Category Archives: Spiritual Maturity

The Danger of Neglect

 

When we began this series, we expressed the “need to heed” warnings in our lives.  This is especially true of spiritual warnings.  In the book of Hebrews, the author shares with a group of believers five (5) spiritual warnings he saw emerging within their community.  These warnings represented dangers that would ultimately end their faith walk, their witness, and their work.

These five spiritual warnings are still relevant in the 21st century.  Because of its relevance, we share the first of these warnings–the danger of neglect.

What is this thing called neglect?

Neglect is described as the state or fact of being uncared for.  Its origin is from two Latin verbs meaning ‘not’ + ‘choose’.  The Jewish Christians were considering to “not choose” Jesus.  They were at risk of “drifting away” (Heb. 2:1).

In the opening verses of chapter 2, the writer shares with the audience several points to consider before returning to Judaism.  Rejecting the gospel would have definite spiritual consequences.

Pay Attention!

The readers were urged “to heed” to what they have heard.  In the past God communicated through the angels.  God’s Son Jesus is now elevated far above the angels to reveal His message of truth and redemption.  If the Jewish Christians respected the angels before, they should be even more attentive to Jesus (Heb. 2:2).  The Message conveys this thought: “If the old message delivered by the angels was valid and nobody got away with anything, do you think we can risk neglecting this latest message, this magnificent salvation?”

Since Jesus Christ is much better than the angels and has received by inheritance a more excellent Name than they (the angels)–since He is both essentially and officially inconceivably superior to these heavenly messengers, His message has paramount claim on our attention, belief, and obedience.[1]

The writer of Hebrews wanted his reader to fully understand the consequence of their behavior.  By rejecting the gospel, they would be “storing up” for themselves the wrath of God: “How shall they escape?”  (Heb. 2:3)

Neglect in the 21st century

Today as I look around at our current world, I wonder if we too are at risk of drifting way.  During the current health pandemic and social upheaval, conversations about “our belief and obedience to Jesus” are, unfortunately, becoming rare.  This is especially true among the generations that will follow the Millennials.

It appears that we, as a nation specifically, are “not choosing” Jesus Christ.  And while the Jewish Christians were in danger of returning to Judaism, what options are people, including Christians, choosing?

What does neglect look like in the 21st century?  A well-known Bible scholar and author, highly regarded within both Christian and Jewish academia, gave the following predictions as to how the world would look if Christianity “drifted away.” We warn you the words shared are very graphic and disturbing.

Have nothing to do with such people. They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth…these teachers oppose the truth. They are men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected. But they will not get far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone. [2]

Better Choice

We can learn from the warnings in Hebrews and find new ground on which to stand fast in our faith. (Rom. 15:4) We can avoid the danger of neglect by being intentional in our thinking and our actions.

First and foremost, it is important that we value the gift that we have received as a result of God’s grace (Eph. 1:3-14).  We deserved to die for our sins which separated us from our Creator.  Jesus reconciled us back to God (2 Cor. 5:19).  Having tasted the goodness, the greatness, and the generosity of God through Jesus Christ, how could we ever want to return to our old way of living? (1 Pet. 2:2-3).

Secondarily, we must repent and return to Christ.  Especially if we have begun “to drift” to other options the world would offer.  The Apostle Paul shared with the church at Colosse a similar message concerning the sufficiency of Christ over other things this world may offer (Col. 2:6-10).  In Christ we have everything we need.

Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.  For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power. 

Lastly, we must listen as God speaks to us through His Son and in His Word.  Be protective of your time and intimacy with Jesus.  Ask the Holy Spirit to help you discern those things that compete for your attention and your time (Matt. 6:33).  Through the practice of spiritual disciplines such as prayer, meditation, and journaling, we can better recognize Jesus’ voice over the noise of the world (John 10:27).

Pay close attention lest you too drift away.  Beware the danger of neglect.  Next week, we will focus on the second warning in Hebrews, the danger of unbelief.

[1]  Dr. Arthur W. Pink, An Exposition of Hebrews

[2]  2 Timothy 3:1-9

Time for analysis  

In my past life as a business consultant, I was engaged to help clients develop strategic plans to accomplish their organization’s mission and business goals.  As part of that process we often included an analysis of the “environment” in which the client operated.  It was called a situation analysis.

