An Outrageous Love!

When we are truly in love with Jesus, there are no feelings within that can compare to the depth of love we hold for our Savior, Lord, and God. A genuine love for God requires every ounce of our being; there is no room for another. Nor is there a love like that between The Groom and His bride, between The Deliverer and the delivered, or between The Redeemer and His redeemed. A true love for Him consumes us. It compels us to “love the LORD our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, and with all our strength” (Mk 12.30).

Those who have never opened their hearts to receive this perfect love cannot fathom its depths. In fact, they think us foolish for demonstrating our devotion with lives surrendered to bringing Him glory regardless of the cost. They cannot comprehend the simplicity of thought that denies one’s self the temporal desires of this life in order to pursue the immeasurable, limitless, infinite pleasures which “eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Cor. 2.9).

However, those who have tasted the fruit of this sweet love gladly abandon their former worldly passions. They are no longer enticed by such bitter fruit, but are constantly satisfied and filled with a pure, unmerited, sacrificial love. A love with no pain, separation, or ending. They have gladly abandoned everything this world has to offer and counted it as loss that they might give themselves wholly to their one true love—JESUS!

It is curious that there are those who view such a love relationship with our God as foolish or strange. In his post “Oh, to Know Jesus!” Jon Bloom describes this relationship in simple terms that all can understand.

Bloom writes,

I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord (Philippians 3:8).

One thing is for sure: Christianity is not for stoics. The Bible is the most wild, romantic book ever written. The New Testament is no cool, reasoned analysis of Jesus’s system of thought. It is a passionate book written by people who were ravished by Jesus, who felt and said ardent things like Philippians 3:8.

You know what the world calls statements like Paul’s? Religious extremism. Fanaticism. You “count everything as loss”? Sounds dangerous. Have you thought about seeing a therapist?

But the world is full of such talk when it comes to romantic love. We expect lovers’ language to be obsessive and imbalanced. Listen to the way the poet John Keats speaks to his beloved Fanny Brawne:

You have ravish’d me away by a Power I cannot resist: and yet I could resist till I saw you; and even since I have seen you I have endeavoured often “to reason against the reasons of my Love.” I can do that no more — the pain would be too great — My Love is selfish — I cannot breathe without you.

Keats’s overwhelming passion gave him a profound insight (in the same letter):

I have been astonished that men could die martyrs for their religion — I have shuddered at it — I shudder no more. I could be martyred for my religion. Love is my religion and I could die for that. I could die for you.

Paul is no fundamentalist extremist driven by fear or anger to force his creed on others. He’s a man in love. Keats idolized Fanny. Paul worshiped his Lord.

Christians are people in love with Jesus. He’s not our worldview; he’s our Bridegroom. We pour over the Word and pray to commune with our Beloved. Theology is only worth studying to help us know him! Preaching, teaching and evangelism is not our vocation or obligation but a longing that others know him too. “For we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20).

Our love for Him is an outrageous love in the eyes of the world. It is a love that demands all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. It is not possible to express this love with mere words. No, it must be demonstrated through the works of genuine faith. It is a life designed to bring glory, honor, praise, and worship to our beloved. This love may cost us our goals, dreams, desires, or even our very life. Nevertheless, we gladly relinquish these ephemeral flowers, which are here today and gone tomorrow, in exchange for eternal love which has been poured out for us upon Calvary. It was there that Jesus’ love paid the dowry to remove any and all obstacles which would prevent us from being betrothed unto Him.

In a relationship that demands so much, one might ask, “What is in it for you?” Our Beloved gives us everything we need for life and breath and meaning. In Him we have light in the darkest of nights, warmth on the coldest of days, hope in midst of hopelessness, strength when we are too weak to stand, vision for eyes shrouded in darkness, love for the unlovely, forgiveness for the most egregious of sinners, rest for the weary, food for the hungry, and oh so much more. He is our Redeemer, our Sacrifice, our Propitiation, our Hope, our Light, and our Love, the God of all creation, and our personal Lord and Savior. Is it any wonder that we “count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus [our] Lord, for whom [we] have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that [we] may gain Christ” (Philippians 3.8).

