Relevant All the Way Through

“For the day of the LORD is near upon all the nations. As you have done, it shall be done to you; your deeds shall return on your head” (Obadiah 15) 

One of the things I love about a study bible is that it helps me understand the context of the book I’m reading. I really needed it this morning as my daily reading took me to Obadiah. Let’s face it, some books of the Bible are easier to understand than others, and quite frankly, easier to find. Obadiah is only twenty-one verses long and if you weren’t specifically looking for it, you might pass right by it. However, whether it’s a long book or a short book, often read and studied or not, Old Testament or New, all of Scripture is God’s Word and therefore profitable to us. And as I studied Obadiah this morning, I realized how relevant a message it has for Christians today.

The primary themes of Obadiah are God’s just judgment against His enemies and His faithfulness and mercy towards His people. The exact date of Obadiah’s prophesy is difficult to determine, but it concerns imminent judgment on Edom, Israel’s longtime enemy, for their part in a military assault on Jerusalem. Obadiah’s reference to “the day of the LORD” is of the day when God will bring judgment to His enemies and blessing and salvation to His people.

Sometimes we shy away from certain parts of Scripture because of a lack of familiarity or a perception that they’re not relevant for today. This is where a study bible can be useful in helping our understanding. Through Obadiah, God pronounced judgment on Edom for the evil they perpetrated against Israel, but at the same time reassured Israel of His faithfulness in spite of their circumstances. God is always faithful to His people. In times when it may appear that evil has an upper hand and living out our faith in Christ is difficult, we must remember, God is sovereign and His justice will reign. My study bible expresses it this way, “It is the righteous purpose of God, not the evil of men that determines history”. Though our faith may sometimes be weak, our God is not. He is always at work for us and we can trust Him in all things and under all circumstances.

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Do Not Be Moved

“[Let no one] be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this” (1 Thessalonians 3:3)

In his book Desiring God, John Piper uses an analogy of a camera to help explain the idea in which God sees our suffering. He says that on one hand, God uses a narrow lens in which He looks and grieves with us as we undergo suffering. This is often the only lens you and I see through. But according to Piper, God also uses another lens, a wide-angle lens in which He sees beyond the immediate situation. This is the lens that sees what has occurred before and what will result from this moment, ultimately working for our good and God’s glory. This “good” may be realized in our lives as God works out the circumstances, or it may only be realized in death.

Paul knew about suffering. It was a topic he wrote about in almost all of his letters. He knew its purpose and the importance of teaching that purpose to others. He also demonstrated the proper response to it. Through his suffering, Paul knew his strength came from the Lord. Jesus was Paul’s reason for living. To see Him magnified was his passion. But Paul also knew that to die was gain (Philippians 1:21). As he wrote his final words in 2 Timothy 4:6-8, he was comforted knowing he had fought the good fight, finished the race and kept the faith. He also knew what awaited him—a crown of righteousness. That was worth everything Paul had endured in his life and it will be worth everything suffering may cost you in your life as well.

So how do we respond in times of suffering? We trust God. He is sovereign. We allow His Word and His Spirit to penetrate our shaken and shattered lives. We live each day in view of eternity knowing that no amount of suffering can compare to glory (Romans 8:18). And we trust that His grace is sufficient to see us through (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Think About These Things

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8) 

Against a lot of opposition, the apostle Paul boldly proclaimed truth. Through three missionary journeys and endless preaching, Paul’s ministry bore much fruit as many came to faith in Jesus Christ. Paul had strong relationships with the churches he founded and pastored. The church at Philippi was one of them. Founded on his second missionary journey, Paul loved this church. They proved to be faithful partners in the ministry of the gospel. He knew they had a strong foundation of faith and that their faith would persevere (Philippians 1:6). But as was always the case with Paul’s letters, once he laid out the theological basis of faith, he always followed with how to live out that faith in day to day life. And that exactly what he’s doing in Philippians 4, exhorting and encouraging them to be mindful of what they allow to influence their thinking. He writes to them saying, “Finally, brothers, whatever is…

  • True – genuine, reliable, trustworthy, valid
  • Honorable – worthy of respect
  • Just – right, righteous or upright. In the New Testament “just” refers to God’s proper standards and actions.
  • Pure – innocent, clean
  • Lovely – pleasing
  • Commendable – admirable, appealing or praiseworthy
  • Excellent – moral, goodness

The gospel changes things. It changes our relationship with God and secures our eternal destiny. However, never does a conversion to faith mean that we’re not to be attentive to what we allow to capture our thoughts. God’s Word must be our filter for determining truth. To live in a way that’s pleasing to God, we must set our minds on things above, not on things of the earth (Colossians 3:2). 1 Timothy 4:7 says “train yourself for godliness”. Proverbs 21:21 tells us that “whoever pursues righteousness and kindness will find life, righteousness and honor”. Don’t think as the world thinks. Instead, think about those things that are worthy of our God.

