The Benefits of Living In Covenant With God

In his letter to believers in Rome, Paul asked, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” He goes on to explain that God, who gave up His own son for us, will freely give us everything we need. And because God is all powerful and the One who has final say in judgement, nothing can separate us from His love even if the trials we face kill us (Rom. 8:31-39, all quotes from WEB translation).

What? I thought Paul just said nothing could stand against us, so why is he talking about us being killed? But Paul’s focus here is not on the people of God avoiding physical trials and suffering. Victory is found in Christ alone. Physical protection and healing can (and often do!) happen, but that is not our main concern.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Could oppression, or anguish, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Even as it is written, “For your sake we are killed all day long. We were accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” No, in all these things, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Rom. 8:35-27)

Paul quotes from a psalm that laments the deaths of God’s covenant people and asks God not to reject them forever (Ps. 44:17-26). It seems that Paul would tell the Psalmist, and us, that suffering does not mean God has forsaken us. In fact, we are more than conquerors even in the midst of all that.

Bold, Rational Confidence

I don’t want to deal with grievous distress (G2347, thlipsis), intense affliction (G4730, stenochoria), persecution (G1375, diogmos), famine and destitution (G3042, limos), total lack of clothing (G1132, gumnotes), extreme danger (G2744, kindunos), or slaughter by sword (G3162, machaira). I dare say none of us do. But Paul makes it sound like that wouldn’t be a big deal. And he should know, considering all he went through (2 Cor. 11:23-28). When Paul talks about suffering as a Christian, he speaks from experience. Read more

Persevere, Grow, Love: Jesus’s Message To The End-Time Believers

A lot of people want to know if we’re living in the end times. Is this it? Have the events of Revelation started? Will Jesus return soon? And there are plenty of people willing to answer them by setting dates, making predictions, or identifying the mark of the beast. There’s much fear, much distraction, and an eagerness — sometimes almost a desperation — to figure things out. We often overlook that the apostle John offered a simple answer to this question nearly 2,000 years ago.

Little children, these are the end times, and as you heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have arisen. By this we know that it is the final hour. (1 John 2:18, all quotes from WEB translation)

We are living in the end times, and have been for as long as there’s been a new covenant church. Whether Christ returns this year, the next, or 100 years from now the things He had to say about how His people should prepare for the end of this world do apply to us. An end will come for each of us one way or another (whether we die or Christ returns before that), and we are told to be ready.

Near the end of His human ministry, Jesus’s disciples asked, “tell us, when will these things be? What is the sign of your coming, and of the end of the age?” (Matt. 24:3). In Matthew 24:4-41 He answered their question by describing what “the beginning of sorrows” will look like, how things will get worse, and signs that His coming is near. He also clarifies that we do not know “the day or hour” but that we can still be ready and watchful. He then expounds on how to do that through a series of parables. Read more

A Time For Discernment and Standing For What’s Right

We’re going through a pandemic right now, and it has given us the opportunity to ask ourselves some interesting and challenging questions. Take, for example, the issue of closing churches. Here in Ohio, churches are exempt from the order to limit public gatherings to 10 people or less. This is a right and proper application of the separation between church and state. Most churches here moved online, however, following the recommendation of medical and legal counsel. This was also right and proper, for the Bible tells us to respect governing authority (Rom. 13:1-2; Tit. 3:1-2; 1 Pet. 2:13-17) and quarantine the sick (Lev. 13:46; Num. 5:1-3). Just in the last couple weeks, some churches are starting to reopen with social distancing and other precautions in place.

Things didn’t go so well everywhere. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio threatened to permanently close churches and synagogues if they continued to hold any services. In Mississippi, attendees of a drive-in church services were ticketed $500 for sitting in their cars listening to the pastor on the radio (the DOJ has stepped in on behalf of the church). Some consider churches “essential services,” some do not. Some try to use the crisis to discriminate against religious institutes, others work alongside and defend them.

Jesus warned there will be those who persecute His church. There will be people who try to stop us from meeting, preaching and worshiping rightly. It has already happened throughout history in various places around the world. To be clear, I am not saying encouraging churches to temporarily suspend in-person services during a pandemic is persecution. But this does give us a reminder that we need to be watchful and exercise discernment. This is a good time to ask ourselves questions like, How would we respond if churches were asked to close for a different reason? Or ordered to stay closed, as threatened in New York? What if we were told we could no longer own Bibles, as has happened in other countries?

