Category Archives: Spiritual Maturity

How to Untangle a Knot

When He was alone with His Disciples, Jesus went over everything, sorting out the tangles, untying the knots.  Mark 4:34 (The Message)

The crowds and the Disciples were amazed as Jesus taught (Matt. 7:29; 13:54).  He was “never without a story” and used them to help His audience gain a greater understanding of God and to resolve real-life problems.  Mark describes this as “sorting out tangles” and “untying knots.” We conclude this month’s series, “Returning to our First Love”, with an examination of the benefit of listening to God’s voice through His Word to sort out the tangles and knots in our life.

Learning to Sort out My Tangles

Have you ever been faced with a knotted shoe lace or tangled necklace?  It can be frustrating trying to find the biggest knot that will results in the ultimate resolution to your problem.  Knots can impede the full use and benefit of a person’s possession or ability i.e., knots in a tie or tangled chords of a wind chime.

How did you learn to untangle and untie knots?  While I can’t remember my “first knot” or most “frustrating tangle”, I do recall that if I had problems with either of these, my mother was always available to help me based on two things:  First, I had to realize my limitations—I was unable to resolve this challenge on my own and secondly, trust that she was both available and able to help me with my problem.

Life is Full of Knots and Tangles

Our world is full of knots and tangles—the challenges of life that appear to us as “insurmountable messes” we seem unable to resolve.  Life cycle knots—work, family, and relationships.  Personal tangles—financial challenges, health problems, dying and death.  Societal snarls—turmoil, instability, and uncertainty.  Some knots and tangles are the natural result of living in a fallen world; others may be of our own creation. What is the answer to these kinks and twists of living?  How are we to manage these real situations in our lives?  It’s all in the Word.

It’s In the Word  

There’s an old gospel song entitled, It’s All in the Word that retorts:  “The answer to your problems, if you haven’t heard…it’s all in the Word.”  The Psalmist put it more eloquently in saying that God’s Word is a “lamp to our feet and a light to our path”—in close proximity to keep us from stumbling yet broad and sufficient to protect us from potential danger and pitfalls (Ps. 119:105).  Psalm 19:7-11 speaks to the great worth of God’s Word.  “Warning and reward” are key benefits in embracing God’s Word.

The world offers futile solutions to life’s knots and tangles.  It suggests resolution through substances (alcohol, drugs, and food), through systems (affiliations, power, and influence) and through stuff (materialism and riches) (1 John 2:15-17).  These answers are temporary and subject to change (2 Cor. 4:18). However, God’s Word is eternal and provides needed insight into His nature and the realities of life, inviting believers to trust, peace, and contentment (Ps. 37:1-6, 23-27).

For those who are willing to listen to Jesus’ voice, there are many promises and privileges (John 10:27).  As believers stay connected to God through His Word and the Holy Spirit, we have access to wisdom and knowledge so desperately needed to navigate these perilous times (Eph. 1: 8).  God may not choose to always remove the knots and tangles in the believer’s life.  They may be needed to mature and strengthen those who chooses to be “trained” by them (Hebrews 12:11).  However, believers can depend on God to always be available and ready to help us “find the big loops” (John 16:33).

Also read:   In God We Trust

SELAH:    Jesus is ready to help you with the tangles and knots of your life.  What are the things that you’ve been unable to resolve?  Draw near to Him is willing and able to help you.

God’s Gift of Rest

“For we who have believed do enter that rest, as He has said: “So I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest,’

“although the works were finished from the foundation of the world.”

Hebrews 4:11 (NKJV)

While on vacation this month, I had the opportunity to purchase my second Fitbit device after successfully killing my original one.  After a year of consistent use, I found that it really does promote personal movement, healthy eating and rest.  Yes, rest.  One of the features on my Fitbit is a sleep function that tells me how many hours a day (yes, it tracks naps) I rest as I pursue my “sleep goal”.  It faithfully sends a nightly text to tell me to cease from my activities and “begin to prepare for bed” (it really does).

Health experts and social scientists agree that the need for rest is critical to not only our physical well-being but also our emotional health and our cognitive performance.  The writer of Hebrews also recognized the value of rest especially the rest God gives, as a gift, to His believers.  Today I’d like to share my thoughts on rest in the context of intimacy with God and returning to our First Love.

