Tag Archives: God’s Word

Praying with Purpose: Praying with Confidence

Praying with Confidence Our Prayers

As we stated earlier, prayer is the connector that releases God’s grace, promises, and power into the physical world.  As Oswald Chambers declared prayer is the “greater work” God has given us to do.

Regardless of the type of prayer we engage in—supplication, intercession, or deliverance—we understand the source of our prayers’ power.  The power does not come from us but from God.  Therefore we can have confidence when we pray.

Confidence builders

Our confidence in God dictates our response to the circumstances in the world and in our lives.  More importantly, it shapes our prayers to the Father.   We pray with confidence because we…

    • Acknowledge our REALITY. Our view of life looks different than the rest of the world.  It is based on the fact that God is sovereign and all-powerful (Ps. 97:1-6).

As citizens of God’s kingdom, we live in the presence of, under the authority of, and to the honor and glory of God.  Therefore, we operate according to His Word and under the direction of the Holy Spirit.

Our reality generates prayers of trust and hope as we face the uncertainties and pressures of 21st century living.

    • Walk in our IDENTITY. Our identity is based on who we are “in Christ”.

In Christ we have been adopted as children of God and have access to spiritual blessings (Eph. 1:3) and exceeding great and precious promises that by these we might be partakers of God’s divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4).  This includes God’s power within us through the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Our identity gives us continuous access to the throne of grace.  Therefore, our prayers have priority.  We are invited to come boldly to God for whatever we need (Heb. 4:16).

    • Honor God’s PURPOSE. Jesus often reminded others that He came to fulfill the purpose of His heavenly Father (John 4:34; 5:30; 6:38). God’s purpose for our lives has been identified from the foundations of the world (2 Tim. 1:9).

It is the believer’s great honor to live out that purpose in both our life and through the circumstances God has placed before us.  All things are for God’s glory and our good.

Praying with confidence

As we strive to expand our prayer capacity, it is important that we pray with confidence.  This confidence will lead us to greater faith and belief.  The result will be more of God’s will realized in our lives and in the world.

We close with the Apostle John’s final words to believers concerned with the challenges to their faith and belief in Jesus Christ.  It deals specifically with the certainties of our faith.  Whether certainties or confidence, the result is the same–belief that God sees us, hears our cries, and will be with us.

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

Meditate on these verses and listen as God speaks to your heart.  Then pray the verses replacing the nouns with your name.  Let God’s Word speak “confidence” into your spirit.

Livin’ my Best Life: Best Life Recapitulated

Best Life Recapitulated

Recapitulated—-What have we learned?

Recapitulate means to summarize and state again the main point.

These past few weeks we’ve been attempting to define what “best life” looks like. We began by evaluating best life from a worldview.  In fairness to this overall process, we also considered the biblical perspective.  Before moving forward, a decision was needed as to which view believers were to follow.

It was at this point that a decision was needed.  Believers must draw a spiritual dividing line in order to insure that the influence of the flesh and the world cannot remove our distinctive difference.

Using the Bible as the final authority on what we embrace and follow in our lives, believers are to follow God’s definition of best life based on our new life and new allegiance to God  (2 Cor. 5:15-17).  We are also to focus on eternal things and “life outcomes” that are god-honoring.

Time to Decide

Based on what we have learned, there are two questions that may help us finalize our description of best life.

The first question was asked and answered last week: “What does God say about best life?”

The second question is this.  Of the two views (worldview and biblical view), which one is more likely to satisfy the longing that we may have? Self-directed or Christ-directed?

If we reach self-actualization in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, are we guaranteed that we will be content and fulfilled?  Those we see as “having it all” still deal with dissatisfaction in their life.  Self-actualization may not give all it promises as evidenced by the incidents of depression, substance abuse, and suicide among great artists, celebrities, and business moguls.

For those of us who identified with the things people wanted in life, the question is the same.  Does possession of any or all those items on the “wish list” guarantee contentment?  Remember there was only one tangible item on the list—money.  The rest were intangibles—unable to be touched or grasped but understood or felt in the heart.

Let’s find a Best Life SME (Subject Matter Expert)

At this point, what might be helpful would be to interview someone who had not only pursued best life but also attained it.  They had reached self-actualization and the one tangible (money) on the “10 Most Wanted” list.

In addition, this person should be familiar with “spiritual” options.  Let me introduce our special SME, King Solomon, the king of the United Kingdom of Israel.

Solomon was a fabulously wealthy and sensible king of the United Kingdom of Israel who succeeded his father, King David. Solomon was the biblical king most famous for his wisdom. God granted Solomon not only wisdom but also great wealth and fame because he did not ask for self-serving rewards. (1 Kings 3:7-14).

