Tuesday, July 31, 2007

A Clean, Clear Conscience (part 1)

Each Christian should be ruled by a conscience that is clean, clear, and consistent with Scriptural teaching. Sadly, though, many Christians dull their consciences by not confessing sin—even to the point where the conscience becomes warped or seared.

We begin our new life in Christ by having our conscience cleansed from guilt. It is very clear in Hebrews 9:14 and 10:22 that the blood of Jesus Christ is the means of this cleansing. Once our conscience is clean, Scripture then describes it as good or clear.

The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. (1 Timothy 1:5 NIV)

...holding on to faith and a good conscience. Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith. (1 Timothy 1:19 NIV)

They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. (1 Timothy 3:9 NIV)

The relationship between a good, clear conscience and a sincere faith is very important. But when the deep truths of the faith are held in a dogmatic, argumentative manner, the conscience may not be clear. In addition, when faith is abandoned altogether, the conscience becomes not only unclear but seared.

The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. (1 Timothy 4:1-3 NIV)

As Paul writes to Timothy in the above quote, we, too, can see that an abandoned faith and a seared conscience go together. This results in legalism (i.e., commanded abstinence) because the legalists’ consciences are dulled to the point of being warped.

It is not enough to have a clear conscience before God alone, however. Several different times Paul spoke plainly of his having lived with a good conscience before God. The first time he said it, he was hit in the mouth (Acts 23:1). The second time, before Felix, he added a qualification:

So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man. (Acts 24:16 NIV)

This second standard, before man, is important. When Paul writes to the church at Corinth about the way he conducts himself with the presentation of the gospel, he says,

Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. (2 Corinthians 4:2 NIV)

God is the author of every man’s conscience. Even when man has deadened and distorted his own conscience, he is still able to appreciate the truth set forth plainly. This is the reason that an unbelieving man may criticize believers who play loose with ethics, are greedy, stretch the truth and sexually misbehave. Whether or not he follows God’s laws himself, he recognizes that these truths ought to be evident in the lives of Christians. For this reason, Paul writes of his manner in presenting the gospel in 1 Thessalonians 2:3-6:

For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed¾God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else. (NIV)

Notice that he did not seek to please men, but he did commend himself to their consciences. Without seeking praise from men, he is seeking to avoid legitimate criticism.

We see Paul living this out by the way he handles the money he collected at Corinth to distribute to the poor believers in Jerusalem.

We want to avoid any criticism of the way we administer this liberal gift. For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of men. (2 Corinthians 8:20-21 NIV)

In 1 Corinthians 8 and again in Romans 14 we find that a conscience geared strictly to a knowledge of absolute right and wrong still does not please God. Not only must we keep a clear conscience before Him and unbelieving man, but our actions should also be determined by the Christian whose conscience isn’t working correctly. We can see this principle again in1 Corinthians 10:25-29:

Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, for, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.” If some unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. But if anyone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, both for the sake of the man who told you and for conscience’ sake¾the other man’s conscience, I mean, not yours. For why should my freedom be judged by another’s conscience? (NIV)

This Scriptural requirement is alien to the one who insists on his rights or insists on walking in what he calls liberty or freedom. He may be walking in freedom, but he is not being considerate of or loving toward his fellow Christians. Our love for each other should be far more important than our expression of personal freedom.

If this latter requirement is foreign to your way of thinking, it might be because your conscience is not clean, good, and clear. In order to bring it back to normal working order, ask God to reveal to you compromises you have made.

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:23, 24 NIV)

By asking God to search the heart, the believer is protected from introspection, which leads to self-condemnation. He also is protected against a complacent refusal to search, which may result in self-justification.

When you are shown sin from the Scriptures or from the Holy Spirit, immediately confess it and forsake it. Continue to do this until your conscience is very sensitive. From then on, you will feel guilt whenever you do sin. This is good because it encourages confessing and forsaking sin as it arises, and it helps keep the conscience what it ought to be.

(An excerpt from On Being a Christian by Jim Wilson)

Friday, July 27, 2007

Guilt and Ignorance (Great Grace)

Among church members today there are two problems which commonly make up the average spiritual/mental state. They are, simply stated, guilt and ignorance. This is very true of church members who are not Christians, but it is also true in a different way for the Christians.

A statement Paul made for the Jews applies equally well to unconverted church members today:

Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. 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. Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes. (Romans 10:1-4 NIV)

Guilt is the reason people seek to establish their own righteousness, and ignorance is the reason they do it their own way.

