Pure Milk

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“Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious.” – 1 Peter 2:1-3

“The pure milk of the word.”  Sounds like God is prescribing a healthier diet for His kids.  No more indulging in the unhealthy junk food of ill will, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and evil speaking about others, which includes gossiping.  Instead, only the pure word of God.

Have you ever given any real thought to what “food” we’re feasting on?  Are we feasting on envy, gossip, and deceit?  I’m not just talking about what we read or watch on TV or in movies either.  How about what we talk about with others?

All of us know in our heads that God does not approve of gossip, and we even say we don’t do it.  Maybe we listen to other people gossip, but we don’t pass it on…to anyone unreliable.  We don’t say things to be mean to others; we just say them because we feel someone else really should know…The list of reasons can go on into infinity.  But is it acceptable to God?  Is that the kind of food God wants us to partake of?

Besides repeating gossip, listening to it does nothing to help us grow spiritually.  Both only serve to strengthen ill will, deceit, hypocrisy, and envy.  And that’s what this text in 1 Peter is all about.  What will make us grow?  Will desiring that evil befall another draw me into a closer relationship with Jesus?  Will dishonest statements or misrepresentations of the truth help me to know the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life better?  Does focusing on the hypocrisies of others or even indulging my own make me a more genuine follower of Jesus Christ?  Will coveting another make me more content in all the situations God places me?  And can malicious words, spoken about someone else either by me or in my presence, help me to be more deeply rooted in the Savior?  Is this the kind of food that will root me and ground me in the love of God?

The only food we can safely eat is the word of God.  Feasting on the word of God will take away bitterness, hard feelings, ill will, covetousness, hypocrisy, selfishness, and all gossip and backbiting.

It also helps us discern between truth and error in what we hear in church or read in a book.  In the Bible, God gives us a lot of instruction about knowing the truth, knowing whether what you hear is of God or not.  He tells us to test the spirit behind each person who comes to us in the name of the Lord (1 John 4:1).  He says to examine all things and hold fast to the good (1 Thess. 5:21).  And those are just two examples, but clearly, God wants us to check things out against His word, instead of just buying into everything that comes from the mouth of a fellow human being just because he or she claims Christianity.  The Bereans were commended by Paul for not accepting his preaching without first testing it against the Bible (Acts 17:11).  So we are to know the difference between truth and error, and be willing to counter error with truth (James 5:19-20, Is. 58:1, Jer. 1:7, Ez. 2:3-5, and Ps. 40:10, to name a few).

When we feast on the pure milk of God’s word, we will be able to recognize and avoid hypocrisy, half-truths, and whole lies.  Just as an expert in recognizing counterfeit money studies the true to recognize the counterfeit, we who feast on the true will recognize the error when it comes.  The more we feast on the word of God, the less desire we will have for feasting on the sins, short-comings, and failings of others.  We will grow in Christ-like love, patience, and forgiveness towards others.  And we will clearly know the difference between speaking the truth as God desires and merely spreading gossip as Satan desires.

So the idea is this: get into the word of God.  Make that your food.  Leave behind the junk food and feast on the words of life and truth so you can grow up strong in Christ.

~ What do you think?  Email me at TheNarrowPathway@hotmail.com. ~

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Ain’t That Good News!

I’ve got a home up in that kingdom, yeah, yeah!

I’ve got a home up in that kingdom, yeah, yeah!

Lay down this world

Shoulder up my cross

Take it home to my Jesus

Ain’t that…good news!

The first time I heard that song was at a convocation service as a kid.

Reading the last few verses in the book of Mark recently brought the words back to mind.  To me, they fit so well with Jesus’ last words to His disciples before ascending to heaven:

“Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.  Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Mark 16:15, 16.

Jesus commissioned His 11 friends to take the good news to the entire world.  What is the good news?  Quite simply, it’s the cross.  But more than just the cross, it’s the news of what Jesus did on the cross, the news that a Savior was born, lived, died, and rose again. It’s the story of everything it took (and will take) to reunite us with God, from Genesis right down to Revelation.  It’s the news that we have a home in His kingdom.  It’s hope.

The gospel, the good news, is for all of us.  It is applicable no matter what your station in life, no matter what your story or where you come from.  It has power.  The power is Jesus.

He changes lives.

He is love.  He takes you, wherever you are, whatever you’re like and He transforms your life.  The gospel is new life in Jesus.

The gospel according to Mark 16 requires two things of us: believe and be baptized.

You may have heard the idea that all you need to do is believe and you’re set; no change of life is necessary.  Jesus knows we’re sinners, so just believe, do what you want, and ask forgiveness.  This idea mixes a truth with a lie.  Jesus does accept us as we are.  But He doesn’t leave us as we are.  He knows we have no power to change ourselves.  So He changes us.