Solomon authored the book of Ecclesiastes, in which, he built the case to show that the pursuits of this world are vanity.  “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity” (Ecc. 1:2).  Vanity in this context is the quality of being worthless or futile.  Ecclesiastes is located with the other wisdom literature of the Old Testament.

Chapter after chapter, Solomon (“The Preacher” as he identifies himself) presents the case that the vanities of this world are insufficient to make us happy.  He contrasts the vileness of sin, and its certain tendency to make us miserable, with the wisdom of being religious (godly and god-honoring).  Our well-being and satisfaction are only possible through our allegiance to God and our love for man.

In closing, Solomon, by way of exhortation, directs his readers (and us 21st century believers) to remember our Creator, to fear Him, and to keep His commandments.  Solomon gives no recommendation to pursue best life.

Conclusion

God alone can satisfy our hierarchy of needs—basic, psychological, and self-fulfilling.  God is our Jehovah-Jireh (Gen. 22:14).   Our intangible desires are readily available through God’s Spirit (Gal. 5: 22-23).

King Solomon, the Apostle Paul, and more importantly, Jesus have given us the essence of what best life looks like.  It is not a list of “dos and don’ts” but a standard of life.

Livin’ our best life is…

    • a life style that acknowledges the reality of God. God is the Creator and Source of all life who has been uniquely made known to us through His Son Jesus Christ.  We live confidently in the reality of His presence, His power, and His provision.   (Acts 17:28)
    • a life choice that recognizes the authority of God in our life. God’s will and purpose for our lives is revealed in His Word and through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  We choose to trust in the goodness and greatness of God to direct our life’s journey. (Gal. 2:20)
    • a life vocation that commits to the purpose God has chosen for us. We are persuaded that the Kingdom of God has arrived in the coming of Jesus Christ and is imminent in Jesus’ return.  We, therefore, focus our energies on doing those things that honors and glorifies God.  (Phil. 3:12-14)

Livin’ our best life can only be realized through a relationship with God and in Christ Jesus.  Through this relationship, we have all things that pertain to life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3-4) and blessings that exceed our expectations (Ep. 1: 3-14).  Therefore, in Christ, we are livin’ our best life.

Livin’ my Best Life: The Answer for Best Life

The Answer for Best Life Options for best life

The 21st century offers many options for our lives.  That is why it is important that we, as believers, discern what voice we “actively” listen to.  This is especially true when it comes to determining what living our best life should look like.

In our series, we determined that some individuals make their choice based on who they are and what’s important to them.  Last week we attempted to identify what best life looks like.  We determined that the essence of best life can be based on our human needs and things we most desire.

So, what is the answer for best life!  I concluded last week’s teaching with a statement that will help to set the context for best life for believers in the 21st century.  Which choice most accurately represents “best life for us”?  For believers, we are to go to The Source, Who is to be the final authority on everything we do (or it should be).  That authority is God and His Word.  It is now time to consider the number one question, “what does God say about best life.”

The Dividing Line

The believer’s life is to look vastly different from the world we live in.  We are to seriously demonstrate and witness to our new life in Christ.  That being the case, our best life should reflect a life lived for Christ.

The Barna Institute reports the increasing difficulty in distinguishing believers from the unsaved world.  Unfortunately, we are not seen as living any differently than our unsaved family, friends, and acquaintances.  We have basically lost our saltiness and our light (Matt. 5:13-16).

This lack of distinction could be attributed to a number of factors including fear of abuse, lack of spiritual discipling, or spiritual immaturity. Some believers have even walked away from the traditional Church because of personal wounding or disillusionment with leadership.  What the future Church looks like, especially after COVID-19, is yet to be determined.

However, the imperfect nature of the Church does not negate the expectation that God has for His people.  We are to continually examine ourselves to insure we are living a life of faith under the direction of Jesus’ Holy Spirit (2 Pet. 1:10).  What does best life look like for believers?

Caution

Jesus shared what best life “was not” in the Sermon on the Mount Discourse.  He gives a command that will provide us a framework for identifying what best life looks like.  Jesus begins with his first instruction (Matt. 6:19-21).

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Jesus closes with this requirement (Matt. 6:33).  

But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.

The verb “seek” is an imperative in the Greek language.  An imperative expresses a command to the hearer to perform a certain action by the order and authority of the one commanding.  What Jesus gives is not a casual invitation but an absolute command requiring full obedience.  “All these things” lovingly includes not only our needs but also the desires of our heart (Ps. 37:4).

