Purpose

A blog that focuses on the quest to know and please God in a constantly increasing way. The upward journey never ends. My prayer is that this blog will reflect a heart that seeks God and that it will encourage others who share the same heart desire.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Strangers

In 1962 Jim Reeves wrote a song containing these words: "This world is not my home. I'm just a passing through." In 1678 John Bunyan expressed the same idea in his book, originally titled Pilgrim's Progress From This World to That Which Is to Come. In A.D. 64, the apostle Peter said, "Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul" (I Peter 2:11).

Peter lovingly addresses his readers, earnestly urging rather than forcefully demanding. His entreaty is given because he wants what is best for these beloved Christians. He wants them to do what is best so that their lives can be the best as they ought to be.

Peter addresses his readers as aliens and strangers, which is the basis for his urging. The action he is encouraging is reasonable based on the realization of who they really are. The two terms share one Greek root, while each includes a second root that creates the distinction between the two words. Alien deals with the dwelling itself, or by implication the family. In other words, the family unit or home is now located in a place that is not its origin. Stranger refers to making one's home or residing. Beyond the fact of having one's house in a foreign land, it is the idea of settling in there and realizing that one is now living in a foreign land, probably never to return to his original home. The reality that the believers are aliens and strangers, not really belonging where they are, is the reason they are to act and live as Peter is about to encourage.

The concept is quite familiar to his readers. Peter had already referred to them as strangers in the first verse of his epistle. In 1:1, however, he was referring to earthly geography. These believers had been forced from their homes in the Diaspora. They were now living in various regions which are listed in the epistle's opening. They know exactly what it is like to be displaced and to live in a strange place. In 2:11, Peter is applying the same concept in the spiritual realm.

Peter is stating that this world is not the true home of these (or any) believers. These readers, who understood the concept quite well due to their geographic displacement, are to apply that understanding to their spiritual lives. They are now residents of heaven, holding heaven's culture and values. This world's cultures and values are foreign. A Latin would feel out of place in an African culture and would not participate nor be interested in certain practices. A diplomat in a foreign country might explore various cultural practices, but he might never understand them or embrace them for himself, even though he lives in the country where they are practiced. This is exactly how a Christian should be toward this world.

Because of their foreign status in this world, Peter urges the believers to abstain from the fleshly lusts associated with it. They are to hold themselves off from such things and not let themselves go toward them. Specifically, the fleshly lusts are the longings and desires associated with this world. They are urges that are bodily, temporal, and unregenerate. "For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father but is from the world" (I John 2:16).

Peter's basis for urging this response is completely logical. Because these believers are aliens, it is reasonable and expected that they would not embrace the practices of the corrupt world in which they are living as non-citizens. Various religious groups have recognized this danger in the past. The Pilgrims, for example, had left England and settled for a time in Holland. In Holland they feared the world's influence as they saw the culture damaging their children in terms of worldliness and corruption. The Pilgrims ended up leaving Holland as a result. While a geographic move may not be necessary, or even effective, the underlying concern is correct. Earthly, sinful, basely passionate, self-centered, and proud desires have nothing to do with Christianity. Instead they are the true manifestation of a world without God. No Christian should embrace those things.

Peter goes on to tell why his instruction is so important. The fleshly lusts are dangerous and should be avoided, never embraced, because they wage war against the soul. Experimenting with or involving oneself in those lusts is asking for trouble and inviting conflict. Fleshly lusts, once embraced or experimented with, create a raging conflict. The war already exists, but it is folly to make the war harder by inviting the enemy into one's own camp. The wisest action is to avoid the battle as much as possible and to have good defenses so that the enemy doesn't have a good opportunity. Embracing (failure to abstain from) fleshly lusts is deliberately causing the battle to rage.

This battle is quite serious. Although a battle dealing with fleshly lusts would seem to be a physical battle, it is actually a spiritual battle. Satisfying the flesh carries the battle into the arena of the soul. "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 6:12).

Satan is at the root of the world's system and its fleshly lusts, and he wants to destroy Christians. Christians must respond soberly, seeking to limit the temptation and pull of the world. They should never (intentionally or unintentionally) make the battle harder by deliberately embracing something that earnestly seeks to destroy his soul. Many things about the world hold some appeal, and they are readily embraced by the citizens of this world, but they should not be part of the lives of believers, whose residence here is that of strangers.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

No Hope

NPR recently reported that life expectancy in the U.S. has dropped for a second straight year, a rare occurrence even for a single year. The report cited three reasons for the on-going decline: accelerating deaths from opioid abuse, increased alcohol-related deaths, and a rise in suicides.

Economist Anne Case calls these "deaths of despair," explaining, "So we think of it all being signs that something is really wrong and whatever it is that's really wrong is happening nationwide." She continues, "The decline of well-paying jobs with significant yearly salary increases, job security and good benefits may be fueling a sense of frustration and hopelessness. . . . That may be one reason fewer people are getting married and more people are having children outside of marriages." Her remarks conclude, "It may be the deaths from drugs, from suicide, from alcohol are related to the fact that people don't have the stability and a hope for the future that they might have had in the past."

Her analysis is insightful, but she fell short of identifying the real problem. Her final statement is true, but the root of hopelessness goes deeper than the external factors of job and family. People lack stability and hope because they are trying to live life and define success apart from God.

Modern America has no hope because it has abandoned the source of hope. By and large, Americans have ignored God at best, and at worst have outright rejected Him. Society is fighting to remove God from public arenas, to redefine Him in such a corrupted way that His relevance is lost, and to undermine traditions and lifestyles that are linked to Christianity or the Bible.

Life without God has no real hope. Sometimes life proceeds according to plan, but frequently reality falls short of expectations. The world is imperfect, and people are imperfect; therefore, nothing will match the level of hope, bliss, and anticipation that people desire. Jobs will be stressful, unpredictable, and mundane. Health will falter, and injuries will occur. Marriages will have rocky moments, children will disappoint, and people will be less than ideal. Hope that is dependent on success at work, at home, and personally will be bruised regularly and shattered repeatedly.

There is only one Person who is constantly faithful and consistently positive. God is who He is, and He does what He says He will do. He is always right, always pure, always dependable, always wise, and always a reliable rock on which to lean. Hope in God will not be disappointed.

Hope in God is primarily future-looking rather than present-focused. The greatest cause for hope is the expectation of heaven. "Looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus" (Titus 2:13). To someone who does not have that ultimate hope, the disappointments and frustrations of current life can be overwhelming and quite discouraging.

