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My New Book “Bless-ed” Is Now Out! Almost. Blessing #34!

Friends:

My new book, Bless-ed! Fifty-Two Weekly Blessings You Have as a Believer and How to Help Your Lost Friends Find Theirs will soon be available on Amazon here. I have advanced copies if you are interested. I will send you a copy for $10 (which includes shipping). Here’s Blessing #34 in Bless-ed:

BLESSING #34: The Blessing of the Gift of True Freedom

“Is freedom anything else than the right to live as we wish? Nothing else.” (Epictetus)

The believer in Jesus has many blessings! And one of the reasons to have unsaved friends (in addition to our Savior being a friend of sinners) is that we are able to count the many gifts and advantages that we have in Christ which our lost friends don’t yet have. We are those that the book of Revelation refers to as ones who have been “freed . . . from our sins by his blood” (Rev. 1:5).

So when it comes to followers of Jesus, I believe —

34. WE HAVE THE GIFT OF TRUE FREEDOM!

THE BLESSING Freedom in Scripture is not the right to do what I want, but the power to do what I should. As one writer put it, “Man’s first duty is not to find freedom, but a Master!” Trusting Christ as one’s Savior brings an incredible freedom which the world can only counterfeit. As the One who said, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:32), He promised, “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36).

THE BIBLE Much of the epistle to the Galatians emphasizes the freedom the believer has in Christ. We read in Galatians 5 verse 1, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

The Messiah was prophesied as one who would provide freedom for those who believed in Him. We read of this prophecy in Isaiah 42 and hear Jesus apply those words to Himself in Luke 4 verse 18: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free . . .”

The psalmist understood freedom and proclaimed: “I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts” (Psalm 119:45). Obedience to the precepts of God does not bring slavery, but a joy in freedom to live as we ought.

Even creation itself longs for the freedom that is promised; as we read in Romans 8:21: “the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.”

The believer can come to God, as Ephesians says, “with freedom and confidence” (3:12). Paul makes it clear as he thinks about his freedom in Christ — “‘I have the right to do anything,’ you say—but not everything is beneficial.” (1 Cor. 10:23). Psalm 18 says, “He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me. . . . You provide a broad path for my feet, so that my ankles do not give way” (vv. 19 & 36). There are no spiritually sprained ankles for those who, in freedom, walk in the spacious place and the broad path God provides.

ACTION STEPS

1. Imagine that you meet the Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetus one day on a bus (he’s been dead since 135 BC, but work with me here). You have a dialogue with him and his quote, “Is freedom anything else than the right to live as we wish? Nothing else.” What do you say from the Scriptures?

2. The late John R.W. Stott said, “Freedom to disagree with the Bible is an illusory freedom. In reality it is bondage to falsehood.” Examine your heart this week and ask yourself, “Even though I affirm the authority of the Bible, I seem to disagree with God’s Word when it comes to ___________.” Then ask the Lord to free you from that bondage.

3. Unit-read (read the entire book at one sitting) the Epistle to the Galatians. Take notes on what you learn about freedom in that letter. And share your notes with another believer this week.

4. PRAYER So, how do I pray for my unsaved friend? We read in 2 Corinthians 3:17, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” My lost friend doesn’t have the Spirit because he doesn’t have the Savior. And I can pray for him for a God-given freedom from his sins.

 
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Posted by on May 1, 2023 in "Bless-ed!"

 

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My New Book “Bless-ed” Is Now Out! Almost. Blessing #33!

Friends:

My new book, Bless-ed! Fifty-Two Weekly Blessings You Have as a Believer and How to Help Your Lost Friends Find Theirs will soon be available on Amazon here. I have advanced copies if you are interested. I will send you a copy for $10 (which includes shipping). Here’s Blessing #33 in Bless-ed:

BLESSING #33: The Blessing of a Heartfelt, God-Directed Thankfulness

“O Lord that lends me life, lend me a heart replete with thankfulness.” (William Shakespeare)

I’m grateful for my friend Mike. Yes, he’s as lost as lost can be. And I’m praying earnestly for him to come to know Christ. But thinking about him has got me thinking about . . . me. Well, not about me so much as about the many blessings I enjoy as a believer which my friend Mike does not yet enjoy.