Rest defined

Webster defines rest not only as sleep but also as “freedom from worry or trouble”.   Most uses of the word rest in the Bible are nontheological; they take on spiritual meaning when used in relationship to God and His people—the recipients of the both the Old and New Covenant.

Also read:  “Seeking and Finding God

God introduces Rest

In the Old Testament, Sabbath rest was introduced in Genesis as God ceased from His work of creation (Gen. 2:2-3).  Sabbath rest was later commanded as part of the Mosaic Law (Exod. 31:15) as evidence of God’s love and recognition that all living creatures, man and animal, needed physical renewal and respite.  Canaan rest finds its beginning with the deliverance of the children of Israel from Egypt. It included not only deliverance from Egyptian slavery but also establishment of protection and victory over Israel’s enemies as they entered into the Promised Land (Josh. 14:15).  The tribes of Israel also enjoyed God’s gifts of rest when they settled in the land, which flowed with milk and honey (Josh. 1:13-15). In following God’s commandments, they would ultimately acquire rest experienced by “peace in the land”—no longer threatened by attack from Canaanite inhabitants (Josh. 23:1).

Jesus Christ’s arrival and selfless act of atonement presented believers with the opportunity to enter into God’s Eternal rest.  This rest surpassed those previously offered beginning with precious promises available on this side of heaven (2 Pet. 1:4), His presence manifested through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (John 14:17, 26) and will culminate with the blessed reward of eternity with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

“The struggle Christians are engaged in is not that of finding their way through life but of entering God’s rest.”

Accessing God’s Rest

Accessing God’s gift of rest is possible through development of an intimate relationship with Him.  Rest is not cessation from work but in listening to His voice and obediently acquiescing to His plans and purpose for our lives.  This exercise of faith provides peace and release from anxiety and fear.

On this matter of rest, Lawrence O. Richards, noted theologian writes:

The struggle Christians are engaged in is not that of finding their way through life but of entering God’s rest (Heb. 4:11).  That is, they are to be responsive to the Lord and let His Word and Spirit guide then to the solutions he has already provided for their problems.

God has provided us with the Holy Spirit, who acts as our spiritual Fitbit to tell us when we need God’s rest.  When we have been negligent in our personal time with Him, we become spiritually restless and ill-tempered.  We can’t seem to concentrate on the things of God because we lack the rest we need to keep us emotionally and spiritually healthy (Col. 3:1-4).

We can find rest as we listen for and respond to the Lord’s voice.  Such trust can only be ascribed to the Creator of all rests—Sabbath rest, Canaan rest, and Eternal rest.  Only Sovereign God can create, deliver, protect, and give use victory over the challenges we face (Rom. 8:37).  He knows the end from the beginning, and His purpose will stand (Is. 46:8-10).  It is God’s desire that we live more fully as recipients of His gift of rest.  He invites us to draw near and enter into His rest.

SELAH:   Are you in need of God’s rest?  Is it time for you to recommit, refocus, and reprioritize your relationship with the Lord?

Returning to Our First Love, Part 2

“Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love.” Revelation 2:4   (NKJ)

Last week we explored the need to return to our first love, Jesus Christ.  This return is characterized by our deep devotion and love for Him.  This week we will continue this discussion by examining ways to journey back to Him.  This process begins with an awareness of our current position and ends with specific strategies to return to our first love.

Awareness of our current position

We begin by acknowledging that we have left our first love.  How do you know that?  By “examining yourself to see if you are in the faith” (2 Cor.13:5).  This does not infer a loss of salvation but recommends an evaluation of your progress toward spiritual maturity.   Spiritual maturity not only includes “what you know” but also “how you live out what you know”—your profession of faith (1 Tim. 6:12).  Are you being conformed to the image of Christ or do you resemble the world? (Rom. 12: 2)   Are you intentional in your relationship with Christ?  Do you seek “His Face” (presence) or only “His Hand” (favor)?   In God’s presence, you take on “the mind of Christ” (Phil. 2:5); His thoughts become your thoughts, resulting in changed behavior.  Spiritual maturity is the visible evidence of Christ’s presence in your life.  What is your current position?

Strategies to return to our first love

Once aware of your current position, it is time to develop specific approaches to move you back into fellowship with the Lord (1 John 1:3).

