Today is New Year’s Eve and though I don’t make New Year’s resolutions every year, this year I am making several. Some are your typical ones that many people make like eating better, losing weight, working harder, learning guitar, learning Spanish, etc. I do want to make progress in all those areas, but as I thought about all the things I wanted to do, it struck me that as a Christian maybe I should check my resolutions against God’s Word.
In Matthew 2:34-40, a Pharisee asks Jesus which is the greatest of the Ten Commandments. Jesus replied that the first one, to love the Lord with all your heart, soul and mind is the greatest and the second one is like it, to love your neighbor as yourself. Loving God starts with honoring Him through earnest prayer and engagement in His Word, the Bible, every day. In loving our neighbor, we first must identify who our neighbors are; they are anyone besides us (starting with our closest neighbor, our spouse). Loving them means serving them and putting their needs ahead of our own.
So my first and most important resolution for 2020 is to be in constant conversation with God every day through prayer and His Word and the second, almost as important as the first resolution, is to love/serve my neighbors every day, starting with my closest one, my wife. It’s not that I don’t already do these things – I resolve to more deliberate in my execution, this year and beyond. Try it for yourself!
Thanks for reading, please comment below. Happy New Year!
Though this time of year is a joyous time where Christians celebrate the coming of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, at the same time it’s stressful for most people. Indeed, as I am writing, I am thinking about everything I still have to do and trying to do it all well and not forget anything – it can be overwhelming.
Though I more often succumb to the pressure of the busy-ness of the season, when I have a moment to think, it helps me to focus on a few thoughts. First of all, a universal strategy that helps me is to stay in the moment and tackle one task at a time, then move on to the next one. When I focus on everything at the same time, I am prone to freak out. Next, I remember that God is the great provider. He will make sure I have what I need, even if it doesn’t fit my expectations of what I need, I know He will work things out for my good and for the good of those I am serving. Finally, I try to focus on why we celebrate Christmas. It marks the initiation of God’s New Covenant with us. God took pity on His fallen creation and the only way to reconcile His people to Him was to settle the debt that we had incurred through our sin, the penalty for which is death. This required a perfect sacrifice; Jesus came as a human, but lived a sinless life and therefore was the only worthy sacrifice. God’s sacrifice erased our sins and granted us eternal life – for this, gratitude trumps all stress.
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Last week, I wrote about Paul’s paradoxical passage in Romans where he suggests that with the Law, sin increases (see last week’s post for details). As is usually the case, there was much left unsaid – so I would like to expand on the topic of sin.
Again, we human beings are broken. This is of our own doing and we are helpless to resolve this predicament on our own. We can’t work our way into God’s good graces. This is true of every person who has walked the Earth since the beginning of time, whether it be Charles Manson or Saint Teresa of Calcutta – we are all sinners in need of reconciliation with God.
This has helped me understand this concept a little better; Theologian J. Gresham Machen points out that some of the early Jewish followers of Christ still held on to the idea that we should believe, then obey, then we are saved. Machen cites the letter to the Galatians where Paul corrects the order to; we believe, we are automatically saved and therefore, we obey. When we try first to obey (try to not sin) to earn God’s favor, we can never know how we’re doing versus what we think God expects. In addition, we are likely motivated by our need for self-satisfaction. When we fully believe that we are first accepted, forgiven and loved by God, we then obey out of joy and gratitude. We are doing it for Him, not for us. Our works (obedience) are not of our own, premeditated doing – they are the work of the Holy Spirit – which takes our self-interest out of the equation.
There’s a lot here, we’ll have more on this in upcoming posts.
Thanks for reading, please comment below.
Notes on Galatians, Machen, J. Gresham
The Centrality of the Gospel (Sermon by Tim Keller on YouTube)
One of the Bible verses that I struggled with (until my pastor straightened me out) is Romans 5:20 (NASB) where the Apostle Paul writes: “The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,”.
This doesn’t seem to make sense. Why would God give us the Law only to have us sin more? Is it that He wanted to give us an abundance of grace, perhaps as a display of His great love for us? Though it is true that the scale of God’s grace is displayed in this passage, He had more in mind. God’s Law was handed down not so that we would sin more, but so that we would (will) become more aware of our sin and of our sinful nature. Even Paul, in 1 Timothy 15-16 called himself the “worst of sinners”, twice! A good way to understand this is examining Jesus’ instruction in Matthew 5:27-28, on the commandment prohibiting adultery, Jesus says, the law extends to include lustful thoughts.
