Strong in Faith

This post is part of a devotional series based on our 2019 Bible Reading Calendar.

In Romans 14, Paul wrote on the topic of what some have come to call “Christian liberty.” In short, it is the freedom that a Christian has to operate based on wisdom and conscience in areas where the Bible gives no clear direction. As a principle, we hold that if the Bible declares something good or instructs us to do something, then we should embrace that. If, however, the Bible declares something bad or instructs us to not do something, then we should avoid that.

But there are areas in life where God has chosen to not give clear direction. Examples that Paul gave include eating a variety of foods including meat vs. eating just vegetables, or considering certain days as religiously special vs. assigning equal value to all days. Paul wrote to tell us that in such matters, we should seek to live according to our conscience and not judge others if their conscience leads them in a different direction.

The unity of brothers and sisters in Christ isn’t worth sacrificing over tertiary matters.

At the end of Romans 14 and into the beginning of Romans 15, Paul addressed those who considered themselves “strong in faith.” In a way, each of us with our own views, would probably consider ourselves in this category. And if we think ourselves stronger spiritually because of how our conscience guides us, then Paul has a clear message for us:

Now we who are strong have an obligation to bear the weaknesses of those without strength. – Romans 15:1

At the end of Romans 14, Paul wrote that we should not do anything to cause a brother or sister in Christ to stumble. His point being: If we consider ourselves free to enjoy something, but another such activity goes against the conscience of another Christian, we should not flaunt our freedom nor engage in the activity around them.

With Romans 15:1, Paul places the impetus upon those who think they are stronger. Their place is not to force the weaker to see their viewpoint but to willingly sacrifice their freedom for the good of another. This does not stop us from encouraging those we see as weaker to dig more deeply into scripture and prayerfully reconsider matters of conscience. But it does show us the importance of fellowship in the Christian life.

The second greatest command, Jesus said, is to love our neighbor as ourselves. Love says, “My thoughts and needs are important, but so are yours. I willfully take a step down in order to help lift you up.”

To be strong in faith, then, is to think of others more highly than we think of ourselves (which Paul also wrote about in Romans 12:10, 16; and Philippians 2:1-4).

All Scripture quotations are taken from the Christian Standard Bible.

A Matter of Identity

This post is part of a devotional series based on our 2019 Bible Reading Calendar.

Matthew 4:1-11 records the temptations of Jesus. Jesus had been led by the Spirit into the wilderness where he had gone over a month without food when Satan showed up with three temptations.

The first dealt with Jesus’ hunger: Tell these stones to become bread. The second dealt with Jesus’ security: If you throw yourself down from here, angels will protect you. The third dealt with God’s plan and Jesus’ right to rule over creation: Worship me and I’ll give you all of these kingdoms without you having to face the cross.

Yet, despite these differences, a common thread ran through each temptation–identity. Satan even said to Jesus in two of the temptations, “If you are the Son of God…”

Jesus, the eternal God the Son, came to earth and took on human nature and weakness. Would his human side depend fully on God or on his own will and flesh? Could Jesus actually trust the Father and his plan? Would the pain of the cross really be worth it?

Satan figured that if he could get Jesus to waiver in his trust as the Son of the Father, then God’s plan would fail. Jesus, however, remained faithful, refused Satan’s temptations and offers, and trusted fully in the Father as the good Father who provides for his children. And, indeed, when Satan left, the Father sent angels to serve Jesus.

What we face in our temptations is similar. If we have placed our trust in Jesus, we are new creations with new hearts. We are the adopted sons and daughters of God. We belong to a new family and a new kingdom. The old self in sinful rebellion is vanishing, and we’re to do what we can in the power of God’s Holy Spirit to help that process along.

When we face a temptation to sin, the question we must answer is: Am I going to choose to act as my new self in Christ; or am I going to momentarily say that God is not the good Father, his plan is not the best, and I can find greater happiness in my old ways?

God gives us plenty to help fight temptation–his word, prayer, accountability and fellowship with other followers of Jesus, etc., but he also reminds us of our identity. In Romans 8, Paul says that we have the Holy Spirit within us crying out Abba Father, reminding us of our adoption as God’s sons and daughters through Christ.