Although guilt is the main problem in the non-Christian, he may be less conscious of guilt than he is of other emotional symptoms because he is partially successful in justifying, hiding, excusing, or projecting his wrong or blaming the occurrence of his sin on someone else. He then thinks his unhappiness has other causes, and his anxiety other cures. He may be less conscious of guilt because of ignorance of the moral law. Although he has an inherent moral law within him, he has spent a lifetime dulling the edge of it, and he needs a continual reminder of it “since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20). He is also less conscious of guilt because of systematic teaching in the churches on relative morality, new morality or situation ethics.

The church must return to teaching the moral law of God, not as a means of salvation, but for the reason it was given:

Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! But in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it produced death in me through what was good, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful. (Romans 7:13 NIV)

Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. (Romans 3:19 NIV)

Ignorance can be overcome by teaching the moral law; however, when the law is taught, very real guilt occurs. Guilt is the other problem, and unless more ignorance is overcome, a wrong solution for guilt will surface. This ignorance is overcome by teaching God’s wonderful way of providing forgiveness for sins. We could say it more succinctly: teaching the moral law causes or enhances guilt; teaching God’s grace leads to forgiveness.

In other words, a clear knowledge of the bad news is the right preparation for a presentation of the good news. People must have a great view of grace. If people are allowed to minimize sin, great grace is not needed.

This teaching is lacking in both liberal and evangelical churches. It is lacking in liberal churches probably for two reasons: an absolute morality is not held to be true; and there is no desire to make people feel guilty because guilt is considered bad. It is lacking in evangelical churches because it is falsely held to be in opposition to the good news, perhaps as some sort of works righteousness.

The two great results that happen when a person becomes a Christian are forgiveness of sins and everlasting life.

“…to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” (Acts 26:18 NIV)

Forgiven sins is a distinguishing mark of the Christian church member but not the non-Christian church member. But for the Christian, God has a provision for keeping clean. It is found in 1 John 1:7:

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. (NIV)

He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:2 NIV)

Forgiveness has to do with honesty in admitting sins on our part, the blood of Christ and God’s faithfulness on His part.

(An excerpt from On Being a Christian by Jim Wilson)

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Tongue (part 2)

The two greatest positive uses of the tongue are recorded in the tenth chapter of Romans. The first is confessing Jesus Christ and calling upon him. It is our part in our salvation.

But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. (Romans 10:8-10 NIV)

Our salvation has to do with our heart and mouth. The latter expresses the former.

Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. (Romans 10:13 NIV)

The second positive use of the tongue is preaching Jesus Christ.

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in?
And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?
And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?
And how can they preach unless they are sent?
As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.” (Romans 10:15 NIV)

“How beautiful are the feet...” If it were written today, would it say, “How beautiful are the wheels...” or “the wings”? I think not. Feet belong to a live messenger. The person that carries good news has beautiful feet even though they may be dirty and dusty. It is the good news being carried that makes the messenger’s feet beautiful.

Prior to regular postal service, messages were sent by courier or special messenger. They were hand carried. This is the way the New Testament letters were delivered. The messenger would be on the road for months. In addition to the letter he carried, he himself would be a letter. We see this in the following passages:

You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. (2 Corinthians 3:2, 3 NIV)

I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel. I hope, therefore, to send him as soon as I see how things go with me. And I am confident in the Lord that I myself will come soon. (Philippians 2:19-24 NIV)

Therefore I urge you to imitate me. For this reason I am sending to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church. (1 Corinthians 4:16, 17 NIV)

The two great uses of the tongue are confessing Jesus Christ and preaching Jesus Christ.


St. Paul

Then I preached Christ, and when she heard the story, -
Oh! is such triumph possible to men?
Hardly, my King, had I beheld Thy glory,
Hardly had known Thine excellence till then.

Then with a rush the intolerable craving
Shivers throughout me like a trumpet call,
Oh! to save these; to perish for their saving
Die for their life; be offered for them all.

F.W.H. Meyer

(An excerpt from On Being a Christian by Jim Wilson)

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Tongue (part 1)

For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. (Matthew 12:34, 35 NIV)

I would like to draw your attention to the words “overflow” and “stored up.” Whatever is “stored up” is brought out. Good “stored up”—good comes out. Evil “stored up”—evil comes out. Not only is “good” or “evil” brought out, but they “overflow” out.

