Monday, June 30, 2008

Faith Degrees

“The man believed what Jesus said to him and departed.” (John 4:50b CSB) “Then he himself believed, along with his whole family.” (John 4:54b CSB)

A royal official from Capernaum heard that Jesus – a miracle worker – was over in Cana and sent to see Him to get Him to come to Capernaum to heal his son who was dying. Jesus commented about how they just would not believe unless they saw signs. The man simply replied, “Please come and heal my son before he dies.” Jesus told the man to go home and that his son would be healed. So the man believed what Jesus said and departed.

After the man got home he saw that his son was well. He asked his servants when the boy got well, and he then realized that his son got well at the very time Jesus told him his son would live. He then believed in Jesus.

Either there are different kinds of faith, or there are levels of faith, faith by degrees. One level of faith we see in this story is the faith of taking Jesus at His word. In other words, we believe what someone tells us. The second level of faith in the story is actually believing in Jesus, though, and this is the faith of taking Jesus. This is a faith commitment. The first level of faith is not a saving faith because it is simply believing what someone tells you. The second level, however, is a saving faith because it is the kind that creates a spiritual union. It is an entrance into a personal relationship with the Lord, in a personal commitment to Him. We want both kinds of faith, but in terms of our salvation, it is the second level that results in our salvation.

Lord, We thank You for the call to faith. Today, may we believe what You tell us in Your word, and may we also affirm that live by our faith commitment to You. Amen.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Light Judgment

“This then, is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil.” (John 3:19 CSB)

We’ve heard of astronomical terms like “light speed” and “light year.” But have you heard about “light judgment?”

Jesus spoke with Nicodemus one dark night about spiritual matters like being “born again” and like how the Spirit of God works. While these were spiritually basic concepts, Nicodemus did not comprehend at that time what Jesus was talking about. Toward the close of their conversation Jesus then spoke about judgment and light. He told Nicodemus that a judgment had been pronounced on this world, and it was essentially a “light” judgment.

Jesus said that the light has come into the world. This was the light of His life. Then Jesus said that people loved darkness rather than the light though, because the light exposed their evil deeds. People who live a life apart from God do not like to acknowledge the evil they do because they basically prefer that kind of life, thinking that they have a life of freedom to do whatever they want to. When the light suddenly shines brightly into their lives, they want to turn the light off because when the light shows up how evil their deeds really are, it hurts. So, they want to get rid of the light quickly.

Those who come to the light and seek to live their lives by the truth will embrace the light, however. They see what evil does and how it hurts people and enslaves them, and they decide they want to get rid of the evil in their own lives by living in the light rather than in the darkness. These are the people who come to experience genuine freedom. The darkness no longer dominates their lives. So for them the light judgment passes over them and can no longer hurt them because they have embraced its truth.

We thank You, Lord, that Your light has come into our lives and set us free. We pray for those who prefer the dark, and we ask that Your light will continually shine into their hearts, so they may come to know the truth that will set them free. Amen.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Fullness

“He is before all things, and by Him all things hold together… For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him… For in Him the entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily.” (Colossians 1:17, 19, 2:9 CSB)

Jesus was somewhat enigmatic. They knew who He was. But they did not know who He was. They knew where He was from. But they did not know where He was from. The entire question of who Jesus was and is has been around a long time. Heresies have been given birth because of this very question, as theologians and others have struggled to try to answer the question. Some have concluded that He was just a man. Some have concluded that He was and is God. Some call Him the “God-man.” Some say He was half divine and half human, while others say He was fully divine and fully human.

The Colossian church was having to battle some heresies related to this question. We do not know who the perpetrators were by name, but the heresy seems to be related mainly to Gnosticism and asceticism. The basic thrust of their teaching was that Jesus was “one” way, not “the” way, that Jesus was only one in a cosmological host of spiritual entities who could navigate you to heaven, and they taught that following severely ascetic practices was part of this. So, one of the main reasons Paul wrote this letter was to combat these false teachings at Colosse.

