Sunday, June 24, 2007

Bits & Pieces: Giving (15)

"So then each one of us shall give account of himself to God," (Romans 14:12).

* Because the thought of giving is so connected with material things, this verse would likely not come to mind on the subject.
Yet, each and every believer shall give an account of himself to God at the Bema seat of Christ.
It is there that what we have done with what the Lord entrusted to us will be evaluated.
It will not be centered on our salvation (that was sealed the instant the Lord quickened us), but will be the basis for receiving crowns and rewards.
Questions come: will it be a day of gladness, showing the Lord how His investment in us has multiplied through faithful obedience? Or will it be an occasion for embarrassment, that we have squandered His resources through laziness, pride, & fear?
What a challenge to live each and every day in the light of this future judgment!

Bits & Pieces: Giving (14)

"Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!" (II Corinthians 9:15).

* It is evident throughout his letters that the apostle Paul never tired of praising the Father for giving His Son for our salvation.
We, on the other hand, often fail to specifically give thanks for God's indescribable gift.
It is all too easy for us to take Him for granted.
Take a few moments to reflect on the Lord Jesus Himself... ponder His perfections such as: His sovereignty.... His compassion.... His sacrificial love.....His faithfulness.... that He is Truth.

Bits & Pieces: Giving (13)

"Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives, do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful," (John 14:27).

* Upon facing the fact that their Master was leaving, the disciples needed desperately to be comforted. Intimately acquainted with all their ways, the Lord Jesus promised them, and us, a distinctive peace to counter discouragement and fear.
Because the world didn't give it to us, the world cannot take it away.
This promised peace is as permanent as the presence of the blessed Holy Spirit, its benefit forfeited only by unconfessed sin, and regained by repentance.

* Within hours of the cross, the Lord Jesus spoke these words of comfort to His men. They, as we, had such need for the inner assurance of His utter acceptance which transcends all circumstances.
Such peace pervades our hearts through the Person and ministry of the blessed Holy Spirit.

Bits & Pieces: Giving (12)

"And the witness is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life," (I John 5:11, 12).

* In the light of man's total spiritual depravity, if anyone is to have eternal life, it must be given by God. For, no one could, or would, ever be able to earn his way to heaven. Only through salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal life given by God to whomever He pleases, can heaven be reached.

* In no uncertain terms, the apostle John makes it abundantly clear that eternal life is a gift, and is experienced by no one apart from salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Such truth decimates two of the world's most common assumptions: (a) that salvation can be earned or deserved, and (b) that there are many ways to heaven.
No, says John, eternal life is only in the Lord Jesus, and available only as He makes it so.

Bits & Pieces: Giving (11)

"Then Herod secretly called the magi, and ascertained from them the time the star appeared. And when they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly, with great joy. And they came into the house and saw the Child with Mary his mother; and they fell down and worshiped Him; and opening their treasures they presented to Him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh," (Matthew 2:7, 10, 11).

* These gifts from the magi were both beautiful and practical-- beautiful, as they reflected the character of the Child's life, and practical in meeting the little family's needs.
Gold could represent His deity or purity, incense the fragrance of His life, and myrrh (which was used for embalming) His sacrifice and death.
Practically, the gifts were undoubtedly the means by which Joseph took his family to Egypt and sustained them there until Herod's death.
May we also give the Lord Jesus gifts beautiful and practical: the beauty of praise, and the practicality of daily obedience.

Bits & Pieces: Giving (10)

"But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, 'GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE," (James 4:6).

* The prime obstruction to the grace of God in our lives is pride in all its forms. Although completely accepted in the Lord Jesus, we are usable only as we humble ourselves in His presence.
The greater our humility, the greater His grace. Pray that He will increase your willingness to be humbled.

* Although humility is the key which unlocks the floodgate of God's grace, we must not focus on being humble as our goal. Rather, we are to continually become more and more aware of who God is in all His greatness, thereby keenly conscious of our total dependence upon Him.
The greater our vision of who He is, the less thought we'll give to who we are.

Bits & Pieces: Giving (9)

"And Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, 'Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.' And Jesus said to him, 'Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham,' " (Luke 19:8, 9).

* A key evidence of the salvation the Lord Jesus brought to the soul of Zaccheus is the giving which resulted from his gratitude. Previous disdain for the poor, as well as unconcern over dishonest dealings, were replaced by compassion and a determination for a clear conscience. Instead of loving things and using people, he would now use things and love people.

* It is doubtful that a clearer evidence of salvation could be manifested in Zaccheus' life than is here given. To suddenly express generous concern for the poor, and to determine to gain a clear conscience, are unmistakable indications that Zaccheus' life had been changed.
The Lord Jesus had opened his eyes to finally see that people are more important than things.

Bits & Pieces: Giving (8)

"and do not give the devil an opportunity," (Ephesians 4:27).

* We are to be generous in our giving in many areas, but not when it comes to the devil. Time and again we are instructed in Scripture to be of sober spirit, alert, watchful, and vigilant as to Satan's schemes. We must mature in discerning our weaknesses, learning to avoid activities, habits, and places conducive to sin.
For, make no mistake--- give him an inch, and he'll take a mile.