Apparently from this text, the mouth is an overflow valve venting what is stored up. The teaching here is not on watching your mouth, but on storing up good. If we endeavor and temporarily succeed in keeping our mouths shut to keep the stored up evil from coming out, it would be like blocking the safety valve on a pressure cooker. Sooner or later there would be an explosion and the contents would come out anyway. The emphasis is on the heart, not on the mouth. Let us store up good. We then will not have to watch our mouths.

(An excerpt from On Being a Christian by Jim Wilson)

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Spring of Living Water

My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water. (Jeremiah 2:13 NIV)

Do you see the difference between these two sins? The first is forsaking an artesian well, a flowing well of life-giving water. There is no end to the supply. God is this life-giving spring. To forsake this source is evil and foolish.

The second sin is salvation by effort. It recognizes the need for water, but wants a cistern, a reservoir of water. The sin is in digging the cistern. That itself does not provide the water for the cistern. If there were a provision of water to put into this reservoir, the result would be stagnant water. However we have another problem: it is a broken cistern, a leaking reservoir. Soon there is no water, not even stagnant water. To dig this cistern is evil and foolish. It is a works-effort for life and does not provide life.

Jesus said:

Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life. (John 4:13, 14 NIV)

(An excerpt from On Being a Christian by Jim Wilson)

Monday, July 23, 2007

Illegal Aliens

If estimates are right; there are 12,000,000 illegal aliens (immigrants) in the United States. We came to the conclusion yesterday that these illegals were also immoral sinners. We, as Christians, have been told by highest authority to take the message of the good news to the uttermost part of the earth. It looks as if many tribes and tongues have come to us. We do not have to go to them.

In Romans five, verses six to eight, we find that Christ died for the ungodly, for sinners. These people fit the qualification, the basic requirements.

They are sinners.

Jesus defined “neighbor” as someone who was of a different religion, a different race, away from home, beat up, half dead, robbed, and helpless. Many (all) of these illegals qualify as neighbors who are to be loved.

Here are few of the people who were saved when they were strangers in another land. Paul, the Ethiopian, Cornelius, Apollos, Lydia, Priscilla, and Aquila and many of the 3,000 saved at Pentecost.

I am not suggesting that you should not report an illegal alien to the police.

I am saying that:

1) Christ died for them
2) He sent us to them
3) They are our neighbors to be loved
4) They may be evil and are to be loved
5) They may be enemies and are to be loved.

If we do not love them, then we are in sin.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Spiritual Maturity by C. Stephen David

“And now I will show you the most excellent way” (1 Cor. 12:31).

Ever since I became a Christian, I often heard five important steps on how to grow in spiritual life. It has been emphasized that this is how one can excel towards spiritual maturity. The five steps are – prayer, bible study, church fellowship, tithing and witnessing. However, it was later I happened to learn that one could practice all these things and yet live an unspiritual and immature life. As important as they are, nowhere in the Holy Scripture do we find that these are the signs of spiritual maturity. What then is the sign of spiritual maturity?

The Important Ingredient
These days the Lord has been drawing my attention to ponder over the most significant ingredient of my life and ministry. It is something without which I cannot become spiritually mature. He has shown me how greatly I am missing and neglecting it in my life. I was convicted that my Christian life is shallow, my spirituality is a sham, my preaching is dead and my ministry is unproductive without excelling in this exceptional virtue. Indeed, I was enlightened to the fact that I cannot be a true disciple of Christ Jesus without this most important thing. What is it?

What I am sharing is not something new or mysterious. Almost everyone knows its importance and yet fail to live accordingly. It is something that is spoken and written about much but practiced and exemplified least. Well, what do you think Paul would have answered if he were asked, “How to become a person of spiritual maturity?” He wrote to the Corinthians, “And now I will show you the most excellent way” (1 Cor. 12:31). What is the most excellent way to excel in spiritual life? It is LOVE. The Lord spoke to my heart that without love I can neither live a Christian life nor can I serve Him in His way. I have learned that I must not only be emphatic on God’s love towards me but also on my love toward others. I am reminded of the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 which describes the most excellent way of love. It is written:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).