Holding firm to this identity helps us choose the way of righteousness, like Jesus, and say no to the ways of sin.

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Staring at the Skies

This post is part of a devotional series based on our 2019 Bible Reading Calendar.

After Jesus had said this, he was taken up as they were watching, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going, thy were gazing into heaven, and suddenly two men in white clothes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up into heaven? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come in the same way that you have seen him going into heaven.” – Acts 1:9-11 (Christian Standard Bible)

A once-popular phrase went: You shouldn’t be so heavenly minded that you’re no earthly good. On the one hand, that phrase misses the mark. In Colossians 3, Paul wrote that we’re to set our minds on the things above where Christ is. Doing so promotes the most earthly good in how we think about and treat others (3:1-17).

On the other hand, that phrase reminds us to not be like the first disciples in Acts 1.

Jesus had just spent the better part of three years teaching and training them. Then, to their dismay, he was arrested and crucified; but, to their great joy, he had risen from the dead and spent another 40 days appearing to them and teaching them. It was at this point, while with them, that Jesus ascended from earth into the sky.

He had just told them that soon the Holy Spirit would come upon them, and when he did, they were to go in the power of the Spirit and be witnesses about Jesus in all parts of the world.

Once he left their presence by rising upwards, however, the disciples must have stood around awestruck. Perhaps they even lingered a while, mouths agape, as they stared at the sky. It took two men in white (presumably angels) to shake them from the moment. And what was the message?

“You heard what Jesus told you to do, now go do it, don’t just stand there and stare.”

The simple lesson here is that we don’t have to wait for a word from God, a feeling in our gut, a sign of some kind, or the return of Jesus before we go do what he has already told us to do. As followers of Jesus, wherever we live, work, or play, God has given us his Holy Spirit and he has given us a mission–to share the love of Christ with those we encounter. When we fail to live on mission, whatever our excuse, we’re just like those eleven disciples who stared at the sky after Jesus told them what to do. So, where God has spoken, let us obey and let us live on mission without hesitation.

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Good Reads 08.24.17 (on: parenting, prayer, Bible reading, and more!)

Here is a collection of good reads gathered from across the internet this past week. Enjoy!

On parenting and discipleship: 8 Tips to Help You Disciple Your Kids by Dembowczyk

One of the main problems we have as parents is that we expect way too much of ourselves when it comes to discipling our kids, and when we can’t live up to them, we feel like failures and often quit. Family worship doesn’t have to look like worship with your church family with singing, prayer, and lengthy and in-depth Bible teaching. Gospel conversations don’t always have to end with some profound theological gem from you. We need to be realistic of what our family discipleship will look like. Perhaps that means talking about a Bible story for 15 minutes one night a week at dinner and trying to find one or two times each week to move conversations toward the gospel. Wherever you are, start there and develop rhythms and habits that work and then build on them to get to where you want to be. (click here to read more)

On Bible reading: 4 Bible Reading Strategies for Reading Plan Quitters by Scott Slayton

When you read large portions of Scripture, you will consistently see passages where you want to slow down and read more carefully. Keep a list of these passages and when reading large sections starts to feel tedious, spend some time reading only one chapter or less each day for a while.

When you do this, make sure that you read with a pencil and a notebook. Write out what you are reading on your notebook. Skip a line so that you leave yourself room to write notes. Then, go through the passage slowly. Mark significant words. Look for words that the writer uses more than once. Take note of the connecting words like “for,” “therefore,” “but,” “so that,” or “in order that” and pay attention to how they connect one clause in the passage to another. (click here to read more)

On joy and prayer: Ask Him for Joy by Mike Phay

Jesus references a radical change in relationship between his followers and his Father that will happen through his mediating work; specifically, through his redemptive death, burial, resurrection and ascension. Jesus is assuring his gathered disciples that “that day” will come when direct access to the Father will take place. In that day, Jesus says that we will be able to ask directly, that is, we will be able to pray. We will be able to approach the Father directly in Jesus’ name and through his mediating work—and we will be the ones asking (“I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf”). In turn, the Father himself will be the one hearing, listening, and responding, “for the Father himself loves you.” (click here to read more)

On Bible interpretation: Are You REALLY Interpreting the Bible Literally by Stephen Altrogge

Understanding the original intent of the passage guards us from reading a modern meaning back into scripture. Does it take work and study and thinking to wrestle the original meaning from the text? You bet. But it’s valuable, necessary work.

