In, But Not Of…

You may have heard this popular saying in Christian circles: “We are in the world, but not of the world.” This saying isn’t in the Bible, but it does summarize what the Bible says on the subject.

This idea is a central theme that runs through Jesus’ prayer for his disciples.

“I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name–the name you gave me–so that they may be one as we are one” (John 17:11 NIV).

“I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world” (John 17:14 NIV).

“My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one” John 17:15 (NIV).

“They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” John 17:16-17 (NIV).

John carries this theme through his letter as well. Yes, we live in this world, but we are not of it. We do not belong. We are, as Peter wrote, “aliens and strangers in the world.” We do not fit in anymore.

When the Bible speaks of the world, it is not referring to planet earth. The world refers to the world system. It consists of “the cravings of sinful man, the lust of the eyes and the boasting of what he has and does” (1 John 2:16). These things do not come from God, and they will pass away. Only those who do the will of God will live forever. The backdrop for this new way of life — doing the will of God — for now is the world system.

This world system had its genesis at the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. All the elements became fully operational. Eve wanted to be like God – the cravings of sinful man. She saw that the fruit of the tree was pleasing to the eye – the lust of the eyes. And it was desirable for gaining wisdom – the boasting of what we have and do. Mankind has been feeding on that tree ever since. The system is built on unbelief. It is expressed through the deeds of darkness.

Some of these deeds can look good on the surface. For example, the Pharisees prayed in public. Prayer is good, and the Bible encourages us to pray. However, for them prayer was nothing more than an empty, dead work. Their prayers were motivated by the wisdom they gained from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Jesus warned against this type of praying. “And when you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth. They have received their reward in full” (Matthew 6:5).

These hypocrites were operating from a heart of unbelief. From that heart, they reinterpreted the law, the Mosaic Covenant, to establish their own standard for righteousness. They took what was holy, righteous and good and molded it to the world system. Paul was one of those guys. He boasted of being faultless as to legalistic righteousness.

After meeting Jesus, he clearly saw that this wasn’t the righteousness of God. He wrote: “Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness” (Romans 10:3). Paul continued; “Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4). Here, Paul draws the line between the way of the world and the way of Christ. It is the difference between law and grace. Resurrection life is lived by grace through faith.

Excerpted from Simple Gospel, Simply Grace

http://simplegospelsimplygrace.com

The Number One Thing You Need to Know

“Why did Jesus come to earth?” There are several different biblical answers to this question. I like the answer John gave early in his gospel account: “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known” (John 1:18).

Through his life, Jesus showed us the Father. To his disciples, he said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Before knowing Jesus, we could discern some of God’s attributes through creation such as his eternal power and divine nature. These are plain for everyone to see. We can also see God’s wrath against all godlessness, as Paul wrote in Romans chapter one. Beyond these traits, the nature of God is veiled, so much so that the philosophers in Athens inscribed these words on an altar: “To an unknown God” (Acts 17:2). Only in Jesus is God the Father made known to man.

Some would rather keep God unknown. They fear finding out what he thinks about them. They don’t want to know the truth. And so they come up with their own ideas as to what God is like. Talk about a distorted view.

Apart from Jesus, we make God out to look like a Picasso painting. It’s our inherent fear that paints such a distorted view. We think of him as a mean, judgmental and angry being who can never be pleased. Let me ask you. Before you heard the Gospel and responded in faith, what did you think about God? How did you describe him? What did he think about you? How would you answer now? Hopefully, you see a stark contrast between the two. The difference is that now you are seeing him through the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Let’s take a look to see how this relationship evolves. Genesis 1:1 is the best place to start; “In the beginning, God…” He initiated the whole thing. He reached down to you through Jesus Christ. That’s grace. His grace worked in you a desire to know him. That’s faith.

At God’s initiative, a union was formed – you in Christ and Christ in you. His Spirit was joined to your human spirit and the two were fused together. That was the point when eternal life began for you, the point when you started learning truth about the God of the universe. In his love and grace, God started making himself known to you in a real and personal way.

