Dear friends of ours are going through a very difficult trial. Several years ago, they spent considerable cash, effort and time to adopt a young man from a European country. However, now the teenager has a huge chip on his shoulder, wanting to get out of their house as soon as possible. He has been both disrespectful and distant. Without a doubt, he is unregenerate. He does not love the Lord and, remarkably, he does not appear to love his adopted parents. I couldn’t help but see in their heartache an analogy for what we often do to God.
By our attitude and by our actions, we basically tell our Father where He can stick our adoption. Rather than choosing to live out the reality that we are no longer children of wrath (Eph. 2:3), we choose to live like members of the Devil’s family.
As the Apostle John might say if he were present, “Beloved, this should not be!”
And I can tell you one of the guiltiest transgressors. His actions and reactions often cause his familial ties to be questioned. His words frequently cause those around him to doubt his confession. His thoughts are many times far more devilish than heavenly.
He, of course, is me.
1 John 3:1-3 was penned just for me (and all God’s people):
“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.3 And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.”
Here is how Eugene Peterson renders this verse in The Message:
“But friends, that’s exactly who we are: children of God. And that’s only the beginning. Who knows how we’ll end up! What we know is that when Christ is openly revealed, we’ll see him—and in seeing him, become like him. All of us who look forward to his Coming stay ready, with the glistening purity of Jesus’ life as a model for our own.”
Not every human being is a child of God. I often make that point while teaching my college courses. But those who truly are His children are expected to live at a certain standard. We (all believers) are to consider “the glistening purity of Jesus’ life as a model.” Thus, we actively purify ourselves as He is pure.
One commentator wrote,”‘Purifieth’ is a present tense which denotes a continuous process. We are to be pure ‘even as He [Christ] is pure’ eternally. We are not to judge our lives by other peoples’, but by Christ’s, who is the standard or toward which we are to move” (Herschel Hobbs, The Epistles of John, Thomas Nelson, 1983, p.81).
So we must as ourselves daily: In which direction am I moving?
I am meditating upon 1 John presently. In doing so, I was struck again by the first section of the third chapter. The aged apostle wrote,
“See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. 2 Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. 3 And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 John 3:1-3; New American Standard).
As I read this passage that I know so well, I asked the question begging to be stated: Why should I purify myself if I will be as pure as Jesus when He appears? In other words, why should I labor to cleanse my life of sin if, ultimately, I am going to be like Jesus?
Well, you might reply that the first answer to my dilemma has already been revealed. I am to live out my future reality today. Since I am going to be “like Him” when I see Him, I should pursue perfection each and every day. Another rationale, I believe, is provided twice in these three verses. I am a child of God. God the Father lavished His “great” love upon me. Out of sheer grace, He adopted me into His family. My life should now reflect the fact that He is indeed my Father. A third reason John offered to entice me to self-purification is located in the next several verses.
4 Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. 5 You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin. 6 No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him. 7 Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; 8 the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. 9 No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.
I am to pursue personal holiness because a life void of such an effort disproves that regeneration has taken place. If I truly have been reborn, I am to practice righteousness. While I will continue to sin, John declares that my life is not to be marked by unrepentant sin. In fact, he again points me to Jesus as my example. First John exhorted me to become pure like Christ (3:3). Second, he challenged me to practice righteousness like the Lord (3:7).
In short, John is telling me:
“…the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked” (2:6).
I find it very telling that John refused to allow only the memory of Jesus be his comfort. Jesus’ purity, His practical righteousness, served as John’s tape measure for how to live his own life. And he deeply desired for his intended audience to do the same. Likewise, the Holy Spirit is calling me to do no less.
He is calling me to do no less today. Today as I interact with my wife. Today as I interact with my children. Today as I am tempted. Today.
I heard a radio ad last week that a Christian talent agency was going to be holding auditions in Chattanooga. Listeners were challenged: “Become everything you were meant to be.” I had to chuckle. In light of John’s exhortation for us to be like Jesus, becoming an actor or a model seems ridiculous. We are meant to glorify God by looking more and more like the Son of God. That’s our ultimate goal in this life.
That’s my goal today.
If you’ve been around Christianity for even a short period of time, you’ve probably heard the term selah. It’s a Hebrew word, often found in the Psalms, which means “pause and consider.”
