Tempted as we are, yet without sin

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16)

A few weeks ago, our family were all in a time of stress and challenge. Just normal life stuff, but the stressful kind! I shared with our kids that it is really helpful for me, when I am facing stressors or temptations, to slow down and think that Jesus himself faced the exact same kinds of temptations I face, and that He is understanding and kind to me. No matter what kind of temptations I am currently facing–fear, anxiety, self-pity, anger, lust, pride, distraction–Jesus was tempted in every respect as we are.”

So, this is the kind of thing we can pray: Jesus, right now I am feeling really anxious. I’m having trouble focusing on anything else because of this nervousness. I know that when you were on earth, you were tempted to be anxious, too! You know what I’m feeling. And yet you never gave in and sinned in anxiety. You always found a way to trust your Father and rely on the Spirit. And I can do that too, because You are helping me! And to think that now, your temptations are passed and over. You have passed through the heavens to sit with your Father on the throne! And that is my destiny–to be with you where you are, when all my struggles and temptations are over, just like yours are now. Help me to trust your love and your help today. Thank you for telling me to draw near to you, knowing that what I will find is not shame or condemnation, but your mercy and your grace.”

Of course, I don’t always remember to pray this way. But, whenever I read these verses, I gain confidence that this is exactly how I am to face temptations and find the goodness of God to forgive me and to help me each day. I hope these verses give you confidence to draw close to God for his love and help today!

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. May not copy or download more than 500 consecutive verses of the ESV Bible or more than one half of any book of the ESV Bible.

August 18, 2022

Wisdom is not within us, but must be sought from God

Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool,
but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.
(Proverbs 28:26 esv)

Wisdom comes from outside ourselves. We must think, but not trust own own thinking.

Although culture is always sending us mixed messages because it is not monolithic, it tells us to think for ourselves and trust ourselves. And, in pride, we often act like we know what we are doing.

A wicked man puts on a bold face,
but the upright gives thought to his ways.
(Proverbs 21:29 esv)

But, God teaches us to be open to his truth and wisdom, which come to us from outside ourselves:

  • Through parents and teachers
  • Through observation of the natural world
  • Through God’s Word
  • Through God speaking to us

Our thinking should not be a closed system, like the view of the universe in materialistic philosophy. In that worldview, God cannot act on the world in miracles or revelation, because the of the presupposition that the universe is a closed naturalistic system. But, the Bible reveals that although the created world certainly does have patterns and laws by which it normally operates, the universe is also open to God’s influence at any time and way he chooses. The universe is not closed but open to God. So also, we must let God speak into our thinking.

March 14, 2022

Unity through Our Common Lord

Would you say you live in unity with other Christians?

I would. Until recently. Let me explain.

Most of my Christian life, I have convinced myself that I am living in unity with my fellow believers. But, I have been realizing lately that what I often take for unity is really just an overlap of opinions and values. In other words, I get along well with the Christians I am around because we largely hold the same views on morality or politics or worship music styles or specific points of theology. And since I don’t go to churches or build friendships with people I disagree with, I can convince myself that I am obeying Jesus’ command to live in unity with my fellow Christians.

Over the past year and a half, I have been realizing that this unity” I have lived in is not as strong or deep as I thought. In fact, I would even say it is not Christian unity at all. I tend to think that I love people, until we have a strong disagreement where we don’t see eye to eye. And then love is hard. Maybe you have an easier time with this than me. I am just speaking from my heart.

Last night I did not sleep well. I woke in the middle of the night stressed and frustrated with the lack of unity and love I have been feeling both toward and from some of our Christian friends. Over the course of the pandemic, our family has landed on a different perspective than most believers we know. Now the pandemic has just been the situation in which all of this has hit home for me. But later, or maybe for you right now, the struggle to love or be united with other Christians may stem from something about race relations or childraising or Bible translations or the leadership style of our local church.