Excerpted from Simple Gospel Simply Grace
http://simplegospelsimplygrace.com

The Origin of Forgiveness

An observation — people in general seem to be unsure as to what forgiveness really means, and even more, how to carry it out in life. To find out what forgiveness really means, we need to go to the source, to the place where forgiveness began.

Mark records a fascinating story in the early chapters of his Gospel account. A group of people were gathered at a house in Capernaum to hear Jesus preach the Word of God. The house was packed wall to wall with no room for another person.

After Jesus started preaching, four men arrived carrying their paralytic friend on a stretcher. They had heard about Jesus and his healing touch. This was their opportunity to help their friend. They were determined to find a way to get their friend in to that house. The only option they saw was through the roof. They climbed atop the roof, cut an opening and then lowered their friend on his stretcher.

This was faith in action. When Jesus saw it, he looked at the paralytic and said, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Does Jesus’ response seem strange to you? Why did he say such a thing? Jesus’ statement confused the crowd as well and raised an eyebrow or two, particularly those of the teachers of the law.

They were thinking, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mark 2:7). Let’s stop right there. These teachers of the law packed deep theological truth in that seven word question. They clearly understood that forgiveness originates with God. On this point, their theology was correct. God, and no one else, has the power and authority to forgive sins. This is why Jesus’ statement to the paralytic was so offensive to them. In their minds, a mere man was staking claim to God’s authority and power and was stepping in to do what only God can do.

Only God can forgive because he is the offended party, the person we ultimately wrong. Our sins are against him. We are in his debt.

They also knew that God was, and is, willing to forgive. The law, and specifically the sacrificial system, revealed this aspect of God’s character to them. “But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love” (Nehemiah 9:17). This is what they knew about their God. He has made this even more apparent to us through Jesus. God’s forgiving character took action. Through Jesus’ shed blood, he freely forgave all of our sins. And he did so at his initiative, not ours.

Now back to the story. Jesus was not about to let their thoughts go unchallenged. Before these teachers could say a word, Jesus asked them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts?” (Mark 2:8). I wonder if their palms started to sweat, or their stomachs started to knot. I think I would have looked like a deer caught in the headlights. Then Jesus pressed his point. “…the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” Jesus, God in human flesh, with authority and power, forgave the paralytic.

What fascinates me about this story is the paralytic’s silence. He didn’t say a word. He didn’t ask Jesus to heal him. And he certainly didn’t ask Jesus for forgiveness. He wouldn’t have been there if not for the heroic efforts of his four friends. He was at their mercy and Jesus’. Jesus delivered his mercy with four simple words, “Your sins are forgiven.” This is grace.

Here is good news. Jesus says the same four words to you. These aren’t just nice words to make you feel better about yourself. Jesus is God. When he says your sins are forgiven, they are forgiven.

Excerpted from Simple Gospel, Simply Grace

simplegospelsimplygrace.com

Your Purpose in Life – It’s Amazing

One of the big three questions we ask is this: “Why am I here?” This is a question about purpose. In the realm of darkness, purpose is where we miss the mark. We do not carry out God’s desires for us. Instead, we live for ourselves. This starts really early in life. If you are a parent you know this is true. Kids are selfish. They don’t like to share. They believe the world revolves around them. Jeanna and I have pointed that out to our kids many times.

purpose

The Bible says that “all of us lived among them at one time gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest we were by nature objects of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3). That’s missing the mark. God didn’t create us for this purpose. He had something else in mind.

I wrestled with this question for many years. Other people seemed to know their purpose in life. They had a plan and a direction. I felt like I was stuck in the mud. Nothing seemed that important to me. As Solomon wrote, “everything is meaningless.” Discovering the grace of God cut through my confusion and helped me see that God did have a purpose for me. I was on this earth for a reason. Whew!

Paul encouraged the Philippians to “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Philippians 2:12-13). God works in us every minute of every day so that we choose and act according to his good purpose. It’s a process that aligns our hearts and minds with his. Your purpose is this: To work out in day to day life what God is working in you.

