:38; Romans 15:13, 18-19; 1 Corinthians 2:4; Ephesians 3:16)

You might note that most of the cited cross-references above point to the power of the Holy Spirit to endue the ability to proclaim the Gospel … the Word of God … with boldness or with tongues (other languages) so that the message of Jesus Christ is spread to anyone and everyone who will hear or listen. I believe the reason this “power” is so prominent it because the Word of God induces genuine faith (Cf. Romans 10:17); and it is faith in Jesus Christ that effectuates the divine power we need for a transformed and Spirit-filled life as evidenced by the fruit of the Spirit. (Cf. Galatians 5:22-23) Indeed, His divine power is essential for the Kingdom of God to be realized in our lives; and I believe that is our greatest need to be sought through prayer. As Jesus shared, we should ask the Father for the Holy Spirit (His divine power) with “shameless audacity” and “persistence”!  And although I think such brash language was used in His parable to urge us to be fearless and courageous as we approach the Father, I cannot help but believe we should always be humble and reverent before Him … even when feeling zealous for His precious promise.  And this is His promise: Our Heavenly Father, who is perfect in all His ways, WILL give His Spirit to those who ask Him.

One final thought:

James 1:5-8 (NIV)

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. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

So when you ask God for anything … believe God! By His own glory and excellence, God has promised to grant us His Spirit, and He has promised to grant us eternal life through His Son, Christ Jesus. And so my prayer is that you and I will believe His great and precious promises in these latter days and ask for them with expectant boldness! Amen.

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!