Beyond the eternal aspect, hope in God also looks to the future during difficulty. Trials are a realistic part of life, but someone who believes in God looks forward to God's deliverance and renewal of blessing. "I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; be strong and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the LORD" (Psalm 27:13-14).

While the above discussion highlights the necessity of the gospel for those who do not have it, the sad reality is that the statistics cited in the report also include professing Christians. It would be naive and delusional to think that Christians never die from suicide or substance abuse - or to expand the idea of hopelessness, that Christians never get so discouraged and disappointed that they consider such things. Hopelessness can exist without ending in a related loss of life.

How can such a condition exist among Christians? Well, if life without God has no hope, life without God at the center isn't much better. For God to have significant impact on the life, He must be a regular and central focus of that life. Sadly, many who claim Christ as Savior nevertheless hold God at the fringe. They make Him an add-on or afterthought. With lives filled with the same pursuits and ambitions as the unsaved, such Christians face the same discouragements, disappointments, and frustrations. In reality, God has little impact on their lives, and they grant Him little control over their thoughts or daily existence.

Lest my readers dismiss themselves as not falling into that category either, let me challenge each of us to aspire for the best, rather than compare with the worst and thereby decide we are okay. In truth, the more deeply and consistently we connect with God, incorporate Him into our daily lives, and let Him determine how success is defined in our lives, the greater will be our hope.

Even sincere Christians who claim to love God and who are fairly consistent in Christian expectations can easily fall into the trap of looking for hope in the wrong places. They can seek hope in a happy marriage with the right partner, in children whom everyone admires, in a ministry with wide and positive impact, or in many other "successes." For some people, successes in those areas might be pretty consistent, but it is highly unlikely that there will not be failures and disappointments mixed in. If hope is focused on those lesser things without looking ultimately to God, the inevitable disappointments can be devastating, even for a Christian.

A hopeful life is possible, but only when the focus is right. Paul said, "For to me, to live is Christ" (Philippians 1:21). "The fruit of the Spirit is . . . joy" (Galatians 5:22). Jesus assured, "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly" (John 10:10). An abundant life of hope and joy is available to the Christian who is fully fixed on God.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

What Can I Give Him?

Christina Rossetti's famous Christmas poem poses a question.

"What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man
I would do my part.
Yet what can I give Him?
Give my heart."

Without considering Christmas, my similar thoughts had started in Psalm 116:12. "What shall I render to the LORD for all His benefits toward me?" The psalmist answers his question with a list that includes prayer (v. 13), public service (v. 14), an entire life of godliness (v. 15), a life of service (v. 16), thanksgiving (v. 17), and praise (v. 19). While realizing that no gift is sufficient to repay God, sincere gratitude and heartfelt dedication prompt believers to make some seemingly outstanding gifts.

Abraham gave his son Isaac. While God did not require the actual sacrifice, in Abraham's heart and mind, the deed was done. He was willing to give his precious son for whom he had waited many years. (Genesis 22)

Moses gave his life of ease and privilege. He chose to abandon "the treasures of Egypt" in exchange for "ill-treatment" in following God's call. (Hebrews 11:24-26, Exodus 2-3)

When the time came to build the tabernacle, "everyone whose heart stirred him and everyone whose spirit moved him came and brought the LORD's contribution" (Exodus 35:21). These life-long slaves who had fled Egypt with only what they could carry surrendered their most precious possessions, as well as giving their labor to make what they did not own. (Exodus 35:22-29)

Although rash in his vow, Jephthah determined to give God the first thing that came out of his house when he returned from battle, and he followed through even though it meant the sacrifice of his only child. (Judges 11:30-39)

For years Hannah was tormented by her rival and terribly burdened in her own heart because she did not have a son. When God answered her prayer, Hannah gave her precious Samuel to serve God "all the days of his life." (I Samuel 1:2-28)

When God turned back His hand of judgment, David's gratitude led him to make a great sacrifice at a particular location. Although the owner of the land offered to donate the location, David bought the land and animals in order to make a one-time offering. He determined that he would "not offer burnt offerings to the LORD [his] God which cost [him] nothing." (II Samuel 24:15-25)

In response to God's blessing, David aspired to build a magnificent temple for God. When God revealed that this role was not for David, David gave his obedience and also did everything he could to plan and prepare for the temple that his son would build. As the time approached, David added rich contributions of his own wealth to supplement the materials that he had already gathered. (II Samuel 7, I Chronicles 28-29)

The people joined in contributing for the temple. When David asked who was "willing to consecrate himself" to the Lord, the people gave "willingly" and "with a whole heart" of themselves and of their resources. (I Chronicles 29:5-9)

Both Solomon and Hezekiah made extreme and outlandish sacrifices at special times in Israel's history. When Solomon dedicated the temple, he "offered a sacrifice of 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep" in addition to other offerings that went on for weeks. (II Chronicles 7:4-10) In a time of great revival, Hezekiah renewed the Passover that had been neglected for years. The celebration continued for an extra seven days, and Hezekiah's personal contributions for that extension alone included "1000 bulls and 7000 sheep." (II Chronicles 30)

At this same time of revival, the people of God brought their tithes and offerings. They brought so abundantly that for four months those who received the offerings had to pile them in heaps. The chief priest reported "plenty left over" and a "great quantity left over." (II Chronicles 31:4-10)

This trend of abundant giving continued in the New Testament. When Jesus called His disciples, they immediately left all and followed Him. They walked away from their families, their comforts, and their businesses to give themselves to God. (Matthew 4:18-22)

A poor widow came to make her small offering, which Jesus identified as a great offering, saying, "She, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on." Considering those ramifications, this lady gave far more than anyone would have expected. (Matthew 12:41-44)

Another woman gave an incredible gift to Jesus. She brought "an alabaster vial of very costly perfume of pure nard." The woman took this perfume, estimated at a year's wages, and expended it entirely in a single moment of worship. (Mark 14:1-9)

Regarding his dedication to serve God, Paul spoke of the love of Christ that controlled him, impelling him not to live for himself, but to give his life's service for the One who had died on his behalf. (II Corinthians 5:14-15)

Paul spoke of the churches of Macedonia, who wanted to take an offering for other needy Christians. Even though the Macedonian believers were in "deep poverty" and "in a great ordeal of affliction," they gave an abundant gift that was "beyond their ability" and begged for this gift to be taken to the other believers. This generous monetary gift was a result of an underlying gift; "they first gave themselves to the Lord." (II Corinthians 8:1-5)

These examples reveal that God values these great and sacrificial gifts. They also reveal that everyone has something valuable to give to God. When a person gives his heart to God, he gives himself. After that starting point, no other gift is too great to give. The outward gifts of wealth, possessions, family, or service are often lavish, extravagant, and sacrificial; the ultimate underlying gift is a heart of worship, praise, and thanksgiving. While the heart-gift will inevitably lead to other more tangible gifts, it is the heart-gift that is most important and valuable. 

