Category Archives: Spiritual Maturity

Psalms for Thanksgiving

Oh give thanks unto the LORD.”  Psalm 105:1 (NKJ)

Tomorrow we will celebrate Thanksgiving—again.  As we prepare to join with friends and family during this time of gratitude and appreciation, my question to you is “what are you thankful for this year?”  For my answer, the Holy Spirit guided me to the Psalms.  The Psalms are recognized for their ability to capture the feelings and emotions of people “doing life”.  With that in mind, I’d like to share three psalms, Psalms 105-107, in gratitude for Thanksgiving 2019.

The opening lines of Psalms 105-107, “Oh give thanks to the LORD,” links together this trilogy of songs which praise God for His goodness and mercy to Israel.  Psalm 105 and 106, possibly originated by command of David to Asaph on the occasion when the ark of the covenant was first brought to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6:12-19); Psalm 107 most likely were written during the post-Exilic period, that timeframe after the seventy-year period of Babylonian captivity.  As I read these psalms today, it is evident that their strength and intensity lie in their ability to present events of the past clearly and unabridged.  By communicating them to future generations, the nation of Israel would make sure that they would never forget what God had done for them and would result in unending praise to Him.

Psalm 105 remembered and praised God for His eternal faithfulness. “He remembers His covenant forever, The Word which He commanded, for a thousand generations” (Psalm 105:8).  Israel’s covenant relationship with God gave them “favor” as the seed of Abraham and children of Jacob.  That covenant guaranteed God would both protect and provide for His own people.  It began in time past and is still promised to the nation of Israel in the 21st century.  God is “not a man that He should lie…as He spoken it, He will make it good” (Num. 23:19).  God’s faithfulness is extended to believers today through Jesus Christ, the Mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance (Heb. 9:15).  He will do everything He promised and more (Ep. 3:20).

Psalm 106 remembered and praised God for His certain forgiveness.  “We have sinned…committed iniquity…done wickedly.  Nevertheless He saved them for His name’s sake…” (Psalm 106:6-8)   Israel’s history is replete with accounts of their disobedience and turning away from Jehovah God.  Sometimes it took the form of idolatry; other times it was willful wickedness and rebellion.  Wherever they found themselves, the nation of Israel quickly forgot God and adopted the sinful patterns of their neighbors

(v. 13).  But God always extended mercy to them.  Believers today are blessed that we can ask God for forgiveness of our sins and He will faithfully and instantaneously forgive (1 John 1:9).  There is no need for the blood of bulls and goals or heifers (Hebrews 9:13-14).  Jesus paid it all that we might freely receive forgiveness.

Psalm 107 remembered and praised God for His great works of deliverance. “Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, Whom He has redeemed from the hand of the enemy…and He delivered them out of their distresses.  And He led them forth by the right way…” (Psalm 107:2-7).  In God’s faithfulness and because of His forgiveness, He would continually show Himself strong on behalf of His people (2 Chronicles 16:9).  His works of deliverance would save them from their enemies (vv. 1-3), their sinful consequences (vv. 4-22) and the other storms in their national life (vv. 23-29).  And with that deliverance, came unmerited blessings—“wildernesses would be turned to pools of water and dry land into watersprings.”  Today, God continues to be our strength and very present help in time of trouble (Ps. 46:1).  He has delivered us, does deliver us, and we trust will still deliver us” (2 Cor. 1:10).

This Thanksgiving create your own psalm in honor of God’s love and provision.  Know that He loves you with an everlasting love (Jer. 31:3).  Sing praise to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who demonstrated His love for us.  Even while we were in sin, He died for us that we might have everlasting life (Rom. 5:8).    Praise the Lord and give thanks!

Rejecting God’s Counsel

For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God.  Acts 20:27  (NKJ)

Our intent in creating this series has been to offer a new perspective on the whole counsel of God that will hopefully increase believers’ confidence in its validity and its value in navigating in the 21st century.

We introduced our series by first discussing the wisdom of God.  The “unsearchable” knowledge of God (Rom. 11:33) establishes the foundation for acceptance of the whole counsel of God and for victorious living under “Kingdom Rule”.