Paul nailed down the singular truth that Jesus Christ is supreme. He is before all things, and in Him – like keys on a key ring – all things hold together. God was pleased that 100% of His fullness dwell in Him. He was and is the Son of God. That makes Him 100% God and 100% human, both at the same time. And honestly, that is not something we know how to reconcile in our limited human minds. It is simply a truth we accept on the basis of faith. Jesus told His disciples, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” (John 14:9) Therefore, any teaching, regardless of who it may come from, that in some way denigrates the divinity/humanity of Jesus, or which holds up “alternatives” to Him as the one and only way to the Father, is heresy and must be opposed. More importantly, we need to continually hold before the church and the world that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life.

Lord, Help us to maintain the truth standard of Your word and represent You fully and accurately to the world. Help us in Your church to equally represent the truth of who You are, for Your glory. Amen.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Supremacy of Christ

“Be careful that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit based on human tradition, based on the elemental forces of the world, and not based on Christ. For in Him the entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily, and you have been filled by Him, who is the head over every ruler and authority.” (Colossians 2:8-10 CSB)

Philosophy as an academic discipline is good, in and of itself. It is actually akin to mathematics, since it deals with such things as one plus one equals two. It follows a line of thinking that says if “A” is true, and “B” is true, then “C” must also be true. That is an oversimplification of the discipline, of course, but it captures something of the idea in philosophy. It essentially uses logic to talk about truth.

Paul would not have intended to run down philosophy as a discipline. What he is talking about here is systems of thought about truth that are based on humanistic belief and thinking, rather than on the centrality of the truth of Christ. There was no shortage in his day of the proponents of such systems of thought, and part of the motivation for writing this letter to the Colossians came from the need to re-orient the Colossians to the supremacy of Christ.

There is no shortage of “alternative” systems of thoughts in our day either. Some talk show host always seems to be discovering “a new truth.” Someone comes out of the hinterlands of a far off country with a mystical and misty system and says, “If you will just follow me and practice my system, you can have peace and prosperity and happiness and fulfillment and satisfaction in your life. You won’t need anything else.” Even some who call themselves Christians have been influenced by such “fool-osophies.”

Any system of thought that is not based on the truth of Christ, on the truth of His word, or on the authority of His centrality, is nothing but deceit. It cannot deliver on its promises, because it is based on human tradition or on the “elemental forces of the world,” and not based on Christ. Jesus is supremely central for everything in a genuine theology.

Lord, Help us today to not be thrown off-track by any kind of divergent thinking, or theology, or philosophical system of thought. Help us to keep Christ central in all our thinking. Amen.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Walking in Him

“Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, walk in Him.” (Colossians 2:6 CSB)

One of Paul’s favorite metaphors for describing a Christian’s relationship with Christ is the phrase “in Christ.” What does it mean to be saved? It means to be “in Christ.” It means to have a personal, faith-based relationship with Jesus. And, one of Paul’s great metaphors for living the Christian life is in the word “walk.” The lifestyle someone follows is referred to as his or her “walk.” Thus, when Paul says to “walk in Him,” he means that on the basis of our personal, faith-based relationship with Jesus as Lord, we need to follow a lifestyle that reflects that relationship to the world. Moreover, we need to continually do this and not be deceived by anything or anyone is changing courses. Our walk is with Jesus.

Paul uses several verbs to describe how we can do this. The first one is “rooted.” Plants can grow only as high as their root system will allow them. The plants are dependent on the roots for nourishment that sustains life. Thus, to be rooted in Him means to grow deeply in our relationship with Jesus.

“Built up” is another word that describes our relationship with Jesus. The military speaks of “build ups.” Organizations speak of monetary “build ups” to provide a stronger cash flow. Any organization that looks toward strengthening itself wants to build itself up. So, building up our relationship with the Lord means to strengthen our relationship with Him.

