Category Archives: Spiritual Maturity

In But Not of this World

“Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. Abstain from all appearance of evil.  And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Thessalonians 5:21-23 (KJV)

It’s not easy to live in this world as a Christian.  By world, I don’t mean the landmass represented by the globe of the earth but to its people, perspectives, and practices.  When we say that God loves the world, we mean all people.  While God loves the people, He does not love the principles and practices that belong to the “prince of this world” (John 12:31) who is Satan.  That’s why believers are told not to love the world (1 John 2:15-17).  How then are believers to live in the world yet not be of the world? Do they segregate themselves from the world and from nonbelievers?  The answer can be found in God’s Word.

By renewing of the mind.  Roman 12:2 exhorts believers to be “transformed by the renewing of the mind.”  We renew our minds by reading God’s Word and listening to His Holy Spirit within.  The outcome of a renewed mind is knowledge of “the good, acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”  Renewing of the mind also requires careful monitoring of what we see and hear.  The “eye gate” is a key portal to the soul (Matt. 6:22-23).   What we allow to flow through our physical senses becomes part of our essence (our memory) the moment we encounter it.  Therefore, believers may want to exercise greater caution in their media selections (2 Cor. 10: 3-5). 

By exercising spiritual discernment.  Peter warned the early church to “be sober and vigilant because the devil wants to devour you” (1 Peter 5:8).  Satan destroys people by offering sinful choices that lead to spiritual and sometimes, physical death (James 1:14-15).  Our world has become “desensitized” to sin. Those who challenge immoral behavior and practices are often ridiculed and viewed as small-minded and intolerant.  The pursuit of personal satisfaction and instant gratification has blurred the line between right and wrong.  “Be careful!  Watch out for attacks from the Devil, your great enemy” (1 Peter 5:8, NLT). 

By witnessing to God’s truth.   Hebrews 10:23 reminds us to “hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering.”  We “hold fast” by boldly witnessing to God’s truth—His love, His power, and His purpose for those who believe.  Because we live in a world (people, perspectives and practices) that is controlled by the Father of Lies, Satan (John 8:44), it is incumbent upon believers to counter Satan’s   distortions, and deceptions with God’s truth.  The source of God’s truth is His Word (John 17:17) and the Holy Spirit (John 16:13).  It is only through God’s truth that the world can experience true freedom (John 8:31-32).

While it may not be easy to live in this world as a Christian, it is possible.  Christ has shown us the way.  Let us trustingly follow His lead.      

SELAH:  Are you in the world or in God’s kingdom?  During your quiet time, ask the Holy Spirit to reveal those areas of your life that do not reflect the purpose and priority of God’s Kingdom.

If you need help beginning this exercise, take a look at your calendar, your checkbook, and your immediate goals.  These areas are an indicator of where you may be today.

In God We Trust-2018

“Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You.  In God (I will praise His word), In God I have put my trust; I will not fear. What can flesh do to me?”  Psalm 56:3, 4 (NKJ)

As I prepared to write this week’s WordBytes, I searched the web for topics that were trending in the news—items that would give me a hint of the “heartbeat of the country”.  What I discovered was amazing yet not surprising; the trends included “life, conspiracy, hip hop culture, marijuana, motherhood,” and yes, I even found Jesus Christ in the trend.  This wasn’t the total list but what my spirit was drawn to was an earlier WordBytes I had written that seemed to offer a response for the current trending topics.  Interestingly, this particular WordBytes ranks as the most read in the history of WordBytes. With that, I present the most viable and fail proof option for whatever your concern today—trust in God.

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As Election Day 2016 draws near, I thought it would be appropriate to spend some time reaffirming the true source of our confidence—God.  Campaign advertisements continually bombard us via social media, telephone, and television; each candidate promising to serve faithfully and with integrity.  How ironic that our discussion on trust should follow our recent series, “In Search of Truth” as we listen to “half-truths” and “outright lies” presented by all political parties on the ballot.  Who is one to trust?  Our text for today summarizes the best place to put our trust—in God.