A situation analysis refers to a collection of methods that are used to analyze an organization’s internal and external environment to understand their capabilities, customers, and competition.   These methods of analysis helped to identify not only opportunities but also potential threats to the business.  These analyses often served as informative warnings of potential dangers.

The epistle of Hebrews, a letter to Jewish Christians of that day, includes warnings that are much like a business situation analysis to help its readers see potential threats to their spiritual well-being.

The Audience

The writer of this Hebrews’ letter knew the needs of their intended recipients.  Unlike the recipients of Paul’s letters, they were not a church (Rom. 1:7; Eph. 1:1; Gal. 1:2).  They were a specific group of Jewish Christians–men of some intellectual ability. They had been established for a good many years (Heb. 2:3; 13:7), and had a history of persecution. They should have been mature Christians by this time, capable of teaching others (Heb. 5:11-6:2). Instead they were withdrawn and inward-looking.

The audience was seen as negligent in good deeds (Heb. 13:16).  They were sloppy in their approach to attendance at worship service (Heb.10:23-25).  They showed evidence of “cooling” in their faith.  Most importantly, this group was wavering between Christianity and Judaism. The author of Hebrews needed to rekindle the readers’ commitment to Christ.

Their problem did not involve sin in its most obvious sense. They were not openly and willingly breaking one or several of God’s commandments, like stealing, lying, adultery, or murder. But regardless, they were falling short of the glory of God through wrong attitudes—things that we might consider today as being “matters of the heart.”

The writer of Hebrews’ challenge was to contrast the achievements of Jesus with that of the Old Testament priesthood and sacrificial system.

The Environment

Like the authorship of Hebrews, the exact location of this audience is unknown.  There is no opening salutation typically found in New Testament letters.  No city is identified to indicate where these Jewish Christians resided.

We do, however, get a hint as to where the author of Hebrews was located.  Included in the closing, the writer advises their readers to salute “those that rule over you and all the saints” just as “they of Italy salute you” (Heb. 13:24). Commentaries identify this reference to Italy as possibly pointing to Rome.

Written in Rome (before A.D. 70), Hebrews may provide valuable insight into the “world” these readers may have lived in. It may also help us understand what it meant to be a follower of Jesus Christ during that time.

The early converts to Christianity in Ancient Rome faced many difficulties. The first converts were usually the poor and slaves as they had a great deal to gain from the Christians being successful. If they were caught, they faced death for failing to worship the emperor. It was not uncommon for emperors to turn the people against the Christians when Rome was faced with difficulties. In AD 64, part of Rome was burned down. Emperor Nero blamed the Christians and the people turned on them. Arrests and executions followed.

The Warnings of Hebrew

The warnings of Hebrews have been the focal point of many commentators and biblical scholars. There are many reasons for this intense scrutiny.  Most importantly, these warnings emphasize behaviors that seriously damage believers’ faith in Jesus Christ.  These warnings are more than indicators of possible problems, or other unpleasant situations but extreme spiritual “dangers”.

Warning1:    Danger of neglect (2:1-4)

Warning 2:   Danger of unbelief (3:7-4:13)

Warning 3:   Danger of spiritual immaturity (5:11-6:20)

Warning 4:   Danger of drawing back (10:26-39)

Warning 5:   Danger of refusing God (12:25-29)

Comparison with today

This series is intended to help us examine where we are in our individual walk of faith.  Are we helping or hindering our journey?  Therefore, I will offer “more questions than answers” for our consideration as we move through the book of Hebrews.

We begin with these.  First, where are we in our current faith walk?   Secondly, what would motivate us to seriously consider the five (5) warnings?  And finally, where does Jesus Christ fit in our life today?

Our examination of these questions will act as the backdrop for this study series.  It is our hope that at the conclusion we will better understand the current threats to our faith and our spiritual growth.  This includes the current 21st century worldview of Jesus Christ and Christianity.

We begin next week with an analysis of the first two warnings–the danger of neglect and the danger of unbelief.

God is speaking

The epistle of Hebrews opens with a grandiose statement expressing how eternal God chose to communicate with man (Heb.1:1).  It sets the stage in teaching the Hebrews why following Jesus Christ was the best choice versus Judaism.  The old ways of communicating were over.  Jesus Christ was the new and better way to convey the mind and the will of God.

God spoke in the Old Testament

When did God speak?  God spoke at sundry times (interpreted as “several parts”).   God spoke as was fitting for that particular Old Testament dispensation or administration of His purpose.