Excerpted from Simple Gospel, Simply Grace

simplegospelsimplygrace.com

Where Freedom Rings

Spiritual birth ushers us into the new. Paul made this point clearly: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Ready or not, the new is here.

• A new life – Romans 6:4.
• A new identity – John 1:12.
• A new self – Ephesians 4:24.
• A new heart – Ezekiel 36:26.
• A new covenant – Hebrews 9:15.
• A new command – John 13:34.
• A new way – Romans 7:6.

You might not know what this new life in Christ will look or feel like. And at first, it may feel a little awkward or strange. Like the Israelites, you may look back to your old life, especially when you feel down or blue, or when you are going through a tough circumstance. At those times, Satan will do his best to make you think your old life was pretty good. “Remember all the fun you had when you…?”

But as Peter wrote, “you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do, living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry” (1 Peter 4:3). It is time to let go of the old, to stop looking back, and to embrace the new.

There is nothing to fear. Jesus Christ is with you. He will never leave you. This means freedom for you, for “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17). The “new” that Christ has for you is better than anything you could ever dream or imagine. And besides, you can’t go back. Once you are in the light, you can’t go back to darkness. Once you have been set free, you will never be a slave to sin and death again. Once you cross over from death to life, the only way is forward in the newness of life.

This is where freedom rings.

Excerpted from Simple Gospel, Simply Grace; Harvest House Publishers

simplegospelsimplygrace.com

The Most Courageous Step You Will Ever Take

Notice where the good news story starts. Death is the lead, the first chapter. Apart from death, there is no resurrection.

Remember, Jesus came that you might have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10). You can’t experience his life to the full if you are still holding on to your old life. The only reason you would hold on to that old life is because you think it has value. You still believe there is hope of making it better. But that’s not real hope. That’s simply wishful thinking.

Let God change your mind fully. You know you are there when you see your spiritual death as the beginning of your good news story. At that point, human effort is of no value. You can’t change death. That is well beyond your capabilities. There is nothing you can do to change that condition. Just like with my dad, as much as we wanted him back, there was nothing we could do to bring him back to life. There is nothing you can do to get yourself out of your spiritual casket.

This is a frightening place to be. At this point the only thing you can do is to put all that you are and all that you will ever be in his hands. This is called faith. This step of faith is the most courageous step you will ever take.

Let Paul help you along this journey. He embraced his spiritual death. He saw his helplessness and his hopelessness. He let go of his self-effort. He let go of his self-righteousness. He let go of his status as a Pharisee. His mind fully embraced the plan of God. He was on board. Repentance was in full force in his life. As he wrote to the Galatians, “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:19-20 NIV).

Excerpted from Simple Gospel Simply Grace.
www.simplegospelsimplygrace.com

7 Ways You Can Make Relationships the Best Part of Life

Relationships…talk about the ultimate challenge in life.

Learning to get along with another human being is just plain hard. It is an experience filled with heartache and pain and personal turmoil.

Your beliefs get tested and all your inner struggles and insecurities get revealed.

Yet, you power through because you know relationships are the best part of life.

You want to care and to be cared for. You want to know and to be known. You want to love and to be loved.

This just doesn’t happen. Relationships are built. They start with a good foundation and then with the right building materials grow and deepen over time.

Jesus is the foundation. He has equipped you with everything you need to build enduring and fulfilling relationships.

As you trust Him, you will see these seven relationship builders forming and shaping every relationship you have.

  1. Patience
  2. Kindness
  3. Truth
  4. Protection
  5. Trust
  6. Hope
  7. Perseverance

Relationships are the best part of life when they are built on the love of God.

The Best Lesson I’ve Learned About the Christian Life

Christianity is filled with people who think they have it all together. They’ve figured it all out and can speak to every issue and problem. At least, that is what they think. I was one of those guys.

I couldn’t understand why other Christians didn’t have it together like me. All the dots were connected in my mind and everything about the Christian life made sense.

Mind you, I was in my early twenties at the time. I didn’t have a lot of experience to speak of, but I did know what was wrong with the church. At least that is what I thought. Here was my analysis: “The church needs to love more.” Brilliant, right?