We expanded the definition of the whole counsel of God to include not only that which is revealed through His Word and the Holy Spirit, but also extends to His realized purpose and His will in the world and in the believer’s life.

The reliability of God’s counsel is a consequence of who He is and His relationship with believers. God is, by nature, exceedingly good and great!  Because of that, God’s counsel can be trusted.

So why do people reject God’s counsel?

When I teach God’s Word, I am surprised at the number of pushbacks and arguments I get from people as I share the whole counsel of God.  I see in their eyes and hear in their voices, the inner conflict that God’s Word creates in their life as they attempt to convince me (and justify to themselves) their “difference with the counsel” that is being “revealed”.  It is out of this place of discomfort that the Bible and the Holy Spirit is regularly accused of being “intolerant”, “outdated”, and “inaccurate”.

The reason for their “disconnect” is the standard they use to assess the “value or correctness” of God’s counsel.  Their “source of counsel” is, in most cases, the world, their flesh, and/or the influence of Satan.   Once this is understood, it becomes clear the basis of their discomfort is not the sufficiency of Scripture but the struggle for authority in their life—God’s authority or the current worldview?  God’s authority or what makes them happy?  God’s authority or Satan’s authority?  It is a matter of authority and obedience.   

Obedience and the whole counsel of God

I was saved when I was nine years old.  I bought the “fire insurance” and wasn’t going to hell.  But it was 30 years later that I learned about “lordship” and God’s authority and rule in my life.  That required me to change the source of my counsel—no longer the world, my flesh, or Satan—but the whole counsel of God.

My personal journey has led me to believe that people’s disobedience and rejection of God’s counsel usually stems from one or all of the following:

Blinding by Satan.  “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.  In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”  2 Corinthians 4:3-4 (NRS)

Paul explains to the Corinthians the reason why people reject the gospel.  The translated meaning of veiled is “to hide or hinder the knowledge of a thing.” And who is the culprit responsible for the veiling?  It is Satan.  Satan’s agenda is to keep people away from their Creator and His purpose for their lives.  And what doesn’t Satan want people to know?  “The gospel of the glory of God” realized through the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Jesus has provided freedom from the bondage of sin, a path back to God (reconciled), and access to spiritual blessings prepared for them (Eph. 1:3-5).

Bentness of the Flesh.  “Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world;  for all that is in the world — the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches — comes not from the Father but from the world.  And the world and its desire are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever.  1 John 2:15-17

As Christians we not only have become new creatures in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17) but we also have been delivered from the penalty and the power of sin.  However, until Christ’s return or we transition to be with Him in heaven, we must still deal with the presence of sin, in our unredeemed flesh and by virtue of living in this fallen world.

These two facts require BELIEVERS to continually be aware of those factors that tend to “bend us” toward the “world’s view of life” versus God’s expectations of Christian behavior and purpose.  If you have not accepted Christ’s offer of salvation, there is still “room at the Cross” with an opportunity to “change the bentness” of your flesh and the influence of this “falling” world in our lives.

Battle for Truth. “Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened.  Claiming to be wise, they became fools. Romans 1:21-22

The battle for truth in the 21st century is raging.  We feel the effects of postmodernism both inside and outside the Church.   To exacerbate this dilemma, social media and technology has introduced the ability for individuals and groups to flood the channels with their agendas that spread propaganda, misinformation, and disinformation.

Propaganda is defined as the systematic transmission of information or ideas in order to encourage or instill a particular idea, attitude, or response. Misinformation is erroneous or incorrect information. Misinformation differs from propaganda in that it always refers to something which is not true. Its intent is usually neutral. Disinformation refers to disseminating deliberately false information, with the intention of influencing policies of those who receive it.  

John Hopkins Sheridan Libraries

So where is one to go for good counsel?   To the only source that has a record of being all wise, reliable, and totally committed to our well-being.  That Source is God.