* Of all things we are told in Scripture to give, an inroad to Satan is not one of them. We must never underestimate his power, subtlety, and cunning.
Rather, we are to stay on guard, giving the enemy of our soul no ground for establishing a stronghold.

Bits & Pieces: Giving (7)

"And on an appointed day Herod, having put on his royal apparel, took his seat on the rostrum and began delivering an address to them. And the people kept crying out, 'The voice of a god and not of a man!' And immediately an angel of the Lord struck him because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and died," (Acts 12:21--23).

* Judging by this solemn account of Herod Agrippa's death, sovereign God takes very seriously His glory going unacknowledged. He deserves and desires the credit for every ability and blessing we enjoy. May this sobering episode in Scripture remind us to readily give our God the glory He is due.

* Whatever other offenses he had committed against almighty God, the one that killed Herod Agrippa was taking God's glory for himself. In His sovereign holiness, the Lord jealously requires the acknowledgement of His supremacy.
May He have the same place in our hearts that He has in His universe!

Bits & Pieces: Giving (6)

"Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the ninth hour, the hour of prayer. And a certain man who had been lame from his mother's womb was being carried along, whom they used to set down every day at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, in order to beg alms of those who were entering the temple. And when he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he began asking to receive alms. And Peter, along with John, fixed his gaze upon him and said, 'Look at us!' And he began to give them his attention, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, 'I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene---- walk!' " (Acts 3:1---6).

* What availability Peter demonstrates! Not possessing the financial ability to help the man, he nonetheless uses what he does have: the apostolic authority to heal.
May we, too, give creatively, using the natural and spiritual gifts God has given us to meet the needs of others.

* Following these words, wasn't the lame man glad he didn't get what he asked for, but what he needed!
Like him, we often ask the Lord to meet our surface desires, when what we need is personal healing.
Praise Him for how wise as well as giving a God He is.

Bits & Pieces: Giving (5)

"I have coveted no one's silver or gold or clothes. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me. In every thing I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus that He Himself said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive,' " (Acts 20:33--35).

* Knowing he would not see the Ephesian believers again in this life, the apostle Paul leaves them with an example to remember and His Lord's proverb to ponder. Completely content with His Savior's sufficiency, Paul never took financial advantage of anyone. He had learned what we continually struggle with: you cannot out-give God.

* In this farewell address to the elders of the church at Ephesus, Paul urges them to remember his example, and Lord Jesus' exhortation. The apostle Paul's teaching on giving was powerfully authentic because he modeled his message consistently.
Would that a cynical, watching world could see such giving in our lives.

Bits & Pieces: Giving (4)

"Give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, they will pour into your lap. For whatever measure you deal out to others, it will be dealt to you in return," (Luke 6:38).

* These words from the lips of our Lord Jesus contain a command, an encouragement, and a cause for consideration. Our Savior commands our giving, and encourages such giving by promised blessing (although reward is not to be our goal).
Rather, our standard of measure for giving should reflect the gracious way in which the Lord has given to us.

* So much of the deep satisfaction and joy we experience in the Christian walk is in proportion to the investment we make in others. Often, the greater our giving to the needs of others, the greater our receiving of the love we give.
Oh, that we would give in a manner worthy of the giving God who saved us!

Bits & Pieces: Giving (3)

"Now this I say, he who sows sparingly shall also reap sparingly; and he who sows bountifully shall also reap bountifully," (II Corinthians 9:6).

* Within his appeal to the Corinthian Christians for generous financial support, the apostle Paul gives this principle of sowing and reaping. It is echoed in Galatians 6:7, again relating to sharing material goods generously. The key to this rule of reciprocity is our intent--- we must give with love as our motive, not greed.

* This principle of reciprocity, of reaping what we sow, must not be abused. Every such promise in God's Word assumes purity of motive. We dare not mock God by giving generously with the greedy intent to reap bountifully.
He is not mocked.
May we always give only from gratitude for God's generosity to us.

Bits & Pieces: Giving (2)

"These twelve Jesus sent out after instructing them, saying, 'Do not go in the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter any city of the Samaritans; but rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as you go, preach, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.' 'Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons; freely you received, freely give,' " (Matthew 10:5--8).

* Amid instructions to His men related to their commissioning, the Lord Jesus commands their generosity. When occasions arose which tempted them to selfishness, they were to remember how freely they had received God's goodness, and then give in like manner.
May the Holy Spirit improve our memory of how good we've been treated by God when we have opportunity to share with others!

* Along with the ministry of miracles the apostles would enjoy, the Lord Jesus knew there would also be the temptation to withhold or selfishly use these abilities. So He included in His instructions the command to give freely.
When opportunities to give arise, may we remember how freely we've received.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Bits & Pieces: Giving

"We love, because He first loved us," (I John 4:19).

* We who are believers are told in Scripture that the Father has loved us with an everlasting love, from all eternity. He set His heart upon us from before time began, marking us out as objects of His redeeming grace. And out of such immeasurable love He gave His only begotten Son to die in our place on that terrible tree. Our God is such a giving God, totally other-oriented. How should we then live?