It is truly astounding to read what Paul wrote in the above Scripture, revealing what true spirituality is all about. I would certainly be amazed to hear someone speaking in the languages of men and angels. I would be moved in my spirit to hear someone prophesying. I would be fascinated to know a person who is full of knowledge and insights. I would be awed to see someone having faith that can move mountains. I would be greatly impressed to witness someone giving all he possesses to the poor. Well, these are spectacular deeds and any normal person would ascribe them to spiritual maturity. Yet Paul says that all these things are nothing and worthless without love.

I have observed that it is terrifyingly possible to perform amazing miracles, to prophesy accurately, pray fervently, preach and teach effectively, endure suffering, to work diligently, have strong faith, do good works and yet lack love, which writes me off still as spiritually immature. I may even possess great theological and practical knowledge but what does it profit if I do not have love. It is written, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” (1 Cor. 8:1). When the Holy Bible exhorts to “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15), how easy it is to passionately speak the truth, counter false teachings, answer tough questions and get puffed up without any love and concern for people!

An illiterate and unskillful person with love is much better than the most literate and genius without love. How deceptive it is to have a great reputation of being spiritually mature before others while being spiritually barren before God! A person who has the fruit of love is well pleased before God than the most gifted person. The impact of a loving person is much more fruitful and unforgettable than an ingenious person.

Description of Love
I have witnessed many times how quickly I can be deceived presuming myself to be loving towards others while neglecting to manifest its characteristics in my life. Having a good feeling toward others does not necessarily mean I am a loving person. Good works can also be done out of duty or pity than with genuine love. Disciplining others can be practiced out of fretful spirit than with a loving heart. Anyone who claims to be loving must examine himself against the description presented by Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. This is the criterion by which spiritual maturity is measured.

Love is patient, i.e. it endures the weaknesses and differences of others. Love is kind, i.e. it is tender and compassionate toward others. Love does not envy, i.e. it is not jealous if someone is better but rejoices at the success of others. Love does not boast, i.e. it is not boastful to give an appearance of ‘greatness’ but rather seeks to walk in humility. Love is not proud, i.e. it does not consider itself better than others but rather honors others above itself. Love is not rude, i.e. it is not harsh in its attitude, speech and behavior with others but rather gentle and gracious. It is mild and not wild. It is hard but not harsh, tough but not rough, strong but does no wrong. Love is not self-seeking, i.e. it does not seek its own benefit alone in everything but rather concerns itself with being a blessing to others. Love is not easily angered, i.e. it is not hot-tempered, short-tempered or reacts suddenly in an unpleasant manner but rather responds with patience. Love keeps no record of wrongs, i.e. it does not harbor bitterness by reflecting on the hurt given by others but rather forgives them. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth, i.e. it does not compromise with sin and evil ways but always encourages, corrects and leads others in the path of truth. Love always protects, i.e. it covers the sins of others and does not give itself to wayward gossip. Love always trusts, i.e. it does not subject itself to foolish assumptions and false witnesses but rather trusts that which is true about others. Love always hopes, i.e. it is not critical about others but rather hopes the best for them. Love always perseveres, i.e. bears up the injuries of the heart caused by others without any retaliation. Love never fails, i.e. it neither gives up nor does it end.

Honestly admitting, it is humanly impossible to live according to the above traits of love, yet with God nothing is impossible. He is able to conform us into His image if we allow Him to transform our lives. Paul exhorted, above all else, to eagerly desire this love in our lives (1 Cor. 12:31). Am I earnestly seeking to be filled with God’s love in my life? Am I desperately praying and making every effort to love others? Do I love others as much as I expect them to love me? Am I confessing my sin of unloving heart? “O Lord teach me to love others as you love me!”

Penetrating Truth
As I contemplated on the splendor of love, I realized that love is not the priority of my life. I was passionate to do great things but not eager to love people. I was asking God to bless me, to fill me with His power and to use me mightily in His service but did not pray fervently to be filled with His love. I questioned myself, “What is my life and ministry if it is not built on love?” It is nothing and gains nothing. I have keenly observed the difference between ‘loving ministry’ and ‘loving people’.

Now I am learning, even though I am far from living up to its perfection, that living a Christian life and doing ministry is just loving people and serving them. I don’t want to do a ‘great’ ministry but a ‘loving’ ministry. Is this not what ministry is all about? Three times Jesus said to Peter, “If you truly love me then take care of my sheep” (John 20:15-17). In other words, “If you truly love me then love my people.” How hypocritical it is to do ministry without having love for the people!