Another word that describes how to keep on walking with Jesus is “established.” Something that is established is something that exists and has a history. It’s been there a while, and by all appearances, it will stay there. A house is established. A business is established. A government is established. And our faith in Jesus is established.

Then a fourth word Paul uses to describe how we can walk in the Lord is “overflowing.” We overflow with thanksgiving to Him for all He has done for us. That creates a bond of gratitude, a sense of indebtedness to Him. When we are overflowing with gratitude toward to the Lord, we are not likely to turn away from Him or try to live life on our own.

Thus, we keep on walking in the Lord when we are rooted in Him, built up in Him, established in our faith in Him, and overflowing with thankfulness toward Him.

Lord, Help us today to be faithful in all the ways we relate to You, so that You will be honored through our lives in this world. Amen.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A Tendency

“For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you, for those in Laodicea, and for all who have not seen me in person. I want their hearts to be encouraged and joined together in love, so that they may have all the riches of assured understanding, and have the knowledge of God’s mystery – Christ. In Him all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden.” (Colossians 2:1-3 CSB)

Paul did not start the church at Colosse. It was started by Epaphras. And there is no record of his going there, although there is evidence that he likely visited the church on a fourth missionary journey not recorded in Acts. Paul also did not start the church at Laodicea. There were undoubtedly many other churches he did not start. But, Paul struggled for all of them. This would seem to be a prayer struggle.

Here is an interesting question: Why would Paul want these churches to be encouraged and joined together, even though he had never been there and did not know these folks? Here is the answer: It is because Paul knew that all churches face at least two fundamental tendencies, toward discouragement and disunity. And that is because these are two of Satan’s primary weapons against the church.

All churches face a tendency, a gravitation toward discouragement and toward disunity. Dealing with these two tendencies requires a conscientious decision to commit toward working in the opposite direction. Every church, and thus every Christian, needs to daily recalibrate a commitment to work toward whatever it takes to encourage the church, and whatever it takes to bring and foster unity in the church. Of course, encouragement at any price and unity at any price does not work. But it is important that we make encouragement and unity a priority for the church and for individual Christians. Whatever God leads us to do to move in this direction is an instruction we must follow.

Lord, Help us today to carry out a commitment toward encouragement and unity in Your church, for the sake of Your kingdom’s work. Amen.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Hope of Glory

“God wanted to make known among the Gentiles the glorious wealth of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:27 CSB)

There is something in you as a believer that you have to offer to others in our world, and it is called “the hope of glory.” Hope, as taught in the Bible, is not wishful thinking but a future certainty that requires only time for it to be fulfilled. It is like taking a trip to a city you have never seen but only heard about. You get into a vehicle, follow a map, and arrive at your intended destination. The hope of glory, which is the hope of eternal life in the glory of heaven, is a future reality and certainty to which we are headed, based on God’s promise, His word, to us.

We have this hope of glory because Christ is in us. His Spirit dwells in our hearts, minds, and souls. He is the One who gives us this hope because of His presence with us, and our spiritual union with Him.

Thus, you have within you a Person and a truth that you can share with others whose lives are either empty or filled with untruth. Some are searching for that “illusive something” to fill the hole that is in their hearts. Some are filling their lives with anything they can grab hold of to try to fill that empty place. The truth is, only the Lord can fill this hole in the heart. It is a “God-shaped hole.” Only He can fill it. It is already filled in your life, and that is the truth that you can share.

Jesus is the hope of glory. You have that truth in your life, and it is something you can offer to a world that is desperately seeking Him, but does not know it.

Lord, Help us today to share You with our world, and the truth that can set them free. Amen.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Growth Formula

“He has rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son He loves, in Whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:13-14 CSB)

One of the great ways the Bible describes what has happened to us is with the word “redemption.” We were in bondage to sin, but through forgiveness God has redeemed us. Like a slave is transferred from an owner to another owner and then freed, God has redeemed and freed us. That was not enough, though. God also transferred us into His kingdom. Now, we have the opportunity to experience spiritual growth. Like a plant transplanted from a dark, confining place, God has transplanted us into the light and into an environment where our roots can spread out and go deep.