Pay Close Attention

“But the high places were not taken out of Israel. Nevertheless, the heart of Asa was wholly true all his days”          (2 Chronicles 15:17)

Very few proclaim truth more directly than Oswald Chambers. I was reminded of that this morning when a friend of mine shared a quote from him. The quote read, “You no more need a day off from spiritual concentration on matters in your life than your heart needs a day off from beating. As you cannot take a day off morally and remain moral, neither can you take a day off spiritually and remain spiritual. God wants you to be entirely His, and it requires paying close attention to keep yourself fit. It also takes a tremendous amount of time. Yet some of us expect to rise above all of our problems, going from one mountaintop experience to another, with only a few minutes effort.” The context from which this quote came was 2 Chronicles 15:17, where over time, King Asa refused to continue his early efforts in removing the high places (pagan places of worship) in the territory in which he reigned. As Chambers puts it “Asa was not completely obedient in the outward, visible areas of life but only in what he considered most important”.

The overall assessment of Asa’s reign was a good one, but there were times when he made decisions based on his own priorities and belief in what was right even though God had given different instructions. We often do the same thing. We make assessments based on our own priorities or belief in what is right even though God has told us differently. Life is not always lived on the top of the mountain. That’s why we must pay close attention to the deep things of God. We need to take the time to diligently study His Word so we can not only discern His will, but survive in the valleys.

Satan infiltrates through the smallest of cracks and then before we know it, he has a foothold in some area of our life. If we are to keep this from happening we must stay in tune with God. We must push aside those things that would distract us. We must let go of not just the bad things, but also the good things that because they’ve taken priority over God, they’ve become an idol.

God speaks to us through His Word and the Holy Spirit uses that to guide us in obedience to God’s will. Don’t get distracted. Instead, be sure and pay close attention.

I Have Decided

“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37-38)

I love music, all kinds of music. I especially love knowing the story behind songs because it gives me a fresh perspective and a greater appreciation for that particular song. In their book Living Among Lions, David and Jason Benham tell the story behind the hymn I Have Decided to Follow Jesus. If the title sounds familiar it might be because there’s a popular Christian song entitled Christ is Enough that borrows a portion of its lyrics from I Have Decided…. We sing this song at church and I listen to it often on iTunes. I’ve always appreciated the lyrics of this song, but until reading the Benham brothers book, I had never heard the story behind them.

The story behind I Have Decided to Follow Jesus began with a family of four who lived in the Indian province of Assam. They had professed faith in Christ and were subsequently baptized by a Welsh missionary in the 1880’s. As one might imagine, their profession brought about intense persecution. The leaders in their village arrested the family, demanding the father renounce Christ. He refused their demand saying, “I have decided to follow Jesus, and there is no turning back.” His two children were then killed right in front of him. He still refused to renounce Jesus saying, “The world can be behind me, but the cross is still before me.” Then they killed his wife. Still no renunciation. “Though no one is here to go with me, still I will follow Jesus” was his response. The village leaders then killed him. According to the Welsh missionary, when he returned to the village some time later, revival had broken out and he came to find out that those who had murdered the family had themselves come to faith in Christ. He passed this story along to a prominent Indian evangelist named Sandhu Sundar who then made this man’s dying words into a great hymn.