I thought the church should be doing more to help people in need. Every chance I got, I railed about what I perceived to be the church’s lack of vision and effort to help the poor and underprivileged in our community.

One day it dawned on me that I should stop talking about the problem and get about the business of loving those in need. Boy was I in for a shock. I quickly found out that I knew very little if anything about love.

I volunteered to be a Big Brother. The coordinator paired me with Floyd. Floyd was 43 years of age with the mental capacity of a second grader. He lived in a group home and spent most of his days at the local community center along with many other mentally challenged citizens. I met Floyd for the first time at this community center.

At first glance, I could tell there was something special about him. I really wanted to make a difference in his life.

I asked Floyd what he wanted to do the next time we got together. Without hesitation, he blurted out, “Bob, I want to go to Six Flags.” I wasn’t expecting this response, but I thought it would be great fun for the two of us.

But something strange started happening in meas the day drew closer. I started to get concerned about what people might think of me? Would they laugh at me, or make fun of me? Would I ever live it down with my friends that I went to Six Flags with a 43 year old mentally challenged “Little Brother?”

I knew I couldn’t back out. The day meant too much to Floyd.

I am ashamed to admit this, but when I awoke that Saturday morning to the sound of rain, I felt a sense of relief. I called Floyd with the bad news, but I promised I would take him the following Saturday.

That next Saturday was beautiful. When I picked up Floyd, he had a big smile on his face. He was ready to experience the best day of his life.

The Log Jamboree was the first ride of the day. The line was long, about a 45 minute wait. Approaching our turn, we marched up several steps and then crossed over a short bridge. While standing on the bridge, we watched those ahead of us taking off for their “white-water” adventure. After a few minutes, we walked down steps on the other side of the bridge and loaded into our log.

The attendant released the lever and off we went, around the bend and under the bridge. Right as we got to the bridge, Floyd ripped off his shirt and raised his hands to the sky. His spontaneous show of emotion turned the heads of onlookers. I felt a thousand pairs of eyes staring right at us. I wanted to hide under the seat. As I looked back, people were pointing and laughing. Floyd was joyfully oblivious to the jeers and sneers. I, however, felt every one.

Lunch was more of the same. Floyd wanted a hamburger with French fries. We got our food and searched for a table. The only one available was right next to the park’s main walkway. Of course we were there on one of the most crowded days of the year. Floyd piled on the ketchup and mustard. He opened his mouth wide and then chomped down on that juicy burger. Ketchup and mustard flew everywhere to the amusement of onlookers. And with each bite Floyd took, a steady stream spewed down his chin and onto his shirt.

I lowered my head and waited for Floyd to finish. He ate every bite. What he did leave was prominently displayed on his shirt. He cleaned up with little help from me, and then off we went to conquer the rest of the park.

At four that afternoon, Floyd was spent. He had given his all and experienced fun beyond his wildest imagination. But he was ready to go home. I was ready to go home, too. Protecting my fragile self-image had taken its toll on me.

As we were walking toward the gate to leave, Floyd put his arm around me, pulled me close and said, “Bob, I love you!”

My chin started to quiver. I fought to hold back the tears. I knew he genuinely meant it, but his words crushed me.

This day was supposed to be about Floyd, but all I could think about was good old me. Floyd didn’t know what was going on inside my heart and mind. For him, the day was monumental. He told his friends at the group home that it was the best day of his life. And it should have been the best day of my life.

It turned out to be one of the most painful. The day exposed my insecurities and fears. Floyd’s words brought them into razor sharp focus. His words also let me know that I knew very little, if anything, about the love of God.

I wanted to love people the way Jesus did, but that day I failed miserably. It took several years to pinpoint the problem. Finally, it hit me like a ton of bricks: I couldn’t love like Jesus because I didn’t know how He loved me.

Maybe, you’ve had a similar experience. Maybe you know the frustration of trying to love someone with the love of God only to end up totally concerned with your own issues. If that is the case, I invite you to step back and take a fresh look at the definition of love. What the Bible tells us about the love of God is life-changing. That’s what we will examine in this book.