* 'Love' has been so cheapened by our world, the enemy of our soul doing all that he can to mask its sacrificial nature, epitomized in the Son of God giving His life on Calvary. So it comes as no surprise that much that passes for 'love' in our world is actually veiled selfishness. For, only one who has been spiritually changed on the inside by the Lord Jesus' love, can love as He loves.

Bits & Pieces: Gratitude (10)

"Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father," (Colossians 3:15--17).

* Three times in three verses the apostle Paul commands and assumes our giving of thanks. In our innermost thoughts, in the songs we sing, in all that we do or say, we're to have an attitude of gratitude.
Why so important? Because when we are thankful, we humbly acknowledge our dependence upon our Lord's provision. And then He receives the deserved credit.

* In each of these verses, the apostle Paul either commands or assumes our thanksgiving.
Why should an attitude of gratitude pervade our daily thoughts, words, and deeds? Because humility is blessed by God, and giving thanks strikes at the heart of prideful independence.

Bits & Pieces: Gratitude (9)

"Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus," (Philippians 4:6,7).

* Within the process of God's peace replacing our anxiety is thankful prayer. Coupled with our intensely urgent crying out for the Lord Jesus' help, there must be confident thanksgiving for His faithfulness. Thanking Him in advance of His answering brings great encouragement and needed perseverance.

* Someone has well said that worry slanders every promise in the Word of God.
By contrast, thanksgiving lays hold of every promise, 'faithing' its truth in spite of adverse circumstances. We can complain, grumble, and worry about our trials; or we can give thanks, take God at His word, and experience His peace.

Bits & Pieces: Gratitude (8)

"Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus," (I Thessalonians 5:16--18).

* Few higher goals could we have in the Christian life than to live out these 3 commands. Each requires us to see our relationships, circumstances, and experiences from God's perspective.
Are you in a situation for which you are refusing to give thanks?
Plea for the grace to repent, and submit to God's truth.

* We will never carry out these commands if we base our obedience on feelings. Whether or not we feel grateful misses the point --- we are to give thanks regardless, and let feelings come or go as they will.
Are there circumstances in your life for which you will not give thanks?
Yield to the Lord, now. Obey His Word, and give thanks for it all.

Bits & Pieces: Gratitude (7)

"For what thanks can we render to God for you in return for all the joy with which we rejoice before our God on your account, as we night and day keep praying most earnestly that we may see your face, and may complete what is lacking in your faith?," (I Thessalonians 3:9, 10).

* In these touching verses, the apostle Paul expresses his loving concern for the spiritual well-being of the Thessalonian believers, by thankful intercession. Being separated from the fellowship that he started intensified his praying, and his gratitude to God for them.
Ask the Holy Spirit to bring to mind someone you haven't seen in quite a while, and then gratefully pray for them as creatively as possible.

* Even as did Paul in these verses, the faithful pastor continually feels the responsibility of praying for those whom God has entrusted to his care. And regardless of how far he may be separated from them, by travel or other circumstances, his heart is still with them.
Pray for your pastor, thanking God for him.

Bits & Pieces: Gratitude (6)

"And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father," (Ephesians 5:18--20).

* Paul places no limitations on the frequency or object of our thankfulness. We are to give thanks always and for all things. Such absolutes demand a consistent life-style of responding to life's circumstances gratefully. And the more difficult the situation the more grace we need to give thanks.

* One of the more powerful characteristics of the Christian life, and which stands in marked contrast to the world's attitudes, is a grateful heart. Ours is a complaining world, and when someone cultivates a life-style of thankfulness, opportunities arise for giving the Lord Jesus the credit. Question: are our days so permeated with "thanksliving", that a watching world demands an explanation?

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Bits & Pieces: Gratitude (5)

"For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all the saints, do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers," (Ephesians 1:15, 16).

* The most powerful service we can render to someone is to prayerfully intercede for him. And an integral part of our intercession should be thankfulness, expressed both to God and to that person.
What needed encouragement we can give by thanking God for one another, and then telling each other how grateful we are for them.

* Paul understood that the most precious and powerful of ministries a pastor can provide for his people is to pray for them. And an essential ingredient of such intercession is thankfulness.
For, our hearts are warmed and our attitudes transformed when we give thanks before interceding for someone.

Bits & Pieces: Gratitude (4)

"The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord," (I Corinthians 15:56--58).

* With no hope beyond the inevitability of death, the world is pervaded with a sense of futility. Only through salvation in the Lord Jesus is victory over the grave assured, and purpose in life enjoyed.
Each day of our lives should be gratefully lived in the light of our certain eternal destiny with the Lord Jesus.

Bits & Pieces: Gratitude (3)

"And He directed the people to sit down on the ground; and He took the seven loaves and the fish; and giving thanks, He broke them and started giving them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people," (Matthew 15:35, 36).

* When one reads this account of the miraculous feeding of over 4,000 people from seven loaves and fish, it is easy to hurry over the fact that the Lord Jesus gave thanks. By doing so, He modeled the need for continually pointing to the Father as the Source of our sustenance.
There is a basis here for consistent giving of thanks at mealtime, both at home and in public.