Another blessing of which I’m becoming more aware is that of a heart full of gratitude toward God for all He has done for me. The normal Christian life should be characterized by the fact that we believers —

33. WE HAVE A HEARTFELT, GOD-DIRECTED THANKFULNESS!

I’m not saying my unsaved friends aren’t thankful people. But how much of their thanksgiving is directed toward the Lord? Apart from giving thanks at dinner, do they praise Him for life, for His mercy, for the gift of salvation? Not yet, as far as I can tell.

THE BLESSING We live in an unthankful, entitled culture that demands its rights and expects only good things in life. But the believer is told: “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess. 5:18). The believer’s default setting should be that of gratitude — for life, forgiveness, purpose, joy, and, yes, even trials.

THE BIBLE A lack of thankfulness is one characteristic of the lost person, according to Romans 1. In Paul’s diatribe against fallen man, he writes, “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened” (v. 21) Man’s natural knowledge of God does not result either in his seeking to bring glory to God or in giving thanks to Him. And, as a result, man’s thinking becomes futile and his heart is darkened. Futile thinking and a darkened heart are the result of choosing not to glorify God.

We read in 2 Timothy 3:2 that “People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy . . .” A billboard in our area advertises in large letters, “LOVE YOURSELF FIRST!” Notice that ungratefulness is listed with other serious sins, including self-love, greed, boastfulness, and a lack of holiness.

Jesus advises His followers: “But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked” (Luke 6:35). All human beings come into the world in ungrateful rebellion against the Lord. Thank God that He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked!

Believers in Jesus are to give thanks always for all things (Eph. 5:20). We are commanded to be thankful (Col. 3:15). When Christians seem confused about “the will of God,” they need to be reminded of 1 Thessalonians 5:18 that says it is God’s will for us to give thanks.

Giving thanks is equated with giving glory to God, as we see in the story of the ten lepers healed by Jesus (with only one returning to thank Him for the miracle) (Luke 17:16-19). At times it might seem difficult to do, but we are to offer “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks . . . for all men” (I Tim. 2:1 KJV).

ACTION STEPS

1. We are never told to give thanks for evil, but we are to give thanks to the Lord who sovereignly controls nations and the affairs of men. Thank the Lord each day this week for a local or federal government leader. Pray for their spiritual life.

2. Think of and thank another believer who has encouraged you in the Lord. Email or text them if you can’t meet with them face to face.

3. Write out a prayer of thankfulness to the Lord. List at least ten items for which you are thankful.

4. PRAYER So, how do I pray for my unsaved friend? I demonstrate by my life that I am grateful for all God’s blessings to me. And I strategically pray for my lost friend that he would recognize his thankless natural state and turn to the Lord in gratitude for salvation.

 
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Posted by on April 30, 2023 in "Bless-ed!"

 

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My New Book “Bless-ed” Is Now Out! Almost. Blessing #32!

Friends:

My new book, Bless-ed! Fifty-Two Weekly Blessings You Have as a Believer and How to Help Your Lost Friends Find Theirs will soon be available on Amazon here. I have advanced copies if you are interested. I will send you a copy for $10 (which includes shipping). Here’s Blessing #32 in Bless-ed:

BLESSING #32: The Blessing of Clarity about S-I-N!

“What a brutish master sin is, taking the joy from one’s life, stealing money and health, giving promise of tomorrow’s pleasures, and finally leading one onto the rotten planking that overlies the mouth of the pit.” (Jim Elliot)

As we think about the many blessings we have as Christians, we fool ourselves if we believe we are beyond sin. We are still in a battle against temptation and sin and will be until we see Jesus.

The above quote, by the way, is from the missionary-martyr Jim Elliot. He’s most famous for the challenging statement: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” From the introductory quote we can tell that Elliot was quite aware of sin’s destructiveness, wasn’t he?

But what qualifies as “sin”? Our culture muddies the waters of definition and is guilty of calling “good” sin and “sin” good. God’s Word must be our dictionary for we believers —

32. WE HAVE A CLARITY ABOUT SIN!

THE BLESSING Followers of Jesus have an authoritative source for identifying sin and turning from it. Granted, Christians have historically added to God’s Word, describing some practices as sin (one thinks of dancing, for example) which aren’t. We have also subtracted from God’s Word, in excusing other practices (such as slavery) as not being sin. God’s definitive Word is a blessing in that it gives us the truth about sin. We may not always act on this knowledge, but there it is – for our good. As a friend says, sin will hurt you and will hurt you bad.