Jodi and I were forced to have a selah moment this weekend. Allow me to supply the context. We skipped church. Yep. We skipped church. The baby was fevering and we were worn out. So–for the first time in a long time–we all took a Sunday off from attending Sunday School and the worship service. Instead, we turned on the TV. Yep. We turned on the TV. I know…we’re spiritually sick. Well, actually, we might be! We turned on the TV in order to feed our souls on Sunday morning. The first sermon we watched was from David Jeremiah. His text was Revelation 3:1-6. It was helpful. After that message, we turned the channel in order to watch another preacher that we like–James McDonald. His passage was Revelation 3:1-6. Yep. The identical section from God’s Word.
Two different pastors. Two different channels. Same text.
The Holy Spirit had our attention. We were all ears. We’re still in the processing phase, though. What exactly did the Spirit want us to hear? What particular application does He desire us to implement (if you know Him, you know that he is both pushy and subtle).
Here’s the passage:
Both of the pastors set the context for us. Our questions do not center around the background or historical details related to this short letter. Our inquiry is focused on what the Spirit has for us in this communication.* Are we truly spiritually alive (3:1)? Do we need to wake up and strengthen the things that remain (3:2)? Are we possibly asleep at the wheel (3:3)? Are we holding on to what we were taught (3:3)? Do we need to repent (3:3)? Have we soiled our garments (3:4)?
Other than the fact that I know we are indeed spiritually alive, I don’t really know the answer to these questions. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit knows them! And, thankfully, He can point out our deficiencies in His time. I will admit that–though far from perfect–we are continuing to believe and we are striving to live righteously. We are taking proactive steps in our spiritual lives and we are repenting when we sin. While we are not what we will be, we are definitely not what we used to be. We have matured. I think we have also grown.
But we believe what we were especially reminded of this: the outward isn’t necessarily an indicator of the inward. Outwardly we are doing rather well (“you have a name that you are alive” [3:1]). When you look at us, you probably think that we’re doing well. Tim is regularly writing a blog and often teaches Sunday School. Jodi attends a Bible study at church and serves in AWANA. Yet, inwardly we are struggling to an extent. Part of that struggle is simply fatigue. Part of it is hard to describe. Part of it is too intimate to share in this setting. Yet we refuse to relent in our fight for joy. Too much is at stake.
And I am rambling.
I close with the contentment that God is alive and well and that He still speaks. He spoke to us Sunday morning through our television and He continues to communicate to us via His Word. And while we might not be where we want to be spiritually today, we know where we want to be. And sometimes just the wanting makes all the difference.
How would you describe your wanting today?
Thanks for stopping by the blog!
*If I were teaching this passage in a local church, I would first stress that the application applies to “us” corporately (as a body) before prompting the members to self-examination.
I continue to love irony.
The other day I was listening to a sermon Chuck Swindoll preached at Wheaton College. As he was preaching, I was amazed to hear hammering in the background. A construction project was in full-swing in a nearby location on campus. What a missed opportunity for the guys apparently hard at work! But what a great illustration for the sermon!
Chuck’s title was “The Discipline of Handling Failure.”
Our failures are on us. We fail. And our failures are also on God, our absolute sovereign God who works all things together for our good. He is hammering. He continues to complete that good work He alone began. He reigns supreme in our victories and in our losses. His construction project continues amidst of our successes and our failures.*
I bet! Why? Because you fail regularly, if not daily.
Boy can I relate!
I mess up almost continuously. I simply cannot count the times each day that I disobey God. How many of my words that are NOT aptly spoken** exit the threshold of my lips?! How many unholy thoughts cross my fallen mind in a 24-hour period?! And then I consider my professional or vocational failures like my inability to provide for my children’s college education or my own retirement or give like we desire or my constant failure as a spiritual leader in my home.
And the list could go on and on and on.
Now I imagine you can relate.
What keeps us from giving up? What prevents us from becoming depressed?
Swindoll concluded his sermon with this exhortation, “Please, men and women, please understand only God is adequate. You’re not. Only God is perfect. You’re not…The good news is that God in His grace uses us—warts and all.”***
Truth keeps us getting up each day. Truth leads to repentance and rededication. Truth provides the perspective that we need to move forward.
In another sermon I heard by a former professor, I was encouraged to reboot my life daily. As you know, I work as a service manager at a local IT company. After almost four years in this position, I am still amazed at the magic of a reboot. Many issues users face can be resolved by simple restart. That’s what you and I need to do each day. We need to seek the Lord, beseeching Him for grace and renewing our mind through His Word.