In the opening verse, the writer of Hebrews explains how God communicated to men in the Old Testament.  God used the prophets. These men were chosen and qualified by God.  No man took that honor to himself unless called by God.

How did God speak?  God spoke in divers manners. It was God’s choosing as to the way He would communicate His mind to His prophets. Sometimes God chose to speak through the entrance of his Spirit (Ezek. 2:2), in visions or dreams (Daniel 7:1-14)–even an audible voice.  God even chose to use legal characters under his own hand as when he wrote the Ten Commandments on the tablet of stone.

God Himself gave an account of His different ways to communicate with His prophets in Numbers 12:6-8:

Then He said, “Hear now My words: If there is a prophet among you, I, the LORD, make Myself known to him in a vision; I speak to him in a dream.  Not so with My servant Moses; He is faithful in all My house.  I speak with him face to face, Even plainly, and not in dark sayings; And he sees the form of the LORD…”

And who did God speak to?   God spoke to the fathers (generator or male ancestors).  They were Old Testament saints who were living within God’s specific administration during their lifetime. God favored and honored them with more understanding and insight as to who He was.  These saints included the patriarchs–Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Others are listed in the “Faith Hall of Fame.” (Hebrews 11)

God speaks through Jesus

God has spoken in these last days to us by His Son (Heb. 1:2).  He has appointed Jesus heir of all things.  No more prophets or priests.  With Jesus’ arrival, God has chosen a better way to not only save man but also, a better way to communicate with man.

Because of Jesus’ sacrificial death, man is now “acceptable in the Beloved” (Eph. 1:6) and “reconciled to God” (Col. 1:19-20).  In our new position in Christ, we regain access to the Father, just as we had in the Garden of Eden.  We can come “boldly to the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy” (Heb. 4:16) without the need of mediators like the prophets or priests.

Last days, in this text, could be interpreted as either the end to following Judaism by the Hebrews or the end of time as we know it.  While there are several views as to when the last days began, we know that Jesus is Alpha and Omega (Rev.1:8).

Barriers to hearing God speak

Barriers to hearing God speak can be either external or internal.

Externally we are confronted by the “noise” of the 21st century.  The challenges and stresses of everyday living battle for both our time and our attention.  With the advent of the coronavirus, our homes are the new marketplace for live streaming, social media platforms and video gaming.  Technology and innovation are our new distractions.

Internally, we have developed habits of behavior that often hinder our ability to hear God speak.  These include busyness, unbelief, and sin.  For some of us, COVID-19 has interrupted our ability to “assemble together” (Heb. 10:25).  This adds to our difficulty in hearing God clearly.

Ears to hear

Be assured, God continues to speak today!    “Are we listening?”  As we begin this study in Hebrews with its spiritual warnings for 21st century living, let us pray for ears to hear.  Why?

Because of the excellence and superiority of Jesus Christ.   Having received the gospel of salvation, we, like the Hebrews, “ought to give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard (Heb. 2:1).

Spiritual Warnings for 21st Century Living 

Lost in Space was an American science fiction television series in the 1960’s.  It followed the adventures of the Robinsons, a pioneering family of space colonists who struggle to survive in the depths of space.

When danger was near to the Robinson family, Robbie, their protective robot, would cry out, “Danger”.   Similarly, we teach our children to be aware of danger.  They call out a warning, “stranger danger” when they feel threatened.

Stranger danger!

Warnings play a huge role in sheltering us from potential harm or danger.  Because of the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic, we carefully heed the medical warnings provided to us by both our local and our state health officials.  With the growth of cyber-crimes in our nation, we quickly respond to security warnings by purchasing systems to protect our personal assets.  Police warnings of increases in crime incent us to invest in elaborate surveillance and security equipment.

However, do we, with the same diligence, heed spiritual warnings as we move through these fretful times?  Are we concerned about the health and well-being of our souls? What about our family’s spiritual well-being?  During the next few weeks, we will be using the book of Hebrews to discuss “spiritual danger warnings” in the 21st century.

Opportunities in warnings

The writer of Hebrews gave five (5) warnings to his readers.  Although the historical context for this epistle is different than in 2020, the warnings included in Hebrews are still relevant for today.