Jesus knows we have needs.  It is His desire that we not worry nor become preoccupied with possession of things.  By faith we know that we will be cared for.  Focusing on Christ lessens our anxieties as we attempt to live during these uncertain times (Phil. 4:6-7).

Moving to best life

The Apostle Paul further clarified Jesus’ teaching to the church at Colosse.  He pointed them to how to find best life (Col. 3:1-2).

If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God.  Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.   

Seek and set are also verbs that are in the imperative.  As with Jesus’ use in Matthew, it expresses a command to the hearer to perform a certain action.  It is not an invitation.  Both verbs are in the present tense which means it is a fact or reality occurring in actual time.  Therefore, we are commanded to keep seeking and keep setting our attention.  Where?

Notice the place where the “things and the affections” are found.  They are not on this earth but in heaven.  This directs our attention to those things that have eternal value and heavenly consequences.  Unfortunately, 21st century technology has created vehicles to capture the lusts of our flesh, our eye, and the pride of life (1 John 2:15-17).  We are continually bombarded with marketing messages and media that focus our attention on what we don’t have versus what is of greater value to the kingdom of God.

In the remainder of Colossians 3, Paul maps out the essence of best life for Christians.  Best life for Christians is life lived in Coram DeoCoram Deo summarizes the idea that Christian living is lived in the presence of, under the authority of, to the honor and glory of God.

We will conclude this study next week as we decide what best life looks like for each of us.

Resurrection Understanding, Part 2

Resurrection Understanding, Part 2

The Reason for our hope

If someone were to ask us about Jesus’ resurrection, what would we say?  Could we give a good reason as to why we believe in the resurrection?  But more importantly, are we able to witness to an unbelieving world why we follow Jesus?

It is not my intent to teach apologetics.  However, as followers of Christ, it is important that we “be ready to always give an answer to the reason for our hope” (1 Pet. 3:15).  Understanding the resurrection will inform our life—our identity, our power, and our purpose. To do this, like the disciples, we need to clearly understand the “what and why” of resurrection.  The Gospel of Luke captures Jesus’ teaching this truth as He prepared the Disciples for their commissioning.

After the resurrection

The gospel of Luke gives us insight into Jesus’ teaching of the resurrection to the disciples.  Written to a Greek audience, this gospel was written to convince readers of the truth of the things they had heard of Jesus (Luke 1:4). The most controversial event being Christ’s resurrection.  In Luke 24, we see how Jesus deals with the unbelief of His disciples.  He then seeks to reverse that unbelief by broadening their understanding.  Within this chapter are two (2) accounts for our learning.

On the road to Emmaus (vv. 13-33), two disciples of Jesus (Cleopas and one unnamed) were walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus on resurrection Sunday.  Joined by Jesus (whom they didn’t recognize) they proceeded to tell of the crucifixion and the recent report of Jesus’ empty tomb.  Jesus would use this time with the disciples as a “teachable moment.” He gave a lesson on the prophecies of the Old Testament which were fulfilled in His death and resurrection. “And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” (Luke 24:27) After Jesus’ departure, the disciples then understood because Jesus “opened” the scriptures to them.

Likewise, when Christ appeared to the ten disciples (vv. 36-49), a similar understanding was needed.  After several proofs that He was alive, Jesus “opened” their minds to understand the Scriptures.” (Luke 24:45).   Opened in these two (2) encounters means to rouse in one the faculty of understanding.  While the disciples may have heard this teaching before in the synagogue or through other teachers, Jesus caused them to make the connections from Scripture and the events they had recently experienced.   In addition, they had Holy Scripture and prophetic proof that the resurrection of Jesus was a reality ordained and empowered by God Himself (Eph. 1:19-20).

The essentials of the resurrection

It was critical that Jesus solidify with the disciples their understanding of the resurrection.  The resurrection was more than an historical or miraculous event.  It was the promise of new life and a blessed hope. (Luke 4:18-21)

Unfortunately, we have allowed the busyness of our calendars and distractions of the world, to reduce the resurrection to a “one and done” attitude.  We celebrate Easter Sunday, acknowledge the resurrection, eat the eggs, and then go back to our daily routine on Monday.

We have reduced the resurrection to a “transaction”—an event that occurred thousands of years ago.   “Jesus rose from the dead therefore I am free from sin.”  To think of resurrection this way limits the impact it can make in our daily life.

Resurrection is not transactional.  It is transformational and relational.  Resurrection for believers is the beginning of a life changing, intimate relationship with God the Father, Jesus our Lord, and the Holy Spirit.