Two essential elements are needed for a plant to grow: light and water. Nutrients in the soil are also required, but the two basics for growth are light and water. In terms of spiritual growth, two elements are needed: knowledge and power. Thus, Paul expressed his prayer for the Colossians that they would be filled with knowledge and strengthened with power.

The knowledge of God’s will provides the illumination we need. When we know God’s will and are growing thus in our spiritual understanding, we can then walk worthy of the Lord, please Him, and bear fruit that honors Him.

The power that strengthens us for our growth comes from the glorious might of God. We do not have the strength we need within ourselves. It is derived from the presence of the Almighty in our hearts. His power can strengthen us so that we can endure with patience, and move toward a life of joy which is shared in Christian fellowship.

Lord, Today, may we each grown in the knowledge of Your will and be strengthened in Your power, so that the lives we live may glorify You. Amen.

Faith and Authority

“The apostles said to Him, ‘Increase our faith.’ ‘If you have faith the size of a mustard seed,’ the Lord said, ‘you can say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea,” and it will obey you.’ ‘Which one of you having a slave plowing or tending sheep will say to him…’” (Luke 17:5-10 CSB)

In response to what Jesus taught about forgiveness, the disciples asked Jesus to increase their faith. Jesus remarked about how little faith is actually required and used the example above about a mulberry tree and mustard seed.

The paragraph that followed, however, seems totally unrelated. Some Bible versions put a heading over these two paragraphs titled, “Faith and Duty.” They do so because that is what the paragraphs seem to be about. It is possible they are simply separate and unrelated, one about faith, and one about duty. But it is also possible that Jesus intended them to be understood together. How so?

The tie between the two paragraphs is obedience. If an order is given in faith to the mulberry tree, it will obey. If an order is given to a servant, he obeys because he is duty-bound, and because his master has the authority to command.

This suggests that the two statements of Jesus are connected not by “faith and duty” but by “faith and authority.” And that idea is further supported by the incident with the Roman centurion who asked Jesus to heal his servant. Jesus was enroute when the centurion sent word that he was unworthy to have Jesus come into his house, and that if Jesus would just speak the word his servant would be healed. He said that because he understood authority. If you recall, Jesus remarked that he had not seen such a great faith in Israel. The centurion made the connection between faith and authority. Maybe we also need to give further thought to that connection.

Lord, Teach us how faith and authority are related in You. Amen.

Thursday, June 12, 2008


“You learned this from Epaphras, our much loved fellow slave. He is a faithful minister of the Messiah on your behalf, and he has told us about your love in the Spirit.” (Colossians 1:7 CSB)

So, who was Epaphras?

It is not the purpose of the Scripture writers to detail the lives of God’s servants per se, but occasionally names do get mentioned. Paul often mentioned names, even long lists of names. Of course, names are important to people because that is what helps to identify us to one another. If someone calls your name, you immediately turn your head to see who is speaking.

So, Epaphras is a name, but he was also a person and a fellow believer. He had a personal history, a life there in the first century. We know very little about him. We know that he was from the city of Colosse in Asia Minor (Turkey). We know that at some point, probably when Paul served in Ephesus, Paul is likely the one who led him to the Lord and discipled him. We know that Epaphras is the founder of the church in Colosse, and he likely served as its pastor at least for some time. We know that Epaphras later went to Rome to serve with Paul there during Paul’s imprisonment. Beyond this, all we know is how Paul described him. He described Epaphras as, “our much loved fellow slave (servant)… a faithful minister of the Messiah on your behalf.”

Epaphras, like many others whose names appear in the Bible, serves as a reminder to us that there are untold numbers of brothers and sisters in Christ whose names have never been mentioned and are likely not going to be, and yet they have been faithful servants of the Lord. A faithful servant of the Lord does not seek stardom. A faithful servant seeks only two things: 1) to serve, and 2) to be faithful in doing so. And that is enough.