God’s Counsel = LIFE

The whole counsel of God includes some things that are difficult to hear—the fact that we are dead in sin and deserving of God’s wrath (Eph. 2:1–3) and the fact that we cannot save ourselves through works (Eph. 2:8–9). The gospel is a call to faithfulness and holy living (Eph. 1: 4).  Believers will face persecution (John 16:33) and likely be considered foolish. But none of these things should dissuade us.

When we accepted God’s lordship and are obedient to His will and His purpose, our life will become richer and fuller—God planned it that way through Jesus Christ who is the living WORD (John 10:10).  Accept the full counsel of God as your source of wisdom and direction.  God’s counsel is the true path of life (Ps. 16:11).

The Reliability of God, Part 2

 

Ah Lord GOD! It is you who made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you. Great in counsel and mighty in deed.

  Jeremiah 32:17, 19a (NRS)

In the introduction of this series, “The Whole Counsel of God”, I emphasized the importance of understanding who God is.  Our view of God creates the framework on which our faith and life is to be built.  This is also true with regard to following God’s revealed will and purpose for our life.  Last week in our discussion on the reliability of God’s counsel, I concluded that God can be trusted because of our relationship with Him and because of who He is.  Today we will continue with specifics into the reliability of God by examining a few of His key attributes.

The Attributes of God

When we speak of attributes of God, we are referring to those qualities that make up who God is—they are characteristics of His nature.  We are not referring to the acts which God performs, such as creating, guiding or preserving nor to the roles He executes as Creator, Guide, or Protector.  Attributes are the essence of who God is and are qualities shared by the entire Godhead—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

The whole counsel of God, His truth revealed in His purpose and His will, proves reliable because they flow from the very nature of who God is.  God cannot deny Himself (2 Tim. 2:13).  In response to challenges to their Christian beliefs, believers often use the adage, “God said it and that settles it”.   Although their comeback may sound comical or ridiculous to some, their position of belief is biblically sound, because it is based on the source of their information—God Himself.

Reliability in God’s Attributes

All the attributes of God—His Goodness and His Greatness, support the dependability of God’s counsel.  For time sake, I will highlight the two that will answer the question most frequently asked by those concerned with the reliability of God’s counsel—does it change?

Does God’s counsel change?

This is usually asked by those who feel that the Bible is “outdated” or “out of touch” with the life styles of the 21st century.  Such questions, although often sincere, are a serious threat to the biblical authority of Scripture.  Although the Bible is tangible, we must remember that it is THE WORD OF GOD—alive and active (Heb. 4:12) and coming directly from God Himself (2 Tim. 3:16).  The following attributes of God support the reliability of His counsel:

  • The constancy or immutability of God is the attribute that states that “God never changes (Mal. 3:6; James 1:17). He is the same—yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8).  To say God never changes, does not mean God is static but God is “stable”.  The truth that God reveals to man from Genesis to Revelations is the same truth for 21st century living (Heb. 6:17-19).
  • God’s attribute of integrity or truthfulness speaks to His faithfulness in all He says and does.  God keeps all His promises.  This is a function of his limitless power and capability; because of that God can never commitment Himself to something He is incapable of doing.  (Don’t you love that!)  God will never revise His Word or default on a promise.  Throughout biblical history and today, God always fulfills what He says He will do (Is. 25:1). 

We, as believer in Christ, can trust in the reliability of God’s counsel because of who God is and because of our relationship with Him.  It is not necessary for us to check the credentials of God or ask for references; check within the pages of Scripture and see where God has proven Himself to faithful and true.  But better yet, look within the pages of your own life and see where God has shown Himself to be a faithful and true Counselor.

Next week will close this series with “Reasons God’s Counsel is Rejected”.

The Reliability of God, Part 1

I will praise the LORD, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me.  Psalm 16:7 (NIV)

As I entered the therapist’s office, I was immediately made aware of their qualifications as evidenced by the numerous degrees, certifications, and achievements displayed on the wall.  This is very typical of professionals as they attempt to elicit our confidence in their abilities.  I see the same thing when I walk into the offices of clergy and church laity.