Have you done so today? If not, read the passages listed below and pray. A daily reboot is a good thing indeed!
*Psalm 115:3; Job 1:21; Daniel 4:34-35; Romans 8:28; Philippians 1:6
I spent some time tonight on Christian Classics Ethereal Library’s website (www.ccel.org). I poked around, refreshing myself with some old friends and read some pieces that were new to me. One of the “old friends” I spent some time with was Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin. While I very much prefer the Ford Lewis Battles’ translation of the text, this rendering from Henry Beveridge served me well tonight. Calvin wrote,
Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But as these are connected together by many ties, it is not easy to determine which of the two precedes and gives birth to the other. For, in the first place, no man can survey himself without forthwith turning his thoughts towards the God in whom he lives and moves; because it is perfectly obvious, that the endowments which we possess cannot possibly be from ourselves; nay, that our very being is nothing else than subsistence in God alone. In the second place, those blessings which unceasingly distil to us from heaven, are like streams conducting us to the fountain. Here, again, the infinitude of good which resides in God becomes more apparent from our poverty. In particular, the miserable ruin into which the revolt of the first man has plunged us, compels us to turn our eyes upwards; not only that while hungry and famishing we may thence ask what we want, but being aroused by fear may learn humility. For as there exists in man something like a world of misery, and ever since we were stript of the divine attire our naked shame discloses an immense series of disgraceful properties every man, being stung by the consciousness of his own unhappiness, in this way necessarily obtains at least some knowledge of God. Thus, our feeling of ignorance, vanity, want, weakness, in short, depravity and corruption, reminds us, that in the Lord, and none but He, dwell the true light of wisdom, solid virtue, exuberant goodness. We are accordingly urged by our own evil things to consider the good things of God; and, indeed, we cannot aspire to Him in earnest until we have begun to be displeased with ourselves. For what man is not disposed to rest in himself? Who, in fact, does not thus rest, so long as he is unknown to himself; that is, so long as he is contented with his own endowments, and unconscious or unmindful of his misery? Every person, therefore, on coming to the knowledge of himself, is not only urged to seek God, but is also led as by the hand to find him.
WOW! Calvin would go on to expound upon this introductory section, but there is enough theological meat here to chew on for while! Did any statement particularly stand out to you from the selection above? Was there one line or phrase that resonates with your understanding? Did Calvin state something which you might beg to differ? Did it whet your appetite for further reading? If so, I would encourage you to go for it! The Institutes are very edifying! Not only will you learn, you will be exhorted to worship Calvin’s God.
Many years ago, Dr. Wayne Barber gave a series of sermons during a spiritual life conference at Bryan College. I was a student at the time and his words very much encouraged me to grow in my relationship with Christ. During that week, Wayne taught us a short chorus that has remained with me now decades removed from the event. It goes like this:
Jesus be Jesus in me
No longer me, but Thee
Fill me this hour
Jesus be Jesus in me*
If you are familiar with the New Testament, you are probably aware that the truth communicated in those words was penned by the Apostle Paul in Philippians, chapter three. He shared his heart when he wrote:
“…that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection” (3:10).
W.A. Criswell once said, “…the blessings of the gospel are not theological opinions. They are daily the experience of those who have followed the Lord, and who believe in Him, and who trust in Him with their souls and with their lives.”**
Today we found ourselves going about our Monday responsibilities the day after Easter. Hopefully our celebration of the resurrection of our Lord made a difference today. It should have. Our faith is indeed based upon fact. Jesus truly was the God-man Who lived a perfect life, suffered an efficacious death and rose from the grave three days later. History. But His story continued today as believers experienced “the blessings of the gospel.” One of those great blessings includes Jesus manifesting His presence in us through the Holy Spirit.
That’s resurrection power in action!
Was the resurrection of Jesus Christ evident in our lives today? I hope it was? Was HE visible as others looked at us and considered our actions and reactions? I pray so.
Do you desire for Easter to be fleshed out in your life tomorrow? Sing with me:
Jesus be Jesus in me
No longer me, but Thee
Fill me this hour
Jesus be Jesus in me
*This is actually the title of a Jimmy Swaggart album from 1987. The song also appears on that album.
I need to rescue Easter. Not for our world. Not for our nation. Not for our church. Not for you.
I need to rescue Easter for me.
Over the past several years, I have become increasing aware that Easter has lost its significance to me. Honestly, it has proven to be a rather boring holiday. Church hasn’t been particularly helpful in that process. We would attend, of course. Then we would return home for a nice dinner. Then…nothing. In reality, for me it was—apart from a bit more candy available and some hyper children—it was just another Sunday.