Warren Wiersbe, noted teacher and biblical scholar had this to share concerning the practical applications that can be found in the book of Hebrews:

Many people have avoided the epistle to the Hebrews and, consequently, have robbed themselves of practical spiritual help.  Some have avoided this book because they are afraid of it. The warnings in Hebrews have made them uneasy. Others have avoided this book because they think it is too difficult for the average Bible student. To be sure there are some profound truth in Hebrews, and no preacher or teacher will dare to claim that they know them all! But the general message of the book it’s clear and there is no reason why you and I should not understand and profit from it.

The Apostle Paul wrote, “everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4).  Let’s get ready to dig in!

How am I to pray?

 

Where do I begin? I believe in prayer and have made a commitment to be more intentional in it along with fasting.  As I asked Jesus to help me know how to better hold that time with Him, this question came to mind, “How am I to pray?”  More specifically, how am I to pray during these tumultuous times?  What is to be the area I focus on during my time with Him?

Finding the right fit

Several years ago, I joined a prayer group that prayed for our nation.  In the center of the prayer circle, in which we sat, was a picture of the president of the United States.  Later we prayed for the world.  The president’s picture was then replaced with a map of the world.

I’m sure we used the circle to help us focus our attention and prayersThe Lord already knew who the president was.  And since God created the world (and everything in it), I’m sure geography wasn’t an issue for Him.  Thank God for leading us in how to pray because sometimes we really don’t have a clue.

What does the Bible say?

The Bible provides some general areas for our prayers.  Here are a few to help point us in the right direction.

Who are we to pray for?

  • our leaders (1 Tim. 2:1-2)
  • our enemies (Matt. 5:44)
  • the saints (Eph. 6:18)

How are we to pray?

  • without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17)
  • believing (Mark 11:24)
  • according to the will of God (1 John 5:14-15)

Why are we to pray?

  • so people will come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4)
  • so God’s kingdom will be realized (Matt. 6:10)
  • to keep us from temptation (Matt. 26:41)

Let the Holy Spirit lead

In Romans 8:26-27, the Apostle Paul makes the case for relying on the Holy Spirit to guide our prayers.

(In the same way) the Spirit also helps us in our weakness, because we do not know what to pray for as we should, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with unspoken groanings.  Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.  And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of God.

Prayer circles are helpful and important to the Kingdom, but sometimes it’s best to let the Holy Spirit lead us in our prayers.  For example, He may lead us to pray for specific people or circumstances.  All the while leaving the outcome to His sovereign will.  This type of prayer, intercessory prayer, invites us to cry out on behalf of another.

“I just want to testify”

In March our church prayed for a baby born prematurely.  The hospital saw this child’s chances of survival as slim to none.  But our church prayed without ceasing.  The hospital was in awe as the baby not only survived but ultimately thrived.   Our baby went home in August as a witness to the power of intercessory prayer.

In April, we invited friends and family to pray for New York City.  They were, at that time, the epicenter of the COVID pandemic.  We prayed, and I tell you, things shifted the following week.  Now New York City is viewed as the model for managing during this pandemic.  And they praise God for His mercy and grace.

At the end of July, our small group prayed that the violence in our city would cease.  While I haven’t been able to access the impact with monthly statistics, I believe our prayers made a difference.  Why? Not because I have the numbers to prove it but because of what God says in His Word.  John writes in the close of his epistle about the certainties of faith, including our prayers.

Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.  And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.   1 John 5:14-15

We asked according to God’s will.  We are commanded not to kill (Exod. 20:13).  It is the Lord’s will that we love one another (Rom. 12:10) and be reconciled to each other (Matt. 5:23).  This is God’s revealed will.  We therefore believe God heard our prayer and that we will have the petitions that we asked from Him.

Pray for this moment

Prayer changes things, especially when guided by the Holy Spirit.  God alone knows where He wants us to join Him in His work.  In doing so, we get the opportunity to observe His glory and His power.  This strengthens our faith and encourages us to pray without ceasing, even when we don’t see immediate results (2 Cor. 4:18).

The failures and faults of 21st century living require more than man can provide.  Why?  Because the problems we face deal with the conditions of the human heart—selfishness, hate, jealousy, envy, and covetedness—just to name a few.

The prophet Jeremiah accurately described our current condition in the world when he said “the heart is more deceitful than anything else, and incurable​—​who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9) Man’s heart has not changed.  Only God can heal what ails us.