Why do so many people end up twisting scripture? Because they infuse their modern, “enlightened” sensibilities into the text, taking it far away from what the author originally meant. (click here to read more)

 

Good Reads 08.10.17 (on: Bible reading, friendships, giving, and more!)

Here is a collection of good reads gathered from across the internet this past week. Enjoy!

On family Bible reading: Three Surprising Ways Bible Reading With My Kids Has Changed Me by Jon Nielson

I have found that since reading the Bible regularly with my children, I am finding deep delight in discipling them. I am loving the sweet conversations with them about the the things of God, as they form questions and wrestle through theological thoughts. I love watching them discover new and beautiful things about God, his grace, and his glorious redemption of sinners. There is a new dimension of friendship opening up, a spiritual friendship between my kids and I, and I pray this will continue to grow and flourish as they get older. (click here to read more)

On men and friendships: Guys Need Bros: Five Ways to Find Male Friendships by Bryan Stoudt

A few years after this uncomfortable conversation, a respected Christian author challenged us to form close male friendships in a men-only session at a marriage conference. At the time, I knew nothing about the risks isolation posed. Physically, I felt great. But then he drew a connection between our friendships with other men and our marriages.

Now he had my attention.

Letting our friendships with other men fade, he warned, turns our wives into unintentional idols where they become our only true confidante and friend. This is a role God never intended them to fill, and places a tremendous amount of stress on our marriages. (click here to read more)

On giving as a spiritual gift: Giving Might Be the Most Neglected Spiritual Gift by Rand Alcorn

It’s increasingly common for Christians in accountability groups to ask one another the tough questions: “Have you been spending time in the Word?” “Are you living in sexual purity?” or “Have you been sharing your faith?” But how often do we ask, “Are you winning the battle against materialism?” or “How are you doing with your giving?”

When it comes to giving, many churches operate under a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. We lack communication, accountability, and modeling. It’s as if we have an unspoken agreement: I won’t talk about it if you won’t, so we can continue living as we are.

Think about it. If a young person wants to learn how to teach, pray, or lead a group, the church provides many examples to learn from. But how does a young Christian learn to give? Where can he or she go to see what giving looks like in the life of a believer captivated by Christ? Why are we surprised when, seeing no alternative examples, our young people take their cues from a materialistic society? (click here to read more)

Finally… A video clip of John Piper talking about how through Jesus we have freedom from condemnation and from the wrath of God. (click here to view)

Good Reads 03.29.17 (on: God’s bigness, simple joys, and more!)

Here is a collection of good reads gathered from across the internet this past week. Enjoy!

On prayer: In a video presentation, Donald Whitney explains how to have a deeper and more meaningful prayer life–How Can I Improve My Prayer Life (click here to view)

On joy in everyday life: Taking Back Dinner Time by Katie Hughes

Anyhow, it occurred to me randomly one night that I was never truly in the moment. I think I was in the middle of bathing a kid and she was being cute and I was completely unaffected by it. Joy had left all of those things. I only had eyes for bedtime, my one true love. But really that means I only had eyes for my selfishness, because bedtime means me-time.

I find it very difficult to be present in the mundane stuff. Are you with me, parents?? …

But an older, wiser friend of mine once told me that not everyone has to enjoy the same types of things, but God does intend for you to find joy in the life He’s given you. If that’s lacking, you should go looking for it. What do you enjoy, Katie? (click here to read more)

On the bigness of God even in the little things: Drowning in a Drop of Water by Jon Bloom

These realities should have us trembling when we remember how Jesus didn’t drown. The Incarnate Creator Word (John 1:3) was in such comprehensive command of the math and the molecules that they were literally “in subjection under his feet” as he walked upon a sea (John 1:14; Matthew 14:25; Hebrews 2:8; John 6:1) — a sea ironically renamed after the reigning Roman emperor. This molecular miracle was metaphorical, for the sea would never so acknowledge Tiberias’s lordship. And when Tiberias’s government executed Jesus, the imperially ordered death also prostrated itself under the feet of the Lord of glory (1 Corinthians 2:8; 15:20, 27). (click here to read more)