Lord, We humble ourselves before You, and in confidence and trust, we simply place our lives in Your hands for Your service. Help us to be faithful as we serve. Amen.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Opportunity for Integrity

“However, because of the Lord, I will never lift my hand against the Lord’s anointed. Instead, take the spear and the water jug by his head, and let’s go.” (1 Samuel 26:11 CSB)

David had at least two opportunities to kill Saul and end the hostility. Saul relentlessly pursued David to kill him and keep him from becoming king. David and his men managed to stay ahead of Saul and his troops, but at least twice Saul was closer than he knew. In this second time, Abishai accompanied David into Saul’s camp when Saul and all his men were asleep. They apparently did not post sentries. They walked right through the camp right up to where Saul was sleeping. Abishai asked David to let him take Saul’s own spear and thrust it through Saul. David rejected that request, because he still considered Saul to be the Lord’s anointed. This was such an important concept to David that David felt it would be a sin against the Lord to lift his hand against Saul. So, he told Abishai to take Saul’s spear and water jug. The next morning, from a distance, David called to Saul, and the spear and water jug became evidence that when the opportunity was there, David chose integrity over vice.

The opportunity for sin is in no short supply. It abounds. The daily question we all face is: what will we do with that opportunity? Will we choose to walk the way of integrity? Or, will we give in and give up integrity for the sake of some supposed personal gain?

David’s example encourages us to choose integrity at every opportunity. That is the choice that God honors and which honors God.

Lord, Today in every decision or opportunity that comes, strengthen us to choose the way of integrity, simply because it matters. Amen.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Change of Heart

“But everything that was a gain to me, I have considered to be a loss because of Christ. More than that, I also consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” (Philippians 3:7-8 CSB)

There is something about being a Christian that changes who we are and what is important to us. Paul listed a number of attributes in his previous life as a Pharisee that he once considered of utmost importance. If he were an American we would say that he sought and found “the American dream.” He had it all, in terms of what was important in his society. But when he came to know Jesus, everything changed. Mainly, his heart changed. All that he had once set his heart on having became blurred by the brightness of knowing Jesus in a personal, faith relationship. It all turned to sawdust. The value of knowing Christ supplanted and surpassed anything he once held dear in his life. And that’s the way it is when someone comes to know the Lord.

Many folks do not take the time to stop and think about what is really important. Many seek after the various benefits of this life, influenced by the social and material values of others around them. People seek financial security, houses, cars, land, status, and general happiness, thinking that this is what normal people do. They do not realize they are being short-changed by their short-sightedness.

Material things and financial security and such are not unimportant, of course. But they do have a tendency to blur people’s vision. Christians need to take a step back and remember that everything that is in their hands comes from God, and apart from Him, all the money in the world is actually meaningless. Jesus reminded His disciples and others, “What value is it to you if you gain the whole world, but lose your own soul?” And John reminds us that we should not be influenced by the “deceitfulness of riches.” Valuing knowing Jesus as Lord is the only way to keep everything else in this life in its proper perspective.

Lord, Help us to keep our eyes focused on You, so that we can keep everything in this life in a perspective that honors You. Amen.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Source of our Security

“God, hear my cry; pay attention to my prayer. I call to You from the ends of the earth when my heart is without strength. Lead me to the rock that is high above me, for You have been a refuge for me, a strong tower in the face of the enemy. I will live in Your tent forever and take refuge under the shelter of Your wings.” (Psalm 61:1-4 CSB)

Benjamin Franklin once said, “The only certainties in life are death and taxes.” Although his words have a cynical ring to them, they do point out that there are many uncertainties in this life. Each day truly is a new day. While there may be routines we follow, even so we never know what a particular day is going to bring. It could be something wonderful, or it could be something tragic. Or, it could just be something between those extremes.