Resurrection understanding in 2021

Why is this important for us today?  Because with Christ’s resurrection, we have an opportunity to “new life” that is found by our faith in Jesus Christ (Gal. 2:20).  It is in the resurrection that victorious living begins.

This season of Easter (Eastertide) affords believers the opportunity to celebrate more than the grace and mercy of God on Good Friday.  As important, we can depend on God’s power and Jesus’ victory beginning on Resurrection Sunday AND extending through out eternity.

Spend time during this season learning more about the resurrection and the extraordinary blessings that are now ours.  Let the Bible and the Holy Spirit (as your Teacher) “open” your mind to the resurrection.  Begin with the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke).  Then explore the prophetic proofs found in the Old Testament.  These will expand your understanding and help you answer the questions that begin with “why”.

Are you a Truth Teller?

Are you a Truth Teller?

Are you a truth teller? 

We (believers) define 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?

We discussed this question earlier as to the world’s readiness for the truth.  Often the world’s responses make the truth appear to be 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?

In Psalm 119:46, the writer speaks of their unfailing dedication to the truths offered by  God:  “I will speak of Your testimonies also before kings.  And will not be ashamed.”  Testimonies speak of witnessing.  In Scripture, it relates specifically to divine testimonies or truth directly from God.

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.

The gold standard for truth tellers

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)

Let us follow the examples given to us by God.  Dare to be a truth teller.

Truth: The Divine Perspective

Truth: The Divine Perspective

Truth is an incredibly significant concept.  Our view of truth shapes not only our personal lives but also our society.  It especially impacts our relationship with God including our view of Scripture.

Our definition of truth is affected by what we watch, what we read, and even the opinions of our friends.  Add to that the sway of social media, your “truth” is being adjusted with every post and tweet you receive.  Imagine there are 500 million tweets sent every day[1].  Scary isn’t it.

Let’s face reality!  We live in an age where we are being bombarded by varying opinions as to what is or isn’t truth.  Because of these deceptive trends, it is important that we have a reliable and trustworthy compass by which to navigate in this world.  We need guidance from God.  We need God’s divine perspective.

God’s perspective of truth

In the Old Testament, truth is rendered as true or faithful.  In either case, the Hebrew concept communicates reliability and trustworthiness.   This trustworthiness is frequently used to describe God’s divine faithfulness (Ps. 31:5; Jer. 42:5).

In the New Testament, truth emphasizes reality as God has revealed it in creation (Rom. 1:18) and in the gospel (Eph. 1:13; Col. 1:5; 1 Tim. 2:4).   God’s perspective of truth is given to us through His Word and through the Spirit of Truth—the Holy Spirit.  Armed with these divine gifts we are provided a continual source of truth.

Truth in action

Adherence to the truth was critical during the formation of the early Church. Pressured by the Judaizers to continue with the practice of circumcision, the church at Galatia was in danger of spiritual error.  They were rejecting the truth (salvation through Jesus Christ alone) to avoid persecution.  We at one time or another have been guilty of quietly accepting error versus being truth tellers.  That is to our shame.

In Galatians 5:7, Paul poses a question to this young church: “You were getting along so well. Who has interfered with you to hold you back from following the truth?”

Paul continues by stating emphatically, “This persuasion does not come from the One who calls you.”  When we drift from the truth that God has revealed, we can be assured of its origin—the puppeteer of deception and lies, Satan.

Coram Deo is a Latin phrase translated “in the presence of God”.  It has its origin is Christian theology which summarizes the idea of Christians living in the presence of, under the authority of, to the honor and glory of God.  Truth is to be lived coram Deo.

Practicing God’s divine perspective

Truth is to be practiced not only within the church but also outside its four walls. Imagine the impact that error has on every aspect of our society—in our homes, in the workplace, and in our institutions.  Practicing God’s divine perspective acknowledges the importance of sharing truth in every sphere of our life.

Using God’s revelation, we have access to reliable knowledge—divine truth—about God, about ourselves, and how we are to live in relationship with our fellow man.  Unfortunately, we often separate our “faith walk” from our “lifestyle”.  God’s truth should permeate every area of our life.  Practicing God’s divine perspective requires that we walk in God’s truth continuously. 

Our dependence on God’s truth is not based on emotional sentimentalities but firmly grounded in the nature of God (Deut. 7:9).  We walk in accordance with His moral realities and act in harmony with His divine revelations (Ps. 26:3).   Practicing God’s divine perspective recognizes God’s trustworthiness.

Knowing the reliability of God and accepting the reality of God, we can begin to operate from God’s divine perspective.  God’s divine truth becomes the vehicle by which we can successfully navigate in this 21st century postmodern society.