As we look at the conditions of this world, know that God is ever present and vigilant.  He neither slumbers nor sleeps, and is aware of the people, places, and plans that need our prayers (Ps. 121:4).  Our task is to be more intentional and disciplined in our prayer life.

As a nation we need God’s direction and intervention.  While politicians and special interest groups have their place, we need to place our full confidence in God.  He is the only One who can lead us to His desired outcome for the world (Jer. 29:11).  Let’s put God and His will in the middle of our prayer circle and see where He leads us.

Time for a New Thing

Is it time to do a new thing?  Can we maintain status quo in the wake of the coronavirus, a shrinking economy, and social unrest?   These realities have changed each of our lives.  This new normal appears to be here for the long haul dictating our daily routine and our future plans.    Is it time to change?

It is human nature to resist change.  Change is hard especially if it is the result of something we had no say in.  As we attempt to move to some sense of normalcy in this nation, we are being asked to do something new.

“Hell no!  We won’t go!”

Local and state mandates have been issued in order to guard public health.  These instructions are not only being challenged but most often totally disregarded.  This is especially true among our young people.  I wonder who they learned that from.  Even when we’re told lives can be saved and the economy restored, we refuse to change.   Is it time to do a new thing?

From the head of this nation to the head of church congregations, resistance is seen as a rallying cry and badge of honor.  But is it?  Or is it really evidence of our inability to accept change?  Is resistance to exercising safe distance, wearing masks, and avoiding large crowds symptomatic of our unwillingness to do a new thing?   

God’s “new thing”

In the Old Testament, the use of “new thing” is cited in only three (3) texts:  Isaiah 43:19, Numbers 16:30, and Jeremiah 31:22.  Here they describe situations where God’s greatness and sovereignty is on display.  God invites man to join Him in accomplishing His divine purpose.

I will not conclude that the challenges we face are part of God’s divine purpose.  I do believe, however, that God throughout man’s history continually exercises His sovereignty and His authority.  This time in history, 2020, was viewed long before today.  God saw it from eternity (Is. 46:9-10).  Pandemics, politics, and problems in this world never catch God by surprise.

In the New Testament this concept of a “new thing” was manifested in the fulfillment of the Messiah who came to save us and to restore man to God’s original purpose. God was unable to fulfill His purpose through families, tribes or kings; through prophets, mediators or priests.  God brought salvation to earth through Jesus Christ—“God’s new thing”.

God’s new thing resulted in:

  •     The Kingdom of God coming to earth. (Matt. 4:17)
  •     Mercy, grace, and truth. (Ps. 85:10)
  •     Man becoming a “new creation”.  (2 Cor. 5:17)
  •     Freedom from the penalty and power of sin.  (Rom. 8:1)

God’s new things always result in our good and His glory.   As we seek stability during these tumultuous times, know that God is more than able to sustain and keep us (Ps. 46:1-3; 7-10).

Things are changing

As we move through the challenges we face as a nation, know that God is still doing new things.  The world we knew a year ago has changed.  The life we cherished 6 months ago will never return.  Our reality this week may be different than it was last week.  Things are changing.  How can we prepare for change—the new thing?

  • Trust God—believe in His ability and willingness to guide us to a new thing.
  • Position yourself to hear God—pray and read His Word.
  • Look for areas needing change in your life—be honest.
  • Identify and confess sin in your life—what’s interfering with God’s new thing?
But God

God is the key to change.  Most importantly, God can do a “new thing” even in the midst of change.  This includes COVID-19, financial downturns, and social injustices.  He invites us to join Him as we do a “new thing.”  When we trust God with our life, we can look forward with purpose and not fear (Jer. 29:11).

Back to Basics: God’s Discipline

God's discipline

God’s discipline at work

When was the last time you asked God to discipline you? As human beings, we are by nature “pain averse”.  We quickly ask God to remove anything we feel is uncomfortable or unpleasant. This includes times when He chooses to discipline us. This week we conclude our study in Bible Basics with the letter D:  God’s Discipline.  The writer of Hebrews shares how God uses discipline to strengthen us and to facilitate our spiritual growth and development.

God’s correction through our experiences

At the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, I shared with you a chart of potential responses and the challenges COVID-19  presented.  Since that time we have new hills to climb.  Tension erupts as racial tension explodes into both peaceful demonstrations and destructive rioting.