Recommit yourself to Him Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? (Rom. 6:16)  If after examination you find that you have left your first love, repent and return to Him.  Nothing you can do will ever separate you from God’s love (Rom. 8:39) and He stands faithful to forgive you (1 John 1: 9).  Recommitment involves renewing your loyalty to Christ and His lordship over your life.  This includes directing your time, talents, and treasures to the service of the Lord.

 Renew your love for HimI will love You, O LORD, my strength (Psalm 18:1).  Tell the Lord how much you love Him.  Although He is all-knowing, He still wants to hear you tell Him how much you love Him.    Let Him know you desire Him with all your heart and soul (Ps. 42:1-2).  Show your love for Him through your praise and worship.  You are never closer to Him than when you “love on Him” (Ps. 22:3).

Reprioritize your life around Him.   Christ set the standard for priority when He said, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matt.  6: 33).  However, to make God the center of your life is counterculture.  Everything in modern society encourages and rewards people who place themselves “at the head of the line”.  But when we place Christ first in our life, we are assured that we have chosen the “Good Part” (Luke 10:38).

Now is the time to return to your first love.  He is waiting with open arms.

SELAH:  The gospel group, The Winans, recorded a song entitled, Prone to Wander, which best describes the believer’s tendency to leave their first love.   Read these lyrics “thoughtfully” and reflect on those times when you were “prone to wander”.  Afterwards write your version of prone to wander including the “happy ending” when you promise, “Never to wander again”.

Prone to wander, exploring the unknown
Prone to wander, seeing if we’ve grown
Destined to blunder, hope that I’ll recover
Never to wander again

I never should have left your side
It took deep waters to make me realize
Not within your borders, void of any order
Never to wander again

I have been mixed with deep experience
Both good and bad, yes, good and bad
But it has caused me Lord
To love you more than I ever have, ever have

Prone to wander, no more my refrain
Cause I’ll never leave your side no more again
Destined to blunder and hope that I’ll recover
Never to wander, said I’ll never leave your side
Never to wander, said I’ll never leave your side
Never to wander again.

Returning to Our First Love, Part 1

Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love.  Revelation 2:4 (NKJV)

Who can forget their first love?  The excitement we felt when that special person entered the room.  The anticipation of seeing them and the connection that was made as eyes met.  The experience of first love, with all its innocence and purity, was never to be repeated—for that is the way of “first things.”   Remember the first time you professed your love for Jesus Christ?  With that experience came the same excitement and anticipation as our first earthly love.  Unlike most first things that eventually lose their luster, it is important for believers to make every effort to nurture and cultivate our personal relationship with our First Love, Jesus Christ.

The church at Ephesus had “labored and borne” in the work of the Lord; this included exposure of false prophets and heretical teaching (vv. 2-3).  This was a critical part of the early church’s responsibility to insure a clear and true presentation of the gospel (Ep. 4:1-2).  In addition, they were commended for enduring hardships and not growing weary in serving God.  In general this church had continued in its faithful service to God for more than 40 years.   While all these “efforts” were important in the development of the early church (as it is now), there was something that was noticeably absent.  They had forgotten their first love.

Jesus lays a charge of carelessness in cultivating their relationship with the Him.   In the literal translation of today’s text, the order of the words in Greek emphatically denote the strong rebuke directed to the church. “Your first love you have left!”  Christ used the word agapēn in speaking of the deep love that God has for His people.  This rebuke contrasted  with the commendation Paul had given 35 years earlier to the Ephesians for their expressions of faith in Christ and for their love (agapēn) for the saints (Ep. 1:15-16).  This second-generation of believers, had retained purity of doctrine but were lacking in deep devotion to Christ.

If Christ were to come back today, what would He say about your love for Him?  Have you left that place of deep devotion you had when you  first became His beloved (E. 1:6)?  Believers, like the Ephesian church, are sometimes guilty of taking their First Love for granted.  They are quick to accept His gifts and blessings, but slow to pursue intimate fellowship with Him.    And what about the church, Christ’s bride (Rev. 19:7-9)?  The church needs to heed the same warning given to the Ephesian church.  Orthodoxy and service is not enough.  Christ wants hearts as well as our hands and heads.   Have you left your First Love?   Next week we will explore ways that lead us back to His arms.