* How consistent of our Lord, who walked in unbroken fellowship with the Father, to give thanks before breaking the bread. How easily we can miss the modeled message of that simple act, as we concentrate on the miracle that followed.
If the Son of God demonstrated such dependence on the Father's provision, and unashamedly verbalized it, how much more should we!

Bits & Pieces: Gratitude (2)

"Shout joyfully to the LORD, all the earth. Serve the LORD with gladness; Come before Him with joyful singing. Know that the LORD Himself is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture. Enter His gates with thanksgiving And His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name. For the LORD is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting And His faithfulness to all generations," (Psalm 100).

* Two very important aspects of worship are dealt with in this psalm: (a) recognition of who God is, and (b) giving thanks. As we come into the Lord's presence, and are given a fresh awareness of how great He is, our hearts overflow with thanksgiving. Why such adoration? The Lord is good and His lovingkindness is everlasting.

* Within the praise and thanksgiving of this psalm is the recognition of God's supreme authority in our lives. All that we have, all that we are must be submitted to His sovereignty.
And the more completely we are His, the greater our gratitude for His goodness.

Bits & Pieces: Gratitude

"It is good to give thanks to the LORD And to sing praises to Your name, O Most High; To declare Your lovingkindness in the morning And Your faithfulness by night, With the ten-stringed lute and with the harp, With resounding music upon the lyre. For You, O LORD, have made me glad by what You have done, I will sing for joy at the works of Your hands," (Psalm 92:1--4).

* The psalmist affirms three exercises that are good for us: (1) giving thanks, (2) singing praises, and (3) declaring God's goodness. Being grateful to the Lord is good because it puts our pride into perspective, by giving credit where it is due.
We dare not rob God by taking credit for any of His blessings.

* So many things are not good for us these days, but we need never wonder if giving thanks, singing God's praise, or declaring His greatness are good. From morning to evening, our days should be filled with praise and thanksgiving... praise for who He is, and gratitude for what He has done.

Bits & Pieces: Faith (11)

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ," (I Peter 1:3--7).

* Among several answers given in Scripture as to why believers suffer, Peter here reveals that the refining of our faith is a reason for trials. Through the fiery furnace of afflictions the dross of doubt can be melted away. As our faith is purified, the Lord Jesus is glorified, and our lives bear testimony to His trustworthiness.

* The Bible gives numerous reasons for why Christians suffer, and in this passage Peter points to the proof of our faith. Like an exquisite diamond, faith is most strikingly evident when set against a black background.
The darker our circumstances, the more evident becomes a steadfast trust in our Lord's goodness.

Bits & Pieces: Faith (10)

"But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith," (I Timothy 1:5).

* In this verse the apostle Paul enumerates three areas of character which he wants to result from his teaching ministry: (a) purity of love; (b) clarity of conscience; and (c) sincerity of faith. The word "sincerity" carries the connotation of 'un-hypocritical'. There's to be no duplicity, no play-acting, no double-mindedness about our faith.
Like the man someone told me about... they said, "He's the same everywhere you see him." That should be the testimony of a transparent, consistent faith for every believer.

* Purity of love, clarity of conscience, and sincerity of faith --- these are the character qualities every pastor/teacher should aim for in his ministry, both for himself and his people.
A sincere faith is a single-minded, unpretentious, and transparent commitment to Jesus Christ.
It is trust without conditions.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Bits & Pieces: Faith (9)

"nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified," (Galatians 2:16).

* There are only two means by which man may be eligible for heaven --- by earning it, or receiving it. Paul could not make it any clearer, that good deeds cannot, and will not, earn anyone entrance into heaven. The only means God has ordained by which man may be saved is by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. And that very faith that saves is given by God, not earned by works.

* To be justified is to be declared righteous, and its opposite is to be condemned. Yet, since people are condemned sinners, and God is unspeakably holy, how can people be justified?
Paul's answer is as plain as possible --- by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Bits & Pieces: Faith (8)

"Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord--- for we walk by faith, not by sight--- we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord," (II Corinthians 5:6--8).

* It is part and parcel of the Christian life to walk in the realm of the unseen, particularly concerning our eternal destiny. Because the One who so wonderfully changed our lives says that death ushers us into His glorious presence, we can be of good courage when that time arrives.

* When considering eternal realities, to walk by sight is to depend on speculation, whereas to walk by faith is to base our hope on the revealed truth of God's Word. The lost man must speculate about life after death, heaven and hell, and all such unseen realities.
As believers, however, we are to order our lives by the revealed fact that, at death, we will be at home with the Lord who saved us.

Bits & Pieces: Faith (7)

"and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God," (I Corinthians 2:4,5).

* Traveling teachers of Paul's day, known as sophists, gathered great crowds by their rhetorical skills and eloquence. In stark contrast, Paul intentionally delivered the unembellished gospel message plainly, to move his listeners beyond the messenger to the message.
Oh that we, too, would present the gospel in such power!

* How often we reverse God's priorities! So many churches put their faith in the eloquence and rhetorical polish of the preacher, yet experience so little power in the proclamation.
Our faith must instead be placed in the confirming power of God on the messenger.

Bits & Pieces: Faith (6)

"Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God," (Romans 5:1,2).