I stood in awe when I read few Scriptures that pierced my heart. I may claim to believe in Christ; I may appear as a prominent person and known well for my achievements; I may claim to be a child and a servant of God; I may preach and teach mightily with excellent knowledge; I may claim to know God; I may have all the theological degrees and possess astounding knowledge about the doctrines of the Holy Bible; I may claim to have great experience in the ministry - yet if I do not have love, the Holy Scripture reveals seven penetrating facts just in one epistle.

a) If I do not love my brother and hate him, I am still in the darkness. It is written in 1 John 2:9-11:

Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.

b) If I do not love my brother, my prayers are ineffective. It is written in 1 John 3:21-23:

We have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him. And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.

c) If I do not love my brother, I am not a child of God. It is written in 1 John 3:10:

This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother.

d) If I do not love my brother, I am not born of God. It is written in 1 John 4:7:

Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.

e) If I do not love my brother, I do not know God. It is written in 1 John 4:8:

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

f) If I do not love my brother, I do not live in God and God in me. It is written in 1 John 4:16:

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.

g) If I hate my brother rather than love him, I remain in death and do not have eternal life. It is written in 1 John 3:14-15:

We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, let us stop hating and backbiting each other and start loving and help one another. Life is not about two perfect people walking together; it is about two imperfect people getting along together, encouraging, adjusting and helping each other on the way towards perfection. Paul warned the Galatians, “The entire law is summed up in a single command: "Love your neighbor as yourself." If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other” (5:14-16).

Mark of Christ’s Disciples
I share this message with a broken heart. I want to be a disciple of Christ and I know I cannot be a friend of Christ if I do not possess love. Jesus said, “You are my friends if you do what I command” (Jn. 15:14). What is His command? It is written, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you” (Jn. 15:12). I feel ashamed of my unloving life and am grateful to God for allowing me to see myself in His light so that I can become what He wants me to be. I may still fail many times in loving people but I trust in God’s ability to make me a person filled with His love. We don’t become a loving person overnight but blessed are those who hunger and thirst for love for they shall be completely filled and satisfied.

Jesus commanded His disciples in John 13:34-35, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, IF you love one another". The disciples of Christ Jesus are known not primarily by their appearance, knowledge, doctrines, preaching, skills and feats but by their LOVE for one another. Don’t we feel that great lack of love between one another? No doubt, I suppose, even the world feels that lack of love between one another among the professed disciples of Christ.

All of us are familiar with John 3:16 but most of us are ignorant about 1 John 3:16, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” Wonderful! John 3:16 speaks to us that Christ laid His life for us and 1 John 3:16 exhorts us that we have to lay our lives for our brothers. The reason we are supposed to love our fellow brothers is because Christ loves us and laid His life for undeserving people like us. The major cause for us to fail in loving others is that we try to love them because of who they are rather than as a response to God’s love for us. May we repent of our sin and learn to walk and grow in LOVE for each other. Life is worthless without Christ’s love flowing in and through us.

“O Lord, have mercy on me and help me to know you and share about you by enabling me to walk in love!”

www.stephenonbible.blogspot.com

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Heaven Welcomes Aliens

There is, presently, in this country an impasse on making new laws or enforcing old laws on illegal immigrants.

However, these immigrants have a bigger problem than violating the laws of the United States. They are not only illegal immigrants, they are immoral immigrants. They may not be caught violating U.S. laws but they are always caught violating God’s laws.

It is difficult if not impossible to be an illegal immigrant without lying many times and in many ways. This includes false identification papers, false driver licenses, stolen social security cards, lying to employers, school districts, and to police.

“But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” Revelation 21:8

There are no illegal aliens in Heaven.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Gossip

“They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents;” Romans 1:29, 30

Notice all the evil things that a decadent society is guilty of. Right in the middle of this list is gossip. Gossip is not an innocent pastime. It is very evil. Its nature consists of several things.

1) It is made up of a lie or lies. It is not true. It declares to be true. That is the nature of a lie. Truth tellers do not say, “I am telling you the truth.”

2)It is malicious! Kind, good things do not get gossiped about.

3)The person who tells you this bit makes you promise not to tell anyone. “I can keep a promise. It is the people I tell it to who can’t.”

4) It is not just the tellers who are gossips. The listeners are also gossips, even if they do not tell anyone.

“The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man's inmost parts.” Proverbs 18:8

Tabloid newspapers would not exist if there was no demand for salacious, false stories declared to be true.