It’s not always been like this.
I trust that part of my issue is related to the spiritual funk I have been in for years. While I don’t necessarily see a genuine light at the end of the tunnel, I do believe I can be proactive in my personal rescuing of Easter.
Several plans have been implemented. First, once I noticed the classic movie The Ten Commandments was playing in the theaters this week, I made plans to go. My daughter and I went last night. I grew up watching that movie around Easter. I enjoyed our discussion about themes presented in the film as we drove home. Second, I am planning to attend the Good Friday service at our church tomorrow night. Third, I plan to take at least one of the kids to the Easter sunrise service at a local park. A friend is sharing the devotional. I attended these annual services when I was a student in college many years ago. Fourth, I signed us up for the pancake breakfast at church. We have not participated in the past because of my anti-social bent, but I reasoned that Christ should be celebrated in community. Deep down, we all know that is what ought to happen. Fifth, we’ll be attending church as a family. In spite of my funk, that is something we do almost every week, attending some 45-48 Sundays a year. Sixth, we’re hosting Easter dinner at our house for Jodi’s family. A traditional ham dinner with all the trimmings is planned. I look forward to feasting together as a family.
These are the proactive steps I am taking to remind me that Easter isn’t just another Sunday; to ensure that this eternally-significant event does not pass me by yet another year.
But I am especially wanting to put concerted effort into the seventh activity on my list. What is seventh? I do not know. Everything described above might fall under the category of external activities. These are things that I do. What I am lacking, I think, is that which might best be called the existential element. I guess I am looking not merely to celebrate Easter, but to experience Easter all over again.
Does that make sense?
I want the objective to penetrate the subjective. I want the historical facts surrounding the resurrection of Christ to transition from my head to my heart. That’s what used to happen every year when I was a young believer. Maturity has worn off the edges of my excitement. The joy I found in Jesus which was once only a couple layers deep is now buried under many scars. The intimacy with the triune God of Scripture is now barely visible at a distance.
Am I beyond hope?
You know that I am not. The fact that I want to know Christ more intimately is a sure tell sign of spiritual life. My desire to fellowship with God is an indication that, even if I am not advancing at a rapid pace, I am facing the correct direction.
I guess the seventh item on my list is prayer. Seventh, I’ll ask my friends to pray with me. What I would like to happen—to rescue Easter for me isn’t possible by me. Try as you might, it’s something you can’t accomplish either. It’s a task only the Lord Himself can handle. If you might, please pray for me. And perhaps some of what I have admitted above resonates with you as well. I’d be happy to pray for you if you sense that need.
Thanks! Enjoy your celebration of the risen Christ!
PS–My post Lost in Luminary from August 6, 2014 is written on a similar theme.
How do you start your prayers? I was struck recently with how the Psalms begin. We can learn a lot about prayer by considering the opening verse from each of these ancient prayers. Will you join me in this quick survey?
How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the path of sinners (1:1)
Why are the nations in an uproar And the peoples devising a vain thing? (2:1)
O Lord, how my adversaries have increased! Many are rising up against me (3:1)
Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! You have relived me in my distress; Be gracious to me and hear my prayer (4:1)
Give ear to my words, O Lord, Consider my groaning (5:1)
O Lord, do not rebuke me in Your anger, Nor chasten me in Your wrath (6:1)
O Lord my God, in You I have taken refuge; Save me from all those who pursue me, and deliver me (7:1)
O Lord, our Lord, How majestic is Your name in all the earth, Who have displayed Your splendor above the heavens (8:1)
I will give thanks to the Lord with all my heart; I will tell of all Your wonders (9:1)
Why do you stand afar off, O Lord? Why do You hide Yourself in times of trouble? (10:1)
In the Lord I take refuge; How can you say to my soul, “Flee as the bird to you mountain…?” (11:1)
Help, Lord, for the godly man ceases to be, For the faithful disappear from among the sons of men (12:1)
How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? (13:1)
The Fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they have committed abominable deeds; There is no one who does good (14:1)
O, Lord, who may abide in Your tent? Who may dwell on Your holy hill? (15:1)
Preserve me, O God, for I take refuge in You” (16:1)
Hear a just cause, O Lord, give heed to my cry; Give ear to my prayer, which is not from deceitful lips (17:1)
I love You, O Lord, my strength (18:1)
The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands (19:1)
May the Lord answer you in the day of trouble (20:1)
Learn anything? See any application as it relates to your own prayer life? Do you plan to make any change today?