* Paul bids us ponder the past, when we were justified, to be grateful for the present grace, and joyfully anticipate the time when we will be glorified. And from first to last, it is the faith granted us by the Lord Jesus which initiates, sustains, and culminates in our salvation.

Bits & Pieces: Faith (5)

"For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, 'BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH,' " (Romans 1:16, 17).

* By graciously giving the faith to believe the gospel, God opens the way by which we believe in the Lord Jesus to salvation. The righteousness of the Savior is imputed to the believer's account, thereby guaranteeing our absolute acceptance by the Father. And the principle of faith by which we begin our Christian pilgrimage is to guide us throughout life.

Bits & Pieces: Faith (4)

"And on the basis of faith in His name, it is the name of Jesus which has strengthened this man whom you see and know; and the faith which comes through Him has given him this perfect health in the presence of you all," (Acts 3:16).

* Upon the healing of the lame beggar, Peter addresses the amazed crowd that gathered, directing their attention to the Lord Jesus. He teaches that the faith we have is both a gift, and the basis for healing. However great a faith the Lord has given us, we are to exert it in His name.

* In this verse Peter turns the healing of a lame beggar into an opportunity to preach the Lord Jesus. He teaches that faith is sovereignly given by God, and then exercised by men. Thus, we can claim no credit when God heals, for even the faith we have is from Him.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Bits & Pieces: Faith (3)

"And the disciples came to the other side of the sea, but they had forgotten to bring any bread. And Jesus said to them, 'Watch out and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.' They began to discuss this among themselves, saying, 'He said that because we did not bring any bread.' But Jesus, aware of this, said, 'You men of little faith, why do you discuss among yourselves that you have no bread? Do you not yet understand or remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many baskets full you picked up? Or the seven loaves of the four thousand, and how many large baskets full you picked up? How is it that you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread? But beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.' Then they understood that He did not say to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees," (Matthew 16:5---12).

* Time and again the Lord Jesus sought to move His men from the realm of the natural to the spiritual. Here He chides them for forgetting His past provisions of bread, which should have assured them of His future faithfulness.
We, too, falter in faith when we forget our Lord's unfailing faithfulness in the past.

* One of the most basic lessons the disciples needed to grasp was the trustworthiness of the Lord. So concerned with whether or not their physical needs would be met, they missed the Lord's teaching.
And how often we refuse to faith the Lord out of similar fear!

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Bits & Pieces: Faith (2)

"And when Jesus entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, imploring Him, and saying, 'Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, fearfully tormented.' Jesus said to him, 'I will come and heal him.' But the centurion said, 'Lord, I am not worthy for You to come under my roof, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, 'Go!' and he goes, and to another, 'Come!' and he comes, and to my slave, 'Do this!' and he does it.' Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled and said to those who were following, 'Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel,'" (Matthew 8:5--10).

* Can you imagine exhibiting faith that would cause the Son of God to marvel? And this centurion's extraordinary trust had its source in the principle of authority. The greater our vision of the sovereign authority of the Lord Jesus, the greater our faith in His sufficiency.

* Throughout the Scriptures the Lord is pictured as yearning for His people to trust Him. How ironic that it would be an unnamed Gentile who's faith would cause the Son of God to marvel.
And the key to his trust is found in his understanding of the principle of authority. How much authority does the Lord Jesus have in our lives?

Bits & Pieces: Faith

"And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him," (Hebrews 11:6).

* Having declared the impossibility of pleasing God without faith, the writer outlines three elemental steps to exercising our faith:
(a) Come to God (but how often do we doubt His care?)
(b) Believe that He is there (yet so often we base His presence on our feelings).
(c) Take Him at His word, believing He is trustworthy.

* Faith is only as valid as its object. Regardless of sincerity or zeal, if we place our faith in a faulty object, that trust is futile.
The faith that pleases our Lord acknowledges total dependence upon Him, affirms His eternal existence and presence, and takes Him at His word.
Why is such faith secure? Because He is trustworthy!

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Bits & Pieces: Personal Holiness (9)

"We know that we are of God, and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. And, we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life. Little children, guard yourselves from idols," (I John 5:19---21).

* As he brings this epistle to a close, John is seeking to reinforce his readers' awareness that believers are distinct from the satanically-controlled world system. The Holy Spirit gives us understanding of how holy our Lord truly is, and warns us against devotion to anyone or anything which would compete with His claim on our lives. May the Holy Spirit continually sensitize us to the subtle tactics of the enemy of our soul.

* Much of the compromise in the church stems from taking too lightly the fact that the entire world system lies in the power of the evil one. And Satan's schemes are so subtle that, as one wise observer said, 'the world has gotten so churchy, and the church so worldly, it's hard to tell the difference between them!'
May we ever be alert and on guard against the popular idolatries of our day, such as raffles, grocery store drawings, and lotteries.

Bits & Pieces: Personal Holiness (8)

"See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ," (Colossians 2:8).

* Concerned over their spiritual youthfulness, Paul warns the Colossian Christians against the world's philosophies, traditions, and deceptions. As then, so now, Satan loves to nullify the church's influence by blurring its distinctiveness.
When churches have haunted houses, encourage trick-or-treating, or otherwise endorse pagan holidays, then worldly acceptance has become more important than biblical holiness.

