Are you living in FAITH?

This lesson was originally published here at the Biblical Recorder online.

Imagine that you decided to take a fishing trip on the ocean. Suddenly a terrible storm came up and capsized your vessel leaving you stranded and clinging desperately to the ship’s driftwood. Finally, after several hours holding onto the driftwood, the Coast Guard arrives and casts you a life preserver. What you do is obvious. You take hold of the life preserver and receive the rescue you’ve been offered. You would be ludicrous to cling to your driftwood in rejection of life preserver that represents safety. Saving faith parallels this story. In your past and mine, we held on desperately to some form of self-righteousness or blatantly sinful driftwood. But when we realized that permanent rescue from our sin was only available through Jesus, we received offer of salvation. We put our faith in the cross as our rescue from death to life. Saving faith is victorious not because it is great faith, but because the object of saving faith (Jesus) is never failing. The book of Hebrews details the uniqueness of Jesus as the fulfillment of the Old Testament Law and the substitute/redeemer of mankind. Jesus is victorious. Our part in experiencing the victory of Jesus is faith. Like we did when we trusted in Jesus as our Savior, we need to continue in faith. Initial saving faith is permanent and eternal. Losing faith or walking in fear and doubt do not mean we lose our salvation. However, many of us fail to experience daily the victory Jesus has already won because we don’t walk in faith. Are you experiencing victory in your Christian life today? If not, examine whether or not you are holding on to some form of self-righteousness or sin (like the driftwood) that is taking the place of expressing continual faith in Jesus. Victorious living is possible if we will only trust in the victorious Christ.

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Monday Meditation-Do you experience victory over sin?

Baptism is one of my favorite things in ministry. Having the privilege of baptizing believers as a testimony of their faith in Jesus is a true joy. From baptizing my son to baptizing in a frigid baptistery in South Africa, I’ve had some truly memorable baptism experiences. But what I love most about baptism is what it illustrates. In Romans 6, Paul describes our salvation experience using baptism. We were “baptized” with Christ in his death. Jesus took our sins on the cross. When he died, our sins died with him. When he was buried, we were buried with him. When he rose, we rose with him. The observance of baptism, being buried under the water and raised out of the water is an outward illustration of an inward reality. Baptism pictures outwardly the victory received inwardly through our faith in Christ’s death and resurrection. Our salvation then is an identity change. We are no longer mastered by sin’s power. Rather, we’ve received the new life, the life of the resurrected Christ. Paul’s point in this text is that we have victory over sin precisely because Christ won the victory over sin. Because we identify with him, we experience victory with him. Paul challenged his readers to consider themselves dead to sin and to present themselves to Christ for righteousness. We consider ourselves dead to sin and walk in righteousness not to earn our salvation, but rather because we have been saved. Our identity is now found in Jesus. Our sin died with Jesus on the cross. Our old life was buried with Christ in the tomb. Our new life is now the resurrected life of Jesus. Our daily challenge is to live in the victory of our present position in Christ rather than live in the defeat of the sins of our past. This post was originally published as a Sunday School lesson for the Biblical Recorder here.

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Monday Meditation–Do you have hope?

This post was originally published as a Sunday School lesson for the Biblical Recorder here.

In Matthew 8:5-13, we see a beautiful story of faith and hope. Do you hope for more? I hope for many more years to spend with my wife and children. I’m sure you’ve used the word hope in this same way. In the sense we so often use the word hope we mean something akin to wishful thinking. We would like something to be true. But the biblical use of the word hope is something far more certain. When the Bible speaks of hope it means something assured that we simply wait for. The biblical key to unlocking hope in this sense is faith. In this story we find a glorious example of faith. A Roman centurion sought out Jesus to heal his servant. Instead of asking Jesus to come to his house, the centurion observed, “Lord, I’m not worthy to have you come under my roof. Speak the word and my servant will be healed. I too am a man with authority. When I tell my servant to do something, he does it.” The centurion modeled great faith—so great that Jesus observed he had not found such faith in Israel. Here we see biblical hope unlocked. The centurion knew Jesus could heal. He displayed his hope with humble faith. He acknowledged his unworthiness—a picture of a sinner humbling himself before the only One who can save. He expressed his faith, “Only speak the word, and I know my servant will be healed.” Then the centurion experienced victorious hope. Jesus healed his servant. Did you know you were in this story? After Jesus’ complimented the man’s faith he said, “Many will come from east and west to recline at table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus asserted that if you’ve humbled yourself and trusted in Jesus, “You will be in the kingdom.” It doesn’t get more certain than Jesus’ declaration. So have hope. Look forward to the certain victory you will experience with Jesus in his kingdom.