The background for today’s Psalm can be found in 1 Samuel 21:8-15, where we are told of David’s escape to Gath, the stronghold of the Philistines, arch enemies of Israel.   The Philistines were well acquainted with David for he had killed their champion, Goliath, when he was only a young shepherd boy (1 Sam. 17).   Now because of King Saul’s jealousy, this young man runs for fear of his life to a place of even greater peril and sure death.  He now stands captured by his worst enemy, the king of the Philistines.

Psalm 56 is identified as a song for the distressed.  We would agree that David was in distress.  We sometimes describe it as being “between a rock and a hard place.”   Like David, we sometimes find ourselves wedged between many rocks and brutal hard places.  Sometimes this happens as a result of others, like Saul, and other times it is the result of our own disobedience and waywardness.  In those times of distress and fear, we are to call out like David—“In God, I have put my trust.”

Trust (batach) in Hebrew means “bold and confident”.  The description means to literally “throw oneself down, extended on the ground, upon his face.”  Can you imagine that picture?  David, literally throwing himself on the mercy of God, fully confident and bold; defiantly proclaiming, “What can flesh do to me?”  Did he recall the many times God intervened on his behalf as King Saul sought to capture and kill him?  His eye was not on the source of his fear but on the Deliverer of his soul. David’s spirit was humbled, cast down in full confidence and trust in Almighty God for his life—not the Philistine king.

As you face the many challenges of life that tend to shake the very foundation of your faith:

  • Put your trust in the One who is able to deliver us from all harm. (Ps. 46:1)
  • Remember those times that God stepped in to deliver you and brought you to a point of safety. (Ps. 91:1,2)
  • Exchange your fear for bold confidence. (Ps. 20:7)

Stretch out on “mature” faith, like David, and expect miracles, signs, and wonders.   Although we flippantly have inscribed on our coins, “In God we trust”, it’s now time to write upon our hearts the Psalmist’s words, “I have put my trust in God.”

SELAH:  Is there something I your life that is causing you great distress? Perhaps your stress is being generated by things you have no control over—the state of the economy, unending political wrangling or social injustices that are currently in news headlines.  Maybe it’s your health or the changing needs of your immediate family.  Perhaps your anxiety is as a result of your own poor decisions or relational conflicts you must deal with.   Regardless of the source, go to God.  He cares for you.  Declare the following prayer and know in God you can always trust.

God of creation and God of salvation, I put my trust in You.  Though the earth may tremble and the mountain be carried into the sea, I put my trust in You.  Though life may be hard and the challenges daunting, I put my trust in You.  I trust in You and You alone because You are MY GOD and MY FATHER. I am Your child.  These things I ask in the powerful name of Jesus Christ.

Things I Learned in 2017

“But let him who glories glory in this, That he understands and knows Me, That I am the LORD.”

Jeremiah 9:24 (NKJ)

 

Who’d a thunk it?  (Yes, that’s what I said.)  We are rapidly approaching two decades into the 21st century.  My, how time flies!   When people ask what I’ve been doing, it’s hard to respond:  “Just taking it one day at a time.” or “Putting one foot in front of the other.”  It’s hard to find words.

So it is with writing this year’s “Things I Learned”.  What have I gleaned from my faith walk this past year?  As I “examine myself, am I still of the faith”? (2 Cor. 13:5)  “Have I studied to show myself approved?” (2 Tim. 2:15)  Have I sought the “kingdom of God first” (Matt. 6:33) and am at “peace with all men”? (Heb. 12:14)

“Things I Learned” is written to share my major “ah ha’s” this year with regard to what I learned about God, about myself, and my faith. No judging or regretting. No New Year’s resolutions or personal improvement plans, only silent contemplation about how God has revealed Himself to me from eternity to time we called 2017.  What are the things I learned in 2017?