[1] Brandwatch.com

Can we handle the truth in 2021?

Can we handle the truth in 2021?

What is truth?  What does it look like amid a health pandemic, economic uncertainty, and civil strife?  Does truth look different when placed in the context of the current worldview?  And how does it stack up against the biblical view we, as believers of Christ are to follow?

When Jesus was brought to Pilate for judgment, the curious ruler asked Jesus, “So you are a king?”

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”  Pilate asked him, “What is truth?” After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, “I find no case against him.  (John 18:37-38)

The truth question in 2021

Pilate’s response to the question of truth is often repeated today.  With the introduction of relativism, we too may be asking the same question.  We demand fewer rules and more personal freedom.  The answer to the truth question is dependent on who or what has the greatest influence on our life—man or God.

The prophets warned that a time would come when the matter of truth would cause great division among men.   Lack of truth ultimately leads to deception, pride, and injustice (Is. 5:20-23).  So here we stand, in 2021, a divided nation, fighting over, “what is truth?”

With that thought in mind, I’d like to recast an earlier WordBytes entitled, “Can you handle the truth?”  I have changed the title to better fit the social context in which we now find ourselves.  While there are many proposed definitions of the truth there can only be one.  Time to answer the question, “Can we handle the truth in 2021?”

Can we handle the truth?

Especially when that truth is measured against the authority of Scripture and the lordship of Jesus Christ?   We face a major challenge to walk in biblical truth while living in a postmodern world.  Especially as we enter this second decade of the 21st century.

With all the political rhetoric and social bantering, we need truth.  Behind the news bytes and sound bits, there is an intention movement to redefine “what truth is and what it isn’t”.

But can we really handle truth?   What will we do when we receive it?  Will we bury it?  Ignore it? Or kill the person who brings it?  That’s exactly what the Jews did to Jesus.

This inclination to “repackage” the truth is nothing new.  It comes directly from the father of lies, Satan (John 8:44).   We must be careful how we define truth, or we too may fall prey to the subtly of deception.  “Did God really say you must not eat any of the fruit in the garden?” (Gen. 3:1, NLT)

Does truth have a limited “shelf life”?

In decades past, people could depend on the media to communicate the “truth” regarding specific issues of the day.  Newspapers, magazine publications and newscasters were committed to operate at the highest ethical standards.

In addition, we could depend upon our local leaders—civic or religious—to offer us truth. But over time that has changed.

Unfortunately, both media and individuals now offer opinions based on their personal agendas or corporate bias.  Truth is now shaped by social media and image consultants—by the number of “likes”, “retweets” and “followers” one can amass.  This leaves us “in search for truth”.

Truth and Realty

What is truth?  Truth is defined by Webster as that which agrees with reality.  Our reality and meaning are grounded in God.  That reality began in the Garden of Eden.  Created in God’s image, our purpose and destiny are tied to our identity in Him through Christ (Col. 3:3).

This reality was sidetracked by sin and replaced with Satan’s counterfeit that placed self on the throne where only Christ was to be seated and exalted.  Because of Jesus’ atoning work on the Cross, our sins were forgiven, and we are now reconciled back to God (2 Cor. 5:18, 19).

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).   “For in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28a).

Connecting with Truth

More than ever before, we must connect with the only True Source of Truth, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior (John 14:6).  God’s Word and the Spirit of Truth stand ready to silence the lies, myths and fables we might hear (2 Tim. 4:3-4).  It is God’s truth that will guide our behaviors and our responses in this fallen world.

God is the only source of truth for our lives.  Can we handle the truth? Do we dare to speak truth when the world doesn’t want to hear?  In 2021, let us through the Holy Spirit have the courage and commitment to be Truth followers!

 

God is still speaking

 God is still speaking

E.F. Hutton was one of the most respected financial firms in the United States during the latter part of the 20th century.  It was known for being cutting edge and innovative including it’s iconic marketing campaigns. The slogan “when E.F. Hutton talks, people listen,” became a cultural touchstone.  It is even more important for believers that when God speaks, we listen!

The writer of Hebrews opens their letter with the clear declaration that although God spoke to man in the past through His prophets, He was changing His method of communications.  God was doing a new thing.  God would now speak through His Son, Jesus Christ.

This new way was the gospel message of Jesus Christ.  Jesus offered a more excellent, effectual, and eternal way of providing salvation to mankind.  In the progression of Hebrews, the writer proves that Jesus is superior to angels, a High Priest superior to Melchizedek, and the Mediator of a superior covenant (The New Covenant).