THE BIBLE Scripture has so much to say about sin, from the Garden of Eden in Genesis 2-3 to the completion of human history in the book of Revelation, we learn of sin’s destructive power. The Bible gives us specifics about sin that we must know and follow: (1) It is the Lord who defines sin (for example, the Ten Commandments, Exodus 20); (2) Sin is not just external acts, but includes internal thoughts and attitudes (Heb. 4:12); (3) All sin is deadly, so, although the Bible doesn’t have a list of “the seven deadly sins,” there are some lists of sins in God’s Word (Prov. 6 is one example which is fascinating); (4) Sin is not just what one does, but what one doesn’t do (James 4:17); (5) Sin’s remedy involves both confession (agreeing with God about our sin) and repentance (turning from sin) (I John 1:9-10). Repentance may be described as siding with God the Holy Spirit who convicts us of our sin, rather than defending ourselves; (6) God’s community, the church, is where sin is to be confronted and overcome (James 5:16); (7) We believers have the authority to declare sins forgiven or unforgiven based on a person’s response to or rejection of the gospel (Matt. 16:19); etc.

We may use other words in talking about sin, but we should never excuse sin with our euphemisms (“my mistake!” or “my bad!” or “I just messed up! Can we move on?”). Sometimes the older words (“sin,” “transgression,” “iniquity”) can be quite useful if they are clearly defined.

ACTION STEPS

1. Purpose this week before the Lord to allow His Word to be your dictionary when it comes to sin. Do a word study of a particular sin with which you struggle (pride, lust, laziness) and share your notes with another believer.

2. Let another follower of Jesus know that you will pray for them in their struggles and will gladly “hear their confession.” We are priests to God, are we not? Communicate the truth that you will listen and will not condemn, but will share the truths of God’s Word for the one who is struggling.

3. Please forgive one more reference to my book on temptation and sin (When Temptation Strikes: Gaining Victory Over Sin). There is a great deal there about dealing with sin that you may find helpful.

4. PRAYER How do I pray for my lost friend? I pray that he may understand his own dire need of forgiveness from a holy God for his sins and may turn in repentance to Christ.

 
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Posted by on April 29, 2023 in "Bless-ed!"

 

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My New Book “Bless-ed” Is Now Out! Almost. Blessing #31!

Friends:

My new book, Bless-ed! Fifty-Two Weekly Blessings You Have as a Believer and How to Help Your Lost Friends Find Theirs will soon be available on Amazon here. I have advanced copies if you are interested. I will send you a copy for $10 (which includes shipping). Here’s Blessing #31 in Bless-ed:

BLESSING #31: The Blessing of a Vigilance about Temptation

“Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is … We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means—the only complete realist.” (C.S. Lewis)

What are some temptations that you face as a believer? One of the blessings that I have as a follower of Christ is a sensitivity to the Lord. I don’t want to embarrass my Savior, grieve the Holy Spirit, or hurt myself or my family by giving in to sin.

However, temptation is not sin. The Lord Jesus faced temptation, but turned away from the enticements of the Evil One. And believers face temptations all the time. But there is a blessing in being in the family of God and it is that –

31. WE HAVE A VIGILANCE ABOUT TEMPTATION!

“Oh, no! Not another missionary!” I just learned that a long-term missionary had been caught cheating on his wife. They are now separated, getting intense counseling, but it seems unlikely that the marriage will survive. Christians aren’t immune to temptation and sin.

THE BLESSING So, one could argue that this blessing is a potential one (like many of the others). If we believers don’t take advantage of this provision, we will fall, we will fail, and we will succumb to the enticements of the Evil One and our own wayward hearts. Vigilance about temptation is not automatic in the believer, but available through God’s Word and God’s Spirit.