  • God is faithful and will do everything He can to aid in my success (Jer. 29:11-13). It is, however, my responsibility to insure I am aligned to receive His grace and power. I must exercise caution and be aware of those things in my “human nature” that can impede my “spiritual progress”—fear, doubt, pride and envy.  In my daily walk, I must recognize and “set aside the weight and the sin that so easily seeks to ensnare me” (Heb. 12:1):  the busyness of the day, the distractions of the urgent versus the important, or the spirit of unforgiveness I may harbor.  Lastly, to be successful in accomplishing God’s purpose, it is critical to understand the will of God.  While God’s will can be found throughout Scripture, the time I spend in prayer and meditation are key in understanding both His way and His will (Ps. 103:7).
  • God is in control regardless of what I see happening around me (Ps. 46:1-3).  Nothing catches God by surprise whether it is political wrangling, social disparity, or an ecological disaster.   Scripture teaches us three truths to sustain us in times of uncertainty and confusion:  God is completely sovereign, God is infinite in wisdom, and God is perfect in love.  Jerry Bridges writes in his book, Is God Really in Control:  “In His love, God wills what is best for us, in His wisdom He always knows what’s best for us, and in His sovereignty He has the power to bring it about.”  God has a plan for mankind which was created before the foundation of the world (Ep. 1:4, 10) and each day we are moving to the culmination of that plan.  There is no one or nothing that can thwart God’s plan.
  • God’s Word is critical for victorious living and spiritual transformation (Ps. 19:7-8). Why?  Because the Scriptures expresses the very mind of God.  It is God speaking directly to us.  How?  The “word of God is full of living power. It is sharper than the sharpest knife, cutting deep into our innermost thoughts and desires. God’s Word exposes us for what we really are” (Heb. 4:12, NLT).   God’s Word also renews our mind so that we begin to think like Christ (Phil. 2:5) leading us to be conformed to His image–the image God had originally designed for us in the Garden of Eden.  Through this process of “exposing and renewing”, or sanctification, we become true children of God (Phil. 2:15).  Investing time in God’s Word—devotional reading and systematic study—yield returns that are priceless, in this world and in the world to come (Ps. 19:10-11).
  • In 2017, I rediscovered the special blessing that can be found in Scripture memorization or as I prefer calling it, “writing God’s Word on my heart.” Oh, the things God has revealed to me about His goodness and His greatness as I’ve “planted” large passages of scripture in my spirit such as Psalms 19 and Ephesians 1.  As I memorized each line, I prayed that it would “take root and bear much fruit (Matt. 13:23).  This spiritual discipline is not about speed or quantity (how many verses I can learn) but in experiencing the “depth of the riches of His grace” God reveals to me.

What are the things I learned in 2017?  I learned that God is God and I’m not, and I’m more than okay with that.  However, the Prophet Jeremiah did a much better job in describing what is really important for us to learn in order to live victorious, successful lives:

Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, Let not the mighty man glory in his might, Nor let the rich man glory in his riches;  But let him who glories glory in this, That he understands and knows Me, That I am the LORD, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. For in these I delight,” says the LORD.  (Jer. 9:23-24)

SELAH:  What are three (3) things you learned in 2017—about God, yourself, or your faith walk?

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. 

 

SELAH:  Click here and read “Wisdom Bytes for Those Desperately Seeking Wisdom.  Then Meditate on the “Wisdom Bytes” and ask God what is His personal invitation to you about wisdom.

How to Untangle a Knot

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

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

Learning to Sort out My Tangles

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

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

Life is Full of Knots and Tangles

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

It’s In the Word  

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

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

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

Also read:   In God We Trust

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

God’s Gift of Rest

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

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

Hebrews 4:11 (NKJV)

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

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

Rest defined

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

Also read:  “Seeking and Finding God

God introduces Rest

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

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

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

Accessing God’s Rest

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

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

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

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

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

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

Returning to Our First Love, Part 2

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

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

Awareness of our current position

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

Strategies to return to our first love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Returning to Our First Love, Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dare to be a Truth Teller

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

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

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

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

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

Good to the Last Byte…

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

Basics for Christian Living: Disciplined by God’s Chastisement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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