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, 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).