People have asked me if these events are God’s way of getting our attention.  They ask, “Is God disciplining us as a nation?”  While I don’t know the mind of God (1 Cor. 2:16), I do know that there is a natural consequence for sin (Rom. 6:23).  Could that be what we are currently experiencing?

What I do know is that the biblical record shows that God will use events and circumstance to help accomplish His will.  God also allows circumstances in our life that conform us to the image of Christ.  Problems and difficulties tend to bring us closer to God and in position to hear His voice.   That’s why it is important to be intentional in prayer and reading God’s Word (Gal. 3:24) especially during difficult and challenging times (Phil. 4:6-13).

Selfishness and social injustice has existed since the beginning of mankind (Leviticus 19:15; Prov. 17:15).  These are not God’s doing.  However, God will use every opportunity to help us understand that He is still God and the Sustainer of life—even life lived disobediently.

What is biblical discipline?

In the New Testament, discipline (chastisement) is defined as training in proper conduct for the purpose of better behavior. In the Old Testament, the word carries a similar meaning with greater emphasis on correction and is viewed as a “blessing from God” (Ps. 94:12-13; Deut. 8:5).

How do we feel about discipline?

Our opinion of discipline, either positive or negative, has been greatly influenced by how we received discipline as a child.  It began with our relationship with our parents and then transitioned into our school experiences.  Even today, our early encounters with discipline can impact our receptivity to (or rejection of) feedback from our employer However, God’s discipline is very different.

In Hebrews 12:11, the author shares our general feeling about discipline:  No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.  However, when viewed from a spiritual perspective (with God as our Disciplinarian) we can consider a different viewpoint:  Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

So why do we need God’s discipline?
    1. 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).
    1. 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 (James 1:2-4).
    1. It will result in repentance and submission by the believer. Spiritual discipline is not designed to harm or destroy us. It is to solicit repentance—turn away from—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).
What’s the spiritual benefit of discipline?

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 punishment that should have been given to each of us (Isaiah 53:5).

The aforementioned factors collectively result in “spiritual benefit” to the believer described as the “peaceable fruit of righteousness”, in other words, goodness in character.

As we move forward through COVID-19 and reconcile our differences as people, ask God to show you where He is disciplining you?  What areas in your life is He melting, molding, and reshaping?  How can you be “exercised” by the events of this disciplining experience?

Remember God’s discipline is a reflection of His love.  Then meditate on this teaching penned by King Solomon: My child, do not despise the LORD’s discipline or be weary of his reproof,  for the LORD reproves the one he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.   Proverbs 3:11-12 (NRS)

Back to Basics: Confessing our Faith with Confidence

Confessing our faith with confidence

How confident are we in our faith?  What is the basis of our confidence?  Do others see us witness to the belief that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior? Our answer to these questions are key as we continue our Back to Basics series with this week’s teaching using the letter C—Confessing our Faith with Confidence.

Confidence makers or confidence breakers

The changes spawned by the coronavirus pandemic have unraveled everything we once defined as normal.  In our humanity, we are now looking for something that resembles what we once knew as a daily routine or an ordinary life style.  With our failure to find the familiar, we are now desperate for something or someone to put our trust in—something that is secure.

We look to our traditional sources of confidence—government, church, business, or community-based institutions—for reassurance and hope.  Instead, what we are faced with is an enormous gap in confidence.

Demand for faithful confession

It is critical that we, as believers, anchor ourselves to The Source that has proven reliable and dependable.  In addition, we must share with the world the Best Option to successfully navigate 21st century living, especially in the wake of social upheaval, public health threats, and economic uncertainty.  We now must live out our Christian beliefs, practice discernment, and exercise moral courage to ensure that God’s kingdom comes—even in the midst of chaos.

The challenges we face are much like the early church.  As people of faith we are tempted to fall away from God—even to apostasy.  Believer’s conviction to “walk by faith and not by sight” has weakened as evidenced by the growing number of followers who are distancing themselves from the Church.

Our impotent witness has left nonbelievers and searchers vulnerable to satanic influence and beliefs.     Instead of leading people to the light we are leaving them in the dark (Eph. 5:8; Matt. 5:14-16).   What has happened to our confident confession of faith?  It’s time to return to the basics.  The Psalms are the best primer to remind us of the basis for our confident confession.