* Now that they had experienced the freedom that is in the Lord Jesus Christ, Paul did not want the Colossian believers to go back to the captivity of the world's perspective.
Is the church today greatly different from the Colossian fellowship?
All one has to do is preach against Santa Claus, the Easter bunny, or Halloween, and it becomes immediately evident.
Oh, that our standard of holiness would be based on the Lord Jesus Christ, and not on the world's acceptance!

Monday, June 4, 2007

Bits & Pieces: Personal Holiness (7)

"As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, 'YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY," (I Peter 1:14--16).

* When one is called by the Holy Spirit to salvation in the Lord Jesus, he is called to holiness. A willingness and a determination to forsake any and all worldly priorities characterizes the attitude of the true Christian. How it must grieve the Holy One who called us to see so many trying to cling to pagan practices while claiming His Name.

* As every genuine believer can testify, each and every day we are continually tugged at by the world, the flesh, and the devil, to compromise the standard of holiness to which we've been called. But if our witness is watered down by accommodating to the world's ways, where will be the holy boldness required to confront our society? How can we denounce the rank paganism of our day, if it is approved and encouraged in our families, churches, and denominations?

Bits & Pieces: Personal Holiness (6)

"Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect," (Romans 12:1, 2).

* On the basis of his appeal to present our bodies a living sacrifice, the apostle Paul then gives a negative and a positive command--- do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed. The believer who walks in holiness will not let the world system squeeze him into its mold. But rather, he will be willing to stand totally alone, if necessary, as an unashamed rebuke to the worldliness around him.

* Paul presents a three-fold progression in this passage: we are to present ourselves a living sacrifice, refuse conformity with the world, and prove the good and acceptable and perfect will of God. With hearts completely committed to our Lord, we are to refuse the world's continual overtures to compromise a life of holiness. Determined to gain and maintain purity, deafened to the world's wooing, we are to be living proof that the Lord God's will is good, acceptable, and perfect.

Bits & Pieces: Personal Holiness (5)

"Now may our God and Father Himself and Jesus our Lord direct our way to you; and may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also do for you; so that He may establish your hearts without blame in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints," (I Thessalonians 3:11--13).

* Within this prayer of intercession, the apostle Paul requests three things for the Thessalonians: (a) to allow him to see them; (b) to cause them to abound in love; and, (c) to establish them un-blameable in holiness. "Un-blameable" does not imply perfection, but clear in conscience. No one should be able to say to us, 'you offended me, and never tried to make it right.'

* This prayer reveals the heart of the apostle Paul's desire for the Thessalonian Christians -- that they abound in love, and be un-blameable in holiness. Notice, it is the Lord who produces such love and holiness. Our responsibility is to continually yield to the Holy Spirit's leading.

Bits & Pieces: Personal Holiness (4)

"But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, that they were saying to you, 'In the last time there will be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts.' These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit. But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life," (Jude 17--21).

* Throughout the New Testament the theme of these verses is echoed --- there should be a marked contrast between the life-style of the Christian and that of the world. And building ourselves up is an important part of personal holiness. We are to continually encourage ourselves and one another through rehearsing Scriptural truth.

* In drastic contrast to the ungodly perspective of the world system, believers' lives are to be characterized by holiness. And a key aspect of personal piety is self-encouragement.
Whatever adversity or temptation faces us, we need to rehearse God's truth, and act accordingly.

Bits & Pieces: Personal Holiness (3)

"Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness," (Hebrews 12:9, 10).

* However faithfully a father tries to be just and consistent in disciplining his child, he is keenly aware of much failure. By contrast, what an encouraging word the writer gives us concerning our heavenly Father's perfectly-applied discipline. And, painful though it is, to share His holiness is well worth passing through the furnace of divine discipline.

* One of the prime purposes of parental discipline is to purify our character and conduct. In so doing, earthly fathers are to administer healthy discipline and be respected for it, humbly realizing all the while that they are fallible.
By contrast, our heavenly Father perfectly applies His purifying discipline in order that we may be holy.

Bits & Pieces: Personal Holiness (2)

"if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth," (Ephesians 4:21--24).

* Being renewed in the spirit of our mind is essential if we are to walk in holiness of the truth. And however trite the teaching may seem, there is still no substitute for meditation upon the Word of God for producing spiritual renewal of the mind. As our mind is renewed, our thoughts, perspective, and life-style will reflect personal holiness.

* In previous verses, Paul describes the lostness of men without Christ, and so exhorts the Ephesian believers to live distinctively by laying aside the old self, being renewed in their mind, and putting on the new self. Each aspect of this instruction begins with an act of the will, completely committed to the Lord Jesus Christ. Every decision we make through the course of our days has the potential for drawing us away from or closer to our Savior, and His holiness.

Bits & Pieces: Personal Holiness

"Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God," (II Corinthians 7:1).

* Personal holiness is perfected in the fear of the Lord. As our sensitivity to God's holy presence pervades more and more of our daily activities, our attitudes and actions become purer.
For, when our concept of God's holiness is heightened, our standard of personal holiness is also raised.