Even legitimate newspapers and TV news stations keep their readers and viewers with salacious news of sex and murders.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Paul, an Example

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Timothy 1:12-17 NIV)

Notice that Paul was a blasphemer, persecutor, and a violent man. We are quite sure that he was not an adulterer, or thief, or liar. He would have said so. He did say he was the worst of sinners. Mercy was shown him for two reasons: 1) he acted in ignorance and unbelief, and 2) he was the worst of sinners. Ignorance did not keep him from being the worst of sinners.

We are used to hearing of immoral sinners receiving Christ. We do not have the same hope for blaspheming, persecuting, violent men. Many nations have this type of person. Paul was used as an example of Christ’s unlimited patience for those kinds of people who would believe on Him and receive eternal life.

(An excerpt from On Being a Christian by Jim Wilson)

Monday, July 16, 2007

Gracious Answers

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Colossians 4:6 NIV)

“Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. (1 Peter 3:14b-16 NIV)

Gracious answers—gentle answers—are God’s effective means of reaching people.

(An excerpt from On Being a Christian by Jim Wilson)

Friday, July 13, 2007

Witness in the Spirit: Self Control

For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God… (2 Timothy 1:7, 8 NIV)

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22, 23 NIV)

Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control. (Proverbs 25:28 NIV)

We have all seen or participated in witnessing situations where the Christian has not exhibited self-control. He has gotten loud or angry or annoyed, and this annoyance has shown. To have power without love is awful. To have power without self-control is tragic…disastrous. It is power that keeps us from being timid or ashamed of Jesus Christ. Self-control keeps us from acting in ways in which we should be ashamed.

Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit. Self-control is aided by (1) confidence in the Lord and His Word, and (2) preparation in knowledge of the Word. Most situations where self-control is lacking occur when the Christian is caught not knowing the answers. Consequently, he raises his voice to get false authority.

God has given us a spirit of power, love and self-control—self-control to keep us from acting in shameful ways as we share the Good News.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Witness in the Spirit: Faithfulness

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23 NIV)

When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned. I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you. (John 16:8-15 NIV)

So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. (1 Corinthians 4:1-3 NIV)

One of the purposes of witnessing to others of the Father, Son and the work of love in the death of the Lord Jesus Christ is to generate a believing response to the Father through the Son. This believing response is an act of faith and trust which is expressed in turning from sin to the Father.

If we are witnessing in the Spirit in order to cause faith in the hearer, we must witness in faithfulness. Faithfulness has to do with our guardianship of the truth with which we are entrusted. The Holy Spirit convicts the world of guilt in regard to sin, righteousness and judgment, and He brings glory to Jesus Christ. When we witness in the Spirit, we will bring glory to Jesus Christ. We will be faithful with the truth, and the world will be convicted of sin, of righteousness and of judgment.

(An excerpt from On Being a Christian by Jim Wilson)

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Witness in the Spirit: Kindness

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness… (Galatians 5:22 NIV)

And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. (2 Timothy 2:24 NIV)

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. (1 Corinthians 13:4 NIV)


…in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left… (2 Corinthians 6:6, 7 NIV)


Recently I have encountered people who have an obsession with power. They say that they want the power of God. It seems, though, that they want power to possess it for themselves. If this were not the case, rather they would desire to be vessels for God’s power to further His kingdom by spreading the Gospel of Christ Jesus; that is the way with the power of God (Romans 1:4,16; 1 Corinthians 1:18, 22-24 and 2:4, 5; 2 Corinthians 4:6, 7). This power, then, would be attended by genuine love, truthful speech, and kindness.

Power is a slippery word. We know whose it is (Luke 12:5), but we do not fully grasp what it is nor how big it is (Ephesians 3:14-20). Kindness can be defined much more sharply. The dictionary helps with words like sympathetic, friendly, gentle, tenderhearted, and generous. Kindness will help us identify whether it is God’s power or the enemy’s deception. The three references tell us that kindness is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, that it is a requirement in witnessing, and that it is one of the characteristics of love.

If we are going to witness “in power and in the Holy Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 1:5), our witnessing will be with kindness.

(An excerpt from On Being a Christian by Jim Wilson)

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Witness in the Spirit: Goodness

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness… (Galatians 5:22 NIV)

He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord. (Acts 11:24 NIV)


Barnabas was full of the Holy Spirit. He was also a good man. This is not surprising since the fruit of the Spirit is goodness. The text says that a great number of people were brought to the Lord. Barnabas was in a witnessing, evangelizing situation. Goodness is a necessary characteristic of the fullness of the Holy Spirit. It is also a necessary characteristic of effective witnessing.

