Love and Knowing God

Christian living, love No Comments

“He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love” (I John 4:8).
The beginning of a New Year is a time for new challenges.  The apostle Paul gives us a challenge in the context of a prayer in Phil. 1:9-11, “And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in judgment.  That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ; Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.”  Paul challenges us to grow in love.  In order to do this, we must be partakers of the divine nature.
The Divine Nature-Love
John affirms that God is love.  Love is not all that God is, but it is an aspect that characterizes God in the fullness of His Being.  Love permeates all that God is and does.  First, the love of God is His benevolent goodness.  God is good ((Mark 10:18). God created all things good (Gen. 1:31).  He is the benefactor of good things (Matt. 7:11).  Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (James 1:17).  Second, God’s love is His selfless, sacrificial giving manifested in the unspeakable gift of His Son (II Cor. 9:15; I John 4:9-10).  Third, God always seeks our highest good (II Tim. 1:4; II Pet. 3:9) and this means He wants us to come to repentance and be saved.  A basic meaning of love is to seek the highest good of another.  God actively does this on our behalf.
Becoming Partakers of the Divine Nature
Human nature is unregenerated.  This refers to the spiritual state of man without Christ and the Holy Spirit while he is yet in his sins (Eph. 2:1).    Man’s redemption and salvation was promised through Jesus Christ when he (or she)  is born again (John 3:3-5; Gal. 3:26-17; Rom. 6:3-4).  Those who have been baptized into Christ have undergone a new birth.  They walk in newness of life.  They are new creatures created in Christ Jesus unto good works.  Paul states that the new man, “is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him” (Col. 3:10).  At conversion, the new man created in Christ Jesus becomes a partaker of the divine nature, “Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust” (II Pet. 1:3).  As Christians, we bear the image of Christ to the world (II Cor. 3:18).  Love is a part of the holy character of God.  Christians have been called to holiness (I Thess. 4:7) and are partakers of His holiness (Heb. 12:10).  Love is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23).  Our love must imitate God’s love (Eph. 5:1-2).  Our love must be:  undefeatable, benevolent, goodwill.  It must be selfless and sacrificial.  It involves seeking the highest good of others.
Love and Knowing God
Knowing God involves much more than being intellectually aware of some facts about God.  Knowing God involves intimacy with God through the redeeming power of the blood of Jesus Christ.  It is a personal, spiritual, relationship, communion, and fellowship with deity.  It is experiential in that we have tasted of the heavenly gift (Heb. 6:4-5).  In this way, we become partakers of the Holy Spirit (Heb. 6:4).  Whenever a person becomes a Christian, he/she must deny self (Matt. 16:24), sacrifice self to God (Rom. 12:1-2) and commit to a life of service to God (Rom. 12:1-2).  In short, the conversion process involves love for God which is manifested in each of these acts.  The alternative to love is selfishness and rebellion against God.  Unbelief and disobedience are the hallmarks of lovelessness.  Failure to love is failure to know God.  John goes on to show that when we hate our brother we prove our failure to love God.  If a man says he loves God and hates his brother, he is a liar.  This incongruity can only be reconciled by repudiating human nature and being a partaker of the divine nature.  If we truly love God, we will love one another.  Love for God is the greatest commandment and must take priority in our lives or we will fail to keep all of the other commandments God has given us.  Jesus said that if we love Him we will keep His commandments (John 14:15; 14:23-24).  You can obey God without loving Him, but you cannot love God and disobey Him!
The Nature of Love
In I John 4:8-10, John indicates that love is a virtue (God is love); a motive (love prompted God to send Christ into this world) and an action (God sent, God gave-John 3:16).  Whenever we become partakers of the divine nature, we will manifest love as a virtue, a motive and an action.  Unleash the power of love in your own life.  Love will bind you to the heart of God, change your heart, become the underlying motive for all that you do and impact the lives of others for good. Love, properly understood, is the greatest thing in the world (I Cor. 13:13)!