Small Group Etiquette

I think Small Group Bible studies are one of the best ways for Christians to grow in Christ. It is an opportunity to listen, share, and learn from others who may be further along in their Christian walk. However, if Small Groups are going be productive for everyone in attendance, then there are a few simple rules that should be followed. If not, then discussion can disintegrate into prideful arguments which do more damage than good.

Randall Chase gives some helpful advice to ensure that Christ is glorified by all during biblical discussions.

Chase writes:

Point One: Remember true relationship building is going to have the greatest lasting impact. This means that it’s not about how well you argue a point if the person that you’re speaking to doesn’t respect you as an individual enough to receive what you’re saying. While you may get the point across, chances are he will not develop a lasting, life-altering outcome. The old saying “they don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” holds true even in the world of apologetics. This is the case too in the event of large debates, where two speakers are standing in front of an audience. The two speakers must have enough respect for one another to remain calm and collected, otherwise it simply becomes an argument. Not much is usually gained through simple argument. 

Point Two: Don’t speak beyond your knowledge base. Nothing kills an argument or discussion quicker than when you throw out a piece of information that you simply looked up online or pulled from a blog and you can’t verify it. And NEVER make something up. There is nothing wrong with saying “I don’t know, but I will find out and get back to you.” This not only builds your credibility as a researcher but it also opens the door for follow-up conversations. Just remember that true research requires honest research. The following quote speaks volumes:

One of the most disastrous illusions of the internet age is that an amateur plus Google is equivalent to a scholar. A search engine offers information, more or less relevant according to the skill of the searcher. But it does not sift that information; it does not sort fact from fancy, wheat from chaff… A bright amateur armed with the internet may at best be better informed than he would otherwise have been, and he may occasionally catch a real scholar in a factual error. But it will not turn him into a scholar himself. There is no such thing as effortless erudition. —Dr. Timothy McGrew

Point Three: Always be willing to learn. There is a great need for learning and growing in the field of apologetics, before you ever get to the point that you can share what you have learned with others. You need to grow in your personal understanding of the truth claims in Scripture. Partly because at this point most aren’t on the level of public debating, but rather we’re just beginning to understand what it means to teach and how to organize an apologetics program. Everyone has to start somewhere, from C.S. Lewis, William Lane Craig, Ravi Zacharias, and even Thomas Aquinas. They all began learning and growing at some point in their relationship with God. Likewise, they all started attaining to be more educated and learned in apologetics. The goal isn’t to be a better arguer, but rather the goal is to first grow more in our personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Then with this we can share the truth.

We see clearly that Jesus calls us to Love him with our entire mind. When He was talking to an Expert in the Law in Luke, one can see that there is just as much importance placed on Loving God with his Heart, as there is with loving Him with his Mind.

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” He answered: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” Luke 10:25-29

If your ultimate goal is simply to learn how to debate well and win an argument there’s other classes for that. This class should be the edifying and building up of fellow believers with the encouragement of the Holy Spirit within our life, and eventually to share the truth of the gospel with those around us. Each person has a different reason for desiring to grow apologetically. My personal desire was to be able to build up and edify in the mission field. Now understand: mission fields are not always some far off overseas place but they may be your neighborhood, school, or place of business. Start in your own backyard this is where God calls us first; it is our Jerusalem as in referencing to Acts 1:8.

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Point Four: Listen first, respond second. Understand that when you do learn about your faith and the faith of others that you are maintaining a solid grasp on truth. This type of training isn’t done so you can dominate the debate. Remember the key is compassion. When you speak to someone of a different faith or lack thereof, you must make sure they see first your compassion and then they are more likely to hear you. You must also learn the art of listening—this is one of the greatest lost art forms. So often if you watch debates with others or listen to conversations, people are so focused on getting their point out there that they neglect to listen and respond to the others concerns. This will immediately put you a leg up if you are willing to listen before you respond and then respond appropriately to the concerns laid out before you.

