Sunday, September 25, 2016

God's love is first

“Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment which you had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word which you have heard.  Yet I am writing you a new commandment, which is true in Him and in you, that the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining.” 1 John 2:7-8 RSV (emphasis mine)

The gospel of John, and the letters of John are so full of love. John saw and experienced a lot of persecution, yet his message never wavered. Love is first—everything begins and ends with love. The old commandment that John speaks of is found in Matthew 22:37: “ And He said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”

John then reminds us that this old commandment is really a new commandment: The darkness that is passing away is our sin and the true light already shining is God’s love for us. John calls this a new commandment because it is new every moment. Since God is an eternal being, it is true to His nature that His love is always new. There is no old in eternity, but a constant new.

What I think is miraculous is that this constant new love is true in us as well. God’s eternal power is so great that He banishes the darkness of sin in our lives in a continuing stream of light and love towards us. This love doesn’t depend upon our prayers or our Bible study. It is a constant fact no matter what we do. But when we pray and when we study God’s word, we allow ourselves to learn more about God and the power of His love becomes a reality in our lives.    

Friday, September 16, 2016


But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king's food, or with the wine that he drank...17 As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams...20 And in every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom. Daniel 1:8,17,20.

When we look carefully at the word "resolve" in Daniel 1:8, we find that God is able to work in those who are resolved to seek Him. Daniel did not want to eat the king's food because the rich food would cause him to want more rich food. It could become a way for Daniel to take his eyes off of God.

That is what our bad habits are--distractions. They cause us to take our eyes off of God and focus on our own gratification.

My father told me that when he was a fairly young man, in his thirties, he decided that he didn't want to be dependent upon any habits. He wanted to be able to enjoy his life even if he could not smoke or drink alcohol. He resolved to enjoy the life he was given. He started trying to eat less and he started running every morning. Instead of stopping bad habits, he started replacing the bad habits with better habits. I think this is a good plan, and it takes resolve.

Resolve doesn't mean that we decide to do something, and we will never waver or falter. It means that we decide to do something even though we know that we will waver and falter. God will never waiver or falter, and He will honor our resolve, and uphold us when we falter.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Rejoice because the Lord is at hand

Philippians 4:4-7 ESV
4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4 is often quoted, but when we look at the verses following it, we can see an even greater encouragement than to rejoice always. In verse 5, Paul says to let our reasonableness (steadfastness, patience, endurance) be know to everyone. We are supposed to rejoice, but we are not supposed to be on an emotional high all the time. We are to be steady, patient, and filled with peace.

I think that the main idea of this whole scripture passage is not rejoicing, but that "The Lord is at hand." God is always here, in each and every moment of each and every life. When we know that God is always with us, then we can pray for anything at any time, and we can be thankful and rejoice that God has given us the opportunity to have such a close, and constant relationship with Him. God will then guard our hearts and minds with peace. We are able to rejoice and remain steadfast because God is always at hand.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Faith and works

James 2:14 "What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?" ESV

Ephesians 2:8-9 " For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." ESV

These two verses seem to contradict one another, but actually, together, they help to make the idea of grace, faith and works very clear.

Fact: Grace is God's work. God extends grace to us in spite of our sin. The fact of grace is what saves us, no matter what we do. We can choose whether or not to believe (or have faith) in this fact.

If we have faith that God extends grace to us, that belief requires effort. If we do not put effort into believing the fact of God's grace, our faith become useless, but useless faith does not negate the fact that we are saved by grace.

Faith requires much work, but it is not that work of faith that saves us. I have had people tell me that I have a lot of faith. But what they are actually telling me is that they have seen that I have put a lot of work into my faith. My faith in itself is small, and I have to constantly feed it in order for it to survive. Feeding our faith requires that we love God and pray or communicate with Him.

In James 2, James asks the question, if a person has faith but does nothing to bolster his faith, is that kind of faith able to save him? James intends for the answer to the question to be no. Paul reminds us in Ephesians 2 that it is GRACE that saves us by the process of (or through the works of) faith. Not by any works of faith alone.

So, if we do not actively exercise our faith by seeking God regularly, does that mean that we will not be saved? The answer is no. God does not require that we pray to Him every morning in order to be saved. But, without praying and getting to know God better (which is the work of faith), we will not know the joy that comes with living a life close to God.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Blessings under trial

12 Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. 13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death James 1:12-15 ESV

This passage always seemed so "preachy" and dull to me. Remaining steadfast under trial seems like such a hard, joyless life to live, but there is more to this passage than just changing our behavior.

A very simple analogy is my love for coffee and a cookie. I would love to sit down every afternoon for 20 minutes and eat a cookie, drink a cup of coffee and read. However, I always feel very shaky and weak when I eat a cookie and drink coffee, or if I even eat anything sweet. My desire for the coffee and cookie tempts me almost every day. I have been enduring this temptation because I know how bad I feel if I give in to it. I have noticed, however, that as I go along, the desire for coffee and cookies diminishes. Now, it does not take as much effort abstain from drinking coffee and eating a cookie as it once did.

The same principle applies to any sin. If we remain steadfast to what we know is right, the wrong behavior will become less important to us. I love this line from Walt Disney's Cinderella. Cinderella is talking to the dog about his rivalry with the cat.

Cinderella: [to Bruno, the dog] "Dreaming again? Chasing Lucifer? Catch him this time? That's bad. Suppose they heard you upstairs. You know the orders. So if you don't want to lose a warm, nice bed, you'd better get rid of those dreams. Know how? Just learn to like cats."

Changing our attitude, changing our desires requires steadfast endurance and constant work, but it eventually becomes easier. I will probably never stop liking cookies and coffee, but I certainly can live very happily without either one. When I change my desires, other things become more important to me.

I did not intend for my examples to trivialize the very hard trials that we all go through. I did not mean to sound trite. Most of our trials are not as simple as learning to not like coffee and cookies, or learning to like cats. However, when we work hard to change our behavior, our desires will change too, and that is what God wants. He wants us to take our eyes off of the temptation, and focus on Him.