The belief that the “buyer should beware” extends not only to products and services, but unfortunately to matters of faith.  Can God be trusted?  Does God really mean what He says in His Word?  Therefore it may be helpful at this point in the series to explore the reliability of God’s counsel, especially for those who might question its dependability.

Last week we defined the whole counsel of God as God’s truth revealed in His purpose and His will.  God communicates His whole counsel in two key ways—the Bible and through His Holy Spirit.   To understand the counsel of God, it is important to first understand who God is?

Who is God?

This is the bedrock on which our spiritual confidence is built.  Who is God?  God is the “source” of all knowledge and the “power” behind the eternal plan for all Creation.  The veracity of God’s counsel is based on its source and that source is God Himself.   We will spend more time discussing this in, “The Reliability of God’s Counsel”, Part 2.

The biblical phrase, “before the foundation of the world” was chosen through inspiration of the Holy Spirit to highlight the eternal wisdom and knowledge of God as He created His plan of salvation, healing, deliverance, and redemption for mankind.  God ordained His purpose according to His good pleasure” (Eph. 1:5).

Who is God to Me?

The reliability of the counsel of God is built, not only on who God is, but more importantly on who God is to me personally. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to receive advice and instruction from someone who is neither trustworthy nor “safe.”  Trust and reliability are often built through relationship.

In our text today, David’s personal fellowship with the Lord was his greatest reason to trust God’s counsel.  David had experienced God’s instruction and advice throughout his life beginning as a shepherd boy in the fields of Bethlehem, through his strained relationship with Saul (1 Sam. 18:9) to his ultimate kingship over nation of Israel (2 Sam. 5:4).  God was always there to advise David on what to do and how to do it.   Because of that David praised or “blessed” the Lord.

David’s “reins” (heart, NIV)—the seat of his emotion and affection—were further instructed by God in the night seasons.  “Instruct” carries with it the idea of discipline and chastening (Heb. 12:1-12).  Night” is plural and suggests “dark nights” or “night after night” learning from God.  God’s counsel, day or night, in the good or bad times, had always proven a trustworthy guide for David, one deserving all his confident.

Is God’s Counsel Reliable?

Paul warned Timothy, his young minister-in-training, of the coming apostasy—the abandonment of religious belief.  He advised Timothy to teach the whole counsel of God, in this case, the scriptures,  that are “profitable” (useful, NRS)  for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness  so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

Paul closed his teaching with the foretelling of a time when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having “itching ears”.  They will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths (2 Tim. 4:3-4).  Does that sound like the world we are living in today?

We, as believer in Christ, can trust in the reliability of God’s counsel because of who God is and because of our relationship with Him.  The whole counsel of God is the only dependable counsel for 21st century living.

Also Read:  Postmodernism 101

The Whole Counsel of God: What is it?

 

For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God.  Acts 20:27  (NKJ)

One of the things this nation is not short on is advice.  If you turn on the television, every station has its personal brand of advice—The Real, The Talk, The View.  And let’s not forget social media.

Life and spiritual coaches have been added to the deluge of resources ready to “create a better life for you”.  Online counseling by Chat, Video or Phone.  Get Help and Get Happy.  Therapy Anytime, Anywhere.   Each of these resources and programs are targeting different groups of viewers—boomers, millennials, Xers to influence their thoughts and actions.  And the real question is influence for what?

If ever there was a need for reliable counsel, it is now!

Definition of Counsel

The noun “counsel” means advice, especially that given formally.  Counsel is synonymous with guidance, direction and instruction.  The Hebrew word that best communicates the concept of counsel is ‘esah, which adds purpose or plan to the definition.   It is both used of God’s counsel and of human counsel.

Counsel Given—Counsel Received  

The Old Testament portrays counsel as that which is usually given to kings (1 Chron. 13:1).  Counsel may have come from trusted advisors but more frequently through God’s prophets (Deut. 18:14-21).

Proverbs suggests that one should seek counsel from many with the thought that human beings are limited and need contributors to be sure all alternatives are considered (Prov. 11:14;  Prov. 20:18).