The uncertainties of life often produce insecurity as well. Not knowing what could come in a day creates for some a sense of insecurity. That insecurity is heightened when we face circumstances that we know are threatening in some way.

This uncertainty and insecurity of life creates a need in us to seek security. We are, in fact, created in such a way that it is natural for us to seek safety, to find security. The greatest security we can possibly have is the security that comes from God.

Those of us who have experienced the security that comes from the Lord can testify that there is nothing in this life that can even come close to it. Money cannot provide real security, because it is here one day and gone the next. Property cannot provide security, for the same reason. Relationships with family and friends, as much as those mean to us, cannot provide the real depth of security that our hearts are created to find. The hole in our hearts can only be filled by one Source, and that is God.

We who have experienced this understand fully what David was talking about in Psalm 61. We cry out to God wherever we may be, when our hearts are without strength, seeking Him and His strength. He leads us to a high rock above the floods. He is like a strong tower, and in Him we know we can take refuge. Whatever the experiences or circumstances, we trust our very lives into His hands. That is true security. That is real freedom.

Lord, We thank You for Your care of us, for all that You provide. We sing Your praise. Amen.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Persistent Prayer

“He then told them a parable on the need for them to pray always and not be discouraged.” (Luke 18:1 CSB)

The parable Jesus told is normally titled “The Unjust Judge.” It is about a widow who kept coming to a town judge asking for justice against her adversary. The judge did not fear God or respect man with regard to his judgments, meaning he was not easily swayed by anything or anyone. He apparently did not care very much about anyone either. However, he got so tired of the widow’s incessant coming that he decided he would give her her justice just to get rid of her.

The point Jesus was making was that if an unjust judge like this would give justice to a persistent widow, then surely God, who is good and righteous, will certainly answer the prayers of His people who cry out to Him night and day. And the purpose of the parable was to encourage people to keep on praying and to not get discouraged and give up.

The fact is: people do sometimes get discouraged when they pray and do not see results. We know that God may answer prayer with: yes, no, maybe, not now, or wait. But when we pray for something that burdens us day after day and do not see anything happening, it can get discouraging to us, and we feel like just giving up.

As a reminder, Augustine’s mother prayed for her profligate son every day for 30-years before he finally came to faith.

We need to hear in the heart what Jesus is saying to us. God does not ignore us. He hears us clearly when we pray. He knows exactly what our thoughts are and what is on our minds. He is aware of everything that is burdening us. If He answers yes, we rejoice. If He answers no, we trust him. If He answers maybe, we keep praying in hope and faith. If He answers not now, we keep praying, and we do the same if He answers wait.

Keep praying and never give in or give up.

Father, We thank You that You never tire of our much coming. We bring before you today all the burdens of heart and life that weigh upon us, and we seek Your will and Your answer. Amen.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Strong in the Lord

“Finally, be strengthened by the Lord and by His vast strength.” (Ephesians 6:10 CSB)

The NASB read, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.” The NIV says, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power.” The KJV reads, “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.” You get the idea. So, how do we do that? Paul lays it out for us.

To be strong in the Lord and in His power we first have to put on His armor, which is spiritual armor. These armor pieces include: truth, righteousness, the gospel, faith, salvation, and the word of God. Truth guides the way. Righteousness keeps us on track with integrity. The gospel moves us forward to attack the darkness. Faith protects us, as does salvation. The word of God provides an attack weapon for overcoming un-truth.

In addition to putting on and keeping on the armor of God, we need to pray if we want to be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Prayer helps to keep our minds and hearts in communion with God’s mind and heart. Prayer keeps us in greater contact with the Almighty God who alone is the Source of our strength. The Spirit of God enables us to pray so that we then “tap into” the full strength of God. As Zechariah says, “’Not by strength, nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord.” Prayer maintains the contact between us and the Spirit, much like an electrical conduit.

Lord, Help us today to put on the full armor that You provide and to keep our hearts in tune with Yours through prayer, so that we may be strong in You and in the power of Your might. Amen.