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Humble Dependence

While every Christian has times of victory, there are nevertheless times of struggle and defeat also. When facing temptation, disappointment, and failure, a Christian must admit his struggle to God.

God already knows man's condition. "For [Jesus] knew all men, and . . . did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man" (John 2:24-25). Nothing man tells God about his weakness will shock or surprise God, but recognizing one's shortcomings can initiate movement toward help.

Admitting he is not where he would like to be is a step of growth for a Christian. Paul powerfully expressed his weakness: "Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?" (Romans 7:24). Clearly, Paul wanted to be more consistent spiritually. He admitted that he longed to be free from sin's recurrent impact on his life.

Asaph also admitted his struggle. While his words were written after he had gained victory, they disclose his piteous condition in the midst of the temptation. He summarized, "But as for me, my feet came close to stumbling, my steps had almost slipped" (Psalm 73:2). Asaph had been so troubled in his spirit that he was ready to give up on following God. "Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure and washed my hands in innocence" (v. 13). Asaph admits how low he had sunk in his emotions and actions. "When my heart was embittered and I was pierced within, then I was senseless and ignorant; I was like a beast before You" (vs. 21-22). This story speaks honestly of a nearly tragic failure that Asaph did not want to repeat.

Jesus spoke to a father whose son was troubled by an evil spirit. As Jesus prepared to heal the son, He questioned the father's faith. "Immediately the boy's father cried out and said, 'I do believe; help my unbelief'" (Mark 9:24). If this man possessed no belief, he would not have come to Jesus, yet he freely recognized and admitted that his faith was lacking and imperfect. He was not in the position where he wanted to be.

Admitting one's need is a helpful starting point which leads logically to formulating a resolve. In spite of moments of tremendous failure, David had a sincere heart to follow God. Whether before or after his great sin, he penned this resolve: "I will set no worthless thing before my eyes; I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not fasten its grip on me" (Psalm 101:3). David knew something of his own weakness, and he made this statement that he wanted to do anything he could to avoid sin.

Paul also recognized his own weakness in the midst of his resolve. "For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not" (Romans 7:18). Paul desperately wanted to do the right thing. His heart was in the right place. He knew, however, that the struggle to follow through was too great for him.

While it is important for a Christian to resolve to do right, he must realize that the strength to follow through depends on God. The resolve must be coupled with eyes that are fixed on God. In a time of fear, David prayed, "When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You" (Psalm 56:3). He freely told God that he was fearful. At the same time, David recognized that God was the answer to his weakness. David's resolve to trust could not be separated from the God in whom he was trusting.

Another psalmist penned the amazing Psalm 119. He starts by noticing and admiring faithful believers around him. This young man realized and admitted that he was not where he wanted to be. His resolve was also coupled with admission to God. "Oh that my ways may be established to keep Your statutes!" (Psalm 119:5). His heart's desire could not be accomplished without the help of the God to whom he prayed.

Anyone was struggles, either with the oppression of temptation or with the reality of spiritual immaturity, must realize that victory is possible only through God. Paul revealed that his spiritual growth and success were achieved only by God's grace. "But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me" (I Corinthians 15:10). In fact, Paul disclosed that even the desire to please God could come only from God Himself. "For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13).

These steps work together effectively. A Christian realizes and admits his weakness. He resolves to please God in that area. He recognizes that only God's help can bring success. This leads him to asking God for help.

Something amazing happens when a Christian cries out to God in an admission of human helplessness and a plea for divine help. "God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble" (I Peter 5:5). When man thinks he is strong enough or spiritual enough to get victory on his own, he is depriving himself of God's grace. When he humbly appeals to God, God responds with the grace needed to achieve the victory.

In considering the weaknesses and temptations of man, God instructs, "Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (Hebrews 4:16). There is no victory without God's grace, but God's grace is poured out on the humble.

"The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise" (Psalm 51:17).

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Glory to God

"Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (I Corinthians 10:31). Beyond being just a slogan for Christians to hang on walls or a mantra for them to chant before sporting events, these familiar words are foundational Christianity.

Ephesians opens with a repeated phrase of purpose regarding God's interaction with Christians: "To the praise of His glory" (Ephesians 1:12 & 14, variations in v. 6 and 3:21). In speaking of this intended goal, Paul includes the believers' choosing and adoption as sons, their redemption and inheritance, their sealing by the Spirit, and the functioning of the church. From beginning to end, Christians are to bring glory to God in everything.

Jesus said, "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16). The good deeds and respectable lives of Christians should point to Someone far greater than themselves. Boasting of their own goodness, ability, and success gives glory to man and detracts glory from God. God knows man's tendency toward boasting, acknowledging that, if possible, man would boast even in the realm of salvation. "Not as a result of works, so that no one may boast" (Ephesians 2:8).

Beyond salvation, it is important for believers to decrease and for God to increase (John 3:30). This includes every area of Christian service. "Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving  by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified" (I Peter 4:11). In fact, God often chooses unlikely and seemingly incompetent people to do His work "so that no man may boast before God" (I Corinthians 1:29); the glory therefore goes to God instead of man.

Glorifying God should also be part of secular life. Those with talent in any area must direct glory toward God rather than boasting in themselves. Christians must constantly consider and magnify God in their employment. "Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters . . . as to Christ; not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart" (Ephesians 6:5-6).

There is logic in directing glory to God in these areas. Clearly, only God could have achieved salvation. Only God can help Christians live outstanding lives of good works. Only God can give talents and abilities. Anything Christians do on a daily basis should reflect glory to the God who enables them to do that activity effectively and with the right spirit.