In this example, compliance does not come overnight, it takes the work of the Holy Spirit in a committed Christian to improve in this area. So the new Christian might think, “O.K., I just can’t sleep with anyone other than my spouse and I’m good.” But as the Spirit transforms the believer, he/she becomes aware of more nuanced sins like the one Jesus warns us about in the example above.
God will continue to give you grace, but expect as you proceed in your walk with Christ that He will reveal ways that you are sinning that you didn’t even think of. Thanks for reading, please comment below.
It being Thanksgiving week, it seems obviously appropriate to write on gratitude. Though this opening probably sounds a little dismissive, gratitude is the essential fuel that runs the Christian life.
Many, if not most of our problems in this world,
particularly in wealthy nations like ours, can be traced back to unmet
expectations based on the inherent human trait of self-centeredness. As I have
noted in several prior posts, we are fallen beings living in a fallen world and
thus have an upside down view of success, happiness and purpose. When we look
to the Cross, that is, what God has done for us – giving up His very life in
the most humiliating, torturous way possible to a profoundly undeserving
populace simply out of His deep love for us, we see the ultimate act of
selflessness. When we humbly come to God, surrendering all to Him, knowing that
there is nothing we have or do that He values, the Holy Spirit occupies our
hearts and informs our thoughts and actions for eternity. We begin to transform
and suddenly, the needs of others become more important than our own. We are
freed from the prison of our prior expectations, priorities and perceptions of
our purpose. We begin to feel deep gratitude for the breadth of the gift that
we have been given and the peace that comes with it and feel empathy to those
that have not yet accepted this gift.
This Thanksgiving, look to the Cross and know that it’s
where our gratitude begins.
Happy Thanksgiving! Thanks for reading, please comment
In church yesterday, our pastor spoke about mission. Not only as in mission trips, local outreach, etc., though the message encompassed those things, but in a much larger sense. The pastor cited Acts 1:1-11; the event of Jesus’ ascension into heaven, to make the point that the restoration of God’s Kingdom was not a political or military event, but a responsibility (mission) that we all must undertake with the help of the Holy Spirit to bring the Gospel to individuals, towns, cities and nations.
The command was to his disciples, but it was really to
all of us. This is daunting to many, myself included. We might ask, “What makes
me qualified to do this?” or “What gives me the right to impose my religious
views on others?”. As pastor pointed out, God (Jesus) constantly and
intentionally uses imperfect vehicles to accomplish His purposes, in this case
His primary purpose of restoring His Creation (Kingdom). Jesus explicitly gave
His authority to the disciples to carry out this mission, despite their
well-documented flaws – and He does the same to/for us.
Many of us ask ourselves, our friends, families or
counselors, “Why am I here?”, “What is my purpose.” Pastor astutely cited verse
8 in Acts 1 in response to such questions. Jesus told his disciples that, “…you
will receive the power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be
my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the
remotest part of the earth.” If you’re a Christian, this is why you’re here;
it’s you’re purpose. If you’re not and like most people, you are looking for
your purpose, pick up the Bible today (you may want to start with Acts 1).
Thank for reading, please comment below.
The mission of BBNF is to serve the needy and as such, I have written much on the topic before. I recently came across a sermon by Tim Keller that to me is spot on regarding this charge. In this post, I will attempt to summarize Keller’s sermon, but I encourage you to listen to it for yourself (link below).
Keller cites Jonathan Edwards in saying that there is
no clearer command in the Bible than to serve the poor – this is not an option;
indeed it is talked about in over two hundred passages in the Old Testament. To
understand the poor, we must first understand that due to their circumstances,
the poor end up with nothing that the world values; no skills, property,
influence, etc. As a result, they have no neighbors – they are thrown away by
the world. Of the many Bible passages referencing the poor, the overwhelming
majority conclude that any irresponsible behavior by the poor is the result of
their poverty, not the cause of it. We therefore must respond to their
condition with mercy; the Bible commands that we “Give until his need is gone”
(Deuteronomy 15:7, 8).