To witness with the content of the good news without being good is to contradict with our life that which we are saying with our mouth.

Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did. (1 John 2:6 NIV)

If we are going to talk good news, we must walk good news. Witnessing in the Holy Spirit is an assurance that there will be no contradiction between our walk and our talk.

(An excerpt from On Being a Christian by Jim Wilson)

Monday, July 09, 2007

Knowledge or Love?

The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. (I Timothy 1:14 NIV)

Paul was a man of great wisdom and knowledge but he plays them down. More than that, he writes them off.

Knowledge puffs up but love builds up. (I Corinthians 8:1b NIV)

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. (1 Corinthians 1:18-21 NIV)

When we speak, do we display our knowledge or our love? Are we conscious of the abundance of grace, faith and love that was poured out on us when we received Christ? Do we talk about it and show it?

(An excerpt from On Being a Christian by Jim Wilson)

Friday, July 06, 2007

In the Same Way

Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers. (1 Peter 3:7 NIV)

The word “honor” in KJV is “respect” in the NIV. The real definition comes from the context. The sentence starts out, “Husbands, in the same way…” Which way? Verse 1 of chapter 3 starts out “Wives, in the same way…” Which way? We have to go back to chapter two, verses 18-25:

“The same way” refers, first, to the command given to the Christian slave:

Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. (1 Peter 2:18-20 NIV)

Second, “the same way” refers to verse 21:

To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. (1 Peter 2:21 NIV)

Then the example is given verses 21-25:

To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1 Peter 2:21-25 NIV)

Very early in the last century the book In His Steps was written. The title was taken from verse 21. The heroes and heroines in the book asked the question “What would Jesus do?” if He were in their position. Then they would guess the answer and act on the answer they guessed. The same question is now a fad among Christian adolescents, “WWJD?” The problem with the book and the fad is that they guess the answer when the answer is already given in Jesus’ examples. He did not retaliate.

“The same way” for wives is the same “same way” for husbands. Follow Jesus’ example! Notice the words for wives: “submissive,” “without words,” “behavior,” “purity,” “reverence,” “gentle and quiet spirit.” Notice the words for husbands: “considerate” and “respect.” Here the husband does the respecting. All of these words follow Jesus’ example.

These are heart words, not mouth words. A wife could physically keep her mouth shut and be screaming inside. A husband could “act” considerately, but it would be just an act. If you have the heart, “the same way” will evidence the fruit of the Spirit.

(An excerpt from On Being a Christian by Jim Wilson)

Thursday, July 05, 2007

God

When the Ten Commandments were first given, that is, before the first set of stone tablets (and certainly before the second set), they were not given in pageantry. They were given in terrifying, first-person reality. These events are described in Exodus 19, three months after the Israelites left Egypt. Thirty-nine years later Moses recalls these events that surrounded the oral declaration of the Ten Commandments (Deuteronomy 4 and 5); again in Hebrews 12:18-28 the events are described in contrast to something far more wonderful.

Then the LORD spoke to you out of the fire. You heard the sound of words but saw no form; there was only a voice. (Deuteronomy 4:12 NIV)

You saw no form of any kind the day the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire. Therefore watch yourselves very carefully… (Deuteronomy 4:15 NIV)

You were shown these things so that you might know that the LORD is God; besides him there is no other. (Deuteronomy 4:35 NIV)

Acknowledge and take to heart this day that the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth below. There is no other. (Deuteronomy 4:39 NIV)

The reasons that no image was to be made of God, no likeness, were two:

1. He isn’t like any of His physical creation, so no creation could be like Him physically: “No form.”

2. He isn’t like any other god, because there is no other God.
God is not like anything or anyone. When He is described, it is not as a likeness. He is described in character:

· Holy; as the Ancient of Days in Daniel 7, where His clothing and hair are described gloriously
· where He dwells— “Heaven is my throne” (Isaiah 66:1)
· what He does—“the God of Heaven who made the sea and the land” (Jonah 1:9), “Sing to the Lord, for He has done glorious things, let this be known to all the world” (Isaiah 12:5).

But these were visions of glory. They were described in such a way as to establish that there is no other.