The Bible also references glorifying God in a less expected context: trials. Paul understood this concept. When God chose not to remove Paul's thorn in the flesh, Paul rejoiced that his own resulting weakness highlighted God's power. Paul was perfectly content to allow God to receive glory by doing through Paul what Paul could not do. "Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me" (II Corinthians 12:9).

Paul's trials extended beyond the physical. In II Corinthians 4, Paul describes being "afflicted in every way," "perplexed," "persecuted," and "cast down" (vs. 8-9). As he considered his human frailty and inadequacy in this intense setting, Paul recognized several purposes. First, "that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves" (II Corinthians 4:7). If Paul was so weak and so beset by overwhelming circumstances, then God's power alone would be the explanation, and therefore God would receive glory.

Second, "that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh" (v. 11, variation in v. 10). In bearing trials and infirmities, Paul would look like (and remind people) of the Savior who had done the same. Paul provided a small illustration of Christ's suffering, and therefore his life pointed to and exalted Christ.

Third, "that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God" (v. 15). Paul's suffering was directly connected to his ministry for God. As he served others through suffering, the gospel spread, and many, many more people had reason to give glory to God the Savior.

Peter also understood this concept of glorifying God through suffering. "But if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name" (I Peter 4:16). Christians should not view suffering as a cause for shame, but rather as an opportunity to give glory to God when their lives draw the attention and focus of others.

Specifically, the unexpectedness of going through trials without despair provides Christians with opportunities to explain how that is possible. Any honest answer brings glory to God. "But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you" (I Peter 3:15).

While previous verses have dealt primarily with glory being given to God during this lifetime, there is also an aspect of glory that will be given to God in heaven. A believer whose faith endures through the trials of life provides proof of the reality of God and of the transforming work and stabilizing strength found only in Him. "So that the proof of your faith, being much more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (I Peter 1:7). Truly God deserves glory through every aspect of life. Someday He will receive that glory, but He should also receive it now.

"Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen" (I Timothy 1:17).

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Temptation

Everyone faces temptation. Some temptation is purposefully directed by Satan. "Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour" (I Peter 5:8).

Other temptation, while still dangerous, comes merely from the constant bombardment of living in a fallen, lustful world. "For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world" (I John 2:16). The world appeals to the fleshly nature found in men, and man falls when he allows his innate desires to cooperate with the allure of this world. "But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust" (James 1:14).

Believers will not be perfected until their bodies are redeemed in glory, meaning they will sometimes yield to temptation on this earth. Nevertheless, victory over specific temptation is possible. Jesus told His disciples that they could avoid falling to the snare. "When He arrived at the place, He said to them, 'Pray that you may not enter into temptation'" (Luke 22:40).

Temptations are universal and frequent, but failure is not inevitable. "No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it" (I Corinthians 10:13). When temptation comes, there is always a way to emerge victorious.

Jesus provided insight into the key for victory by revealing, "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail" (Luke 22:31-32). Jesus said it was Simon's faith that was the key. Peter himself later rehearsed the same truth. Referring to the devil, he instructed, "But resist him, firm in your faith" (I Peter 5:9). Paul also advised, "In addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one" (Ephesians 6:16). To resist Satanic attack, one's faith must be firm and cannot fail.

Victory over the temptations of the world is achieved the same way. "This is the victory that has overcome the world - even our faith" (I John 5:4). "For we walk by faith, not by sight" (II Corinthians 5:7). Paul commended one church for their faith, which gave them victory in the midst of multiplied testing. "Therefore, we ourselves speak proudly of you among the churches of God for your perseverance and faith in the midst of all your persecutions and afflictions which you endure" (II Thessalonians 1:4).

This victory-rendering faith must be grounded in the Bible. "So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ" (Romans 10:17). Jesus Himself provided an example of claiming the Bible's truth in the midst of temptation. In Matthew 4, he repeatedly countered Satan's attacks with the premise, "It is written."

People with extensive Bible knowledge still fall in temptation when their knowledge is not accompanied by faith. "But the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard" (Hebrews 4:2). One of the most wide-scale failures in the Bible was due to a lack of faith. The children of Israel, having experienced God's great deliverance and incredible provision and having received His instructions, did not believe God when it came time to enter the Promised Land. Their lack of faith brought failure in their time of testing. "So we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief" (Hebrews 3:19).

The Bible is filled with stories of people who had victory over temptation and of others who collapsed in failure. Those who did not maintain faith ended in disaster. "Keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith" (I Timothy 1:19).

Depending on their faith, some Bible characters stood victorious, while others fell in the same temptation. One man believed God's words and clung to them in faith, while another forgot or wavered in his belief. In the area of immorality, Joseph prevailed while David fell. When it came to illness, Job struggled while Paul triumphed. In terms of faithful service, Barnabas had victory while Demas faced defeat.

Some characters even had different outcomes at different stages of life. Given the perfect opportunity, David would not kill Saul, who had pursued him mercilessly, yet David later devised an elaborate scheme to murder Uriah. John Mark initially abandoned God's service, but later proved to be a profitable servant. Balaam repeatedly refused to curse God's people, but eventually contrived a way to placate a wicked king. Abraham had such strong doubts that he lied and schemed, but later his faith that God could raise Isaac from the dead yielded incredible obedience. Job struggled with significant doubts and despair but finally silenced himself humbly before God.

In whatever test a believer is experiencing, it would be instructive to study Bible characters in similar situations. Why did one man have victory while another fell? Why did a particular character experience only occasional victory? What truth of God was claimed in faith in one instance but forgotten in another? What mistruth became more important than God's truth? What human lust was so strong that God's truth was ignored?

Even more practically, a believer can ask himself questions. What dangerous thoughts or lusts threaten my faith? What things am I believing that will lead me in the wrong direction? What truth of God must I think about in this situation? Do I choose to believe that truth? Am I mixing my understanding with faith? How am I going to remind myself of this truth so that I will still have victory tomorrow?

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Increasing Knowledge: God

The fear of the Lord, which is the beginning of knowledge, drives believers to the Bible to learn what God says. Increased knowledge of the Bible itself is important; the Bible furthermore provides knowledge in two specific areas where Christians are expected to grow. The previous post examined increasing knowledge of salvation, and this post concludes the series by looking at increasing knowledge of God.

Growing in the knowledge of God was one of Paul's primary goals for his own life. "That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death" (Philippians 3:10).

Not surprisingly, Paul also includes an increasing knowledge of God in his list of some basic expectations for believers. "So that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God" (Colossians 1:10).