But for now, for me, the issue has been the pandemic. And honestly, I have often had feelings of judgment toward others or of being judged by them, or of despising others or being despised. Using the words judge’ and despise’ may seem strong, but I am taking them from Romans 14. God speaks straight. On my own, I don’t think of myself as a judging, despising sort of person. I like to think of myself as loving and reasonable, but, honestly, as someone who probably sees things more clearly than others most of the time. Again, just trying to be real. I often think about why others are wrong (but isn’t that called judging?) and wonder how they could be so deluded (sounds rather like despising, don’t you think?). Well, so what is the solution? How can I break free from judging and despising and return to love and acceptance toward other believers?

This morning, during my quiet time, the Lord really ministered to me from a verse in Isaiah.

O LORD our God,
other lords besides you have ruled over us,
but your name alone we bring to remembrance.
(Isaiah 26:13)

This phrase really jumped out at me: other lords besides you have ruled over us. I think that a large part of the disunity or lack of love that I feel toward fellow Christians has its roots here. If I have only one Lord who rules over me, then my opinions or my experiences or my choices themselves are not my lords. I can hold opinions that differ from others, as long as they do not rise to the level of lordship in my own heart. But, if I allow an opinion or value or anything else to be my lord, practically speaking, so that I cannot imagine how someone else would live differently, then I am allowing other lords besides the LORD to rule over me. And that’s where my disunity and difficulty to love come from.

This verse gives me real, tangible hope. There is a way to restore and even deepen my relationships with the Christians I disagree with and who disagree with me. I need to keep clearing the altar of any lord who tries to rise up above the LORD in my life. So, when I notice myself getting emotionally charged or rehearsing differences between myself and others, I should see that as a warning sign that I once again may have other lords ruling over me.

This morning as I continued to pray over this verse, I felt much more able to accept my brothers and sisters, my friends, with whom I still have disagreements. I doubt that we will come to see eye to eye on the pandemic. And even if we do, some other issue will arise down the road that will once again threaten to supplant Jesus’ place as my Lord. But, God is helping me see that his Lordship is the key to maintaining unity and love at all times. When I am intentional to honor the Lord Jesus Christ as my Lord, and remember that only he is the Lord of my friends, however strongly they may hold views that differ from mine, then I can return to peace, unity and love.

Only our common Lord makes Christian unity possible.

November 17, 2021

Believing in God’s Unchanging Goodness to Us

We are tempted to believe that God holds back from us.

Notice the way James draws our attention to this tendency:

Don’t be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of Lights, in whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. (James 1:16-17, my translation)

James warns us strongly that we can be deceived into thinking of God as fickle or intermittently uninterested in us. I think that’s what the variation or shadow of turning” refers to.

It’s like being at a party with someone you enjoy, and you have all their attention. Then, they see someone else in the room they want to connect with, and suddenly your friend turns toward them instead of keeping their face and posture toward you. And it hurts when our friend turns from us.

And as James brings this up, he doesn’t just say, It is very important for you to remember this,” or something like that. He uses the strong phrase, don’t be deceived.” To doubt God’s goodness toward us is to be deceived.

But what’s at stake?

First, when I stop trusting that God will provide what is good for me, I will look somewhere else. I might start to be overly reliant on money or planning ahead, for example. Going down this road a bit, I might become more open to self-help gurus. Or I might double down to be pleasing to God as a way to earn his approval, when in fact I already have it and cannot earn it. I think we all inevitably become more self-protective when we doubt God’s goodness toward us. I really see that theme in the Sermon on the Mount: self-protection vs trust in our good Father.

Second, if we are duped by this deception and think that God is shifty or not solidly good toward us, then we are believing what is unworthy of God. I’ve been listening to an audio book of Augustine’s Confessions. He often points out how easy it is to believe lesser things about God, which dishonors him. To believe that God is pretty good or somewhat faithful to us his children is basically to call him a bad Father and an uncaring or incompetent Provider. Ouch.

But God IS good to us

For those of us who are trusting Christ as our Savior and Lord, we can be sure that God is unwaveringly, unhesitatingly good to us.

He has already given over his Son to suffer and die in our place; therefore, we know he is NOT holding back any good from us!

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:32 ESV)

James points out that this Father of Lights gives us not only a gift or even gifts, but good and perfect gifts. And not only that, he gives us every good gift and every perfect gift. In fact, he is the source of all the truly good things in our lives! James helps us remember that our new birth into God’s family, our salvation itself, is the gift of this good Father.