Warnings along the way

The warnings through Hebrews 10 attempted to address the spiritual erosion of the believers in receipt of this letter.  Their behaviors constituted real dangers that could seriously damage their ability to serve and remain faithful to Christianity.  They included negligence, unbelief, spiritual immaturity, and drawing back.

Their actions, once viewed as exemplary, were now approaching indifference.  This resulted in several reminders to the readers concerning their ministry responsibilities in outreach (Heb. 13:1-2, 16), teaching (Heb. 5:11-13), and worship (Heb. 10:25).

Are we experiencing warnings along our Christian walk?  Have we become lax in our commitment to our spiritual giftedness?  Are we sloppy in our worship and praise?  Are we negligent in our service to the Lord, regardless of how small or large it might be?  Has our witness become “silent” for fear of rejection or reprisals?  Are we indifferent to the needs of our community and fellow man?

A Call to Faithfulness and Endurance

In Hebrews 11 the writer exhorts their readers to faithfulness and endurance.  They connect with their audience by sharing the experience of the heroes of Old Testament history.

The writer first spends time sharing the importance of faith.  Its value and worth can be summarized in that faith is:(1) based on confident convictions, (2) certainty about unseen hopes and realities, and (3) is honorable, in that the saints were commended for it.  (Heb. 11:1-2)

Since the readers are presented with “so great a cloud of witnesses” who demonstrated faith and endurance, they can also be expected to do the same (Heb. 12:1).

The final warning

The author concludes the basic argument of this epistle (the excellency of Jesus Christ) with a final admonition and warning (Heb. 12:25-29).  The warning points to the danger of refusing God.

This final warning cautions against apostasy or behaviors which may lead in that direction. This was discussed in earlier warnings to the readers who were in danger of “falling away” (Heb. 6:4-8) and “drawing back” (Heb. 26-39).  Although they had initially accepted the gospel of Jesus Christ, they were still in danger of “turning away” (apostrepha) from or rejecting God’s new way of relating to His people.

We are receiving a kingdom

The author, knowing the tendency of their readers to spiritual weakness, uses Old Testament examples and contrasts to warn their readers to “see to it that they do not refuse Him who speaks” (v. 25). The warning is this.  If the Israelites did not escape God’s wrath as He spoke on earth, how much worse the punishment would be as God speaks from heaven?  (Heb. 12:25)

God sent His Son Jesus to speak for Him (Heb. 1:2).  More importantly, Jesus would provide a “more excellent way” to God through His substitutional death and sacrifice.  The power of sin would finally be broken. Jewish sacrifices and offerings were temporary.  They could never offer the promises and privileges of the Gospel. Jesus offered the power of heaven and the permanence of eternity in Mt. Zion (Heb. 12:26-27).

The writer closes this warning with a message of hope.  The message is this–believers were “receiving a kingdom which could not be shaken” (Heb. 12:28).  The verb receiving is in present tense meaning the action is a “fact of reality occurring in actual time”, historically and remaining even into the present.  This meant believers were part of God’s kingdom that would never change and were partakers of His generous grace (Heb. 3:14).

Within this new community “believers are to serve God with reverence and godly fear” (CSB, awe).  A believer who departs from God’s magnificent privileges invites God’s retribution (Heb. 12:29; Heb. 10:29).

The Message of Hebrew for the 21st Century 

The warnings contained in Hebrews are also appropriate for believers today.  Especially if we desire to remain faithful to the gospel and hope to persevere during this period of history when our faith is constantly under fire.

There are many factors which threaten our ability to “hold fast” our profession of faith (Heb. 10:23). Many are “heart-issues”.

    • The hardened heart. Our refusal to accept the teaching and guidance of God’s Word.  “Today, when you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”  (Heb. 3:15)
    • The darkened heart. Our continuance in sinful behavior although delivered by Jesus Christ.  “If we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of truth, there remains no more sacrifice for sin.”  (Heb. 10:26)
    • The misguided heart.  Our lack of wisdom and truth needed to discern right from wrong.  “Take care, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.  But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Heb. 3:12-13)
    • The divided heart.  Our lack of faithfulness resulting in the choice of the world over God.  “Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings; for it is well that the heart be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited their adherents.” (Heb. 13:9)

Be not discouraged by the admonitions of Hebrews.  Its writer has also included many promises for believers that desire Christ and choose to serve in the kingdom of God.  These promises are built on the excellency of Jesus Christ–the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8).   They are the “more excellent way” (Heb. 5:9; 6:19; 7:19; 7:22; 8:1-2,10).  God is still speaking.  Are we listening?