Since it is so important to increase in the knowledge of God, it is also important to diligently guard against anything that would hamper that knowledge. "We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ" (II Corinthians 10:5).

All the previously discussed areas of increasing knowledge really come down to the knowledge of God. The Bible is all about revealing God. "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify of Me" (John 5:39). In studying the Bible, a Christian learns more about God, thereby learning about God's salvation and about God's expectations for life.

This knowledge of God has tremendous impact on the believer. First, that knowledge helps him to grow. Knowledge of God is linked to maturity and Christ-likeness. "Until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:13). It is in seeing what Christ is like that the believer knows what the goal is for his own maturity.

Second, the knowledge of God helps the believer to live. It is through the knowledge of God that a believer is prepared for every aspect of life and godliness. "Seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence" (II Peter 1:3). The knowledge of God makes the provision.

Third, the knowledge of God helps the believer to face trials. As one's knowledge of God increases, he also has multiplied grace and peace to live through life's challenges. "Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord" (II Peter 1:2). Grace and peace are needed at all times, but are especially welcomed during difficulties.

Job provides a prime example of this concept. Job struggled significantly through his time of testing. God's response was to reveal Himself to Job. In chapters 38-41, God revealed His power and wisdom by reviewing His role in multiple aspects of creating and sustaining the earth. As God highlighted some of His most amazing works, Job was humbled. He stated, "I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees You" (Job 42:5). In other words, what Job previously knew of God was shallow in comparison to what he now knew of God. It was the increased knowledge of God that made the difference for Job.

Christians today don't experience the same type of revelation that Job did. That is, God does not speak to them audibly from heaven. Instead, God has provided all the relevant knowledge of Himself in the Bible, including everything that He told Job. If believers want the knowledge, they must search the Bible for it.

In particular, believers can be encouraged by their increasing knowledge of God's promises, His characteristics, and His names. God promises some wonderful things for His children, and He keeps every one of His promises through Christ. "For as many as are the promises of God, in Him they are yes" (II Corinthians 1:20).

God's characteristics are also phenomenal. His qualities, which never change, make Him capable of doing anything and of doing it in the best way possible. "'To whom then will you liken Me that I would be his equal?' says the Holy One" (Isaiah 40:25).

God's multitudinous names each reveal additional knowledge of God. God revealed Himself to the patriarchs with one name, and to Moses with an additional name. "And I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as God Almighty, but by My name, LORD, I did not make Myself known to them" (Exodus 6:3). Each name reveals something new, and the knowledge of those names helps in life's difficulties. "The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous runs into it and is safe" (Proverbs 18:10).

In knowing God well, a believer can live life and face life. Knowing God is the foundation for everything, and knowing God is accomplished through the Bible.

"The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding" (Proverbs 9:10).

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Increasing Knowledge: Salvation

The foundation for increasing knowledge is the fear of the Lord, which drives man to learn what God reveals and demands. A Christian's increasing knowledge of the Bible supplies guidance for life. The Bible is also necessary for increasing in the knowledge of salvation.

The Bible reveals "the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus" (II Timothy 3:15). That foundational understanding of salvation is merely the beginning; believers are expected to grow in their understanding of salvation. "Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation" (I Peter 2:2).

Salvation is simple. The simplest explanations include "Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved" (Romans 10:13) and "You must be born again" (John 3:7). A child can understand and accept the gift of salvation.

On the other hand, salvation is too complex for any man to completely comprehend. Salvation has many amazing components that happen without a believer's even realizing they are occurring. Apart from God's planning of and providing for salvation, the actual process of salvation for each individual is distributed over what humans would define as three different points of time.

Terms like justification, redemption, and reconciliation describe salvation in the past, at the moment a person accepted Christ. These components have to do with God's taking a wicked, condemned person and declaring him righteous and redeemed.

·         "In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace" (Ephesians 1:7-8).
·         "But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive" (Ephesians 2:4-5).
·         "For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son" (Colossians 1:13).
·         "That through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives" (Hebrews 2:14-15).

Glorification refers to the future aspect of salvation, when Christians are taken to heaven. Wonderfully, Christians who are currently oppressed by a sinful world and a sinful flesh will someday experience the ultimate abolition of sin.

·         "Having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body" (Romans 8:23).
·         "Knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed" (Romans 13:11).
·         "It has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is" (I John 3:2).
·         "Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly. . . . We will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, . . . and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality" (I Corinthians 15:49-53).

A believer's increasing knowledge of salvation's past and future aspects provides a richer and fuller realization of what has happened and what will happen, thus prompting an increased appreciation for one's salvation. This appreciation is important, but I believe the most important growth regarding salvation involves the present aspect.

Beyond appreciation, sanctification involves application. The gradual, daily process of becoming more like the Savior happens as a believer learns previously unknown truth about the outworking of his salvation. Many of the epistles open with chapters about redemption and justification, but the later chapters are filled with truth about how that salvation should impact the daily life. It is in learning and following these instructions that a believer grows in his salvation.

In fact, it was ignorance that caused past ungodly behavior, and it is increasing knowledge that will produce future godly behavior. "As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior" (I Peter 1:15).

·         "For you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light, . . . trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord" (Ephesians 5:8-10).
·         "Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things are passed away; behold, new things have come" (II Corinthians 5:17).
·         "So as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles" (I Peter 4:3).
·         "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10).
·         "So that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work" (Colossians 1:10).
·         "Now the deeds of the flesh are evident . . . . But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" (Galatians 5:17-23).

Growth in salvation is expected. "For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food" (Hebrews 5:14). Any believer who remains in the same position as when he was saved or who has reached a level of stagnation is missing God's very important expectation that he grow in his knowledge of salvation, not just in knowing about it but in displaying it practically.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Increasing Knowledge: the Bible

This mini-series about increasing knowledge was prompted by a recent incident. Various factors had curtailed my preparation time for a children's class at church. Someone who heard the lesson and knew about the limited preparation time expressed amazement over the positive result. I don't advocate "winging it" when teaching God's Word, even for simple lessons to young students. I share the story because both the observer and I recognized that a redeeming factor in this less-than-optimal preparation was a previously established foundation of Biblical knowledge.

I have not always had that foundation, nor have I yet achieved ultimate success. As I reflect on my past position, however, I can definitely see a vast difference. I can easily remember times of great frustration and seasons of near despair regarding accessing the Bible's help. It was troubling to be in positions of desperately needing help for overwhelming situations, believing the Bible had the answers, yet having little or no idea of how to find those answers.