In the New Testament, especially in the church, though they were a close-knit fellowship, involved in one another’s lives, there is almost nothing about counsel or acting on the advice of others.  The closest thing to “counsel” would have been that given to the early churches via apostolic letters.

Regardless of the counsel received, no advice or counsel frees the person’s responsibility for making his or her own choice. Such was the case in our text as Paul gives instructions to the Ephesian elders.

What constitutes “the whole” ?

What is the “whole counsel of God”?  If you search different Bible versions for clarity, you may still be left asking, “What is it?”  In our text, the different Bible versions read, “the whole counsel of God” (ESV) or “the whole will of God” (NIV) or “the whole purpose of God” (NASB).

The phrase the whole counsel of God was introduced by Paul in Acts 20:27 in his farewell speech to the elders of the Ephesian church.  In this context, the whole counsel of God refers to the “gospel message”.

Paul spoke the complete gospel—the whole truth about God’s salvation including the “mystery” of God extending His plan of salvation to Gentiles as well as Jews (Ep. 3:9).  Paul’s declaration of the “whole counsel of God” made him “innocent” of anyone’s decision to reject God’s truth as revealed, at that time.

The whole counsel of God, in summary, is God’s truth revealed in His purpose and His will.  God communicates His whole counsel in two key ways—the Bible and the Holy Spirit.

Paul witnessed to the fact that, “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16, NRS).   The Bible is the “play book” which helps believers live in alignment with God’s will and in right relationship with one another.

Through the ministry of the Holy Spirit believers relate God’s truth to present situations—guiding them in actions they are to take.   Although the Spirit may use any number of avenues to help believers sense His direction, He ultimately guides us to decisions that are in harmony with what God purposes for us (Jer. 10:23).

Living in 21st century, postmodern America, it is critical that we have access to good counsel.  We need counsel that is sure and dependable; trustworthy and timeless.  We need counsel to help us live out of the heart God created for us.  We need the whole counsel of God.

We will continue next week with this series, “The Whole Counsel of God.”

The Whole Counsel of God: The Wisdom of God

Today we introduce a new series that, I hope, will help believers in our daily challenge to live in a world where our faith and our Christian lifestyle are at risk.  While God’s salvation is unquestionable and His faithfulness to us is undeniable (2 Tim. 2:13), it is we believers who must be reminded to grow in our faith (2 Pet. 1:5-8) so that we may remain free from the sinful influences of the world (Gal. 5:1.)

This series, “The Whole Counsel of God”, will focus on building our confidence and spiritual “grit” to earnestly contend for your faith—unashamedly, openly, without guilt or embarrassment (Jude 3).   Reliance on the whole counsel of God will fortify the believer against persistent assaults from the world and satanic attacks (1 Cor. 2:5).

I’d like to kickoff this series by returning to an earlier WordBytes entitled the “Wisdom of God”.   I have chosen this teaching because the believer’s understanding of God’s wisdom is foundational in their acceptance of the whole counsel of God and for living victoriously under “Kingdom Rule”.  God has the first and final word in all things!  Why?  Because we trust in His love, we submit to His sovereign rule in our life and we willingly receive His wisdom.   Welcome to “The Wisdom of God”.

But we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”  1 Cor. 1:23, 24 (NKJV)

After reading 1 Corinthians 1-2, I wanted to get out of my seat, stand tall, and stick out my chest, and figuratively, “drop the mike.”  This teaching by Paul to the Corinthians was, for me the capstone, the finale, the ultimate answer for those who are desperately seeking wisdom.   “Christ crucified” or the Gospel message is not only the power of God but also the wisdom of God.  While time and space does not permit me to fully teach on this passage, I would invite you to include it in your future Bible study devotion.  Today, however, I’ll attempt to contain myself as we conclude this series, “Desperately Seeking God” by exploring the wisdom of the God.

What is the Wisdom of God?

For believers in Christ, the wisdom of God is the truth set forth in His Word and through His Holy Spirit.  This wisdom becomes accessible to us through belief in Jesus Christ and His saving work to lost humanity (Matt. 1:21).   This wisdom shapes our beliefs and the reality in which we daily live.