16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. (James 1:16-18 esv)

Let’s resist the deceptive thought that God is sometimes ambivalent toward us. Let’s hold onto the truth that God is for us as our Redeemer and our Father.

He never looks away from us.

He never turns his back to us.

In him, there is no variation or shadow due to turning.” He is for us.

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. May not copy or download more than 500 consecutive verses of the ESV Bible or more than one half of any book of the ESV Bible.

September 20, 2021

Obedience is an Invitation

Let me give you something to do. Or rather, not to do. Just think about what would happen if you did.

Starting tomorrow, tell everyone you know–coworkers, neighbors, friends, family–that from now on, your friendship and love toward them will depend on them doing what you say. Then let me know how it goes.

So, why would Jesus say something to us that would sound like that if we said it to other people? Why is Jesus’ statement not bossy or selfish when he says it? To see what I mean, look at what he says in John 14:21:

Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me, and he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.

So, why is it not only ok”, but actually good and right for Jesus to say this to us?

The other day, I met with Jonny, a student I am discipling. I had us both write down our observations and questions as we looked at John 14:21 for a few minutes. Then, we discussed it together and had a great time! Here are just a few truths we talked about:

Jesus is the only one whose will for us is always good for us

We rightly shrink from bossy or self-centered people who are only happy with us when we please them. But if we think about why, it is because we cannot trust that they will always want what is best for us.

But with Christ, what he tells us to do is always for our good. So, to obey Jesus is to do what is the best thing in the world for us at every moment. But, that doesn’t always make it easy! And that’s where the next truth is so helpful!

Jesus himself lived out this verse

John 14:21 can seem like a rather strong statement to us. But I find it so humbling and exciting that Jesus made similar statements about his own relationship with his Father!

For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again (John 10:17).

I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us go from here (John 14:30-31).

Jesus showed his love for the Father by obeying him, even to the point of obediently dying on the cross.

What at first may seem like a strong or even harsh command in John 14:21 is not so. Actually, it is an invitation for us to join Christ in his life of obedience and love toward the Father. We are welcomed into the indwelling presence of Father, Son and Spirit with us as we love and obey Jesus.

May God help us see obedience to him as not simply something we must do, but as a pathway to deeper fellowship with Christ and his Family!

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. May not copy or download more than 500 consecutive verses of the ESV Bible or more than one half of any book of the ESV Bible.

September 2, 2021

Is being biblical” really what drives me?

I don’t know about you, but I am very concerned with what is biblical. I even try to capitalize the word Biblical, at least most of the time! I believe we should live according to what God has revealed as true and good. And since he has revealed that in the Bible, we should all be highly motivated by the question: is it Biblical?

But today I was thinking about an interaction Jesus had with the Pharisees and experts in the law. The specific point of tension in the story circles around healing. Is it permissible to heal on the Sabbath, or not?”

Here’s the story from Luke 14:1-6 in my words, which are similar to the ESV and NLT:

One day, Jesus went to the home of a leader of the Pharisees on the Sabbath, to eat a meal. And they were keeping a close watch on him.

And, wouldn’t you know it, there in front of Jesus was a man who had a disease called dropsy that makes your body swell up.

Jesus responded to the experts in the law and to the Pharisees, saying, Is it permissible to heal on the Sabbath, or is it not?” But they would not say anything.

So, Jesus took hold of the man, healed him, and let him go.

And he said to them, Who of you, if his son or his ox falls into a well, will not rush to pull him out, on the Sabbath day?”

But they could not give an answer to these things.

Who of you?”

The point of tension in the story is clearly around what is lawful.” But, Jesus does not even bring up anything from the law or from any Scripture. After healing the man, he does not say, It is written…” Instead, he asks who of you…?” He points to the actual lives of these Pharisees and experts in the law.

Their desire to please God is not their deepest drive. And that, of course, is Jesus’ point.

There is more to this story, but Jesus has really given me some things to think about.

Is being Biblical” what really drives my behavior?

Is my concern about being Biblical” actually rooted in a desire to please God?

July 19, 2021