THE BIBLE God’s Word does not leave the believer in the dark when it comes to sin and its precursor temptation. We read in Hebrews 4:15-16:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Please notice several key points brought out in this passage:
(1) Although the writer to the Hebrews uses negatives to make his point, the positive way to state verse 15 is: We have a high priest who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses! You and I, as children of God, will never be in a situation in which we can say, “Jesus can’t understand what I’m going through!”
(2) Jesus has been tempted in every way we are — yet He did not sin.
(3) We can approach God’s throne of grace and find mercy and grace in our time of need. Our confidence is in His character and His desire to help us in our situation.

My lost friend Mike doesn’t enjoy this kind of God-given vigilance. God may indeed show him mercy when he gives in to temptation, but he (as of yet) has no relationship to the Savior and should not expect to find help in his time of need. His greatest need is to repent of his sins and trust Christ for his salvation. Then Hebrews 4:15-16 will prove to be a great help to him!

ACTION STEPS

1. Take the time each day this week to pray through Hebrews 4:15-16. You might consider using a different translation each day. Write out several conclusions (at the end of the week) that you’ve come to about temptation.

2. Here’s a tough assignment: Confess a temptation you are facing or a sin you’ve committed to another believer. James 5:16 commands the believer, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” Ask another Jesus follower to pray for you.

3. This is not meant to be self-serving, but your author has written an extensive treatment of temptation in his book When Temptation Strikes: Gaining Victory Over Sin. You might consider reading a chapter or two in that book — and discussing it with a friend.

4. PRAYER So, how do I pray for my unsaved friend? I make it clear that I’m not above or beyond temptation and sin. I might share some of my struggles with my lost friends – and how Jesus as my high priest helps me overcome temptation. And I pray for my friend that he would take temptation and sin seriously and bow his knee to the Savior.

 
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Posted by on April 28, 2023 in "Bless-ed!"

 

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My New Book “Bless-ed” Is Now Out! Almost. Blessing #30!

Friends:

My new book, Bless-ed! Fifty-Two Weekly Blessings You Have as a Believer and How to Help Your Lost Friends Find Theirs will soon be available on Amazon here. I have advanced copies if you are interested. I will send you a copy for $10 (which includes shipping). Here’s Blessing #30 in Bless-ed:

BLESSING #30: The Blessing of a Balanced View of Technology

“It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.” (Albert Einstein)

I’ve been blessed to travel to third world countries to teach theology to national church leaders. My travels have a way of making me extremely thankful for the wealth and comfort most of us enjoy in the West. One aspect of our wealth — technology — is enjoyed by many. Although it has brought many blessings to our culture, technology is fraught with many dangers. Distraction is a very obvious example. I will no longer walk or ride my bike with traffic because I’m afraid of distracted drivers busy checking their phones who might simply run over me.

My lost friend Mike enjoys many of the same gadgets and gizmos our technological society has bestowed upon us. But for those of us who follow Christ, it ought to be said of us –

30. WE HAVE A BALANCED VIEW OF TECHNOLOGY!

I’m not suggesting that my friend Mike is addicted to video games or anything of the sort. Although one wonders if this is mostly true of our entire culture. But I don’t believe he’s aware of the dark side of new innovations. As someone has cynically written, “Modern technology has not made man better morally but only more powerful in his wickedness.”

The bottom line is that all of life should be used for the glory of God. And, sadly, much of technology has one and only one purpose: entertainment. “Amusement” – a term which literally means “no thinking” – seems to be one of the highest goals of our culture. And, indeed, hardly a thought is given to bingeing for hours watching a TV series or spending inordinate amounts of money to install the latest video equipment.

THE BLESSING The fact is that we are responsible for how we use technology. We are challenged in 1 Corinthians 10 to live our lives carefully before God: “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (v. 31, KJV).

We can – and should – use our technology for blessing others and for advancing God’s kingdom. Entertainment is not evil in itself. But it must not be all-consuming. One cynic wrote about Western culture: “When historians of a future generation look back on American culture, they will sneer and say, ‘They entertained themselves to death.’”

THE BIBLE What does God’s Word have to say about the believer and technology? The Apostle Paul, writing in a culture without electricity, cell phones, television, or the internet, made it quite clear that “whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:17). His “whatever”, inspired by the Holy Spirit, applies to every aspect of life. This certainly includes social media, which is sometimes anything but social! Paul’s overarching passion in life — “that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death” —found in Philippians 3 verse 10 (KJV) shouldn’t be Paul’s passion alone. Every believer in Christ should have the same goal.