I don’t bring up these sorts of questions to panic us, but to prepare us. We are told to watch and be ready, and it’s hard to do that if you’re not thinking of things that might happen in the future. We are living in the end times (as humanity has been since the first century per 1 John 2:18). This is a time for discernment and preparedness, and the current crisis can serve as a wake-up call for any of us who may have been growing complacent in the safety and freedom we’ve enjoyed for so long. Read more

The Central Question of Job: A Broader Perspective On Suffering

Suffering, and questions about why God allows it, are the main thing Job and his friends talk about through the majority of the Bible book that bears Job’s name. We often say that it is a book about suffering. Since reading Philip Yancey’s book The Bible Jesus Readhowever, I’ve realized Job’s story is actually about a whole lot more than suffering.

Yancey says that if you’d asked him what Job was about, he would have once said, “It’s the Bible’s most comprehensive look at the problem of pain and suffering” (p. 46). But then he took a closer look. Job asks all the questions we want God to answer about suffering, but then the book points us to a completely different way of looking at the problem.

The Stage Is Set

The book of Job begins by setting the stage for a dramatic story. We’re introduced to Job, a man who “was blameless and upright, and turned away from evil” (Job 1:1, quotes from WEB translation unless otherwise noted). He had ten children and exceedingly great wealth, as we’d expect such a good man to have in light of God’s promises to bless those who follow Him. And then something happened.

Unbeknownst to Job, he becomes the central figure in a wager between Yahweh (God’s proper name, see Ex. 3:14-15) and Satan (which means adversary). The “god of this world,” who actively opposes all Yahweh’s plans, comes before Yahweh and issues a challenge in response to a question.

Yahweh said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant, Job? For there is no one like him in the earth, a blameless and an upright man, one who fears God, and turns away from evil.”

Then Satan answered Yahweh, and said, “Does Job fear God for nothing? Haven’t you made a hedge around him, and around his house, and around all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land. But stretch out your hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will renounce you to your face.” (Job 1:8-11)

God holds up Job as an example of a faithful person. Satan challenges that Job only follows God because he gets something out of it. This begins what Yancey calls “a cosmic drama in heaven — the contest over Job’s faith” (p. 49). Satan has attacked God’s character, alleging that He basically bribes people to follow Him. God gives Job the opportunity to prove otherwise (p. 52). Read more

Don’t Give Up! Keep Running Your Race of Faith Without Looking Back

Do you ever feel stuck in the past and discouraged by how hard it is to move forward? You’re a Christian and you know that’s supposed to give you hope, but somehow that just doesn’t seem to be the case.

It’s disheartening to feel as if you can’t move forward from your past or that there is no way out of your present. Especially if you feel like you’ve done something so wrong or your circumstances are so hopeless that there’s no point trying to fix things. These sorts of worries weigh us down emotionally and spiritually. They can make us feel heavy, foggy, and hopeless (and may lead to other symptoms of depression as well).

Jesus never promised that life as a Christian would be without trials. He only promised to help us through those trials, and since He has all power and authority in heaven and earth this is an incredible promise (Matt. 28:18). It can be easy, though, to lose sight of the big picture and get distracted by all sorts of nasty things that cling to us, weighing us down and making it hard to keep moving forward. We might wonder how to get unstuck, or even if it’s possible.

The Cage Door Is Open

One thing I’ve realized is that most of the things that are holding onto me are also, at least to some extent, things that I’m holding onto right back. Jesus promises to make us free and to wash us clean of any sin. If we stay in a cage or keep rolling in the dirt, then it’s not because He has failed in some way. It’s because we’re still susceptible to the attacks of the enemy and the pulls of the world.

I don’t say this to make us feel guilty or ashamed (that’s another thing that weighs us down, and shame is not a productive emotion). I want to encourage you to shift your perspective. Instead of seeing yourself as a victim trapped in a locked cage made from whatever’s holding on to you (fear, past sins, personal shortcomings, etc), you can picture yourself as someone in an open cage where God is holding the door and asking you to come out. He knows it’s hard. He knows it’s frightening. He knows there are often circumstances outside your control that keep pulling you backwards. But He isn’t giving up and He’ll be there patiently helping you for as long as it takes. Read more

How Do You Get God’s Attention?

What sort of thing makes God pay attention to a human being? Is it loud shouting from morning to evening, as the prophets of Baal did in 1 Kings 18? or putting yourself in danger so He’ll save you, as Satan counseled Christ to do in Matthew 4? Or wearing Bible quotes on your clothes and making sure people know how much money you give to the church, much like the Pharisees did in Matthew 23?

Clearly, those are all horrible examples. The first comes from people who turned their backs on the one true God, the second from the adversary himself, and the third from religious leaders Christ condemned for their legalism. But do we ever try anything similar, thinking that we need to sing longer, preach louder, or do more in order to make God notice us?

It’s easy to fall into this trap, especially in a culture where we’re constantly told we need to stand out to get ahead. However, the things that make us stand out to the world aren’t necessarily the same things that catch God’s eye. There are several places in the Bible where God describes what type of person He will pay attention to, and it’s not always what we might think.