SELAH:  During your quiet time, ask the Holy Spirit to reveal if you have left your first love for Jesus.  He will not condemn you (Romans 8:1) but gently redirect you to His arms.

Dare to be a Truth Teller

“I will speak of Your testimonies also before kings, And will not be ashamed.” (Psalm 119:46, NKJ)

Are you a truth teller?  This might seem like a strange question to ask but it provides a great starting point for personal reflection as we close this month’s series, “In Search of Truth.”  We began the series by asking the question, “Can you handle the truth?”  We defined truth as the meaning and reality of life defined by God versus truth shaped by postmodern thinking.  The believer’s source of truth is presented by God Himself in His Word and through the direction of the “Spirit of Truth”, the Holy Spirit.   Truth defined by God becomes the compass by which believers are able to discern truth from error (1 John 4:6) therefore allowing them to live out their God-ordained purpose (Ep. 2:10).

How well am I doing with being truthful?   Following God’s truth may result in rejection and personal persecution.  Inside the safety of the church walls it’s easy to agree with the ethics and morality inherent in God’s truth.  However, once outside the “physical boundaries” of the church, it is the “heart” which must reflect God’s truth.  It is the heart that directs the mind, will, and emotions (the soul) to sieve the noise of the world through the filter of God’s truth.  Truth and obedience are closely connected as believers must choose between God’s instructions or man’s acceptance (Matt. 10:28).

Does the world want to know the truth?  Or is truth simply a remnant of the 20th century—no longer relevant in today’s fast-paced, high tech world?  Unfortunately, truth is often defined by what’s trending on social media.  To further complicate the search for truth, corporate/community leaders and aspiring politicians create “untruthful” responses to difficult social issues that simply satisfy people who don’t really want to know the truth; so the community and nation are given a lie (instead of truth) to make them feel better.  Unfortunately people would rather believe a lie than the truth—think about that for a minute!  Are people really being deceived or are they simply choosing to believe a lie? It’s easier (2 Tim. 4:3-4).

Am I ready to be a truth teller?  To be a truth teller requires boldness to stand for holy “rightness” (Heb. 13:6) and to proclaim what is God’s truth versus what is politically or socially correct (Luke 12:4-5; Ps. 119:46). When Jesus taught the Beatitudes to His disciples, He established a new standard of truth that was to be actualized in the life of the believer—a standard that would result in holy and sanctified (set apart) living.  Paul declared himself to be a truth teller.  While it resulted in his persecution and polarization from the mainstream, he boldly proclaimed:  “None of these things [persecution and prison] move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I can finish my race with joy.” (Acts 20:24)  Dare to be a truth teller.

Good to the Last Byte…

We must ask ourselves why we sometimes choose to believe a lie rather than the truth.  The truth may be related to our life style, our family, or even about us personally.  Perhaps we are judgmental, critical, or unforgiving.  That’s why it is so important to regularly pray that the Holy Spirit expose those areas that interfere with receiving the truth of God.

Basics for Christian Living: Disciplined by God’s Chastisement

“Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous:nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.” Hebrews 12:11 (KJV)

When was the last time you asked God to chastise you? As human beings, we are by nature, “pain averse” and are quick to ask God to remove anything we feel is uncomfortable or unpleasant. This includes times when He chooses to “chastise us”. This week the writer of Hebrews shares how God uses chastisement as part of His spiritual discipline to facilitate the believer’s spiritual growth and development.

In the New Testament, chastisement (paideia) is defined as “discipline or training in proper conduct for the purpose of better behavior.” In the Old Testament, chastisement (yasar) carried a similar meaning with greater emphasis on “discipline and correction” and was viewed as a “blessing from God” (Ps. 94:12-13; Deut. 8:5). In Hebrews 12: 5-6, the writer accuses his readers of “losing sight of that piece of advice which reminds them of their sonship in God and regarding lightly the chastening of the Lord.” (J.B. Phillips -The New Testament in Modern English) So why do we need to receive spiritual discipline?

It is a sign of God’s love and the believer’s sonship. As believers, we need to understand that we are children and heirs of God (Rom. 8:16-17). While we quickly embrace this relationship when asking for God’s blessings and protection, we must also be respectful and accepting when God administers spiritual discipline. We protect and correct those we love—so does God! “For the LORD corrects those he loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights” (Prov. 3:12).