ACTION STEPS

1. Does the idea of unplugging for 24 hours terrify you? Take one day this week and either completely cut out or severely limit your screen time. What conclusions did such an experiment bring to your mind? Would you share some of those with a friend this week?

2. Investigate how you can use technology to encourage those who are in ministry. Perhaps a well-timed text or email. Perhaps a brief Zoom call to a missionary friend. You might find just the right short video online to help a struggling friend with a problem.

3. Read the short online article “Technology Can be Blessing, Curse to Students” written by Alexandra Pittman in 2012 (found at: ucf.edu https://www.ucf.edu/news/technology-can-be-blessing-curse-to-students) and apply some of his concerns to the Christian life this week.

4. PRAYER So, how do I pray for my unsaved friend? I make conscious choices not to allow technology to have power over me. I will take advantage of any technology which advances our friendship. And I pray for my friend to understand that salvation finds it source in Jesus, not in technological advancements.

 
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Posted by on April 27, 2023 in "Bless-ed!"

 

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My New Book “Bless-ed” Is Now Out! Almost. Blessing #29!

Friends:

My new book, Bless-ed! Fifty-Two Weekly Blessings You Have as a Believer and How to Help Your Lost Friends Find Theirs will soon be available on Amazon here. I have advanced copies if you are interested. I will send you a copy for $10 (which includes shipping). Here’s Blessing #29 in Bless-ed:

BLESSING #29: The Blessing of a Passion for Souls

“When I was 12,” writes Sylvester Madison, “my best friend and I broke a window playing baseball. We looked around to see if anyone had seen us. No one was in sight except my younger brother. We went over and offered him a piece of candy not to tell. He refused it. ‘I’ll give you my baseball,’ I said. ‘No.’ ‘Then what about my baseball and my new glove?’ my friend added. ‘No!’ ‘Well, what do you want?’ ‘I wanna tell.’” (Readers’ Digest)

As I think about my unsaved friend Mike, God is reminding me of the many blessings I enjoy – or should enjoy – that he does not yet have. One blessing that occurs to me might sound strange, but I believe is a marker of a serious follower of Jesus. I believe my saved friends and I –

29. WE HAVE A PASSION FOR SOULS!

THE BLESSING What do we mean by “a passion for souls”? We mean that the follower of Jesus is greatly concerned with the spiritual welfare of everyone he or she meets or knows. If the Bible is true that every human being is headed either to hell or to heaven, then the right passion, the crystal clear passion of the Christian, must be the gospel. Proverbs 11:30 puts it well — “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise” (KJV).

I’m certainly not criticizing my lost friends for the passion that they have for their families. I’m grateful when my friend Mike expresses his desire to be a good husband and father. But what ought to be the highest priority in a human being’s life is knowing God and longing for others to know Him.

Jesus says in John 17, “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (v. 3). Eternal life is not simply unending existence, but a quality of life in knowing and following the God of the universe.

THE BIBLE A passion for souls involves the following elements: (1) A clear recognition that man without Christ is lost (John 8:22-24); (2) A daily discipline of praying for those who are outside of Christ (“As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you.” I Sam. 12:23); (3) Eyes open to opportunities to share a bit of the gospel on every occasion (“Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.” 2 Tim. 4:2); (4) An awareness of being a stench to some and an aroma to others (“For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task?” 2 Cor. 2:15-16) ; (5) A commitment to doing the homework necessary to answer any questions which are keeping a person from believing the gospel (see Acts 17 where the Apostle Paul knows pagan literature so he could speak to the philosophers of his day).

ACTION STEPS

1. Begin a prayer “hit list” this week, naming those whom you long to come to know Christ.

2. Spend time this week with a believer who is passionate about sharing the gospel. Take out someone who has the gift of evangelism — or at least a heart for the lost — for lunch and interview them. How did they come to know Christ? What do they find most helpful in sharing the gospel with others?

3. Read my short book Unlike Jesus: Let’s Stop Unfriending the World. List several ways that we can be like the Lord Jesus in being a “friend of sinners.”