Although 1 Corinthians is not part of wisdom literature, it does illuminate the fact that the Gospel and acceptance of its truth will result in “true wisdom from above” (1 Cor. 1:30).   So why was it considered “foolishness” in Paul’s day (and today)?  This requires we take a look at the context of Paul’s letter—the city of Corinth and the beliefs at that time.

Corinth was a key city in ancient Greece until it was destroyed by the Romans.  The city was filled with shrines and temples leading to idolatry and corrupt living.  The diversity of the population produced many philosophers with Greek philosophy being the dominant thinking.  These men filled their days with study and in espousing their beliefs as to the existence of divine beings, the nature of life, and how life was to be lived.  When Paul spoke of the wisdom and power of the Gospel, the Jews demanded “signs” while the Greek demanded “worldly wisdom”.   Both groups appearing as wise “became fools” (Rom. 1:21-22).

You might find some parallels with activities and beliefs we find in the 21st century.  Technology, information, and knowledge are being touted as the “crown jewels of wisdom” for this age.  Explosion of the Internet and microchip development, robotics and artificial intelligence, and genetic re-engineering have become but a few of man’s self-proclaimed proofs of his superiority to any professed god.  Such progress has created a sense of “deity” within man, leaving God and His wisdom behind as mere relics of a past civilization.  The result of such thinking puts future generations in jeopardy of forgetting God and His mighty works (Judges 2:10).   Such thinking has become nuevo wisdom.

So why does the wisdom of God seem like “foolishness”?  Paul answers this question in 1 Corinthians 2:7-15.

    1. The wisdom of God cannot be understood using human wisdom
    2. The Holy Spirit (being God Himself) is the revealer of the wisdom of God, and
    3. The Holy Spirit does not dwell within unbelievers therefore they cannot receive the revealed wisdom of God.

This being the case, God’s methods in sharing His wisdom, through His Word and through His Spirit are “spiritually incompatible”  with the “natural”, unregenerate man.  To them, it appears as foolishness.

The wisdom of God, however, is available through Jesus’ work of salvation, providing “whomsoever will” with access to the wisdom of God the Creator, God the Deliverer, and God the Sustainer.   He is all wisdom.

Necessary Weakness

You will not need to fight in this battle. Position yourselves, stand still and see the salvation of the LORD, who is with you, O Judah and Jerusalem! Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow go out against them, for the LORD is with you.   2 Chronicles 20:17 (NKJ)

I must admit that I have often felt ill-equipped for many of the opportunities I’ve been given.  Although my initial response is usually one of “caution and fear”, I always eventually experience God’s abiding presence and strength in the midst of my challenge.  Proverbs 3:5-6 is my “touchstone” (go to) scripture: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.”  I continue to learn daily to totally depend on HIM and the importance of necessary weakness.

In this postmodern society, self-initiative and personal accomplishment is glorified and cheered.  “Tooting your own horn” or “celebrating oneself” masks the prideful tendency of mankind to gloat in his own works with little glory given to God (Jeremiah 9:24).  Individuals tend to compensate for potential weaknesses through their dependency on academic degrees and personal experiences to provide, what they view, as viable solutions to life’s challenges.  As a rule, declaring one’s personal weakness is not well received by the world.

Even “God assignments” entrusted to both laity and clergy are first evaluated through the lens of personal capability and competency versus going first to God for instruction and empowerment.  We even view our spiritual gifts and talents as the only means to sustainable ministry success.  How foolish!  We fail to see the real ingredients for usefulness to God is weakness and inadequacy.

Also read:  Is it OK to be Weak?

Jehoshaphat gets an A+ for his quick recognition of his situation and his inability to handle what threatened the nation of Judah.  He put first things first—he “feared”, he “sought the LORD”, and he     “fasted”.  In their weakness, Jehoshaphat and Judah fixed their eyes on the LORD.  And the LORD responded and told them to “set yourself…stand still…and see salvation” (2 Chron. 20:17).

