Category Archives: Spiritual Maturity

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”.

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!

How to be obedient to God

how to be obedient to God

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. If you’re struggling with obedience and how to be obedient to God, continue reading.

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).

Tips on how to be obedient to God

how to be obedient to God consistently
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Ravi Zacharias – God’s Plan for your life and how to be obedient

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.