4. PRAYER So, how do I pray for my lost friends? I pray for myself that I would not settle for a watered-down, minimal concern for the eternal welfare of others. I want my evangelistic zeal to be white-hot, but wise in its expression. And I pray for my friend that he would see that eternity is a long time to be wrong about Jesus. And that he would trust Him as his Savior and get passionate about others doing the same.

 
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Posted by on April 26, 2023 in "Bless-ed!"

 

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Bless-ed! 52 Blessings Your Lost Friend Doesn’t Have . . . And What You Can Do About It! (Part 3)

I’ve recently been challenged (by my time with my unsaved friend “Mike”) to think about what I have as a believer and what those who are lost don’t have. This may seem like a strange exercise, but it has a way of focusing my prayers and my priorities to genuinely care about my lost friends.

In sharing the biblical truth with Mike that he is “lost” and “unsaved” without Jesus, he responded with his conviction that he was just fine with God. But that’s not what God’s Word says. So my friend Mike (and my other unsaved friends) (1) don’t have an authoritative source for what they believe. We also noticed that our unsaved friends (2) don’t have the assurance that their sins are forgiven.

Let’s think about a third blessing that our unsaved friends don’t have and that is —

3. THEY DON’T HAVE A LIFE-LONG, SATISFYING MISSION IN LIFE!

What is my friend Mike’s “mission” in life? I suppose — if I were to ask him — he would probably say, “I want to be a good person, help others, be kind and compassionate, and die with my family by my side.” Those are good qualities and ambitious goals — but that’s what life is about?

What about knowing the living God? What about rescuing people from God’s eternal wrath? What about sharing in any way possible the message of forgiveness and reconciliation that Jesus provides to those who believe? What about a life mission that will require all one’s energy and resources and priorities and insight and purpose? And my friend Mike doesn’t have that.

To be quite honest and blunt, in the words of Pastor John Piper, my friend Mike has wasted his life! But it’s not too late. And I pray he will come to Christ and use the remainder of his days to have a mission far greater than any one he has ever dreamed of.

Are you concerned that your friend does not have God’s eternal mission in life? Pray that the Holy Spirit will speak to his heart — and remind him that he only has one life. And it can count for God! (to be continued)

 

 
 

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Living for Jesus in an Un-Christian World: A Study of the Epistle of Jude (Principle #1)

1 Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James, To those who have been called, who are loved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ: 2 Mercy, peace and love be yours in abundance. 3 Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people. 4 For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.

John R.W. Stott tells about the seventeenth-century Jesuits in China who, in order not to upset the social sensitivities of the Chinese, excluded the crucifixion and certain other details from the Gospel. Professor Hugh Trevor-Roper responded to their decision by remarking: “We do not learn that they made many lasting converts by the unobjectionable residue of the story.” (John R.W. Stott, Our Guilty Silence)

How critical is the gospel of Jesus Christ? We learn in verse 1 that the gospel moved Jude from the category of a scoffer (see John 7) to the category of a servant. Jude and the other half-brothers of Jesus challenged the Lord in John 7. During the Feast of Tabernacles they told Him to “leave Galilee and go to Judea, so that your disciples there may see the works you do. 4 No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” Then John adds, “5 For even his own brothers did not believe in him.”

Life must have been rough growing up with a perfect brother, don’t you think? The other male children of Joseph and Mary (“his own brothers”) had not yet placed their faith in Jesus as God the Son come to redeem the world. So they mockingly advised Him: “You need to show who you are! Your disciples need to see the works you do. If you want to be a public figure, then do what a public figure does — go public! Go, show yourself to the world!” Obviously such advice was given from unbelieving hearts, as John tells us.

Only the gospel can turn a scoffer like Jude into a “servant of Jesus Christ.”

The gospel also changes the lives of those who have been called, loved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ (v. 1). What a wonderful triad for the believer: called, loved, and kept! (This idea of being “kept” is also referred to at the end of Jude’s letter when he refers to the One “who is able to keep you from stumbling,” v. 24).

How else does the gospel change lives? Let’s not skip over Jude’s salutation (greeting) in verse 2: “Mercy, peace and love be yours in abundance.” We all need God’s mercy, His peace, His love in our lives. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ makes us aware of our desperate need to be sheltered from His judgment (His mercy), brought into a harmonious relationship with Him (peace), and assured of His affection for us (love). And Jude recognizes that these three gifts are not given in one solitary moment. We need these three blessings “in abundance.”