Scripture leaves no doubt as to where our allegiance as believers must lie−with Jesus. Jesus’ own words make that abundantly clear (Luke 14:25-33, Luke 9:57-62, Matthew 16:24-28). At first glance, the level of commitment these verses communicate might seem a bit unrealistic, but not only is it not unrealistic, this level of commitment is what’s expected. Our love and commitment to Christ must be unrivaled. Everything must take its place behind Jesus. And when it does, persecution may, and most likely will come. As disciples, we must be willing to count the cost. It’s not that we wish for the persecution, and it’s not that it will be anyway near as intense as this family underwent. It’s that in whatever form it comes, and however intense it may be, we focus on Christ and His promise to be with us in the midst of it. It was the Holy Spirit alone that enabled this father to not renounce Christ. It will be the Holy Spirit that will see you through whatever persecution results from your commitment to Christ as well.

So, are you willing to count the cost? Have you decided to follow Jesus? Have you resolved to not turn back? If not, grab hold of Jesus. If you have, just hang on. Trust that He is always with you, that His promises are true, that He is enough, and that yes, His grace is always sufficient. “I have decided to follow Jesus; no turning back, no turning back. The cross before me, the world behind me. No turning back, no turning back.”

Gracious and Seasoned with Salt

“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Colossians 4:6) 

It’s no secret as to how Christians are to engage an unbelieving world. Having received grace, grace should always be the manner in which we approach anyone with the good news of Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul was a staunch defender of the gospel. As a result, he had plenty of opposition. There were many false teachers who tried to corrupt, even in very subtle ways, the true gospel. Not falling prey to this false teaching was a primary emphasis of Paul’s letter to the Colossians. His desire was for them to “be filled with the knowledge of God’s will and to walk in a manner worthy of the call of Christ (Colossians 1:9-10). Ultimately, Paul’s goal was for them to know that to be accepted by God, all they needed was Christ.

Our goal in Christian ministry should always be to have people run to Christ, not from Him. Christians are to be the “salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13). How we approach and engage an unbelieving world matters. It’s not that we have to deviate from the truth of the gospel or lessen the discussion around the issue of sin. Sin is what separates us from God, and no matter how much our culture might try to redefine it, sin is what God says it is. But as we do engage, we must first and foremost extend to others the grace God extended to us. You and I can’t know what someone else may going through or what may be causing their resistance to the gospel. We are simply called to lovingly share the message of Jesus. We’re to meet people where they are and interact with them in a way that would commend the gospel to them. We’re to be a vessel that God uses to draw people to Himself.

Always remember, those around you are watching. Do they know your story? Do they see Christ in you? You never know where people might be at a particular time. And you never know if your actions in a moment will be what God uses to extend His saving arms to those in need of His grace. That’s why you must make sure to always let your speech be gracious and seasoned with salt.

Old to New

“…seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:9-10)

Paul’s letters always contained both a theological and practical component to them. After correcting their misplaced theology about Christ, Paul dealt in a very practical manner with those in the church at Colossae. For some, the practices of their lives before they were saved were still present. Paul challenged them to bring these practices in line with their new identity in Christ.

As we prepare for the New Year and look forward to what lies ahead, I guess it’s only natural to think back on the one that’s ending. Doing so may bring joy, perhaps sadness, or maybe a little bit of both. I imagine it also comes with a certain amount of regret. There are always things we wish we had done and said that we didn’t, and things we did and said that we wish we hadn’t. The truth is, we are all sinners and from year to year, sin will be a constant companion. But in His grace and mercy, through Jesus, God has dealt with our sin.

The Christian life is a process, not a process in the sense that we are progressively being saved over time. We are saved the moment we place our faith in Jesus Christ. The Christian life is a process in the sense that over time, we become more and more like Christ. This is known as progressive sanctification.

In this life we will always be less than perfect, but we have a Savior who is perfect. And although our conformity to the image of Christ will not end until we go to be with the Lord, our guilt does. This doesn’t mean we are to make light of sin. Paul didn’t in writing to the Colossians or anyone else. All sin matters to God. He is a holy God and He calls us to be holy as well (1 Peter 1:15). But often is the case that instead of letting our failures of the past instruct us moving forward, we end up consumed with guilt. This is not God’s intention, as it denies the perfect sacrifice of Christ on our behalf. Though we live the consequences of our sin, its penalty was paid at the cross.

So, when you look to this upcoming year, look to Jesus, “the founder and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). Thank Him for His forgiveness. Thank Him for His faithfulness. Thank Him for His grace. Thank Him for His mercy. Embrace all He has for your life. Realize that He’s more interested in your present and future than He is your past. But most of all, remember, there’s no one who loves you like He loves you.