Sigh and Cry

I’ve talked about the practice of lament quite a bit in the past few weeks, so it makes sense to start there (see “Learning How To Lament” and “Trusting God When You’re Confused By Him: A Study of Lamentations 3“). Lament is a prayer of painful complaint, where you bring complicated emotions to God and re-affirm that you trust Him even when you’re hurt and confused. It’s most likely what these people Ezekiel writes of were doing:

and he called to the man clothed in linen, who had the writer’s inkhorn by his side. Yahweh said to him, “Go through the middle of the city, through the middle of Jerusalem, and set a mark on the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry over all the abominations that are done within it.”

To the others he said in my hearing, “Go through the city after him, and strike. Don’t let your eye spare, neither have pity. Kill utterly the old man, the young man, the virgin, little children and women; but don’t come near any man on whom is the mark. Begin at my sanctuary.” (Ezk. 9:3-6, all quotes from WEB translation)

You can read the context for this in Ezekiel 8 through 11. Ancient Israel had once again departed from God and He intended to punish them, but a certain group of people caught his eye. He marked the people who recognized and lamented the abominations done within their nation and even within the Lord’s sanctuary.

God tells us that He is unchanging, the same yesterday today and forever. If in the past He was looking for people who cared deeply about His ways and were heartbroken when others do evil, then we can assume He is still looking for the same today. One way to get God’s attention is to join Him in grieving over the abominable things done in the world around us.

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Poor, Contrite, Trembling

Yahweh says, “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build to me? Where will I rest? For my hand has made all these things, and so all these things came to be,” says Yahweh: “but I will look to this man, even to he who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at my word.” (Isaiah 66:1-2)

God is not impressed with wealth, pride, and power. He doesn’t need us to build more impressive temples and churches, or give more impressive offerings. He just wants us to be the kind of people He can work with; the sort who will listen to Him and recognize how much we need Him.

Humans tend to think that we need to do something impressive to be noticed, but that’s not how God operates. Instead, He chooses people wise enough to know that they are foolish, weak, lowly, and nothing without Him (see “Growing In The Wisdom From God” and 1 Corinthians 1:25-29). He gives the kingdom of heaven to those who are “poor in spirit” (Matt. 5:3). Those who fear the Lord and honor His name are treated as His own special possession (Mal. 3:16-17). If you want to get His attention, then you have to get out of your own way and be vulnerable with Him.

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A Perfect Heart

There’s a verse in Proverbs that says, “Yahweh’s eyes are everywhere, keeping watch on the evil and the good” (Prov. 15:3). There’s nothing hidden to Him, even what’s inside us (Jer. 16:17; 17:10). He is able to see everything, and He’s looking for something specific.

For Yahweh’s eyes run back and forth throughout the whole earth, to show himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him. (2 Chr. 16:9)

The Hebrew word for heart can refer to our whole inner man, and “perfect” means complete, whole, safe, and at peace (lebab, H3824, and shalem, H8003). God is far more concerned with our inner man than the outer appearance (1 Sam. 16:7), and it catches His eye when we’re whole-heartedly seeking Him.

He doesn’t just take notice for no reason, either. He looks for these sorts of people so that He can act powerfully on their behalf. It would be more than enough just to have the Creator of the universe notice us but He goes several steps further. He enters into our lives and shows Himself strong for us when we’re seeking a relationship with Him.

Righteous

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Sins separate us from God. Removal of sins is needed for us to have a close relationship with God, which is one reason Christ died to take away sin. When we “miss the mark” of righteousness, we can repent and ask for forgiveness, and Christ will keep cleansing us of sin so we can be in God’s presence. That does not, however, mean we shouldn’t try to do what God says is right. Jesus said that if we love Him, we will keep His commandments (John 14:15, 21; 15:10). And as we keep growing toward perfection and remain faithful to Him, He considers us righteous.

Yahweh’s eyes are toward the righteous. His ears listen to their cry. Yahweh’s face is against those who do evil, to cut off their memory from the earth. (Psalm 34:15-16)

Peter quotes this in his first epistle, leaving no doubt that these words are relevant for New Covenant Christians as well as the psalmist of old (1 Peter 3:8-12). Being righteous involves loving God and doing what He says. And that simple act of obedience and faith is enough to catch God’s seeing eye and listening ear.

If we want to draw closer to God, we can’t rely on our own way of doing things or on conventional human wisdom. We must do things God’s way. The things that catch His attention are the things that make us more like Him. He will respond when we humbly seek Him, when we’re heartbroken over what breaks His heart, when we’re whole-hearted before Him, and when we pursue righteousness so that we can fellowship with Him.

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