Sometimes its just takes a person verbalizing a concern or hurt they have to begin a healing process for them, or to help them to understand the truth. Along with this know that when you do present something that is different from what they have thought and believed it may come as a shock to them. Oftentimes when I am speaking on the subject of the historicity of Christ, I am met with disdain and repugnance; once I am able to clearly elucidate the truth of the historical claims to Christ I am met with positive questions rather than smart retorts. Remember above all else you are representing Christ in all things, therefore do not get sucked into the trap of the quips and snide comebacks. These will shut the open mind of the genuine seeker quicker than anything. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Ephesians 4:2

You can change the mind quickly, but changing the heart takes time.

No, I Won’t Bless the Food

PrayerDo  you pray before you begin eating a meal? I don’t mean “God is great, God is good, thank You for this food, Amen.” I mean a heartfelt prayer of thanksgiving for God’s provision. I once heard of a family who prayed over their grocery sacks before unpacking them so they didn’t have to pray at each meal. I don’t think this is the right motive or means for giving thanks for the nourishment God provides through our daily bread.

In his post “No, I Won’t Bless the FoodDonald Whitney gives some great instruction on why and how we should pray before we begin each meal.

Whitney writes:

In my travels, at the start of a meal with Christian brothers and sisters, I’m often asked, “Will you bless the food?”

“No.”

My hosts sit there in stunned silence for a moment. Then, with everyone staring at me with awkward, “What do we do now?” looks, I’ll add, “But I’ll be happy to ask the Lord to bless the food.”

Maybe it reflects the limits of my own experience, but it’s been my observation that nowadays fewer followers of Jesus pause like this at the beginning of a meal to give thanks for what they are about to eat.

This seems to be true for individuals and for families, at home and in public.

Why the decline? As with all Christian practices and disciplines, unless each successive generation is taught the reason for something, it soon devolves into mere a routine, then an empty tradition, and then disuse.

Biblical origins of mealtime prayers

Have you ever been taught the biblical reasons for the Christian tradition of praying before a meal? To continue reading follow this link: No, I Won’t Bless the Food.

No Coasting into Christlikeness

Life LinesToday there are a lot of people saying that just believing in Jesus is enough to get you to heaven. Now, I believe that we are saved by faith alone; however, I also believe that true saving faith will be seen in the way we live our lives. The desires of those who are saved have been changed. They no longer hunger and thirst after the things of this world, but hunger for the holiness, righteousness, and purity of Christ Jesus.

Dr. Donald Whitney’s post “No Coasting into Christlikeness” clearly identifies what the Bible says about growing in godliness. Godliness is not an option for the true believer. Once we receive the Spirit of God our lives are eternally changed.

Whitney writes:

When it comes to discipline in the Christian life, many believers question its importance. Devotion to prayer declines into drudgery. The real-life usefulness of meditation on Scripture seems uncertain. The purpose of a discipline like fasting is a mystery. Why not leave spiritual discipline to those who seem to more disciplined by nature and let the rest of us “live by grace”?

First, we must understand what we shall become. The Bible says of God’s elect, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29). God’s eternal plan ensures that every Christian will ultimately conform to Christlikeness. We will be changed “when he appears” so that “we shall be like him” (1 John 3:2). If you are born again (John 3:3-8), this is you, Christian, as soon as “he appears.”

 So why talk about discipline? If God has predestined our conformity to Christlikeness, where does discipline fit in? Why not just coast into the promised Christlikeness and forget about discipline?

