Wednesday, March 23, 2016

You really only need these two things...

Two things. That's it. That's all you need  it's all you'll ever need. I've grown fond of repeating these two things to my soul whenever I feel a dip in the road, because whenever I'm frustrated or discouraged or frightened, these two things lift me up.

They're both found in an oft-quoted Bible verse I memorized many years ago:
"And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him."  Hebrews 11:6 (NASB)

The two things are actually one thing: faith in God, that faith being an assurance of the things we hope for and a conviction of things promised that we can't always see with our physical eyes (Hebrews 11:1). But Hebrews 11:6 describes biblical faith in two parts: (1) confidence in God being who He says He is, and (2) confidence in all God's promises being available for those who seek Him. That's all you need when the chips are down and you're not sure how things are going to turn out.

So when you feel like you're struggling keep a good perspective, go ahead and ask yourself, 
"Is God still who He says He is?" (The answer is always yes.) 

And then also ask, 
"Are all God's promises still true?" (The answer to that is also always yes!) 

That is the kind of faith that pleases God  the kind that remembers God accurately and lifts our gaze to be encouraged by His promises.

That means it's vital for us to keep a lookout for who God is as we read the Bible and to remember what we've read so that we can look back to it in times of trouble. God's Word tells us all about who God is! Remember these things when you ask yourself if God is still who He says He is...
  1. God is holy (Psalm 99:3; Rev. 4:8)
  2. God is good (Psalm 25:8; James 1:17)
  3. God is loving (Psalm 13:5; John 3:16)
  4. God is faithful (Psalm 89:5; 1 Thessalonians 5:24)
  5. God is merciful (Psalm 103:8; Ephesians 2:4)
  6. God is powerful (Psalm 29:4; Ephesians 6:10)
  7. God is wise (Psalm 104:24; Romans 11:33)
  8. God is just (Psalm 37:28; 1 John 1:9)
  9. God is ever-present (Psalm 139:7-10; Matthew 28:20)
  10. God is all-knowing (Psalm 147:5; 1 John 3:20)
...and so much more!

And we also need to remember the promises of God as we read the Bible so that as we ask our soul if all God's promises are still true, we know what promises this applies to. This isn't complicated stuff! It's just a matter of remembering what we read so that we can remind ourselves in times of need. What has God promised to those who seek Him (which we can only do through Jesus (John 14:6))?

  1. That we can personally know God (1 John 5:20)
  2. That we can be filled with and empowered by His Holy Spirit (John 14:16-17)
  3. Forgiveness (1 John 1:9)
  4. Abundant life (John 10:10
  5. Eternal life (1 John 2:25)
  6. God's abiding presence (Hebrews 13:5)
  7. God's peace (Philippians 4:7)
  8. God's joy (Romans 15:13)
  9. God having a purpose for our life (Ephesians 2:10)
  10. Answers to our prayers (John 16:24)
...and so much more!

So remember! When life is tough, these are the two things you need in your holsters: To believe that God is exactly who He says He is in His Word! And to believe that every promise He's ever made is true and available when we are following Jesus (2 Corinthians 1:20)!

© 2016 by Ken Peters

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Marveling at Marvelous

How often do we marvel  I mean truly marvel with wonder and astonishment at something? Because as I recently began reading Luke's Gospel, I noticed a whole lot of marveling going on! And that got me wondering about how often I marvel at things, and about what makes me marvel. Northern lights can do it, or even some sunsets. But even with such examples in mind, I don't find myself actually marveling very much. 

It feels important though, because if marveling is a part of the Gospel story, then I want it to be part of my story too as I embrace the Gospel. And yet I feel sort of dulled to the feelings of wonder and astonishment that are mentioned in the definition of marveling. Is it all the special effects in the many movies I've seen, or is it the never-ending electronic gadgets that keep coming out designed to impress me enough to buy them? The other day, I heard about a space craft heading for Mars and basically shrugged. Big deal. Mars is old news. How does one find more to marvel at?

We certainly get excited about some things. For example, some people get pretty pumped about the newest Marvel movie, and then when they see it, they're often even more excited. Are we marveling at Marvel movies? Perhaps some of the excitement about those movies includes wonder and astonishment, but those movies don't touch us as deeply as the story Luke was writing about. They're not life-changing or life-giving.

The marveling of the Gospel story began long before Jesus even grew up and began His ministry. Luke uses the word four times at the beginning of his book and surely could have used it many more times! (Bible translators use various words for the original Greek word thaumazo, but I'm presently using NKJV, which prefers the English word "marvel.") One of the early mentions of marveling is in Luke 2:18 after the shepherds told the crowds in Bethlehem what the angels had told them and what they had found in a stable. "And all those who heard it marveled at those things that were told them by the shepherds." Reports of a sky full of angels and a mention of a Saviour was easily enough to cause wonder and astonishment!