* To walk in ever-maturing holiness, we must practice continual inner cleansing. When we sin, our fellowship with Christ is broken, and our conscience is defiled. Consequently, we must learn to be washed with the water of the Word, and apply the cleansing blood of our Lord Jesus.

* To fear God is to reverence His holy presence throughout our daily activities. The more we can sense His pure eyes upon us amid everything we do and say, the greater our desire for personal holiness.
Oh that we would walk in a manner worthy of our calling!

Bits & Pieces: Obedience (9)

"He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him," (John 3:36).

* In one of the clearest passages of the New Testament, the apostle John here states God's requirements for eternal life. The word 'believe' is used interchangeably with the word 'obey', emphasizing the true nature of biblical belief.
For, regardless of what some may teach, the Bible knows no saving faith apart from obedience to the lordship of Jesus Christ.

* In no uncertain terms, the apostle John relates God's requirement for eternal life, and the consequences of rejecting His lordship. It is significant that obedience is used as a synonym for belief. Scriptural saving faith involves believing obedience.

Bits & Pieces: Obedience (8)

"Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation," (Hebrews 5:8, 9).

* Although our gracious Lord is vitally interested in what happens to us, He is equally concerned with the lessons we need to learn through what happens to us. He even uses suffering, when necessary, to have us learn obedience. Yet, as we submit to His sovereign authority, our sonship is confirmed and He is glorified.

* Time and again, in the New Testament, the pattern of the Lord Jesus' obedience to His Father is set forth as our model for obedience to Him as Savior and Lord.
Indeed, obedience is here synonymous with saving faith, identifying those who have eternal life.
The sobering side of these verses is the vehicle God sometimes uses to teach obedience--- suffering.

Bits & Pieces: Obedience (7)

"If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love," (John 15:10).

* The Lord Jesus bids us understand the essential connection between obedience and love. To truly abide, or experience the assurance of His love, our wills must be submitted to His commands. And we are to render obedience with the same motivation of love which characterized the Savior's submission to the Father.

* All too rarely in the church today is the relationship between obedience and love emphasized. Yet, the Lord Jesus plainly teaches that to abide in His love we must submit to the moral law. And our motive for obedience is to be the same as was the Lord Jesus' submission to His Father: love.

* Satan has produced much misunderstanding in the realm of the Christian's relationship to the moral law. The Lord Jesus clearly teaches here that the keeping of His commands is an essential requirement for experiencing the assurance of His love. Out of love for our Lord, we are to submit to the law of Christ, and experience His joy.

Bits & Pieces: Obedience (6)

"Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock," (Matthew 7:24, 25).

* As He draws the Sermon on the Mount to a close, the Lord Jesus likens those who apply His teaching to the wise builder who constructed his house on a solid foundation. Daily obedience prepares us for the onslaught of life's storms. Complacency and disobedience offer no foundation of strength when we need it the most. Oh, that we would simply do what He says!

* The point of this concluding story in the Sermon on the Mount is that application produces preparedness. Through daily diligence in obeying the Lord Jesus, the foundation of our faith is firmly laid, wisely prepared for life's winds and rains.
Obedience is wisdom's discipline.

* The Lord Jesus touches on perhaps the most demanding aspect of the Christian life--- ongoing obedience. Relatively few believers pay the price of daily diligence, and are then prepared for the inevitable floods of life. For, obedience is wisdom's discipline, and rock-solid stability its reward.

Bits & Pieces: Obedience (5)

"The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you," (Philippians 4:9).

* Obedience produces peace, and inner serenity. Though often not pleasurable, obedience is spiritually satisfying. As we practice biblical truth, our consciences are cleansed, our hearts are purified, and there comes the joy of knowing our Lord is pleased.

* The single command Paul gives in this verse is to practice the truth. The emphasis is on obedience as an ongoing response to revelation. As we make obedience a habit, the inner serenity of God Himself will sustain our joy.

* Paul's exhortation to practice the truth comes from the awareness that obedience heightens our sensitivity to the God of peace. So many times our inability to enjoy His nearness stems from some area of disobedience in our lives. Upon repentance and restoration, there returns the joyful awareness that our Lord is pleased.

Bits & Pieces: Obedience (4)

"Then Saul said to Samuel, 'I did obey the voice of the LORD, and went on the mission on which the LORD sent me, and have brought back Agag the king of Amalek, and have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. But the people took some of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the choicest of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the LORD your God at Gilgal.'
Samuel said,
'Has the LORD as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
As in obeying the voice of the LORD?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams.
For rebellion is as the sin of divination,
And insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the LORD,
He has rejected you from being king,' " (II Samuel 15:20--23).

* When confronted by Samuel, Saul tried to justify his disobedience by claiming that the animals were spared as a sacrifice to the Lord, at the insistence of the people. Samuel, however, makes it abundantly clear that the Lord desires inner obedience far more than outward ritual. Our deeds may be good, and our actions admirable, but the Lord who looks on the heart commands an attitude of obedience, as well.