The Psalms as confidence builders

The writers of the Psalms give us various insights into the lives of people and nations who cried out to God—the source of their confidence.  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.

David’s confession of confidence

Psalm 16 gives us an unguarded view of how confident faith is lived out under the watchful eye of God.  It is shown to us through David’s personal testimony of trust in the Lord.

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

David’s confidence in God

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 (El) for in thee do I put my trust” (v.1). El in Hebrew translates to 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).

Confident faith building

It is in verse 8 that David explains the final 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’s will before him.

David concludes:  “because He (the LORD) is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.” The hand in Hebrew represents the seat of one’s power.  David’s confidence was based on God’s strength and not his own.

Confident faith confession

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.

With COVID-19, where are we going to place our confidence?  When facing challenges in our life, do we consistently respond in confidence to the Lord? Do we run for cover or do we, like David, remain unshaken because we have already determined to trust in the Lord. Our response is an indicator of our faithful confidence in Him. The time to decide how we will handle life’s circumstances is before they occur. What or who will we set before us?

A Prayer of Confidence

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.

Back to Basics: Building your Spiritual Endurance

Back to Basics: Building Spiritual Endurance

Traveling Back to Basics

When facing a new challenge, it is common practice for us  to “return to basics.”  It is in the returning that strengths are honed and minds prompted to those things that never change.

In early March we introduced the series, Back to Basics.  Its intent was to help believers return to biblical principles that strengthen our faith and that guard our hearts—hearts facing the challenge of 21st century living (Prov. 4:23).

We are using the “ABC’s” as the framework for this series.  We began with the letter A—Accepting the Mind of Christ.  Today we will move to the letter B—Building Spiritual Endurance.

The Need for Building Spiritual Endurance

Living in this postmodern era, our faith is constantly bombarded by alternatives to the teachings of the Word of God.  The Apostle Peter warned of such assaults as he prepared young Timothy, the new elder of the church at Ephesus.

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers;  and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.  But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.  (2 Tim. 4:3-5)

We are living in those same times today.

In addition, we are thrust into  challenges we have never faced before with the introduction of the coronavirus into our nation and into our communities .  Pandemic deaths, resource shortages, and economic upheaval are requiring us to restructure our institutions and traditions to fit this new normal.

Biblical basics for the new reality

It is also critical that we return to biblical basics in order to move through the challenges that lie ahead.  These basics will guide us as we create new realities based on the changes we are now experiencing.  For this journey, we will need spiritual endurance (Is. 40:29; Deut. 31:8; Matt. 19:26).

Noted theologian and teacher, Alistair Begg has often stated that, “Endurance is a key indicator of spiritual fitness.”  The world tempts us to take the easy way around our problems.  We are encouraged to “walk through them” so that we might be strengthened and become mature Christians (James 1:2-4).

Time to Strengthen Up

The author of Hebrews offers the following text to help us understand the need for spiritual endurance and our role in obtaining it.

So don’t sit around on your hands! No more dragging your feet! Clear the path for long-distance runners so no one will trip and fall, so no one will step in a hole and sprain an ankle. Help each other out. And run for it!   (Hebrews 12:12-13, The Message)

Although there may be debate as to who authored this general epistle, there is little doubt it was written to people in need of spiritual endurance.  Much like us they were living in the midst of life threatening challenges and change.  They were thrust into situations which they, too, had never faced before.

In Hebrews 11, the author introduces his readers to Old Testament believers whose faith helped them to endure and persevere in spite of enormous obstacles.  He expands this teaching in Hebrews 12 by providing the ultimate model of spiritual endurance—“Jesus the author and finisher of our faith” (v. 2) who endured the Cross in order to accomplish God’s plan of salvation.  It is with these examples in mind that we are able to endure and push forward in faith (Heb. 12:3).  We can be assured that if we endure, then we will be rewarded (Gal. 6:9).

Running the race with endurance

Against this backdrop the author illustrates spiritual endurance with the metaphor of a race.  The writer warns that “holey paths” and “sprained ankles” might render the runner incapable of completing the race.  We are to “strengthen” our feeble arms and weak knees and “make level the paths” for the feet (NIV).   Then we are prepared to complete the race successfully.

The process outlined in our Hebrew text is not dissimilar to what we need to build spiritual endurance in the 21st century—especially if we are to navigate successfully through the coronavirus pandemic.