In The Sight of God

Christian living, God, religion No Comments

The Holy Spirit declares, “Neither is there any creature that is not manifested in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do” (Heb. 4:13).  The phrase, “in the sight of God” occurs twenty-two times in the New Testament and numerous times in the Old Testament.  Indeed, all things and all people are under the divine scrutiny of God.  There are at least six aspects to consider when searching for the meaning of this phrase: God’s watchfulness, judgment, spiritual discernment, care, approval and will.
God’s Watchfulness.
In addition to the general statement found in Heb. 4:13, Paul gives Timothy a charge under God’s watchful eye in I Tim. 6:13, “I give thee charge in the sight of God, who quickeneth all things, and before Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession; That thou keep this commandment without spot, unrebukeable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  James declares that we must humble ourselves in the sight of God (James 4:10). These passages capture the concept that everything we do takes place under God’s watchful eye.
God’s Judgment
After Simon the sorcerer was baptized (Acts 8:12-13), he coveted the power to be able to lay hands on someone and impart miraculous gifts.  Peter rebukes him and says, “Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God” (Acts 8:21).   God’s judgment was against the thought that one could purchase the gift of God with money. Consider these passages from Psalms.  “Arise O LORD: let not man prevail: let the heathen be judged in thy sight” (Psa. 9:19).  “Thou, even thou, art to be feared: and who may stand in thy sight when once thou art angry?” (Psa. 76:7).  “…he that telleth lies shall not tarry in my sight” (Psa. 101:7).
God’s Spiritual Discernment
In Acts 4:19, Peter and John make a choice to reject the commandment of the Sanhedrin to not speak or teach in the name of Jesus.  They did so based upon God’s perspective rather than man’s perspective.  A judgment has to be made regarding who they will follow and obey.  They ask others to make their own choice.  Then, they state that they must speak the things which they had seen and heard.  They would not be silenced because they knew God’s viewpoint on the matter.  They were more concerned about what God thought of the matter than what men thought.  God discerns the intents of the heart.  Paul writes, “For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ” (II Cor. 2:17).  Paul knew God discerned the intents of his heart.  Luke 16:15 draws a contrast between what men esteem and what God esteems.  “And he said unto them, Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.”
God’s Care
The phrase “in the sight of God” also indicates God’s care.  God has an active concern for the disadvantaged.  “He shall spare the poor and needy, and shall save the souls of the needy. He shall redeem their soul from deceit and violence: and precious shall their blood be in his sight” (Psa. 72:14).  Also, God cares for His saints.  “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” (Psa. 116:15).
God’s Approval
One of the most common senses in which the phrase, “in the sight of God” is used is of the divine approval of God.  In Acts 10:31, Cornelius finds approval by God for the alms which he gave.  Paul indicates the care he had for the Corinthian church was executed in the sight of God (for God’s approval) (II Cor. 7:12).  Paul extols honesty “in the sight of the Lord, and in the sight of men” (II Cor. 8:21).  He also commends holiness in the sight of God (Col. 1:22).  The works of faith, labor of love and patience of hope are highlighted by Paul as hallmarks of the church at Thessalonica (I Thess. 1:3).  Certainly, these qualities are approved by God.  We should be God-pleasers and not men-pleasers (Heb. 13:21).  Peter commends the “meek and quiet spirit” which is in the sight of God of great price (I Pet. 3:4).  Finally, John shows that obedience is essential to pleasing God (I John 3:22).
God’s Will
Sometimes the phrase, “in the sight of God” has the sense of “according to God’s Will.”  Paul states, “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20; Gal. 3:11).  We can know what is good and acceptable “in the sight of God” because we know His will (I Tim. 2:3).  God determines what is hidden and what is revealed based upon His own purposes (Luke 10:21).
The phrase, “in the sight of God” denotes:  a God-centered perspective; a biblical perspective, a just perspective, a compassionate perspective and a God-honoring perspective.  The way to live a life that brings glory to God is to live life “in the sight of God!”