Probably the most troubling aspect of such situations was the sense of needing immediate answers. The situations often felt like crises. With a little bit of training, practice, and guidance, nearly anyone can study out a passage or a topic and can gain helpful truth - if he has the time to do that. I remember needing answers NOW and realizing that it might take me weeks or months or longer of random study to stumble across those answers.

While I still have far to go on my journey, I can now look back and realize that I finally enjoy a significant foundation that I longed for in the past. The foundation was established deliberately and gradually. The process could be compared to a couch potato who decides he wants to run a marathon (or even a 5K). He takes a long-term approach. He knows he will not be ready in a week or a month, maybe not even in a year. If he doesn't start taking steps, however, he will never be ready. He starts to regularly take steps, recognizing them as the pathway for achieving his goal. Although the goal is future, his actions must be regular and consistent in the present.

There is logic and simplicity behind the consistent actions needed to acquire a strong Biblical foundation. While tactics will vary individually, the basic premise is simply learning more and more of the Bible. Most often this is through personal Bible study: reading through the Bible systematically, studying a particular book of the Bible, restudying the same passage more than once, doing a word study, examining a topic, memorizing a verse, writing out a verse card, looking up a word meaning, linking one passage with another, and so on. These individual efforts gradually yield a stronger foundation.

Personal study can be supplemented by regularly attending church, listening to sermons, taking a Bible course from a fundamental institution, attending retreats, reading sound books, and doing similar activities. Whether personal or guided, each of these activities adds another brick to the foundation. No one will become a Bible expert overnight, but everyone can gradually grow from where he is.

In time (and perhaps without actually perceiving the change) one will realize that he is much better established in the Bible than he was previously. In my case, I can see tangible results such as writing a devotional book, writing this blog, having answers for patients I visit in my chaplain ministry, knowing a verse to share with someone who is struggling, and knowing where to find help for myself in my own struggles. At times I even have the conscious thought, "Ten years ago I would have been lost and helpless to find the answer. Now I knew exactly which passage to turn to."

That doesn't always happen. I don't have all the answers yet, which is why I can never abandon those deliberate and gradual steps toward increasing my knowledge of the Bible. My biggest problem now is not that I have no idea where to turn, but that I forget to focus on the truth I know. I can minimize the value of God's truth, thinking, "Sure, that's a verse that helped me in the past. I already know that." Well, if it helped in the past, it ought to be able to help now. I can't abandon the truths that created the foundation that I enjoy. For my increasing knowledge to have real value, it cannot be knowledge for knowledge's sake, but it must be as a current resource that I actively rely on for everyday life. Knowledge of the Bible does have benefit, and increasing knowledge only increases the benefit.

"And that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work" (II Timothy 3:15-17).

"Your commandments make me wiser than my enemies, for they are ever mine. I have more insight than all my teachers, for Your testimonies are my mediation. I understand more than the aged, because I have observed Your precepts. The unfolding of Your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple" (Psalm 119:98-100, 130).

"The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul;
The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.
The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes.
The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the LORD are true; they are righteous altogether.
They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them Your servant is warned;
In keeping them there is great reward" (Psalm 19:7-11).

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Increasing Knowledge: Foundation

Knowledge has value. Whether regarding automobiles, health, investments, family, or more, people value experts who can provide accurate and helpful answers. A college education is promoted almost as a necessity. Through the educational process, students are expected to progressively increase in knowledge until they are well-rounded in the basics and proficient in something.

Knowledge really does have value, and increasing knowledge really is important. The key lies in the foundation of that knowledge. "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge" (Proverbs 1:7). Knowledge is to be cunning and aware rather than ignorant, and the Bible states that its foundation is the fear of the LORD. "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom" (Proverbs 9:10). In this case, beginning is the commencement or first occurrence of wisdom. Wisdom, skill for life, can't even start without the fear of the LORD.

Certainly the Bible is important in terms of knowledge and wisdom, which can grow over years of reading and hearing the Bible. The most valuable wisdom, however, doesn’t come from merely reading the Bible. The key is not one's accumulated biblical knowledge, but rather one's attitude toward that knowledge. If the knowledge is matter-of-factly acknowledged or is an end in itself, the profit will be limited to the mental. When one's Bible knowledge illuminates the vast difference between God and man, however, and man places himself in his rightful position, he can then have spiritual profit.

When one realizes his actual position before God, he ought to be filled with a strong desire to please Him. He ought to shudder at the thought of violating God's commandments or misunderstanding His truth. That is the fear of the LORD, which is crucial for growing in true knowledge and wisdom. When someone fears God, therefore desiring to please Him, he is impelled to search the Scripture to find out what is right and wrong. He now has strong motivation behind the gaining of biblical knowledge.

The fear of the LORD creates the difference between mental profit and spiritual profit. Wisdom speaks in Proverbs 8:12-14. "I, wisdom, dwell with prudence, and I find knowledge and discretion. The fear of the LORD is to hate evil; pride and arrogance and the evil way and the perverted mouth, I hate. Counsel is mine and sound wisdom; I am understanding, power is mine."

A wise person who fears God will hate what God hates (verse 13). This man, with a strong desire not to offend God, hates evil, pride, arrogance, the evil way, and the perverted mouth. He will have to study the Bible to learn what these (and other) offences are, and his fear of God causes him to take these offences seriously.

On the opposite side, a wise person who fears God will love what God loves and will embrace the qualities mentioned in verses 12 & 14. He will long for wisdom, prudence, knowledge, discretion, counsel, sound wisdom, understanding, and power. Again, he will have to examine Scripture to find fuller understanding of what God desires, and he will dedicate himself to learning and then doing those things.

With this foundation and motivation, man can have great understanding for decision-making and for life. He can now profitably counsel himself and others, because instead of speaking from his own thoughts or experiences, he will be sharing God’s thoughts. Accompanying his solemn desire to do what is pleasing before a great God is a realization that God has the answers that he doesn’t have. He is dependent on God to open his eyes.

Specifically addressing young men regarding harlots, the early chapters of Proverbs illustrate how wisdom helps with life choices (6:23-24, 7:4-5). God-fearing wisdom changes the entire path of life. It affects how one lives, helping him to evaluate and see dangers. Wisdom "walk[s] in the way of righteousness, in the midst of the paths of justice" (Proverbs 8:20).