Although God will grant Christlikeness to us when Jesus returns, until then He intends for us to grow toward it. We aren’t merely to wait for holiness, we’re to pursue it. “Strive for peace with everyone,” we’re commanded in Hebrews 12:14, “and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” Notice carefully what that says: without holiness—that is, Christlikeness; Godliness—no one will see the Lord, regardless of how many times they’ve been to church or how often they’ve engaged in religious activities or how spiritual they believe themselves to be.

 It’s crucial—crucial—to understand that it’s not our pursuit of holiness that qualifies us to see the Lord. Rather, we are qualified to see the Lord by the Lord, not by good things we do. We cannot produce enough righteousness to impress God and gain admittance into Heaven. Instead we can stand before God only in the righteousness that’s been earned by another, Jesus Christ. Only Jesus lived a life good enough to be accepted by God and worthy of entrance into Heaven. And He was able to do so because He was God in the flesh. Living a perfect life qualified Him to be a sacrifice that the Father would accept on behalf of others who by sin had disqualified themselves from Heaven and a relationship with God. As proof of God’s acceptance of Jesus’ life and sacrifice, God raised Him from the dead.

In other words, Jesus lived a perfectly righteous life in complete obedience to the commands of God, and He did so in order to give the credit for all that obedience and righteousness to those who had not kept all of God’s law, and He died for them on a Roman cross in order to receive the punishment they deserved for all their sins against God’s law.

 As a result, all who come to God trusting in the person and work of Jesus to make them right with God are given the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13-14). The presence of the Holy Spirit causes all those in whom He resides to have new holy hungers they didn’t have before. They hunger, for example, for the holy word of God—the Bible—that they used to find boring or irrelevant. They have new holy longings, such as the longing to live in a body without sin and to have a mind no longer tempted by sin. They yearn to live in a holy and perfect world with holy and perfect people, and to see at last the One the angels perpetually praise as “Holy, holy, holy” (Revelation 4:8). These are some of the holy heartbeats in all those in whom the Holy Spirit resides.

Consequently, when the Holy Spirit indwells someone, that person begins to prize and pursue holiness. Thus, as we have seen in Hebrews 12:14, anyone who is not striving for holiness will not see the Lord. And the reason they will not see the Lord in eternity is because they do not know the Lord now, for those who know Him are given His Holy Spirit, and all those indwelled by the Holy Spirit are compelled to pursue holiness.

 And so, the urgent question every Christian should ask is, “How then shall I pursue holiness, the holiness without which I will not see the Lord? How can I become more like Jesus Christ?”

We find a clear answer in 1 Timothy 4:7: “Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness” (NASB). In other words, if your purpose is Godliness—and godliness is your purpose if you are indwelled by the Holy Spirit, for He makes godliness your purpose—then how do you pursue that purpose? According to this verse, you “Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness.”

 This verse is the theme for Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. In it I attempt to unpack the meaning of 1 Timothy 4:7 and apply it, chapter-by-chapter, in practical ways. I will refer to the scriptural ways Christians discipline themselves in obedience to this verse as the Spiritual Disciplines. I maintain there that the only road to Christian maturity and Godliness (a biblical term synonymous with Christlikeness and holiness) passes through the practice of the Spiritual Disciplines. I emphasize that Godliness is the goal of the Disciplines, and when we remember this, the Spiritual Disciplines become a delight instead of drudgery.

Source: The Biblical Center for Spirituality

The Limits of Liberty

limits-of-libertyHave you ever wonder if certain activities, hobbies, or habits are ok for you as a Christian. You want to glorify God in everything you do, but it seems there are some things not covered in the Bible. So, you ask yourself, “Does this glorify God?”

In “The Limits of our Liberty” John MacArthur gives us several key principles to help answer this question.

MacArthur writes:

Scripture is clear and understandable, but it’s not exhaustive. Throughout the history of the church, believers have faced countless issues that God’s Word is silent about. While the Old Testament law provided detailed instructions and restrictions for most areas of life, believers today are not bound by God’s covenant with Israel—we’ve been set free in Christ. But how do we know what to do with our freedom?