Mental and Spiritual Toughness

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Mental toughness is essential to successful living.  The mental aspect of the game is perhaps the most important element in sports regardless of the type of sports being played.  Mental and spiritual toughness are essential elements of Christian living.  Mental toughness is often associated with sports or the military, but it has a broader application.  If we desire to be successful in business, in marriage, in parenting, in work, in educational attainments or in Christian living, we need to be mentally and spiritually tough.
What is mental toughness?
Mental toughness is having a psychological edge that enables you to be consistent, confident, focused, and determined during high pressure situations in order to perform at maximum potential (Potential 2 Success, by Ralph Jean-Paul, Aug. 27, 2011).  In short, mental toughness is a disciplined mind.  Here is where spiritual application can be made.  There are demands to Christian living that require us to be mentally tough.  Persecution is an example of a demanding situation.  Dealing with sinful situations can be very demanding.  Overcoming addictions to drugs and alcohol are good examples.  We must be spiritually tough in order to bear up under extreme circumstances.  We must be spiritually disciplined.
Double mindedness undermines spiritual toughness.  “A double minded man is unstable in all his ways” (James 1:8).  Double mindedness is duplicity or hypocrisy.  The hypocrite is unstable in all his ways.  Double mindedness produces double standards.  We exhibit double mindedness when we say one thing and do another.  Consistency is undermined and spiritual instability results.  This produces a state of spiritual weakness that makes us vulnerable to Satan’s temptations.  It is a formula for failure.
Spiritual aspects of a disciplined mind involve the following habits of the mind and heart.  First, daily reading and study of God’s Word is essential.  Knowledge of the truth is the foundation for faith.  Faith is both conviction and confidence of heart which are essential elements of being spiritually tough.  Paul warns us about being “tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4:14).  Doctrinal instability is a sign of spiritual weakness. Second, regular attendance at the worship assemblies is an essential aspect of spiritual training.  In worship, we strengthen the mind and heart in righteousness and godliness.  Righteousness and godliness are essential elements of spiritual toughness.  Moral integrity is connected to godliness.  When we are met with temptations, we need true godliness to resist the devil.  Meeting temptation head-on and saying, “no”, to the lusts of the flesh necessitates spiritual toughness.  “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promnsied to them that love him” (James 1:12).  We can make the devil flee from us.  “Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).  Such resistance comes from strength not weakness.  It comes from a disciplined mind and heart.  It comes from spiritual toughness forged in devotion to God.
Here are seven characteristics of spiritual toughness. 
First, there is confidence in yourself.  You must believe in your ability to succeed in living for Jesus.  Paul believed in himself because he trusted in God to supply him with strength.  “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Phil. 4:13).  Spiritual confidence is based upon faith in God.  Attitudes and actions go together.  Paul’s “I can” translates into positive living.  Paul overcame all types of hardships and persecution because of this strong mental attitude that fueled his powerful actions.
Second, we must have focus.  If a person cannot stay focused, it is easy to collapse mentally in high pressure situations. Christians must stay focused on the goal.  Paul did this.  “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13-14).  The ability to concentrate on the task and stay focused is an essential skill to success.  Obstacles will come.  Keep your eyes on Jesus (Heb. 12:1-2) and He will lead you to the prize–eternal life.
Third, we must be motivated.  Motivation is excitement about the goal.  It is desire to accomplish the goal.  Punishment and rewards are motivators.  The desire for excellence is a motivator.  The example of others can motivate us.  However, love is the greatest motivator.  “We love him, because he first loved us” (I John 4:19).  An unfeigned love for the Lord can undergird spiritual toughness and motivate us to pass from ordinary to extraordinary.
Fourth, we must possess courage.  Courage is the ability to face danger or unpleasant circumstances with strength and good emotion.  Courage is fear subdued by love and faith.  We need courage to speak the truth to a hostile audience.  We need courage to face oppression by evil governments or false religions.  We need courage to to overcome our own weaknesses and failures.
Fifth, we must have composure.  Composure is self possession, coolness, self-control.  Spiritual toughness results when we “gird up the loins of your mind” (I Pet. 1:13).  There are times when we must collect ourselves and hold it together.  Stress, pressure, and tension will test the strength of the mind and heart.  There are times when a Christian must be “wise as a serpent and harmless as a dove” (Matt. 10:16).
Sixth, we must be able to see the goal through to the end.  This is resiliency.  Resiliency means that we can bounce back from a setback.  We push through pain and suffering to reach the goal.  Facing failure within ourselves or the failure of a loved one requires resiliency.  Sometimes we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and get back to the right pathway for our lives.
The final aspect of mental and spiritual toughness is positivity.  Many are defeated before they ever enter the game.  They accomplish this defeat through negative self-talk.  Negative self-talk is self-defeating.  We sabatoge our own success.  Suppose that the coach asks you to take the final shot that could win the game.  You immediately start negative self-talk, “I can’t make that shot if my life depended on it.”  Or, “don’t give me the ball, let someone else take the shot.”  What if we told ourselves, “take a good look at the basket, see it, feel it, trust it, and shoot it.”   Mental toughness means that we stay positive in stressful situations.  A positive person says, “I can” (Phil. 4:13).  A positive person looks for solutions instead of admiring the problem.  A positive person combines all of the elements of spiritual toughness which makes him/her even more powerful.  You will come across something this week that will test  your mental and spiritual toughness.  Now is the time to prepare for those struggles of the soul that come to all of us.  It is possible to win the ultimate prize and receive the crown of righteousness (II Tim. 4:6-8).