A Call to Maturity

Last week we introduced spiritual maturity as a process, a pathway, or a goal. Regardless of the means of achieving spiritual maturity, the result is to be a believer whose faith is founded on the Gospel and who is committed to ongoing growth (transformation).

Faith and growth work together to develop spiritual maturity in the believer which is critical in moving God’s kingdom forward.  Therein lies the urgency for a call to maturity by the writer of Hebrews.

Dull of hearing

It has been said that to make progress on a bike, you must keep moving forward.  There is no reversal nor standing still.  This is a good analogy in describing the dilemma the author of Hebrews faced.

Although these believers had been trained in the “elementary truths of God’s Word” (NIV, Heb. 5:12), they were not moving forward “on to maturity” (Heb. 6:1).   They had become “dull of hearing” (Heb. 5:11).

Hearing is difficult, not only for this audience but also for any audience.  Interestingly, the verb “to hear” (akouo) provides the root for the verb that means “to obey” (hypakouo) (Heb. 5:9; 13:17).  There could be any number of reasons why this group had become “dull of hearing”.

Distractions, fear of persecution, or loss in confidence of their leaders.  The writer of this letter does not say.  However, we do know the outcome.

The readers had apparently pulled back from their bold witness to outsiders and from exhorting and encouraging one another.  Through lack of use, faculties grow dull and the members regress to a former condition of immaturity.[1]

The writer’s dilemma

In Hebrews 5:11-6:3, the writer contrasts immaturity with maturity.  They use familiar “educational language” of that day to describe the believers’ lack of progress.  The Apostle Paul uses similar language in 1 Cor. 3:1-3.  “Milk” and “solid food” were common terms for referring to levels of educational development.  Here “milk” is an image of the “elementary truths of the God’s Word” (v. 12), while “solid food” is the “word of righteousness” (v. 13) which is the believer’s capacity  to distinguish between good and evil (v.14).

The writer’s dilemma is this.  Although these believers have previously received adequate teaching for their ministry work and purpose (Heb. 6:1-2), their failure to grow spiritually hindered them from understanding more complex teachings about Jesus Christ.  Specifically, Jesus’ excellency as High Priest.  A more excellent priesthood than the order of Melchizedek (Heb. 5:9; 6:20).

Immaturity leads to failure

The exhortations found in Hebrews are appropriate for us today.  Distractions and lack of spiritual discipline keep us stuck in the same position as when we first came to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Statistics support the fact that believers today spend little to no time on spiritual formation.  It should not be surprising that these behaviors have resulted in believers who are “unskilled in the word” (v. 13) and churches who feel ill equipped to lead new generations to Christ.

Our failure to be spiritually mature results in our inability to accomplish God’s purpose for our life and for His Kingdom.  These include:

The ability to persevere.  Lack of maturity impairs our ability to remain faithful to God’s purpose for our life.  We are created specifically for God’s “good work” (Eph. 2:10).  This is true whether we work in ministry or in the secular world.  Our “stick-to-it-ness” is critical as we live in a world hostile to Jesus.

The ability to discern.  When we become “sluggish” and “dull of hearing”, we risk becoming disobedient.  In a postmodern world, it is difficult to distinguish between what is right and what is wrong (Is. 5:20-24; 2 Tim. 3:1, 3b, 5).  Unable to discern, we become targets for Satan’s deception. “To think between vice and virtue is a line clear and unmistakable is to embrace an illusion.”[2]

The ability to witness.  We have a clear mandate from Jesus to witness to a dying world (Matt. 28:19-20).  It would be impossible for believers to look around our world and not acknowledge that “the fields are ripe and ready for harvest” (John 4:35).  An informed and bold witness is needed as much in the 21st century as it was in the 1st: “Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).  We are in a battle for the souls of men.

Go on to maturity

When we became Christians, we received everything we needed for life and godliness through the knowledge of God who called us to glory and virtue (2 Pet. 1:3).  It is our responsibility to build upon the basics of that faith and move forward to maturity.

The Apostle Peter directs us to make every effort (with all diligence) to supplement our faith with virtue, knowledge, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love.” (2 Pet. 1:4-8)

Being effective and fruitful in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus is the essence of spiritual maturity.  God is our resource, and all growth comes by grace through Him, but we are responsible to “go on to maturity” (Heb. 6:1).

[1] Letter to the Hebrews, Fred B. Craddock

[2] Ibid.

The Danger of Spiritual Immaturity

At the beginning of this series, I asked if you were “helping or hindering your spiritual journey”.  I posed three questions, which now fit nicely with today’s warning on the danger of spiritual immaturity.