Let me say up front. God wants you to know and experience His love more than anything else in life. So much so, He moved Paul to pen this incredible prayer:

I pray that out of his glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:16-19)

This is my prayer for you. I pray you will adopt it as your personal prayer. I guarantee this is a prayer God will answer in ways that far exceed anything you could “ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20).

Excerpted from Love Is — http://loveisbook.net/

Three Rules for a New and Better Life

Jesus said this; “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me…” (John 14:21).

This is very clear. Obeying Jesus’ commands is proof that we love Him.

But what commands?

Is Jesus referring to the Ten Commandments or the 613 other commands that are listed in the Mosaic Covenant? Or did He have different commands in mind?

The writer of Hebrews stated, “For when there is a change of the priesthood, there must also be a change of the law.” This verse will help us answer this last question.

The New Covenant is a changing of the guard. The Levites were the stewards of the Old Covenant. They had specific duties and responsibilities all anchored to the Law of Moses. Jesus’ death on the cross ended those duties. He was the once for all sacrifice for sin. He fulfilled the Old Covenant in its entirety.

Today, we live in the New Covenant. Jesus Christ is our high priest, appointed to be so by God the Father. With this change in the priesthood, there was a change of the law.

The new commands are these.

  1. Believe in Jesus Christ (I John 3:23)
  2. Hope in God’s promises (1 John 3:1-3)
  3. Love God and people. (John 13:33-34, Romans 5:5)

Faith, hope and love constitute the law of the New Covenant.

God writes these laws on our hearts and in our minds. This is the first promise of the New Covenant. God empowers us to live out faith, hope and love through His Spirit.

The laws of the Old Covenant were the responsibility of the people to Israel to keep. They didn’t have it in them to do so. Neither do we.

In this New Covenant, God gives us a new heart and His Spirit to mark our lives with the laws that are most important to God – faith, hope and love.

What If…

What if the Old Covenant was God’s final word to man?

what if

What if the Ten Commandments were the only means available to you to gain entry into heaven, or to earn God’s love and acceptance?

Where would this leave you?

What would your eternal fate be?

How would this affect your life here and now?

The Old Covenant was God’s word to Israel. Not His first word to Israel, nor was it His last. But it did define Israel’s way of life as a nation from Moses until Jesus.  And, as Moses explained to the people before they entered the Promised Land, it did have a specific purpose for Israel.

“The LORD commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear the LORD our God, so that we might always prosper and be kept alive, as is the case today. And if we are careful to obey all this law before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness” (Deuteronomy 6:24-25).

We know they story. Israel did not obey. She did not obtain righteousness through obedience to the law. Instead of being the blessing of life and prosperity, the law issued a curse on Israel’s disobedience. The law judged and condemned the nation.

Try obedience to the law as your means of righteousness. You’ll prove Paul’s words to the Romans: “Therefore, no one will be declared righteous in his sight through obedience to the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin” (Romans 3:20).

So where does the law leave you? – judged, condemned, fearful and dead in sin.

That’s the Old Covenant, a ministry of condemnation and death.

When read correctly, the Law is God’s word about man, the plain, stark truth. It answers these questions: What is the destiny of a people caught in the throes of a lie? What will be their end? According to the Law, the final stop is death, but only if the Old Covenant is God’s final word.

The denouement of this story has a twist. It is revealed on a hill called Calvary, outside the walls of Jerusalem. A man hung there on a cross, suspended between heaven and earth. He was no ordinary man, and the death he died was no ordinary death.

The man whose hands and feet were pierced was the Lord Himself, the unblemished Lamb of God. His death was in place of ours. Live out the full story of the Law and it ends at the foot of this cross. Look up and see God’s final word to man – Jesus.

Death is not God’s end for man, it is Jesus. In Him we have forgiveness of sins, righteousness and a new way of life defined by the New Covenant.

What if you truly believed that Jesus was and is God’s final word to man?

Where would this leave you?

How would it affect you here and now?

The New Covenant answers – in Jesus fully alive!