When Jesus asks us to believe, He’s asking us to accept all that has been revealed about Him in His word.

This belief is not a weak, empty, thing.

It’s powerful!

We believe He is who He said He is, and that we can trust His compassionate leading in our lives.

He transforms us through our faith in Him.  Not by forcing us to now do the right things.  Instead, He gets to the root of our issues: He deals with our hearts.  He deals with our desires and feelings, and helps us see the world and our daily situations as they really are.  He shows us His way, and asks us to trust Him.  And most importantly, He grants us the freedom to choose to follow His way or our own.

The second thing the gospel requires of us is baptism.  What is baptism?  Read through Romans (especially chapter 6) and you’ll quickly find that it symbolizes death and resurrection in the Water of life.  You go down into the water (Jesus is the water of life), and you’re buried.  The old you dies to sin, just as Jesus died on the cross for our sins.  Then you are raised up out of the water.  The new you is raised to life, inhabiting the same body as the old.  But this you is alive to Christ.

In other words, when opportunity for sin arises, the new you is no longer a slave to those sins.  Instead, your first thought is to your Savior, because you’re alive to Him now.

Obviously, this doesn’t mean that after baptism, no one ever sins again.  The baptism ceremony is symbolic of what God is doing in your life.  He’s bringing you to the place where those temptations you struggled with before are no longer enslaving you.  You may as well be dead where they are concerned, because they just don’t have power over you the way they used to.  Whereas before, you would have mindlessly followed them without any struggle, it now requires a conscious thought process and choice to give in to them.  Because you are alive to Christ, you think of His desires, His will, His way first, not your own.

But don’t miss a key point in this symbol: immersion in water.  Jesus is the water of life.  The death of the old me, and the resurrection of the new me only happens when I’m immersed in the Water of life.

For someone like me, this is exciting news!  I was baptized when I was ten years old.  I made the choice that I wanted to follow my Savior with my whole life, and I was baptized.  That was a long time ago.  I don’t have to tell you that a lot has happened in my life since then, and unfortunately, I haven’t always lived up to my commitment to Jesus.  But there’s still hope.  It’s not a three-strikes-you’re-out thing with Jesus.  I can still turn back to Him and start over.

Spiritually, baptism is a daily occurrence.  As I daily immerse myself in Jesus through spending time in His word and talking to Him, the old me dies when it would rear its ugly head, and the new me lives to honor the One I love.

This is all the gospel requires of us: to believe it and to be transformed by immersion in the One it speaks of, until the old person is dead and the new person is raised up in Christ.  That’s all.  Yet it encompasses everything.

This is what Jesus came to give us.  This is His message for the world.

New life in Him.

Now ain’t that good news!

Listening With Armor On

I had sort of an epiphany a few weeks ago as I sat in church.  It was completely unrelated to the speaker’s message, but it was extremely important for me.  In case you haven’t caught on yet, I’m very interested in balanced Christianity.  There are extremes in nearly every issue, and I believe very strongly that a Christian must be wary of falling into extremes, since they’re usually not in agreement with God’s word.

Anyway, here was the epiphany: as I sat in church, it suddenly hit me that no matter who is speaking, I’m supposed to listen to everyone with my spiritual armor on.

What, you may ask, does it mean to listen with armor on?  I’ll tell you.  It basically means listening with a mindset of checking everything you hear against the Word of God, the Bible, before accepting or rejecting it.  It’s like filtering everything through the armor of God as described in Ephesians 6:14-18:

“Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness.  For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared.  In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil.  Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.  Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.”

That was it.  That was the epiphany.  Such a simple thing that I guess I’ve always known, but never given real, conscious thought.  The Bible says, “Test everything that is said. Hold on to what is good.” (1 Thessalonians 5:21, NLT)

No matter who speaks, writes, or leads, I shouldn’t drink in their every word without first making sure it’s in agreement with God’s word.  If it lines up with that, then great: I can incorporate it into my life.  If not, then I should respectfully leave it and move on.  After all, Jesus comes first.  He’s the One I’m living my life for.  He’s the One who gave His life to save me.  He’s the only One who actually knows what’s best.  Why not check everything with Him before accepting or rejecting it?

I don’t know about you, but I find that freeing.  I’m not obligated to accept everything that’s said, no matter how persuasively stated.  I don’t have to live my life by every word of a human.  I have a standard I can look to, and when a human goes against that standard or adds to it, I can respectfully refuse to follow him or her, and remain on the path my Redeemer laid out in His word.

That’s what listening with armor on means to me.  What do you think?

Sovereignty and Faith

Sovereignty.

A noun, defined as “supreme power or authority.”

The Bible is loaded with texts describing God’s sovereignty.  The following are just a small sampling:

“You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created.” Revelation 4:11.