It is designed to both correct and prevent sin in the life of the believer. Just as an earthly father corrects his child, our omniscient Father sees influences or behaviors in our lives that may cause physical and/or spiritual harm. Therefore, He will exercise spiritual discipline (Jer. 24:5-7; 2 Cor. 12:7-9) to protect us. To reap the full benefit of His chastisement, we must be willing to be “exercised by it” (gymnazo)—to learn from the discipline experience. This will prepare us for future trials and temptations (Jas. 1:2-4).

It will result in repentance and submission by the believer. Spiritual discipline is not designed to harm or destroy us, but to solicit repentance (turning away from) for our sinful behavior and return us to Him (2 Cor. 7:10). During spiritual disciplining, we turn to Father God for direction and guidance who then “redirects” us in paths of righteousness (Psa. 23:3; Prov. 2:20).

These three (3) factors collectively result in “spiritual benefit” to the believer described as the “peaceable fruit of righteousness”—goodness in character. Although spiritual discipline may not be “joyous”, it is not intended as punishment for sin. Jesus Christ, as our Substitute, received on the Cross the full penalty and chastisement (musar) that should have been given to each of us (Isaiah 53:5).

God’s chastisement is a reflection of His love and is provided for our spiritual growth and development. Next time you experience unpleasantness or upheaval in your life, ask God if He is using this event for your “spiritual discipline.” If He answers “yes”, then spend time reflecting on Proverbs 3:11-12: “Do not despise the LORD’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.”

Good to the Last Byte…
Lord God, we thank You that You love us enough to chasten us. As our heavenly Father, we trust Your hand in our live. We embrace that which You allow to touch our lives that we may be corrected when needed, redirected as You plan, and grow to full maturity as Your children.

Basics for Christian Living: Confessing Faith with Confidence

“I have set the LORD always before me. Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” Psalms 16:8 (NKJ)

The Psalms have been described as the “mirror of the soul” for they reflect the emotions experienced by God’s people in both historic situations (the nation of Israel) and personal circumstances. They give us breathtaking insight into the character and work of God as He reveals Himself to the psalmist. Psalm 16 gives us an unguarded view of how faith is lived out under the watchful eye of God.

Psalm 16 is David’s personal testimony of trust in the Lord. The psalm opens with David’s first statement of confidence in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He cries out, “Preserve me, O God for in thee do I put my trust” (v.1). Here David uses the name ‘El to describe the one true God, Jehovah. The historical narratives of the Pentateuch gave witness to David of the mighty works of Jehovah and His love for His special people. David continues this psalm by giving his second confession of confidence in Jehovah God: “O LORD, You are the portion of my inheritance and my cup” (v. 5). Here David acknowledges his total dependency on the LORD. Regardless of his circumstance, David resolved to trust the Lord with an assurance of provision for today (my cup) and long term success (my inheritance).

It is in verse 8, that David explains the reason for his confession of confidence: “I have set the LORD always before me. Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” To set in Hebrew means “to equalize by making an adjustment”. David is saying that he will make the necessary adjustments to insure that he is aligned with the LORD. He is confident in the LORD and determined to trust Him. David promises to consistently respond in confidence by always setting the LORD before him.

To be at one’s right hand (yamiyn) acknowledges that person’s strength. David’s confidence was based on God’s strength and not his own. Too often when faced with problems, we look to our ability to resolve the situation. It is only when we “look to the hills from which comes our help” (Psalm 121:1) that we are able to spiritually persevere. David’s confession of confidence in God emanated from a humble dependence and consistent reliance on the Lord. Therefore, he wouldn’t be “shaken” by the events he faced in his life.

When facing challenges in your life, do you consistently respond in confidence to the Lord? Do you run for cover or do you, like David, remain unshaken because you have already determined to trust in the Lord. Your response is an indicator of your faith and trust in Him. The time to decide how you will handle life’s circumstances is before they occur. What or who will you set before you?

Prayer: Father we set You continually before us. We know that in You we have the confidence we need to face the challenges of today and the trials of tomorrow. Forgive us when we place our trust in the things of this world and in ourselves. We confess our love to you and like David confidently align our lives with You. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.