How do we building spiritual endurance for today

When adverse circumstances and difficulties occur in our life, instead of complaining, we are to accept the discipline it offers and be strengthened through it.  During those times, God has provided the resources we need to “push through.”

The first is God’s Word.  We are called to act on the truth that has been revealed in Scripture concerning spiritual endurance.  It has been commanded (Matt. 10:22; 2 Tim. 2:3), exemplified (2 Tim. 2:10; Heb. 10:32-33) and rewarded (2 Tim. 3:1; James 1:12).

Our spiritual endurance is predicated on the fact that God has given us everything we need to live in this present age (2 Pet. 1:3-4).  Every promise of God is “Yes and Amen” (2 Cor. 1:20).

We can be assured that God will give us the strength to endure trying times based on His faithfulness and the veracity (truthfulness) of His Word.

The second is the Holy Spirit.  It is the Holy Spirit who is there to strengthen and keep us.  With His assistance we are able to do all things (Phil 4:13) and complete the work God has designated us to do (Phil. 1:6).

The third resource is the community of faith.  The Holy Spirit has gifted both the universal and local church “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (Ep. 4:12). It is in community that believers find encouragement and support for spiritual growth and development.

Spiritual Endurance=Staying Power

Through God’s Word, the Holy Spirit and in Christian community the believer is able to build spiritual endurance.  The writer of Hebrews gives sage advice as to how we can build spiritual endurance and in so doing increase our “staying power” for the Lord.  It is in God that we will find your “second wind” for the challenges of 21st century living.

Next week, we will continue with our Back to Basic series and explore C—Confessing our faith with confidence.

Back to Basics: Accepting the Mind of Christ

 

bible basics

WE NEED BIBLE BASICS

It’s time to get back to Bible basics.  With the entrance of each new century, breakthroughs occur which seem to amaze mankind and contribute to exponential growth and possibilities for mankind.

However, even with the advent of new thinking and extraordinary technology, as Solomon once stated, “there is nothing new under the sun” (Eccles. 1:9).  We continue to be plagued with the difficulties of managing relationships, occupations, and our own “inner demons.”  We cry out for a “new way” of living when all we need is to get back to Bible basics.

We can see this playing out in our communities as people seek homeopathic and holistic options for managing their health needs; ultimately realizing that what they are doing is “what grandma use to do.”

We are desperately seeking ways to reclaim our lives through simplification, some even becoming minimalist.  We are realizing that the “basics” provide the best quality of life rather than the 21st century’s claim to the “best life”.

THE NEED TO RETURN

This same trend is occurring with people of faith as we return to Bible basics—prayer, Bible study, practicing the presence of the Lord, and scriptural meditation, just to name a few.  Enamored with new practices and the “repackaging” of old disciplines, we forgot the basics we learned when we first fell in love with Jesus.  Mindfulness is really nothing new.

It is because of this trend that we will be focusing on getting back to Bible basics.  We will begin with A—“Accepting the Mind of Christ”.

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 Pet. 3:16).

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 Pet. 4:1-2)

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.   Paul reminded the new believers that 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).

CHRIST’S POWER AGAINST SIN

As a result of Christ’s action, we have 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.

 THE WEAPON OF CHOICE—THE MIND OF CHRIST

Peter gives a two-fold purpose for arming ourselves with Christ’s attitude.

First, we  are not to spend the rest of our life chasing after evil desires. Although we have been redeemed by Jesus Christ, we must continue to deal with the reality of living in our physical bodies or “unredeemed flesh” (Rom. 7:17-19).

While we remain contained in our unredeemed flesh, we can, however, arm ourselves with the mind of Christ. The believer’s life is not to be lived in satisfying the urging of their old flesh but we are to “reckon themselves dead to sin but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 6:11).

OBEDIENCE AND LOVE NEEDED

Second, we are to 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”.

Obedience begins in the heart (Ps. 40:8).  Jesus loved the Father and show that love by following His instructions and commandments (John 14:31).  There are occasions when our love is divided—still tethered to this world. Such division results in “love breakers” more often than “law breakers”.

If we truly love God, 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 will be evidenced in our service and our desire to share the Good News of the Gospel.

RISE TO THE CHALLENGE

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

…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. (1 Pet. 3:14, 15)

Join us next week as we continue with back to Bible basics with “B—Building Spiritual Endurance”.