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Jesus is our Victor

This post was originally published as a Sunday School Lesson post for the Biblical Recorder here.

Seeing is _____________.  A picture is worth a __________________ ________. I imagine you had little difficulty finishing those sentences with “believing” and “thousand words,” respectively. Pictures and visions reveal glorious truths. The book of Revelation is a book of visions. John witnessed vision after glorious vision intended to encourage and challenge. John himself received the book of Revelation during a time of intense persecution as he was imprisoned on the isle of Patmos. His fellow believers, many of those in the churches to whom he wrote, were experiencing persecution and suffering in turmoil. Enter Jesus. Now John knew Jesus as well as anyone. He was one of Jesus’ closest followers, if not his most intimate. But if you notice in this text, when John saw Jesus in all of his unfettered glory, he fell at his feet as though dead. John’s vision of Jesus in Revelation 1:12-20 is not the carpenter’s son dressed in the humble vestiges of a traveling preacher. Rather, John’s vision of Jesus is victorious and full of glory. Jesus is in the midst of the lampstands—his churches. Jesus’ clothing reveals his role as High Priest—the one who intercedes for his churches. His flaming eyes and feet of bronze display his holy judgment. His voice like the roar of many waters reminds us of his revelation to his churches. He holds the stars in his hands indicating his control of his churches. Out of his mouth comes a sharp, two-edged sword. This same picture returns later in Revelation when Jesus returns victorious on the white horse defeating his enemies. Jesus protects his churches as he shines gloriously through them. Astonishing as the vision of the unveiled, victorious Christ is, his word to John may be even more marvelous. “Fear not. I am the living One. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore. I have the keys of Death and Hell.” Jesus is saying, “John, I am victorious and my resurrection gives you the right to join me in my victory.” So, in your situations and concerns, take courage, don’t be afraid, have hope, Jesus is our Victor.

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Monday Meditation-My Stuff or God’s Kingdom

It is so easy for us to get caught up in our own stuff. We have much going on that requires our focus—families, jobs, health challenges, to-do lists, managing details, helping others, etc. I could go on an on and not list all the necessary, even good things that draw our attention. I’m afraid that too often though we get so distracted by our stuff that we miss what is most important.

Jesus taught us to pray in the model prayer, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” In other words, life is not ultimately about us or for us. There are bigger, more important things going on than our stuff—God’s kingdom and will being accomplished here on earth. What does that look like in our daily lives? I think simply it looks like us focusing on spreading the good news of the kingdom of God (God’s reign through Jesus in our lives) and pursuing his purposes of love and holiness in the world around us.

The beauty of Jesus’ request in Matthew 6 is that we can pursue the will and kingdom of God in the everyday things of life. God has a place for you to expand the influence of his kingdom—your family, your job, your to-do lists, your stuff. He doesn’t necessarily want us to do away with all the things that get our attention. Rather, he wants to be central in the way we relate to all of these things. Here are some questions that will get us started in evaluating how we are at focusing on the kingdom of God in the midst of all our details:

  • Do I use my influence in my home to help my family know and live the good news?
  • Does my character and conduct at work exhibit the integrity Jesus expects of me?
  • Am I relational as I go through the day? Do I see the people around me as individuals who might need compassion, grace, kindness, or encouragement or am I so busy that I don’t even notice them?
  • Do I pray for the things God is most interested in (salvation of others, spread of his gospel, provision for missionaries, spiritual growth for others) or the things I’m most interested in?

Bottom line—let’s participate in God’s plans and purposes today.