Basics for Christian Living: Armed with the Mind of Christ

“Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.” (1 Peter 4:1-2, NKJ)

In today’s text, the Apostle Peter writes to God’s persecuted “elect” who were scattered throughout what is now modern Turkey. In this broad statement, Peter describes for those early believers what Christian living should look like. This would be of great benefit to them as they deflected attacks by those who challenged their “good conversation in Christ” (1 Peter 3:16).

Jesus Christ “has once suffered for sins…that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but quickened by the Spirit ” (1 Pet. 3:18). Since Christ suffered in the realm of the fleshly existence, Christians are to arm themselves with the same attitude that guided Him. To arm metaphorically means to “take on the same mind”. Christ “who suffered in the flesh” by way of the Cross dealt with the “sin issue” once and for all. As a result of Christ’s action, the believer has been released from the power of sin and can, by appropriating Christ’s power, cease from sin. Through the sanctification process, the believer is transformed and conformed into the image of Christ, turning from sinful behavior and activity. The Apostle Paul describes this process in Romans 6:6-8 (Phillip’s Translation):

“Let us never forget that our old selves died with him on the cross that the tyranny of sin over us might be broken—for as dead man can safely be said to be free from the power of sin. And if we were dead men with Christ we can believe that we shall also be men alive with him.”

Peter gives a twofold purpose for believers arming themselves with Christ’s attitude.

First, believers are to be armed with the same mind as Christ so that they won’t spend the rest of their life chasing after evil desires. While the believer’s spirit has been redeemed by Jesus Christ, they must continue to deal with the reality of living in their physical bodies or “unredeemed flesh” (Rom. 7:17-19). While believers remain contained in their unredeemed flesh, they can, however, arm themselves with the mind of Christ. The believer’s life is not to be lived in satisfying the urgings of their old flesh but they are to “reckon themselves dead to sin but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 6:11).

Second, believers are to be armed with the same mind as Christ so that they will be governed by the will of God. Christ was obedient to all God directed Him to do (John 4:34; 5:30). Obedience to God goes beyond issues of “time, talent and treasures” and originates in the believer’s heart. If we truly love Him we will keep His commandments (John 14:15). Furthermore, if we love Him we will also love others (1 John 4:20-21). This love is evidenced in our service and our desire to share the Good News of the Gospel. Many times, however, the believer’s love may be divided, still tethered to this world. Such divided affection results in “love breakers” more often than “law breakers”.

Peter’s message speaks to 21st century believers as we strive to live lives that glorify God. Today Christians are under attack by a society who challenges the authority of God’s Word as well as the authenticity of our faith. As we face these affronts, let us arm ourselves with the mind of Christ. Let us use these “divine appointments” as opportunities to share the redemptive love of God. Remember Peter’s counsel to the persecuted elect:

“But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened. But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” (1 Peter 3:14-16, NIV)

Stay on the Path

 Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life and only a few find it.” Matthew 7: 13-14 (NIV)

There was a commercial a few years ago for financial planning that featured a wide green path and arrow to guide the investor along life’s path. As the investor strolls through the city, they were tempted to step off the path to pursue things that could hinder their ability to accomplish their long-term investment plans. The voice of the financial adviser coaches the investor to “just stay on the path.” The implication is that as long as the investor “stays on the path” they will realize their financial goals and live happily ever after. This commercial reminded me of ­­­­­­­Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount concerning the two paths individuals can choose in life.

Jesus tells His listeners to, “Enter through the narrow gate.” The King James Bible version renders narrow as “strait.” Strait (stenos) refers to a narrowness created by obstacles standing close about.   These obstacles could be the world’s view on how we are to enter God’s kingdom. Jesus’ point in this teaching is that the way to life is through a portal providing controlled access along a narrow way defined by God. In contrast, the wide highway represents the world’s “substitute” for the way of life. The end, of course, is death.

As I talk with believers about activities in their local churches, I am disturbed and heartbroken. The Church, which was created to be salt and light in the world (Matthew 5:13), is choosing to “get off the path”.  Churches across this country have abandoned teaching and preaching the “full counsel” of God for “trendy methods” of ministry. The “fervent prayers of the righteous” (James 5:16) have been replaced with small group discussions on why the church should practice religious tolerance. Churches are more concerned with not offending others than with grieving the Holy Spirit. Peter reminded the early church, that Christ Himself was “a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence” (1 Peter 2:8).