“All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth.  No one can restrain His hand or say to Him, “What have You done?”  Daniel 4:35.

“The heavens are Yours, the earth also is Yours; the world and all its fullness, You have founded them.” Psalm 89:11.

God’s supreme power and authority were recognized by the apostles:

“That I may come to you with joy by the will of God, and may be refreshed together with you.” Romans 15:32.

“Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.’” James 4:15.

Clearly, the Bible teaches us that God’s power is above all.  His authority is over all.  God is sovereign.

This reality should make us feel safer, more secure, more confident in the loving, merciful, holy God we’ve come to know.  Yet all too often, in spite of it, we allow Satan’s niggling seeds of doubt to slip in through one of his infamous “if…why” questions, like, “If God is sovereign, why is there so much pain, suffering, and disease in the world?”

Many others have given solid Biblical answers to that question, so I’m not going to focus on that.  What I am going to focus on is our response to God’s sovereignty.

Is it faith or feeling?

If asked whether or not God is sovereign, I believe most Christians would say yes, He is.  But then something bad happens.  You lose your job, and your bills start mounting up as you search week after week, month after month for a new job.  You’re forced to downsize to one vehicle and move into a tiny apartment before finally finding employment and getting back on your feet.  Maybe years go by without you ever getting back to where you previously were financially.

Do you still believe God is sovereign?  Was He still in complete control as you struggled to provide for yourself and maybe your family?

How about illness?  Do we accept God’s sovereignty in the death of a cherished family member or friend?  It’s not so hard when the loved one has lived a full life.  But how about when it’s a child, or a young person my own age, whose life is suddenly taken in some freak accident or by a painful illness?  Is God still sovereign?  Do I still trust Him even as I watch a dear friend suffering from a disease that I know He can heal?  Is my response to His sovereignty one of faith or feeling?

The knowledge that God is sovereign (omnipotent) must be accompanied by two things:

1) the knowledge that He is all-knowing (omniscient) and present everywhere (omnipresent), and

2) a surrender to and faith in Him as the all-knowing, ever-present, all-powerful authority.

And that can be really difficult for us.  As humans, we like to know why.  We have to understand why things happen this way or that way.  If we don’t know the reasons behind an action or inaction, we consider it “stupid,” or “dumb.”  Don’t believe me?  Try telling someone to do something unusual without giving them any reasons, and see how they respond.

We want to know why.  But God doesn’t always tell us why.  Just as a good parent knows how much is appropriate to share with a small child, God knows how much is in our best interests to know about why things happen the way they do.

On this ground, our relationship with God is tested.  If we have formed a relationship with Him through trust in His Word, the Bible, we know that He is love (1 John 4:8; John 3:16); that He is self-sacrificing (1 John 4:9, 10); that His heart is moved with compassion by our pain and suffering (Matthew 20:34; Mark 1:41); that His number one priority is to save all who want to be saved (2 Peter 3:9, Ezekiel 33:11); that He welcomes humble, sincere questions (Psalm 10, 74), but does not accept doubt (Luke 12:29; 1 Timothy 2:8; James 1:6); that He is merciful and gracious (Exodus 34:6); that He is forgiving (Exodus 34:7; 1 John 1:9); that He is both the source of truth and truth itself (John 1:14, 17; John 14:6; John 17:17; Ephesians 4:20-23)…and the list can go on and on.  His Word reveals who He is and what He’s like.  We read it, study it, and through faith accept it (Romans 10:17).  In other words, we choose to believe and trust that this is the way He is; just like we believe and trust that our friends are the way we’ve observed them to be. So if we’ve come to know and trust God through His Word, we will know what we can expect from Him.

For example, if I know He is love, and He is touched by our suffering, it will change the way I view the death of a loved one.  I still may not understand why He didn’t heal my friend, but I will trust that He is all-knowing, all-powerful, ever-present, and the embodiment of love.  I will know that He is sovereign, even though I don’t understand, and that His will is perfect (Psalm 18:30, Romans 12:2).

Sometimes this is really hard.  Especially in those moments when I think I know the best way for things to happen and then find all my plans thwarted.  But I must make a choice, once and for all.  Do I believe Christ’s Word when it teaches me that He is sovereign, and am I going to trust His sovereignty no matter what?  Like Job, do I trust Him enough to accept good and bad, knowing He showers me with the good, and doesn’t allow more bad than I can handle?

I’ve made my choice.  I believe.  I trust Him.

How about you?

Danger Signals

What if you learned that nothing you trusted was quite what it seemed?

What if you came across an old, dusty book that unmasked a close-knit web of intricate, cleverly masked lies.  What if it revealed to you that the people you trusted to guide you were misguided at best, and some, downright sinister.  What if it showed you that everything you believed in was 99% truth + 1% lie = 100% dangerous?

What if?