Illumination and guidance do not happen to everyone who reads the Word of God, but to those who humbly fear the Lord. With the barriers of pride and self-reliance properly broken down, God can effectively show His truth. "Good and upright is the LORD; therefore He instructs sinners in the way. He leads the humble in justice, and He teaches the humble His way. Who is the man who fears the LORD? He will instruct him in the way he should choose. The secret of the LORD is for those who fear Him, and He will make them know His covenant" (Psalm 25:8-9,12,14).

Wisdom can indeed be found. "I love those who love me; and those who diligently seek me will find me" (Proverbs 8:17). Wisdom is freely offered to all who seek, regardless of their innate natural ability. "'Whoever is naive, let him turn in here!' To him who lacks understanding, [wisdom] says, 'Come. . . . Forsake your folly and live, and proceed in the way of understanding'" (Proverbs 9:4-6).

The power of wisdom through the fear of the LORD is illustrated dramatically by those who lack both qualities. When "there is no fear of God before their eyes" (Romans 3:18), man is "always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth" (II Timothy 3:7). "Professing to be wise, they became fools" (Romans 1:22). Men with no fear of God get both basic and major things wrong. They lack knowledge and wisdom about earth's origins and its end, about the role of government and the rearing of children, about natural disasters and global warming, about end-of-life issues and abortion, about morality and entertainment,  about finances and education.

Rather than condemning others, those who have godly knowledge must be careful to follow it. It is dangerous to know the right thing and ignore it, but blessed to know the right thing and do it. "Heed instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it. But he who sins against [wisdom] injures himself; all those who hate [wisdom] love death" (Proverbs 8:33 & 36). 

Saturday, October 21, 2017

An Understanding God

It is hard to understand the struggles of others without having experienced those same struggles. In the midst of difficulty, many people believe that no one else understands them, and it may indeed be true that within their circle of acquaintances no one does. Many have also finally found someone who shares their experience and who really does understand; the level of understanding is almost unbelievable.

While people might not actually state the words, they often believe that God doesn't understand either and doesn't know how hard the trial is for them. God's knowledge of all things is unbounded. His omniscience alone guarantees that He knows; some special Scripture passages reinforce how much He also understands.

"Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him. For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust" (Psalm 103:13-14).

God understands man's weakness because God created man. He knows exactly how weak human substance is, and He understands exactly how the body, mind, and emotions work, because He designed them.

God made man to be social, and He knows it is difficult when interpersonal relations don't go well. God made man with emotions that are impacted by various external and internal stimuli, so He knows the effect on the emotions. God made man with a mind that takes in data from multitudinous sources, so He knows how the mind can struggle when processing that data. God made man with a finite and limited body, so He knows that it can be pushed past its limits.

God knows man's makeup far better than man himself does. God perfectly understands the intricacies of DNA, hormones, brain waves, the nervous system, and every other aspect of man's body. Man is "fearfully and wonderfully made" (Psalm 139:14), but he is also finite, weak, and frail. No one knows that better than the Creator.

"Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself also partook of the same. . . . Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted" (Hebrews 2:14, 17-18).

Not only does the Creator understand man's weakness, but the Savior also understands man's weakness. The Savior, who experientially knew nothing of weakness, took a man's body and experienced every weakness associated with such a body. The passage above explains why He did that. He had to know what it was like to be a man. He had to live in a human context so that He could understand what humans go through and so that He could come to their aid.

Hebrews 2:10 reveals, "For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings." Jesus was already as perfect as perfection could be - a holy and powerful God in heaven. No one would have expected anything more from a deity than what Jesus was, yet the Savior was made even better through human suffering.

The incarnation of Jesus added another phenomenal layer to His person - that of fully and experientially understanding what life is like for those who are not divine. Jesus was already one hundred percent of what would ever be expected of God, but His suffering in a weak human body added even more greatness.

Jesus' suffering (and subsequent understanding) was complete. He was "tempted in all things as we are" (Hebrews 4:15). Physically, He suffered beyond what man can comprehend. Socially, He was rejected even by His own people and was betrayed by someone from His closest group. Spiritually, He experienced the direct, targeted attack of Satan himself. Emotionally, He was "a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief" (Isaiah 53:3). Ministry-wise, He sacrificed everything and fully dedicated His life to reaching needy people, but they rejected and killed Him. Practically, He had no home of His own, no comforts or possessions, and no provision for meals and lodging. There is no category of suffering that man can undergo for which Jesus does not have firsthand, and often far superior, experience.

This Creator who knows how weak the human body is and this Savior who knows what suffering is like also knows everything that happens to every person. He knows every movement man takes, every thought he has, every path he walks, and every word he speaks before he even speaks it (Psalm 139:2-4). God knows every tiny detail of a man's life and every danger that threatens him (Matthew 10:29-31). The passages above teach that God absolutely knows and thoroughly understands not just the events of life themselves, but also what it is like for man to go through those events.

The greatest wonder of that divine knowledge is what God does with it. If God knew but didn't care, His knowledge wouldn't be very reassuring. If He knew but didn't act, His knowledge would be empty. Far from those disappointing responses, God's understanding prompts the best responses.

When the Creator sees man stumbling in his weak body, He has compassion on him, just as a father would on his hurting child (Psalm 103:13). When the Savior sees man faltering under temptation, He comes to his aid (Hebrews 2:18). This understanding Savior sympathizes with man and knows that he needs help; He graciously offers that help.

"For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses. . . . Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (Hebrews 4:15-16).

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Unavoidable Temptation

All believers face temptation. "But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust" (James 1:14) There are natural desires built into man, and those desires often clamor to be satisfied in the wrong ways, at the wrong times, in the wrong proportions, and for the wrong reasons. The major areas of temptation are "the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life" (I John 1:16).

Paul revealed, "I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. . . . For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not" (Romans 7:15&18). Paul knew what it was like to have a fervent heart desire to please God and yet to fall frustratingly short. The battle between the flesh and the spirit can be intense.

The Bible wisely advises, "Watch over your heart with all diligence" (Proverbs 4:23). The heart is where the victory will be won or lost, and believers must very carefully guard their hearts. Because the Christians' enemy, the devil, "prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour," the believer must "be of sober spirit, be on the alert" (I Peter 5:8). This is serious business.