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Monday Meditation-“Blessed are the Merciful”

Jesus taught much in the Sermon on the Mount that is difficult to apply and sometimes hard to understand. If you haven’t lately, give it a read. You can find it in Matthew’s Gospel, chapters 5-7. One of the more poignant sections is the Beatitudes where Jesus teaches us how to experience heavenly blessings and genuine happiness. Matthew 5:7 reads, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” Jesus himself is the embodiment of mercy. He doesn’t give us what we deserve—judgment and immediate punishment. Rather, Jesus gives us grace and kindness.  

I’m disappointed by what I perceive to be a lack of mercy among some believers in conversations and on social media the last several months. We exhibit mercy when we do not give people what they deserve, but show them grace or cut them slack. We exhibit mercy when we give people a chance. We exhibit mercy when the tone of our public and private conversations is salted with kindness and compassion. I’ve read and heard over the last several months people unmercifully criticize and slam presidential candidates, athletes, television personalities, and artists (Lady Gaga at the Superbowl halftime performance) as well as anyone who would speak kindly about anyone they deem wrong.

Do not read this as an affirmation of all of the above persons. We have both the right and responsibility to critique and speak the truth. But we also have the responsibility to manage the tone of our critique (speak the truth in love). When you respond in person or on social media, make sure you are merciful. Use the following questions to help frame your responses in mercy.

  • Do I care more about being right than I care about the people I’m referring to or responding to?  
  • Does my tone exhibit compassion and mercy as well as accuracy and truth?  
  • Am I mindful that the person I’m critiquing is made in the image of God?  
  • Would Jesus say/post what I’m about to say/post?  
  •  Is what I’m about to say/post/share full of truth and grace?  
  • Is what I’m about to say/post/share consistent with the truth of Scripture and the tone of mercy in Scripture?  

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Today’s Meditation—Where do you go to get answers? 

John 3:16 is likely the most well-known verse of Scripture in the Bible. In it Jesus declares, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him might not perish but have everlasting life.” This verse is the gospel. Because God loves us, he gave us his Son, Jesus, so that we might receive forgiveness and eternal life. What we may not always consider is the context of this wonderful verse.  
Nicodemas, a religious leader had come to visit Jesus at night. I believe Nicodemas came at night because he wanted his visit to remain unseen. Before we criticize Nicodemas for coming in secrecy, let’s rememner that he actually came to Jesus. Where do you go when you have spiritual questions? If you’re anything like me, you have moments of fear, frustration, or stress. If you’re like me, you have questions that others can’t answer. Sometimes those questions, stresses, and fears may keep us up at night. Where do we take our concerns? Let me suggest that we follow in Nicodemas’ footsteps. We go to Jesus.

Nicodemas and Jesus had a fascinating conversation. In one part of the conversation Nicodemas noted, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” A theme in John’s Gospel is the identity of Jesus as God. It seems that is part of what is Nicodemas is asking. Jesus didn’t respond to Nicodemas like he might have wanted. Rather, Jesus stated, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

Before we explore what Jesus said, observe that he didn’t really speak to Nicodemas’ statement/question. Jesus gave Nicodemas what can be identified as a cryptic reply. What does being born again have to do with the signs that Jesus performs? Even when we go to Jesus, even when we ask the right questions, even when we make the right observations, sometimes Jesus doesn’t answer us directly. Sometimes his replies might be cryptic. Why is that? First of all, we need to remember that Jesus is sovereign and knows all. Sometimes in our limited perspective we ask the wrong questions. Sometimes we ask the right questions, but hold the wrong assumptions. Secondly, and most importantly, we need to remember that Jesus knows what is most important to us. He said to Nicodemas, and by extension, to us, “You must be born again.” Nothing matters more than this.  

When talking with my six year old about this passage, he replied like Nicodemas, “How can we be born again?” I explained that Jesus was talking of a spiritual birth. More important than Nicodemas’ initial questions, more important than our own, more important than anything else is whether or not we’ve been born again. Yes, we can ask questions. Yes, we should go to Jesus with our concerns. And we can hope that he will give us the answers we seek. But more than we need answers, we need Jesus himself. That is exactly Jesus’ point in answering Nicodemas. We must be born again. And when we are, we have right to go to Jesus at any time for anything. But when you go to Jesus, don’t be surprised if he answers a question more important than the one you are asking.

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