Jeremiah’s Quest

Christian living, morals, sexual purity No Comments

Jeremiah was a prophet of God during the time of Judah’s apostasy.  He is known as the weeping prophet.  He was called in the 13th year of King Josiah (626 BC) and continued to prophesy until the fall of Jerusalem in 587 BC.  He prophesied under the last five kings of Judah:  Josiah, Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah.  Judah was engulfed in idolatry and moral degeneracy.
God gave Jeremiah a mission:  find a man that executeth judgment and seeketh the truth.  “Run ye to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, and see now, and know, and seek in the broad places thereof, if ye can find a man, if there be any that executeth judgment, and that seeketh the truth; and I will pardon it” (Jeremiah 5:1).  Jeremiah needs to find one good man.
The search begins among the common people, the poor, the regular folks (5:4).  They have God’s name on their lips, but they do not have His glory on their minds (5:2).  They swear falsely–they commit perjury with their lips.  They have suffered, but their suffering does not produce character.  They are ignorant (5:4) and do not respect the LORD (5:11-12).
Jeremiah turns to the leaders among the people (5:5).  “I will get me unto the great men…”  He looks among the politicians and the priests.  He remarks that they have known the way of the LORD and the judgment of their God.  But, they have broken off the yoke–they were willfully disobedient to God.  They have not sinned out of ignorance.  They have sinned out of defiance!
The quest continues among the children.  Jeremiah indictes them, “thy children have forsaken me” (5:7).  The children are following in the footsteps of the parents.  They swear by gods that are not gods.  They committed adultery and fornication.  This may refer to fornication which was commonly associated with idolatry.  Jeremiah compares them to an animal in heat, “Everyone neighed after his neighbor’s wife” (5:8).  They were sex-crazed!
Jeremiah looks among the prophets (5:13).  “And the prophets shall become wind, and the word is not in them…”  They should be preaching God’s Word, but the only thing coming from their mouths was “hot air.”  Jeremiah was the exception.  “I will make my words in thy mouth fire, and this people wood, and it shall devour them” (5:14).  The prophets among the people prophesied falsely and the people loved to have it so (5:31).
All Jeremiah needed to do was find one good man.  But, so far, he has found none.  God’s indictment against them reads, “But this people hath a revolting and rebellious heart; they are revolted and gone.  Neither say they in their heart, Let us now fear the LORD our God…” (5:24,25).  Jeremiah calls them to repentance, but his words fall on deaf ears and hardened hearts.  God will visit them, i.e. punish them for their sins (5:25-31).
Jeremiah was looking for one good man.  What type of man was he looking for?  One who seeks God and His truth.  One who discerns the times and keeps himself unspotted from the world.  One who fears God.  One who respects God in worship and whose lips speak authentically from a pure heart.  One who bodly declares God’s Word.  One who faithfully serves God with tears.  Now, where could we find such a man?

The Wounded Heart

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Psalm 109 is a prayer for deliverance.  David is distressed and oppressed by his enemies.  He seeks God’s deliverance from the hands of his accusers. God is able to deliver  him out of the hand of the ungodly. We will consider the cause, effect, consolation and cure for David’s distress.

The Cause. David’s distress comes from wicked and deceitful mouths being opened against him.  His enemies spoke against him with lies and hate.  They attacked him without a cause.  They rewarded him evil for good and hatred for love.  This burdened David’s soul.  He sought relief through prayer.
The Effect. David’s heart was wounded by his enemies. “For I am poor and needy, and my heart is wounded within me.”  The wounded heart is bowed down with sorrow, affliction, brokenness and produces a shower of tears.  David was humbled.  He was weak from fasting and had lost weight.  People wagged their heads at him when they saw him.  He was the object of scorn.
The Consolation. God’s presence, power, and promises secure the wounded heart in the midst of adversity.  David pleads, “Help me, O LORD my God: O save me according to thy mercy” (Psa. 109:26).  God stands at the right hand of the needy to deliver them from those that condemn them.  God is able to deliver the the righteous out of the hand of the ungodly.  Consider some other thoughts from scripture.  2 Peter 2:9, “The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished.”  2 Tim. 4:18, “And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom: to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”
The Cure. David invokes God’s help to deliver him from the oppression of his enemies.  God is characterized by a steadfast love for His people.  He will not forsake them.  He will fight for them.  God is able to defeat their enemies.  He is the one that David praises and gives thanks to.  The cure for the wounded heart is the steadfast love of God and His help to overcome the evil doer.  Offenses will come (Matt. 18:7-8).  But, woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.  Our God is able to deliver us from the hand of the ungodly!