Imagine living for a moment outside God’s mercy. Try to survive without a sense that Christ has brought down that barrier of enmity between you and God. Pretend for a few minutes that God didn’t love you. What an awful life that would be!

A Dramatic Change
But Jude doesn’t just dwell on the blessings we enjoy as servants of Jesus Christ. He has become acutely aware of the challenge these believers are facing, and so he writes his epistle.

He says that he was eager to write about “our common salvation” (v. 3). Perhaps his original letter was going to be something like the epistle of Philippians, a message of joy in their common salvation. But a compulsion overcame Jude — and he changed the purpose and the content of his letter! Here we have a little glimpse into the process of God the Holy Spirit guiding a writer of Scripture to write what God wanted written! Hearing about the false teachers who were plaguing these Christians, Jude changes the purpose and content of his letter from that of a happy discussion of our common salvation to a battle plan for believers.

He felt compelled to urge these Jesus-followers to “contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people” (v. 3). Please notice two truths about this verse:
First, they were to contend for “the faith.” here “the faith” does not refer to their confidence or their personal trust in God (we might say, “Just have faith”), but rather to the content of truth God has given to His people (“the faith”).

Second, there is a finality to this “faith.” Occasionally I get to teach New Testament Greek in our seminary, and the expression here in verse 3 is: “contend for the once-for-all-entrusted-to-God’s-holy-people faith.” All those words are adjectives modifying the noun “faith.” The clear implication is that this faith will not be edited, abridged, modified, altered, or otherwise changed. It is fixed, secure, permanent, final. There will be no “Gospel 2.0.” “This is it,” Jude says. “Now, fight for it!”

A number of years ago my wife and I attended a “Walk Through the New Testament” seminar. The young man leading the seminar was from New Jersey. One section of the seminar was learning the themes of the New Testament epistles. When he got to the epistle of Jude, he had us repeat after him, “Fight for duh fadth!” Yes, we are to fight for duh fadth!

Most of the rest of this one-chapter epistle deals with these false teachers. Please notice that they had somehow slipped in among God’s people, but they had not bypassed God’s notice. Their condemnation “was written about long ago” (v. 4). Although these believers were not adequately prepared to recognize this danger, God was not taken by surprise.

Their Two-Fold Heresy
These false teachers plaguing Jude’s audience are described not only as “ungodly,” but as those who commit two serious theological sins:
(1) They pervert God’s grace into a license for immorality, and
They deny Jesus Christ as Lord.

The Apostle Paul asks the Romans in his epistle, “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Romans 6). These false teachers would answer quite differently. They would say, “Shall we sin that grace may abound? YES! YES! That will give God more opportunity to forgive your sins!” These false teachers “pervert” God’s grace.

(2) They also commit a serious error about the Person of the Lord Jesus. They “deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.” This is the central mistake of all cults — denying the true identity of God the Son.

You may have heard the story of the liberal pastor who was brought up before his church council heresy charges. He was accused of denying the deity of Christ. When asked how he responded to the charge, he reportedly said, “Deny the deity of Christ? Deny the deity of Christ?! Gentlemen, I haven’t denied the deity of any of us!”

Many deny the deity of Christ today. The late Chuck Colson rightly stated, “The battle is raging today all around, but many are perishing because we Christians have failed to engage the enemy at the point of attack. We not only flinch; for the most part we are not even looking in the right direction.” (Who Speaks for God?)

In The World According to God, Greg Johnson writes: “Today it’s not unthinkable that an Evangelical scholar might say something like this: ‘For me personally, from my limited perspective, I think it would appear to me, if I’m not mistaken about this, that there’s one primary Savior in the Bible, at least according to my faith tradition, within my circle of meaning, assuming a pre-modern metanarrative in a faith-based discourse, as we tend to do, I think.’ Johnson responds: “WEASEL! There’s a difference between being aware of your limitations and being a coward. We used to say, ‘Jesus is the only Savior.’ It’s a clear, concise statement, powerful in its simplicity. Besides, GOD says so!”