“I hope all my customers are like you today.”
That was the comment a customer service representative said to me recently. I took a risk with my response. I said,
“Jesus makes me be this way. Thanks.”
He decided to be vulnerable as well, admitting going to church every Sunday. He then indicated that good things began happening to him since he started.
I responded with:
“And bad things even when you are being obedient as God desires to glorify Himself and make His children look more and more like His Son. Sometimes He gives them cancer. Sometimes He does other things. It’s all for great reasons. He is worthy to be trusted in the good and what we would call ‘bad.’ That’s a BIG God. A BIG, GOOD GOD.”
Hopefully that down-to-earth approach to theology isn’t foreign to you. It took a car salesman by surprise many years ago when we lived in Las Vegas.
We were shopping for used car and found one that we liked. We did the research and entered into negotiation with the salesman and, finally, the sales manager. We settled on a bottom line price that meant a good deal for us while still allowing them to make a little money. That’s when I decided to take the test drive. We started out heading west on Sahara Boulevard in order for the saleman to put gas in the tank. While it was filling, I decided to open the hood (what I would find, I do not know. I know nothing about engines). The salesman then commented that I was getting a very good deal, acting a bit surprised that his boss agreed to our terms. From our discussion on the lot, he knew I was a pastor. That’s why he stated, standing in front of the car, looking down into the engine, “Good things happen when go to church and pray.”
He did not expect my response!
I told him that, in fact, my soon-to-be-car might actually turn out to be a lemon (a car with a lot of costly issues). I said that God may choose to grow me closer to the image of His beloved Son by giving me a car that ends up having a lot of problems. I stated that all I could was pray, make the best decision based upon the facts available and trust God with the results.
We bought the car. And–thankfully–it turned out to be an awesome car. We think fondly of that Hyundai Sonata to this day. And our theology has not changed. Then, as now, we reject the concept that God is Aladdin’s genie. Sometimes He sends trials when we faithfully attend church. Sometime He puts us in difficult situations when we maintain an active prayer life.
God doesn’t make life easier on His children simply because they are His children. In reality, He often makes it more challenging. Why? Because that’s how He most effectively accomplishes His mission of glorifying Himself and making Christians more like Christ. And that is exactly what Christians desire!
Are you a believer going through a particularly hard trial? Rejoice that the Lord knows exactly what He is doing. Thank Him that He is omniscient (all-knowing) and omnipotent (all-powerful) and omnibenevolent (all-good; always merciful). Your suffering is not in vain. Rather than rub Aladdin’s vase, trust the Sovereign God!
I have two important anchors that keep me safe during the sea storms of life: God’s promises and the truth about His character.
The seas of my emotions rock and roll like the external circumstances of my life but my anchors hold because God is immutable. I change continuously, but God never does. Consequently, God always remains faithful to His promises. Furthermore, God always acts consistent to His own character. In regards to His sovereignty, this means that God is always in control. No matter what I experience or how discombobulated my life or our world appears to be, I rejoice in the truth that the Lord is good and does good (Psalm 119:68). If you are a Christian, Romans 8:28 probably came to your mind already. It is a wonderful promise for all of God’s people. Everything our omnipotent God does is for His great glory and our great good. In other words, nothing just happens to me. Chance and luck do not exist. Both pleasant and unpleasant events are filtered through the hands of the sovereign Potter. Isn’t this why we are commanded to give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18)? Since everything I am facing is from God and since everything is working together for my good, I am to thank Him. He is doing exactly what I deeply desire for Him to do. He is glorifying Himself and making me more glorious, continuing that good work He alone began (Phil. 1:6). Through the difficulties I am facing, and will face in the future, I am comforted to know that I am progressing from one degree of glory to another (2 Cor. 3:18).
Are you encouraged as you think about these biblical truths? If you know God the Father through God the Son, these facts work wonders in your soul and fuel your faith for persevering during the dark and disturbing days when the sea billows roll. They serve to keep your small boat from capsizing due to the impressive waves.
Last Sunday, our pastor reminded us of the greatness of God from the passage in Daniel quoted above. Reread those verses and rejoice in the Ancient of Days. Truly, Jesus Christ is the King of kings and Lord of lords. How thankful we are that theology penetrates our trenches!