Imagine what would happen if we as a country, would acknowledge “our fear” concerning our nation’s future and cooperatively fast and pray (2 Chron. 7:14).  Visualize the impact if our churches collectively, regardless of denomination, would “cry out” to God to save our children from Satan’s attack resulting in senseless suicides and killings.   Picture the transformation we would experience in our communities and in our families if we would “stand before God” and declare our total dependence on Him and Him alone.  BUT we have not.  We continue to do what is “right in our own eyes” (Judges 17:6).  Through failed social programs, fractured political platforms, and misappropriated power, we unsuccessfully attempt to “fix ourselves” rather than acknowledge our weakness and need for God.

Let us pray for wisdom and humility to embrace our personal and collective weakness—to realize the spiritual truth that in weakness God’s glorious power is released.  Paul understood the truth of necessary weakness and dependency on the Lord.  May we begin today to do the same!

I have plenty to boast about and would be no fool in doing it…even though I have received wonderful revelations from God. But to keep me from getting puffed up, I was given a thorn in my flesh.  Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away.  Each time he said, “My gracious favor is all you need. My power works best in your weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may work through me.  Since I know it is all for Christ’s good, I am quite content with my weaknesses and with insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.  (2 Corinthians 12:6-10, NLT).

 

 

Redeeming the Time: The Challenge

 

“See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.”

Ephesians 5:15-16 (NKJ)

We begin a new series, Redeeming the Time, with the Apostle Paul’s challenge to the New Testament church at Ephesus.  This challenge is also relevant for 21st century believers who feel the pressure of living in our postmodern society.

The New International Version (NIV) of the Bible translates “redeeming the time” to mean making the most of every opportunity. The meaning is further illuminated by Bible interpreters:  “to make wise and sacred use of every opportunity for doing good so that zeal and well-doing are as if it were the ‘purchase money’ by which we make the time our own.”  The Apostle Paul uses this phrase on two separate occasions with new churches established in Christ.  He does so to prepare them for the challenges they would face living in a hostile, pagan society.

To the church at Ephesus, Paul reminded believers that they were no longer agents of darkness but were to redeem the time by being “lights in the Lord” (Ep. 5:8).  Their new identity was to be evidenced by their fruit–goodness, righteousness and truth. They were to walk “circumspectly, not as fools”.

Also Read:  Can You Handle the Truth?

There is urgency in Paul’s message to this church because the “days were evil” meaning there was a general disregard for what was right while embracing that which was profoundly immoral, wicked, and depraved.  That evil continues.

Today Paul’s challenge to “redeem the time” draws attention to believer’s solemn responsibility to proclaim and practice Christ-centered principles in their home and in their community.

When we affirm our faith, we acknowledge that we have died to our old sin nature (Gal. 5:24) and walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:4).  We no longer follow the worldview—its influence was negated by the Blood.  Our meaning and reality is now realigned with God (2 Cor. 5:15).

While society exchanges moral absolutes for what seems “right in their own eyes” (Judges 17:6), believers must be “committed to God’s truth in every element of our lives as the separation between light and dark become apparent in the world and in our society.” We are to redeem the time by renouncing world system standards and boldly proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ. By redeeming the time, believers accept Paul’s challenge and become “change agents” for Christ until He returns (2 Peter 3:11-12).

Invitation to a Yoking, Part 2

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.

Matthew 11:28-30 (NKJV)

What was the audience’s reaction to Christ’s invitation to a yoking? The yoke was a figure of bondage and burden borne by slaves (Ex.5:5-7).  Why would anyone want to wear it?  The incentive to respond “positively” to Christ’s invitation is based on the following.

Who was the provider of the yoke?  “Come unto Me.'” Christ was the Yoke.  God the son was offering Himself to those who were hurting and in need of relief; relief from the hypocrisy and indifference of the religious institutions of that day and relief from social injustice and oppression by the Roman Empire.  Christ came to offer justice and hope where none existed—a holy commission that could only be accomplished by the God of Creation (Jer. 32:17).  Only He could fulfill that which He promised (2 Cor. 1:20).