Christians should take steps to avoid temptation whenever possible. "How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers" (Psalm 1:1). When one is aware of particular areas of struggle, wisdom instructs him not to go to those places, not to watch or listen to those things, not to hang out with those people. While believers' actions or surroundings may be innocent in themselves, if they habitually introduce temptation, they are danger zones to be avoided.

Unfortunately, while believers can minimize sources of temptation, they cannot avoid them completely. This fallen world is a place of constant assault, and it is neither possible nor biblical to withdraw into total isolation. Sometimes even places or people that should be safe introduce instances of temptation. Every believer lives in a broken body in the midst of a broken world, where everyone else, including fellow Christians and even leaders, is also broken. This means that by design, by default, or by carelessness temptations will regularly present themselves.

Temptations can arise unexpectedly from unlikely sources that a believer thought were safe and trustworthy. If a family member, a close friend, a respected leader, a trusted church, or a favorite organization wavers or changes position, such a shift can introduce disappointment and perhaps disillusionment. Not only is there the temptation to follow along and do what one has always believed was wrong, but there can also be a sense of hopelessness and doubt. Whether it be dress, music, leisure activities, morality, associations, or any other number of issues, one can wonder: "I always thought that was important. If this issue doesn't matter, what other things that I hold as important don't matter either?" The discouragement thus adds another level of temptation to the scenario.

Regardless of the source of the unavoidable temptation, there are things that a Christian can do to pursue victory, both in the temptation itself and in any resulting discouragement.

1. Seek the path to victory. A Christian does not have to fall. A faithful God will "with the temptation . . . provide the way of escape also" (I Corinthians 10:13). Often prayer is the key, asking God for help. God has enough grace for every situation, and the Spirit can minister self-control.

2. Support spiritual strength. A strong body supports a strong mind, so physical health is important. Proper sleep is especially key, because an exhausted mind cannot think well and has the tendency to exaggerate problems disproportionately.

3. Keep peace. The Bible repeatedly calls for love, unity, and peace among believers. If the temptation introduced by another is uncharacteristic or unintentional, the situation must not be allowed to grow into conflict or division. Romans 14 teaches compassionate understanding of the differing brother; the one does not intentionally place obstacles in the other's way, while the other does not judge the one whose position is different. Depending on the nature of the relationship, a Christian who believes his position is biblical can humbly attempt to influence the situation by sharing his concerns with the right person.

4. Recover from temptation. When falling even partially to temptation, a believer must wash his mind and heart. Depending on the severity of the situation, a Christian may need much time in the Bible, in prayer, listening to godly music or sermons, and perhaps in counsel. He needs God's truth to renew and refresh him.

5. Keep eyes on God. Job faced intense temptation over things that were completely out of his control. After he poured out his heart of frustration and despair, God finally came to Job with an answer: look at me. God revealed His power and wisdom to Job, intending to stabilize Job in the struggle.

6. Focus on personal faithfulness. Each believer is responsible before God for himself. If he can influence others for good, he should, but if he cannot, he must remain personally committed to truth and faithfulness. He must stand in God's strength so that he can please God, regardless of what others do.

The only ultimate escape is heaven. "We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is" (I John 3:2). Until God delivers Christians from their "body of death," they must faithfully continue to walk and work in the path God has ordained.

"Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my rock and my Redeemer" (Psalm 19:14).

Saturday, October 7, 2017

God Alone

Even in ordinary life, Christians desire the help and support of other Christians. This is increasingly true during times of particular struggle. The vast range of troubling challenges could involve family, marriage, relationships, employment, ministry, health, mistreatment, disappointment, addictions, temptations, spiritual growth, and more. In the midst of overwhelming situations, believers can find themselves limited in their ability to think and evaluate clearly; therefore, they value the supportive counsel of friends or leaders.

While God's plan is for the church to provide this type of support to each other, unfortunately it sometimes happens that no human counselor answers the cry for help. For some reason the hurting person could be isolated from others, or potential helpers might be unavailable, unaware, unwilling, or unqualified to help. It is hard for those who have not experienced a particular trial to fully grasp the intensity of others' struggles, causing them to underestimate the level of difficulty and, consequently, the need for support.

Regardless of the response of people, God is always available, always aware, always willing, and always qualified to help. When God is the only counselor, He is enough, and He is able to guide believers through every challenge. One who finds himself alone in time of need should consider the following truths.

God is aware of every struggle. "Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows" (Matthew 10:29-31).

God knows how hard the struggle is. "For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15). "For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust" (Psalm 103:14).

God cares about the struggle. "Casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you" (I Peter 5:7). "Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him" (Psalm 103:13).

God wants His children to have victory. "But I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail" (Luke 22:32). "So that the proof of your faith, being much more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (I Peter 1:7).

God is actively helping His children to grow. "But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit" (II Corinthians 3:18). "For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus" (Philippians 1:6).

God always provides a way to successfully meet the challenge. "No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way to escape also, so that you will be able to endure it" (I Corinthians 10:13).

God responds to His children's cries for help. "The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous and His ears are open to their cry" (Psalm 34:15). "Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us" (Psalm 62:8).

God has help for every situation. "Seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence" (II Peter 1:3). "Moreover, by them [God's words] Your servant is warned" (Psalm 19:11).

God can open His children's eyes to understand truth. "But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him" (James 1:5). "But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth" (John 16:13).

God can do more than man thinks possible. "Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us" (Ephesians 3:20).

Practically, what do these truths mean for the struggling believer? First, he should welcome God as a viable source of help. God is not the last resort; He is the best resort. Second, the believer must be in the Word. While he may not know exactly where to turn for specific answers, God can lead and speak to a heart that is open. Third, the believer must cry out to God. God responds to a heart that humbly seeks Him, and He gives wisdom to those who ask. That seeking may need to be intense and may need to persevere over a lengthy time, but when someone earnestly, consistently, and dependently seeks God, God will answer.

Christians should not attempt to "go it alone" nor refrain from seeking out godly help when needed, but they must realize that when human sources are deficient, God is enough. It is unfortunate that those who should help sometimes don't, but no believer should feel abandoned or hopeless in the absence of human support. God wants the spiritual success of His children, and He can support them with specific direction and focused guidance in any situation. In fact, it is quite precious when one realizes that a loving, caring God has provided the exact help needed without the involvement of any external person or source.

"My soul waits in silence for God only; from Him is my salvation. He only is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I shall not be greatly shaken" (Psalm 62:1-2).