The marveling only increases throughout Luke's Gospel as Jesus began His ministry and taught the Scriptures with an authority people had never heard before and as He performed miracles greater than what anyone had ever witnessed in all of Israel's history! And after reading through the all the instances in which the word marveling is used, I'm left asking myself: How much does Jesus cause me to truly marvel? How often do I find myself reflecting in wide-eyed wonder at what Jesus is up to in my life or in this world?

I want there to be more Gospel-marveling in my heart! As I embrace Jesus and the good news of the Gospel, may I marvel more with wonder and astonishment at how amazing God is! Perhaps this is a way we can be more like children  consistently expressing wide-eyed wonder at God. So ask yourself: What has Jesus done recently that has astonished you? How has He filled your heart with wonder by how He has shown Himself to you? Because Jesus would love to see us continually marveling at Him and giving thanks to Him as He daily and lovingly reveals Himself to us!

© 2016 by Ken Peters

Monday, March 7, 2016

The Grace of God's Guidance

I'd like to do a one-question survey to see how people would respond to what is likely a little-read passage in the Old Testament book of Numbers. I'd ask, What's your first impression when you hear the phrases "at the command of the Lord" and "kept the charge of the Lord" and "according to the command of the Lord" repeated nine times in six brief Bible verses?

Christians sometimes tend to view commandments in the Old Testament with a bit of a sideways squint as though we're nervous of getting caught up in legalism. We don't like defining our spiritual lives with do's and don'ts. We like to focus on grace and on freedom in the Spirit. Too many repetitions of "at the command of the Lord" can feel like Old Testament living according to old covenant laws.

But why does there need to be a distinction between "the command of the Lord" and the grace of God? Could God's commands actually be an expression of His grace? 

When I most recently read Numbers 9:18-23 where the phrases above are repeated nine times, I was struck at how the great grace of God shone forth! Go ahead and look it up and see how those six verses impact you. Or check out how it feels to read all nine phrases quickly in succession...
v.18 - "at the command of the Lord"
v.18 - "at the command of the Lord"
v.19 - "kept the charge of the Lord"
v.20 - "according to the command of the Lord"
v.20 - "according to the command of the Lord"
v. 23 - "at the command of the Lord"
v. 23 - "at the command of the Lord"
v.23 - "kept the charge of the Lord"
v.23 - "at the command of the Lord"

As I was pummeled by these phrases one after the other, I thought, isn't it great that God directs and leads His people in such clear ways! How wonderful that He condescends to give His people such clear instructions so that they'll know how to remain close to Him!

Jesus understood this. He saw God's commandments as a confirmation of our relationship with Him and a means of assuring ourselves that He loves us. Jesus said, "If you love Me, keep My commandments" (John 15:15) and "If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love." (John 16:10). 

To obey God's commands indicates that we value His guidance and trust Him as our Leader, and our obedience to His commands is an indication that we want to stay close to Him. That's why the repetition of all those phrases in Numbers 9 should lift our spirits! Every instance of those phrases is a reminder that God wants to reveal Himself and what His will is, and wants us to walk with Him and Him with us!

This should take the heaviness out of God's commandments because it means that God is not interested in obedience for obedience's sake, but for relationship's sake. He never intended for His commandments to be a burden. "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome." (1 John 5:3). John went on to write that God's commands are not heavy because He has given us victory over the world's resistance to God's will through faith in the One who walks so closely with us in this world (1 John 5:4-5).

So what does all this mean? It means that the way to draw near to God is to walk in His will and His ways, and that requires moment by moment attentiveness to Him.

We may find this quite natural when facing big decisions, but it can also be appropriate when approaching smaller everyday decisions like whether or not to see a certain movie or to make a sudden purchase or to address a certain issue with someone. Why not seek God's counsel? His answers may sometimes be both immediate and obvious, but sometimes He may surprise us, as I think we are sometimes too quick in assuming we know God's thoughts  or don't need God's thoughts  regarding some decisions we face. The point is, we want to obey God, and sometimes we take for granted that we know what His will may be.

So when you're wondering what to do in a particular situation, or you're facing a decision for which you want to know God's will  that is, His command, if He is Lord of your life  have TALKS with the Lord...

T - Thank God that He cares about you and the details of your life, and the details you're bringing to Him.
A - Ask God for direction when facing big decisions (eg- Lord, do you want to me take that job offer?), as well as for some of the fairly ordinary decisions you face (eg- Lord, do You want me to buy this new coat?). 
L - Listen carefully as you wait for God to answer. He may answer through Scripture, a circumstance, another person, an impression you have, or in various other ways. For big decisions, it's always wise to seek confirmation from someone you respect.
K - Keep God's command! Once you hear from the Lord, it's important to obey Him if you want to maintain a close walk with God. 
S - Seek God's Strength. Ask the Lord to help you so that you can obey His commands according to His grace rather than trying to obey Him by your own efforts. Because when you rely on God for strength, your walk with Him becomes even closer and He is even more glorified in your life.

© 2016 by Ken Peters