We today do not make physical images, but we do make mental ones: mental images of form and not of glory. These mental images are of very nature less than God. When we think of God, let us think of Jesus Christ (and not physically):

So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. (2 Corinthians 5:16 NIV)

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. (Hebrews 1:3 NIV)

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. (Colossians 1:15 NIV)

Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14:9 NIV)


They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” … Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” (John 12:21, 23 NIV)

This is how He wants to be seen, “glorified.”

And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began. (John 17:5 NIV)

(An excerpt from On Being a Christian by Jim Wilson)

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

A Likeness to the Father

You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48 NIV)

Jesus begins with “You have heard that it was said.” And what was said included a portion of Scripture, which was then taken out of context and added to. Here is the correct Old Testament quotation:

Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD. (Leviticus 19:18 NIV)

False teaching often includes some Scripture in order to make what is false look true. Jesus speaks against the false teaching of “hate your enemy.” On the contrary, he says, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

Why Love our Enemies?

The key words are love and pray. He gives the reason: “that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” An assumption is that sons imitate their fathers. If you do this you will be showing your likeness to your Father in heaven and that will prove your sonship. What is that likeness? He does not distinguish between the righteous and the unrighteous when he gives good things such as rain and sunshine. Jesus is saying, “Love your neighbor and love your enemy” because that is what the Father does.

“If you love those who love you,” there is nothing distinctively Christian about that. There are no rewards. You have established your likeness to tax collectors, not to the Father. “And if you greet only your brothers,” you have established your likeness to pagans, not to the Father.

Jesus ends the teaching with “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” I have heard many people discuss the meaning of the word “perfect.” The discussion seems to lessen the power of the text. Whatever the meaning is, perfect is like the Father is. If it means “mature,” it is like the Father is “mature.” If it is “holy,” it is like the Father is “holy.” The Apostle Paul wrote, as recorded in Ephesians 5:1, 2:

Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (NIV)

The object is to be like the Father, loving both the righteous and the unrighteous. We are not to settle for the actions (even the good actions) common to unbelievers. We are to go beyond that by imitation of our Father and participation in his commands.

How to Love our Enemies

Because we do not know how to do this, the temptation is to cut down the requirement to our size to make it possible. Let us consider the how of loving our enemies.

First, we start with a proposition that might be true: “I do not love my enemies.” Since that statement is contrary to the command of Jesus, when I say that, I am saying that I am in sin. However, I might be saying it as an acceptable truth, not in confession and repentance. If it is just a statement of fact, then I will not be able to go beyond that. In other words, I will not be able to “love my enemies” on top of “I do not love my enemies.” If I try, it will not be real. I will know it, God will know it, and my enemies will know it. So, not willing to be hypocritical, I will say “At least I am honest. I do not love my enemies.” However, saying that does not get me out of the sin. Honesty about sin is not righteousness. Hypocrisy is not the only sin.

There is hope. I can say the same thing honestly to God in confession and repentance and consequently be forgiven for the sin of not loving my enemies. This in itself will not make me loving, but it will make me clean. Then when I choose to “love my enemies,” it will not be on top of anything except cleanness. There will be no hypocrisy. When I make the choice, God provides the real love to carry out the command.

This is God’s means of drawing people to himself. People who act like God give their “enemies” a good view of God. This loving characteristic of God shown in Christians draws people to God. It is then that we can declare the gospel of Jesus Christ.

(An excerpt from On Being a Christian by Jim Wilson)

Monday, July 02, 2007

Making Restitution (part 2)

When it comes to money or things, the cost to the thief is the value of the thing, plus 20%. That is a high rate of interest, but it is not the highest rate.

If a man steals an ox or a sheep and slaughters it or sells it, he must pay back five head of cattle for the ox and four sheep for the sheep. (Exodus 22:1 NIV)

There it is: 500% for oxen, 400% for sheep. Why the difference and why so much? The Scripture does not tell us “Why.” Here is a possibility. Oxen are alive; they reproduce oxen; they pull the plow; they provide meat, leather and milk. Sheep are alive; they reproduce sheep; they provide milk, meat and wool.

We see two examples of this in Scripture. First, there is David’s reply to Nathan’s story.

He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity. (2 Samuel 12:6 NIV)

The second is Zacchaeus’ statement to Jesus.

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.” (Luke 19:8, 9 NIV)

(An excerpt from On Being a Christian by Jim Wilson)