What if this is the reality right now?

Jesus gave His disciples a multitude of warnings throughout the Gospels, but there are certain ones that stick out like giant neon danger signs:

  1. “Take heed that no one deceives you.  For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many.” – Matt. 24:4, 5.
  2. “Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many.” – Matt. 24:11.
  3. “Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There!’ do not believe it.  For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.  See, I have told you beforehand.  Therefore if they say to you, ‘Look, He is in the desert!’ do not go out; or ‘Look, He is in the inner rooms!’ do not believe it.  For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.” – Matt. 24:23-27.

The first passage warns against deception from those who claim to be Christ.  The second is a warning against false teachers who will come claiming divine inspiration and lead many away from the truth.

The third is the one that should put us on the highest level of alert to security threats.  First it warns against false christs and false prophets using signs and miracles to deceive, and claiming that Jesus has come in secret places.  However the Bible is clear.  Everyone will see Jesus’ second coming (Matt. 24:27; Rev. 1:7).

But the strongest warning to be on your guard comes from verse 24: “For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.”  In other words, the deceptions will be so close to the truth that they would almost deceive God’s children who have been walking with Him and prayerfully studying His word.  These deceptions will be perpetrated by people we would trust.  They will use signs and miracles that cannot be ignored.  But they will not be from God.

All of this may sound rather frightening when you think about it, but God has not left us without hope.  Those who truly belong to God will not be led astray by these deceptions because they have obeyed His word and are actively watching and praying.  They will be able to recognize the 1% of error mixed in with the truth.  This is why He urgently calls us to beware, to watch and pray (Mark 14:38; Luke 21:36).  He warns us not to place our trust in people, but in Him alone (Psalm 146:3; John 14:1).  He admonishes us to study His word for ourselves and examine the influences surrounding us, so we may know if they are from God or not (2 Timothy 2:15; 1 John 4:1, Acts 17:11).

What a loving, merciful God!  He never leaves us floundering about hopelessly in the unknown, especially in such a dark and dismal world.  He makes sure we know the danger and seriousness of our situation, and then He promises His presence, His guidance, His protection, and hope for the future.

So let’s heed the warning.  Let’s make God’s word our guide, the standard by which all things are measured.  And let’s faithfully observe the words of His prophet:

“To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” Isaiah 8:20.

True Religion

It’s more than a brand of jeans.  More than a social cause.  It’s a lifestyle.

These days many of us are very familiar with what the Bible says in James 1:27 about the essence of true religion.  It has been the preface to many a sermon, worship talk, or speech to rouse us from our self-absorbed slumber into action for the good of those who are hurting around the globe.

Yet in all the swarm of activity around our social causes, some of us have lost something.  Before I go any further, let me say that social causes are good.  God encourages, even requires us to take care of those who need help.  But there’s something else that’s good.  It is the balancing side to a scale that is growing fearfully unbalanced.

It’s the Mary perspective.

Jesus once visited his friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus in Bethany (Luke 10:38-42).  While Martha was busy doing the good thing of preparing a meal to serve Jesus, Mary was doing the good thing of sitting at His feet, listening to the words of truth.  Both were good things.  But one was commended as better: listening to the words of Jesus.

That practice of taking time to study and learn from Jesus is often neglected in favor of active service projects.  Neither side should be neglected.  Take a closer look at James 1:27:

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”

That last part often goes unmentioned.  But God puts the two together: service for others and remaining spiritually pure.  It’s the same thing in the great commandment: love for God first, with everything you are, and then a responsibility to love others as you love yourself.  One can never be separated from the other.  This concept is all throughout the Bible:

“Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice,
 correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” – Isaiah 1:16, 17, ESV.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’” – Matthew 25:34-40, NLT.

There it is.  Care for others and love for God, shown in obedience to all His commands.  This is true religion.  It is not an unbalanced thing.  It does not take from one side only and believe that is enough.  It does not cloister itself away in a shack in the mountains, studying the Bible 24/7.  It does not overfill its plate with projects and causes until there’s no time for anything else and burnout sets in.

It balances actively seeking God in His word with serving Him by serving others.  Jesus Himself gave us the example.  He spent time teaching, healing, and preaching, but He also took time out for deep seasons of communion with His Father.  We’re definitely billions of light years from being on the same level as Jesus, so how much more do we need deep seasons of communion with God and time to study His word?

Notice Matthew 7:21-13:

“Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’”

My good works cannot save me.  But they will be important.  Through them, my obedience to God’s command to love my neighbor as I love myself will be shown.  Similarly, a pure life, washed clean from sin through His blood and kept unspotted by following His words, shows my love for Him above all others.  Both sides working together show whether or not I have truly done the will of my Father.  Love for God with everything in us first, and then love for others as for ourselves.  This is the essence of true religion.