The story of how a jihadi fighter became a Christian: The Jihadi Who Turned to Jesus by Eiad Abdullatif

Exactly why he sought solace in Christianity, rather than a more mainstream version of Islam, no one can quite explain. Reading the Bible, Mr. Mohammad claimed, made him calmer than reading the Quran. The churches he attended, Mr. Mohammad said, made him feel more welcome than the neighborhood mosques. In his personal view, Christian prayers were more generous than Muslim ones. (click here to read more)

On the joy of Bible reading: Treat Yourself to the Voice of God by David Mathis

I’ve found it revolutionary over the years to recognize and own daily “time alone with God” as an opportunity to treat myself. God’s offer to us to hear his voice is not a call to austerity, but the invitation of Isaiah 55:1, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters.”

Consider what small supplemental steps you can take to cultivate eagerness and receptiveness to God’s word — to develop the mentality that a regular season of Bible intake and prayer is a joy to anticipate, a genuine chance to treat yourself in the best of senses. (click here to read more)

Good Reads 02.08.17 (on: God in the mundane, community, and more!)

Here is a collection of good reads gathered from across the internet this past week. Enjoy!

On embracing God in the mundane aspects of life: To Be a Diaper Changer by Nick Batzig

A friend once told me the story of a Christian garbage man whose hands were worn from his work. Someone once asked him about his callused and blackened hands. The man responded, “I’m thankful for these hands because they serve as a reminder to me that I believe that I have been called to do the work that I do and that I can pick up garbage to the glory of God.” This is what a “change the world” attitude misses. It fails to embrace Paul’s admonition, “Whatever we do in word or deed do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Col. 3:17).

To be a diaper changer to the glory of God is a glorious thing. Jesus said, “He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much” (Luke 16:10). Among the many things that I regret in the early years of marriage is that I was far to eager too be out with people “doing ministry” and was not home enough helping my wife change diapers and put the kids to bed. I say this without any hesitation whatsoever: Any fruit I have in ministry is directly correlated to my wife’s faithfulness in doing what is least to the glory of God. (click here to read more)

On God’s kingdom and the home: How to Create a Kingdom Culture in Your Home by Steve Dewitt

Use The Deuteronomy Drip Principle. Most of us don’t feel qualified to carry on an hour-long conversation on justification or missions in Africa. What Deuteronomy encourages is the drip principle. Drip. Drip. Drip. Everywhere you go, whenever possible, drip spiritual content into your daily conversations. Pray. Make God and God-talk as easy and normal as Cubs fans talk about the Cubs, and even more. Regularly asking each other questions that get to spiritual conversation is important. Here are some examples: (click here to read more)

On Bible reading: Six Ways to Kickstart Your Devotional Life by Stephen Altrogge

All the practical tips in the world won’t make a lick of difference unless God moves mightily on your heart. God cannot be controlled. He is not a personal genie who can be summoned on command. He cannot be summarized or contained in a neat formula. He is God, and he moves where he wishes when he wishes.

But, he promises to respond to our humble requests. He is a good father who loves to give good gifts to his children. In Luke 11:13 Jesus said: If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!

God loves to give the Holy Spirit to us, but we have to ask! I love to give my children good things, but I want them to ask, and God is the same way. He loves to pour out blessings on those who humbly come to him. He’s not a spiritual Scrooge, holding tight to the Spirit. (click here to read more)

On developing Christian community: Community Requires Vulnerability by Christine Hoover

What I didn’t yet realize was that community isn’t something that comes to us; it’s something that we go toward. We make choices that either invite community or hinder the very thing we long for. The reasons I struggled with friendship were many: I lacked initiative, I had very specific parameters placed around what type of friend I wanted and how they would relate to me, and I used time constraints as an excuse. But primary among them was that I chose not to take the risk and be vulnerable with other women. (click here to read more)