It is extremely difficult to stay on the path of God when our modern culture and changing social norms are encouraging us to do otherwise. It is critical–life affecting–that we stand fast in our faith (1 Peter 5:12) and resist being lured to “enter through the wide gate.” Stay on the path until you reach your eternal goal of heaven. Remember, it is a narrow path that leads to life, and only a few find it.

 Good to the Last Byte…

Do not be enticed by false teachings with their “faith-by-works, all-roads-lead-to-God” beliefs. Peter reminds us that we are a “peculiar” (God’s own) people chosen to proclaim God’s mighty acts (1 Peter 2:9).

Watch and Pray

“Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints;” Ephesians 6:18 (KJV)

Thursday, May 7th, will mark the annual National Day of Prayer. Christians across this nation will gather together in churches, auditoriums, and community centers to pray for the nation. It’s not unusual for the people of God to unite in prayer. In Kansas City, there are numerous ecumenical groups that lay aside their denominational differences to pray for the city (down to specific zip codes), the nation and the world. These groups understand the power and purpose of prayer. They take seriously Jesus’ admonition to “watch and pray” (Mark 13:33). They “come boldly to the throne of God” consistently and expectantly (Heb. 11:6).

“Watch and pray” has been a rally call for the saints since the recording of biblical history. Whether the call came from Nehemiah and the builders of the Jerusalem wall (Neh. 4:9) or those who would stand for the LORD (Jer. 51:12; Hab. 2:1), dedication to these two activities has been a recipe for victory. In our text today, watching and praying become a critical strategy to employ as believers engage in spiritual battle against Satan and his evil minions. While this letter was written by the Apostle Paul to the church of Ephesus over a thousand years ago, it still offers wise counsel to believers today.

Paul writes this letter from prison concerning conflicts which have risen between the Jewish and Gentile believers. Rather than maintaining every effort to maintain “unity in the faith” (Eph. 4:3-4), these new Christians had forgotten that the real enemy was Satan–“not flesh and blood, but the evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against those mighty powers of darkness who rule this world, and against wicked spirits in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12, NLT). They are exhorted to “stay alert and be persistent in their prayers for all Christians everywhere.”

This rendering of “watching” (agrypneo) is used in the New Testament only four (4) times with three distinct definitions. The first two citations are found in the Gospels (Mark 13:33; Luke 2:36). In these accounts Jesus is speaking to his disciples concerning the signs of the end of time. Here, watching is defined as “being circumspect attentive, and ready.” Jesus further illustrates “watching” through the parable of the fig tree to ready them for His imminent return (Mark 13:28-33). In Hebrews 13:17, “watching” means “to exercise constant vigilance over something”; the image is one drawn from shepherds and their watch over their sheep.” The Hebrew author uses this rendering of “watching” to convey the seriousness with which spiritual leaders (“those who have rule over you”) are to exercising constant vigilance over their human flock.

In our study text of Ephesians 6:18, “watching” means “to be intent upon a thing”–in this case it is prayer. And for who? The saints of God. Satan hates the church, collectively, and believers, individually. Satan especially targets the Church and believers for his attacks in order to discredit our witness, to discourage our service for the Lord, and to destroy us–spiritually, physically, and emotionally (1 Pet. 5:8).

Jesus prayer for his disciples (Matt. 26:4; Luke 22:31). His intentionality extended His prayers to His future Church who “believe in Him through their word” (John 17:20-26). Are we then exempt from responsibility to pray for one another? Are spiritual and moral failures within the church a result of human frailty or are they the casualty of “our failure to pray” and cover our brothers in Christ? Let us in our daily prayers include those who battle alongside us for the Kingdom of God. Let no believer fall from Satan’s attack as a result of our failure to “watch and pray.”

Good to the Last Byte…
How does the conflict in Ephesus play out in the modern church? I will address the impact as it relates to both the universal and local church-the effect is pretty much the same. Forgetting who the real enemy is and failure to “watch and pray” result in denominational squabbles and competition for memberships versus battling for human souls. The 20th century comic strip character Pogo, was once quoted, “We have met the enemy and it is us!” It’s time to wake up and return to the unity of the faith Christ envisioned for His Church!