In my lifetime alone, the church has wrestled with a wide variety of practical questions about how Christians ought to live. Should believers dance? Should they smoke or drink? Should men and women go swimming together? Should women wear makeup? Should people work on Sundays? Should women work at all? Should Christians attend movies or concerts? Should they watch TV? Should they send their children to public schools, or even private schools? Should Christians gamble? And should they tattoo their bodies?

Regardless of the issue, believers must not mistake Scripture’s silence as God’s indifference. The Bible might not specifically mention movies, TV, beer, or many of the other issues facing us today. But it does give plenty of principles to help us make good, God-honoring choices when it comes to the gray areas of life.

Is It Necessary?

When faced with one of life’s many gray areas, one of the ways to determine what you should do is to ask yourself, Do I need this? Is this thing—whether it’s an object, hobby, activity, or entertainment—a benefit to me, or is it excess baggage?

Hebrews 12:1 gives believers clear instructions to “lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” The Greek word for encumbrance basically means bulk, and it can be anything that distracts your focus or your energy from the task at hand. As God’s people we are to run the race He’s set before us with excellence. We can’t do that if we’re weighed down with worldly pursuits and distractions.

Is It Profitable?

In 1 Corinthians 6:12, Paul writes, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable.” Many believers have used the first half of Paul’s statement as license for the exercise of their liberty, but they miss his real point.

The question should never be What am I allowed to do?, but What is profitable for me to do? Whenever faced with a question of Christian liberty, every believer needs to ask himself if engaging in that activity is going to build him up to be a better servant of the Lord. Will it increase his effectiveness as a believer? If the answer isn’t yes, then why would you do it?

Is It Christlike?

A third principle helps us take a broad look at how to exercise our liberty. First John 2:6 says, “The one who says he abides in [Christ] ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.” As believers, we know our lives are supposed to emulate Jesus—including how we live in life’s gray areas.

When it comes to making tough decisions about how to exercise your freedom, it’s always helpful to ask yourself, Is this what Christ would do? An honest examination of the issue from that perspective should push aside any personal desires and biases, and help you make God-honoring decisions that reflect the person and work of Christ in every facet of your life.

Is It a Good Testimony?

Another important question to ask yourself is How will this enhance my testimony? Colossians 4:5 says, “Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity.” In other words, believers need to wisely consider how they behave, and how their behavior impacts their testimonies. How we live—particularly in the gray areas—shapes how the world evaluates us, our faith, and ultimately, our Savior. Is your behavior strengthening your testimony to the outside world? Does your lifestyle adorn the gospel, or is it a hindrance to it?

Is It Edifying?

And it’s not just a question of how the exercise of your liberty impacts others—you also need to consider what impact it will have on you. You need to regularly ask yourself, Will this build me up? In 1 Corinthians 10:23, Paul expands on his earlier exhortation with these words: “All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify.” Each of us needs to faithfully ask ourselves if each activity, entertainment, hobby, or diversion will have a positive or negative effect on our spiritual growth. An honest evaluation of what we might gain—as well as what we might lose—ought to accompany all of our gray-area decisions.

Is It Glorifying to God?

Finally, we need to regularly ask ourselves, Will doing this glorify Christ? In a way, the principle of exaltation encompasses all the others, drilling down to the most basic element of Christian life. Believers have been set aside to glorify God and worship Him forever. But those activities aren’t reserved just for our eternity in heaven—they ought to describe the pattern of our daily lives. This life isn’t “our time” to do whatever we like. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10:31, “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

That well-known verse comes from a landmark passage in 1 Corinthians—one that I want to examine with you in greater detail over the next few days. In it, Paul explains the limits of our liberty in Christ, and how it is to be used and governed for our sake, as well as others. His practical instructions are applicable and helpful for every believer, and timely for the church today.

Source: Grace to You