 
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Posted by on December 13, 2021 in CHRISTIAN LIVING

 

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IF THE GOSPEL REALLY IS TRUE . . . We Have a MISSION! (Part 3)

Karl Barth said that people come to church out of the expectancy that they could find the answer to the question ‘IS IT TRUE? IS IT REALLY TRUE?” He was talking about the gospel. And that’s what these posts are about.

If the gospel of Jesus Christ is really TRUE, then certain conclusions follow. We’ve looked at the conclusion that, if the gospel is true, we have a message for the world which is both good news and bad news. We are Christ’s aroma (2 Corinthians 2) — and some will think we are a fragrance and some an odor!

Let’s notice a second conclusion and that is —

IF THE GOSPEL IS TRUE, THEN . . .

We have every reason to challenge other worldviews and religions as to their response to the gospel.

We are not suggesting any form of persecution or marginalization of other belief systems. We are simply stating that truth is greater than error. And the errors of human religions must be compassionately but clearly engaged so that the good news about Jesus can be heard.

This is why we have MISSIONS.  We believe that people are genuinely lost and that they cannot save themselves by their own religious efforts. No one is good enough or spiritual enough to earn forgiveness from the Triune God. If we could save ourselves, then why the Cross? The Apostle Paul puts it this way:  4 “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Cor. 10)

One of my fondest memories of teaching theology in seminary for almost twenty years was the class I created called “Eternal Destinies.” I invited (with the approval of my seminary dean) leaders from such cults as Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Ba’hai, Judaism, Buddhism, Christian Science and one or two others to present a brief lecture to my class about their worldview.

You need to know that we treated our guests with dignity, but the students brought me great pride as they asked precise, insightful questions of the guests. Some of their questions were: “How do you know your spiritual authority is right?” “What view do you take on the historical Jesus?” “Will anyone ever be lost eternally?”

We need not fear other religions or worldviews. We will need to do our homework and we will need to treat others with kindness. Satan is the great deceiver and it takes work to separate truth from error.

Today’s Challenge: Do you have any friends who belong to a religion other than Christianity? Are you treating them with kindness? Do you see your mission as asking them significant questions which just might get them thinking about the true gospel?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on June 16, 2021 in gospel

 

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IF THE GOSPEL REALLY IS TRUE . . . We Have a MESSAGE! (Part 2)

We began this series with a quote from Karl Barth who said that people come to church out of the expectancy that they could find the answer to the question ‘IS IT TRUE? IS IT REALLY TRUE?”

If the gospel of Jesus Christ is really TRUE, then certain conclusions follow. The conclusion we want to look at today is . .

IF THE GOSPEL IS TRUE, THEN . . .

We have a message for the world, a message which is both good news and bad news.

The “gospel” means good news. Is the gospel good news to you? IF the gospel is true, then it is the best news anyone could ever hear — forgiveness from the Triune God! A place in God’s family! A reason to live! A confidence about the afterlife! But the gospel isn’t only good news. [The first book I wrote is entitled The Other Side of the Good News].

What’s the bad news of the gospel? Eternal judgment. Separation from God and God’s people forever. Righteous condemnation. Eternity in hell. There is no worse news than that!

One biblical text has always gripped my attention. It’s found in 2 Corinthians 2 —

Please notice the olfactory emphasis in this text. We are an aroma. We smell. To some we smell great. To others, not so much. Our job is to “spread the aroma” of Christ everywhere.

Just a few observations:

1. We are to be aroma-spreaders . . . everywhere (v. 14).
2. This aroma is “of the knowledge of Him” (v. 14).
3. Our primary audience isn’t the human race, but God Himself. We read, “For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ” (v. 15).
4. There are two groups who catch our aroma: (1) “those who are being saved” and (2) “those who are perishing” (v. 15).
5. The aroma we are spreading isn’t benign. To those who are perishing we are “an aroma that brings death.” To those who are being saved we are “an aroma that brings life” (v. 16).
6. Our aromatic duty is overwhelming and should cause us to exclaim with the Apostle Paul “who is equal to such a task?” (v. 16).

Today’s Challenge:  Because the gospel is true, we have no choice as Jesus-followers but to bring the aroma of Him to the world. Everywhere. To everyone. Don’t be shocked when some turn up their spiritual noses at you or me. It comes with the package. Because the gospel is true.

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on June 14, 2021 in gospel

 

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