First, where are you in your current faith walk?   Secondly, what would motivate you to seriously consider the five (5) warnings?  And finally, where does Jesus Christ fit in your life today?

It is now time to move these questions from their previous position as the backdrop for this series to the focal point for our exploration of spiritual immaturity.  We begin this journey by contrasting it with its opposite–spiritual maturity.

What is spiritual maturity? 

As I researched this topic of spiritual maturity, there were varying views and opinions as to its definition.  For some it is a process; for others it is a pathway to follow.  And still others see spiritual maturity as the goal of the believer’s life. That being the case I offer several views for your consideration.

Commitment to Transformation

Dallas A. Willard, an American philosopher known for his writings on Christian spiritual formation, describes spiritual maturity as taking place “when we are drawn close to a life with Jesus. We, by the grace of God, behave differently because we have been transformed.”

This transformation occurs as believers intentionally build and live their lives as disciples of Jesus Christ in the Kingdom of God.  This transformation occurs as believers commit to grow, commit to change, and commit to learn. 

Using Willard’s description, spiritual maturity is a process.  One that never ends until we reach heaven and are face-to-face with our Savior (1 Cor. 13:12). Using this description, the question I would ask is this.  As 21st century believers, do we behave differently?

Building on the Foundation of the Gospel 

Ligonier Ministries, founded by the late Dr. R.C. Sproul, exists to proclaim, teach, and defend the holiness of God in all its fullness to as many people as possible.   In “Four Essentials of Spiritual Maturity”, author and contributing writer Kent Hughes outlines four key areas needed for spiritual maturity.

While these essentials are directed to pastors, they also outline key responsibilities for believers who desire to be spiritually mature.  They include:

    1. Christ-focused exposition of the Word—Christ is the source and sustainer of spiritual maturity
    2. Cautious “striving” to accurately present the Word—described as “struggling in preaching the gospel mystery”
    3. Commitment to the Christian community—”to comprehend with all the saints” (Eph. 3:18-19)
    4. Christian maturity demonstrated—the believer is a living testimony of what love and devotion for God should look like

Using Hughes’ description, spiritual maturity is a pathway.  One that is to be passionately pursued (2 Tim. 2:15).  That pathway includes leading people to Christ.  Using this description, the question I would ask is this.  As 21st century believers, are we intentional in building our lives on the foundation of God’s Word?

Passion to Persevere

Lastly, I present the viewpoint that spiritual maturity is a goal.  The specific goal is the believer’s capacity to persevere.  The believer is both able to weather the storms of life while also proclaiming the glory of the Lord.

Oswald in his book, Spiritual Maturity, describes it this way:

Spiritual maturity is not a level of growth Christians achieve but the passion to press on in Christ. As we embrace God’s Providence, the work of the Holy Spirit, the character  Christ desires, the terms of discipleship, hardship, and more, we can move from infancy toward the fruitful maturity we were created to enjoy.

Pastor Andy Stanley, senior pastor and founder of North Point Ministries shares a similar viewpoint: “Spiritual maturity is measured in terms of persevering faith not perfect behavior.”  

The Apostle Paul also describes spiritual maturity in terms of the early churches’ ability to persevere.  Faced with fierce and continuous persecution for their faith, they were told not to “faint” in their work for Christ (2 Cor. 4:1, 14-17; Gal. 6:9; Col. 3:15).  That is perhaps the reason the writer of Hebrews included spiritual maturity as important for this group.

Using this description, the question I would ask is this.  As 21st century believers, are we able to persevere? While we may not face religious persecution, how we respond to the current state of our world, i.e., health pandemic, economic uncertainty, and civil unrest, can be an indicator of our ability to “hold fast our faith” (Heb. 10:23).

Now is the Time 

God needs spiritually mature, 21st century disciples who will represent His Kingdom.  These disciples must be willing to proclaim, defend, and teach the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Especially in a post-modern world that is hostile to Christianity.

Most importantly, 21st century disciples must show and share the love of Christ–even to those who may hate us (Luke 6:27-36).  We no longer can depend only on our pastor to provide outreach to the lost and to the disenfranchised.  Neither can we wait for the church’s mercy ministry to provide for the homeless and the impoverished.  The “them” is now “us”—our family, our neighbor, and our co-worker.

The physical church is temporarily “ON HOLD” for many of us.  Other churches may be operating at a reduced capacity.  But God is calling us today to be what He designed us to be—The Church (1 Pet. 2:4-6).  As the Master Builder, God places His living stones just where He wants us to be (1 Cor.12:18). Spiritual maturity is not an option—it is a necessity for the world we live in today!

Next week we will explore the “Failure of Spiritual Immaturity”.