Spiritual Bankruptcy

Christian living, narcissism No Comments

     In the January issue of Christianity Today, there was an article titled, Cracks in the Crystal Cathedral(p. 59).  Robert H. Schuller’s famous Crystal Cathedral was built on the foundation of self-esteem.  In a 1984 interview with Christianity Today, Schuller said that when he came to Garden Grove, California, in 1955, he asked himself, “What human condition exists here that I can have a mission to?”  His answer was “emotional hunger.”  “Because of that,” he said, “we have developed our present ministry.”
     This mega church filed for bankruptcy last October (2010).  It has experienced a 24 percent drop in donations and a $50–$100 million debt owed to more than 550 creditors. 
     The Schuller enterprise is filing for bankruptcy on more than one front.  It is spiritually bankrupt.  Its message trapped and isolated people in the self.  It helped fuel a culture a  narcissism.  The gospel of self-esteem failed. 
     What makes the Gospel relevant?  Man’s basic spiritual need has not changed through the centuries.  Man’s greatest spiritual need is salvation from sin and its consequences.  It is salvation from self.
     In Matthew 16:24, Jesus states, “…if any man will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross, and follow me.”
     (1)  God calls us to self-denial.  Self-denial is forbearance from gratifying one’s own desires.  The old man is put to death (Col. 3:5).  We must deny ungodliness and worldly lusts (Titus 2:12).  Peter instructs us to “abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul” (I Pet. 2:11).
     (2)  Christ calls us to follow Him.  The new man in Christ is created by the redemptive power of Christ (Eph. 2:10).  The new man is shaped by pursuit of Christ’s example (I Pet. 2:21-25).  Paul stated it best, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).  Our self-esteem is derived from the grace of God.  Paul said, ‘I am what I am by the grace of God” (I Cor. 15:10).  Paul was not a self-made man but a God-made man.
     (3)  We must “take up our cross.”  The Christian life is costly.  It demands our all.  We must be willing to sacrifice and suffer for Christ’s sake.  We truly become servants of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Self-seeking and selfishness are eliminated and selfless service takes precedence in one’s life. 
     The Gospel of self-esteem glorifies the self.  It offers up a batch of cheap feel good cookies for one to indulge in.  It leads to spiritual bankruptcy.  There is something better, but it is more costly.

Your Treasure, Your Heart

Christian living No Comments

     Jared Jackson (Fortify Your Faith News, Oct., 2010) asked, “What are you investing in?”  He then relates this story.  Connoisseurs of coffee listen up!  Coffee drinkers in Sacramento, CA sat down inside a swanky cafe and sipped a shot glass of hot espresso costing $22 per serving.  That’s twenty-two bucks for an ounce and a half of coffee! The rare imported coffee beans cost $300 a pound!  What makes this coffee so expensive?  It’s recycled from the droppings of a civet (a cat-like animal).  Yes, somewhere in Sumatra, they figured out that if they fed coffee beans to a civet, then processed the remains, they could convince Americans to pay enormous sums of money to drink the bizzare cup of joe.  They say its got an earthly tang to it. 
     Bizzare?  Yes, but many invest in frivolous pursuits that are  pure vanity.  Listen to Jesus in Matthew 6:19-21, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through and steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
     Earthly possessions cannot satisfy.  Covetousness is the insatiable appetite for things.  Solomon pursued whatever his heart desired and still concluded that “all was vanity and vexation of spirit” (Eccl. 2:1-11). 
     Earthly possessions are uncertain.  They are fleeting, temporal and have no lasting value that is intrinsic to themselves.  It is vain to pursue that which is empty and meaningless.  “Lay not up for yourselves” is a phrase that reveals man’s natural selfishness is a source of constant danger to his soul.  Self-indulgence that seeks satifaction of the lusts of the flesh destroys the soul.
     “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven” is a phrase that defines the pursuits of the soul that will count for eternity.  All that one gives or does for the kingdom of God will accrue to his eternal credit.  Jesus said, “And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward” (Matt. 10:42).  Small things given with great love will accrue to our eternal credit.
     Invest in heaven!  Pursue the things of God and make them your own.  His promises and blessings enrich us now and for eternity.  For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also!  Don’t settle for the mundane when you can experience the magnificent things of God.