What was the purpose of the yoke?   “Take my yoke…Learn of Me.” These two actions—take and learn—highlight the role personal responsibility plays in acceptance of Christ’s invitation to salvation.  The yoke of Christ represents His lordship over the life of the believer. Under His yoke, they would learn to live using “kingdom principles” (Col. 3:12-14) versus the ways of a fallen world.  Believers could be fully confident that the Provider of the yoke would accomplish a purpose that would result in their good and God’s glory (Rom.8:28).

What was the privilege of the yoke?  “Rest for your souls.” Christ alone, by His person and work, could accomplish two holy mandates. First, He could reconcile men to God (2 Cor. 5:18).  The intimacy man once experienced with God in the Garden could now be restored at the foot of the Cross.  Secondly, He could offer “rest” by the removal of sin’s guilt and the provision of eternal life (Rom. 6:23).  Therefore, Christ’s yoke was “easy and light”.

Christ’s invitation to yoking is still being extended today. He is patiently waiting for nonbelievers to take His yoke and learn of Him.  Believers, as “true yoke fellows” (Phil. 4:2-3) are to be likeminded in our efforts to share the Gospel at every opportunity (Matt. 28:19-20).  The yoke of Christ offers both “blessing and burden” to those who would wear it.  It is in its wearing that God gives the strength to receive both.

The word “stiff-necked” originated in ancient Israel.  lf the oxen didn’t want to follow the guidance from the farmer, it would stiffen the muscles in its neck. This makes it impossible to guide the ox where it needed to go.  Are you following the Spirit’s “lead” or are you “stiff-necked” like an oxen?

Invitation to a Yoking, Part 1

 

 

“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”   Matthew 11:28-30 (KJV)

How do you respond when you receive an invitation? What are your criteria for rendering a positive response? Do you first identify the   sender of the invitation? Are they a friend, a casual acquaintance, or part of an exclusive circle you’d like to join? Do you evaluate the event?  Will a similar invitation be offered at a later time or is this a special occasion?  lnvitations, by their very nature, infer a “closed event”, therein requiring a special request for entry. However, when Jesus extended His invitation “to come”, He invited “not the wise, the mighty, or the noble” (1 Cor. 1:25) but to those in greatest need of Him–“they that labor and are heavy laden.” And to what was He inviting those who heard Him that day? His yoke.

The yoke is a powerful symbol in the Bible. The literal references to the yoke speak of a wooden bar or frame used to join animals to enable them to pull a load, a plow, often together so they could work in tandem. When used in the Old Testament, the yoke is often used figuratively of bondage and of the burden borne by slaves (Ex. 6:6-7). The image is used powerfully by the prophets to portray the fate of disobedient generations (ls. 10:27; Jer. 27:11; Ex.34:27).  ln most of the Old Testament references, the yoke is a negative image–something a person would do virtually anything to avoid.

But Jesus turns his paradoxical rhetoric to represent something “good”–subjection to Him: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,  and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Mt 11:29-30 NIV). Jesus saw the need of the people at that time. He saw a religious system that was demanding yet indifferent to the needs of its people. He saw a social system that was unjust and oppressive. Jesus saw a hurting world in need of a Messiah.    Very much like our world today.   When Jesus entered the synagogue in Nazareth on Sunday morning, He confidently proclaimed:

“The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed; To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.” Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:78-21)

Christ’s yoke is very different from the world’s yoke. The world’s yoke presents itself in the form of fear, guilt, and shame.  lt is heavy, demanding, and burdensome.  Christ’s yoke is “easy” and consists of forgiveness, love, and acceptance. Christ’s “burden” is light because He took the full weight of sin on Himself at the Cross.

Was Jesus’ reference to the yoke, a “symbolic invitation” to join Him and find in His strength release from unbearable burdens? Or was it “His call” to people to become His slaves and experience freedom from the crushing weight they experience from the Law and religious activity?  ln either case, the theme and the invitation are central. Jesus still calls, “Come,” and He promises us “rest for our souls.”  Accept His invitation today and let Him “lighten” your load.