* Upon discovery by Samuel of his disobedience, Saul sought to rationalize his sin by covering his greed with ritual, and blaming the people. Yet, Samuel declares that doing God's will man's way (through sacrifices), has disobedience at its heart. The Lord God of all that is honors only those actions which stem from an attitude of obedience.

Bits & Pieces: Obedience (3)

"Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter," (Matthew 7:21).

* At the heart of this startling teaching from the lips of our Lord lies the supreme importance He places on obedience. Indeed, doing the will of the Father is a key indication of genuine salvation. The one who claims to be born again, yet lives in habitual disobedience to the Word, demonstrates his lack of conversion.
Regeneration results in a life-style of obedience.

* Verbal recognition of the Savior's lordship, without the life of obedience behind it, has the hollow ring of self-deception to it. A life-style of obedience is a key characteristic of genuine regeneration. Our Lord commands more than the root of verbage --- He requires the fruit of obedience.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Bits & Pieces: Obedience (cont'd.)

"But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does," (James 1:22--25).

* As he admonishes his readers, and us, to be responsive to the Word, James first makes and then illustrates his point. He states first that we deceive ourselves if we think listening to the Word is the end of our responsibility. He illustrates this truth through the picture of a man glancing at his mirrored face and then forgetting about it. Rather, we are to look intently at God's Word with a response of readiness.

* To remain a hearer of the Word and not a doer is to deceive one's self. Rather than being an end to itself, listening to the Word is to be only the beginning of ongoing obedience. The Lord's blessing is promised only to the one who diligently searches the Word with the intent to obey.

* As throughout his letter, James is here concerned with the need of believers to move from being informed by the Word, to being inflamed by it. Merely glancing through the Truth, with no intention of obeying it, is self-deception.
Rather than enjoying the blessing here promised, too often we sit, soak, and sour.

Bits & Pieces: Obedience

"You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them," (John 13:13--17).

* As important as is understanding truth, applying it is even more crucial. The many lessons the disciples learned were not to remain academic exercises--- they were to be acted upon. Too often we are like spiritual sponges --- soaking up biblical teaching after teaching... and never being 'wrung out.'

* Knowing isn't growing unless there's obedience. The example and instruction of humility set forth by the Lord Jesus were not for the disciples' information, but for their application.
Unless we act on what we know, we stagnate.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Bits & Pieces: Biblical Saints called Sons of Light

"But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day should overtake you like a thief; for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober," (I Thessalonians 5:4--6).

* In the context of the prophetic Day of the Lord, Paul exhorts believers to be prepared for Christ's coming. Unlike non-Christians, who are in spiritual darkness about the Lord Jesus' return, we who are sons of light are convinced of His imminent appearance. And our daily life-style should reflect that conviction.

* In this passage Paul teaches that the Day of the Lord, which begins with Christ's return, will separate the sons of light from the children of darkness. The unbeliever will be caught completely off guard when the Lord Jesus comes again. But, as sons of light, our conviction of His soon return should result in disciplined vigilance.

* In these verses, the apostle Paul uses the imminent and certain return of the Lord Jesus as the basis for his exhortation to live spiritually alert and disciplined lives. As sons of light, who are convinced of His imminent return, our life-styles should be evidently different from those who live in the darkness of unbelief. We must shun the temptation to spiritual laziness, lest we be ashamed at His appearing.

Bits & Pieces: Biblical Saints called Sons of God

"So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh --- for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, 'Abba! Father!' " (Romans 8:12--15).

* In this passage Paul speaks of our responsibilities and privileges as sons of God. Our responsibility is to continually put to death the sins of our former life, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Our privileges are that we can be led by the Spirit of God, and that we have intimate access to the Father as His sons and daughters.

* In the believer's relationship to the Holy Spirit, Paul touches on three characteristics of sonship: (1) someone who has been born again puts to death the sins of his old life by the Holy Spirit's power; (b) the child of God is led by the Spirit of God; and (c) the saved individual continually makes his needs known to the Father, praying by direction of the Holy Spirit.

* Amid the positive characteristics of sonship, Paul notes two negative descriptions-- (a) we as believers are not under obligation to the flesh: we don't have to obey our sinful impulses. (b) we are not to be enslaved by a spirit of fear: as sons, we are to cry out to our heavenly Father.

Bits & Pieces: Biblical Saints called Salt

"You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how will it be made salty again? It is good for nothing any more, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men," (Matthew 5:13).

* Three physical properties of salt have spiritual application for believers: (a) salt preserves -- as the salt of the earth, we are to deter the putrifying effects of sin in our society; (b) salt penetrates -- we are to initiate righteousness, to actively right wrongs as we encounter them; (c) salt creates thirst -- our lives should demand an explanation, as a cynical world observes unexpected priorities and attitudes.

* The primary warning of this verse is to stay usable. Our influence and impact in this world will only be as potent as the personal purity of our lives. We will not penetrate, preserve, or create thirst for Christ unless we pay the price of consistent obedience.

* The two main areas the Lord Jesus is addressing are those of involvement and influence. As the salt of the earth, we are to get involved in improving our world as much as possible, actively initiating righteousness. Our influence, both in speech, deeds, and attitudes should consistently point others to the Savior.
Otherwise, we are unusable, disqualified for service.