Most impactful for me is the biblical assertion that we must become poor in spirit. This is not about our economic condition, rather, it’s about the condition of our spirit. Keller notes that the Gospel only comes to those who confess they have nothing of value save for the power and grace of Jesus Christ. Religion says “be good”, the Gospel says, “nobody is good – our only hope is in the King who became a poor man for us.” We must come to Him with nothing and in a posture of owing Him everything. When we give up our worldly spirit, we realize that we are exactly like the poor.
Thanks for reading. Please listen to the sermon and
Keller Sermon – Blessed Are the Poor
In the very well-known Bible narrative of Jesus walking on water, Jesus’ disciples find themselves in a boat, struck by a storm in the middle of the lake. They are badly shaken by their circumstances and as the storm rages, they see a figure walking toward them on the surface of the water. Unable to identify the figure in their fear, he identifies himself as Jesus. Peter, in a moment of faith and bravery, asks Jesus to call him out on the water with him upon which, like Jesus, he walks, but ultimately he panics and sinks – Jesus pulls him up.
There is deep wisdom
behind the descriptions of events in the Bible. True, within the events as
related are self-evident lessons, but there are also less obvious lessons for
application in our lives today. The above narrative is a picture of us in
turmoil, of our failure to trust Jesus at times and his of power to save us.
Think of the events in your daily lives and how much stress they cause. Now
relate that to the men in the boat, wasn’t their stress level pretty high? It’s
very easy under these circumstances to not look to Our Savior, and when we do,
for our trust in him to fail. When Peter finally recognized Jesus, he took a
leap of faith, but was then overwhelmed by his circumstances and took his eyes
off of his Savior. Jesus rebuked him for his lack of faith, but saved him from
his situation and ultimately calmed the seas.
We can expect to be
upheld by Jesus when we are going through difficult times. He will pursue us
despite our failure to trust him sometimes – we must however, keep our eyes
fixed on him and not on our circumstances.
Thanks for reading,
please comment below.
I’m a Christian, I try to do good, to put others’ needs ahead of my own, I don’t kill or steal; I’m pretty sure I’m going to Heaven. OK, all those things are true, but so are these things: I sometimes lie (or tell half-truths), I gossip, I am prideful, lazy and often make decisions based solely on my best interests – and a lot more. I’m not being unnecessarily hard on myself, I really do these things, which doesn’t make me “bad” – however, it does make me a sinner, in other words, it makes me a human being.
We were created by God in His image and were perfect. God
gave us the gift of free will, but it did not take long for us to misuse this
gift, which put us in opposition to God. This is the legacy that we are all
left with; it’s now part of our nature. True, it was necessary for God to
intervene, to sacrifice His only Son so that we can be reconciled to Him, but
that does not mean that we no longer sin, it only means that the penalty for
our sins has been paid.
So yes, I am a sinner. But I am also a child of God. I
have the gift of His grace. I have the help of the Holy Spirit to guide me and
to mold me. As I inevitably continue to grow spiritually, some sins will subside,
but surely I will become aware of other sins. Though in this life I will never
be sinless, I have the assurance that God will always love me anyway.
It is a well-established directive in the Bible that we are to give to and to serve others, particularly those in need. Not only are we thus commanded, but we are to do so cheerfully and generously. A great illustration of this is in the narrative of the Wedding Feast at Cana from the Gospel of John (John 2:1-11). In it, Jesus attends a large wedding feast with his mother Mary and his disciples. Such celebrations in the days of Jesus’ earthly ministry typically lasted several days and well into the event, it’s host (the groom) ran out of wine for his guests, which was a major faux pas in Ancient Near East culture. When Mary became aware of the situation, she asked Jesus to help. Jesus, knowing what Mary expected of him, was reluctant to reveal himself as divine by performing what would be his first a miracle. Yet, he relented; choosing to use the groom’s dilemma as an opportunity to foreshadow God’s gift of gracious abundance by turning the water in six large jars into wine. But this was not only wine, it is described in the passage as the very best wine. In addition, by many estimates, the jars would have held one hundred and eighty gallons of liquid – that’s a lot of wine.
The takeaway here is that God cheerfully and abundantly, gives to, provides for and serves His children. In this narrative, Jesus teaches us that we are to do the same, to not hold back or to think of the needy as unworthy of our service or abundant gifts. We must remember what has been given to us.
Thanks for reading, please comment below.