Reflections on John 13:34

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” John 13:34, NASB.

Bible2This verse from the Gospel of John is one that has been resonating in my brain over the last few days. It’s not necessarily hard to understand, but it seems most of us are unwilling to put it into practice. Jesus issues this command to His disciples, “Love one another like I loved you!” It’s a practice that is supposed to go hand in hand with following Christ, in fact, it’s so necessary that Jesus goes on to say others will know we belong to Him because we do it (verse 35).

Yet so often we don’t do it. Rather, we pretend to do it. We love our fellow believers as long they don’t ruffle our feathers, hurt our feelings, disagree with us, or let us down in some way … but the first time we see their flaws, we cut bait and run. Most conflict between believers is caused because they fail to love one another as Christ first loved them, or worse, they stubbornly refused to.

When I think of how Christ loved me there’s no escaping the image of the cross. Christ loved me so much that He when to the cross in my place. Scripture teaches that “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

Christ died for us “while we were yet sinners”. He didn’t demand that we clean ourselves up before He went to the cross. He died for us in spite of all our flaws and imperfections. And He commands us to love one another in the same way!

Ever wonder how to respond when a fellow believer hurts your feelings or lets you down in some way? Christ tells us to respond in love … and He role-modeled that love for us on the cross. When you love your Christian brothers and sisters and remain devoted to them through thick and thin, the rest of the world will know Who it is you belong to.

John 13:34 isn’t a suggestion … it’s a command.

 

Take Responsibility for Your Spiritual Growth: A Devotional

gfgm2hcq92s-aaron-burden“… but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” (2 Peter 3:18, NASB)

In 2 Peter 3:17, Peter warns believers not to “… lose [their] footing and get swept off [their] feet by these lawless and loose-talking teachers” (2 Peter 3:17, Message). Not only are believers prone to stumble on their journey with Christ, there are those who would intentionally trip us up if given the chance. There are false teachers who would lead us astray in our walk … this is why it’s crucial we stay faithful to the gospel as it has been passed down to us (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). Because of all the pitfalls that confront us in our walk, it is important that we take a proactive stance when it comes to our spiritual growth.

Too often, we treat spiritual growth as something that just “happens” to us. We go to church, hang out with other Christians, and listen to Christian music in the hope that we will grow through some sort of ‘spiritual osmosis’ – and we will, to an extent. However, we will grow the most when we actively contribute to the growth process. When Peter admonishes believers to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior,” we must understand he is encouraging us to actively participate in the process.

Do you want to know the secret to avoiding pitfalls in your spiritual walk? Take responsibility for your own spiritual growth. In the power of the Holy Spirit, commit yourself to growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. When your feet hit the floor in the morning make it your daily goal to study God’s Word and put it into practice in your life. Don’t wait for Sunday morning to soak up some spirituality, rather, make spiritual growth a priority in your life every day of the week! Peter has warned us there are people who will lead us astray … we can avoid their traps if we know what we know what we know! Scripture equates this process with a baby who gets off of milk and begins to eat solid food (Hebrews 5:12, 1 Cor 3:2).

Take command of your spiritual life and take responsibility for it. Never be satisfied with just milk. It is time we all begin eating solid food!

Lessons from Genesis: Mastering the Sin in Our Lives

cain-and-abel1So it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the Lord of the fruit of the ground. Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen?  “If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it” (Genesis 4:3-7, NASB).

Both Cain and Abel made offerings to the Lord, but there was something critically different in those offerings. Of Abel, it is prominently said that his offering was “brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions” (Gen 4:4); he brought the best part of his flock as an offering to God. The same can not be said of Cain’s offering. Cain simply brought an offering with no regard or seemingly any consideration of the quality of the offering. When God rejected Cain’s half-hearted offering, Cain became angry and his countenance fell. Cain’s anger and bitterness were of his own making and God tells him so:

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it” (Gen 4:6-7).

Had Cain simply done well and made an offering from the best of his crops all would have been fine. There would have been no cause for his anger and resentment. It was in that moment of Cain’s half-hearted devotion to God that sin took its advantage. According to God, when you’re not doing well sin is crouching at the door. Peter put it this way, “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). When we’re neglecting our devotion to God Almighty, we are running the risk of allowing our emotions, bitterness, and circumstances to get the best of us. In Cain’s case, he allowed his sin to blossom into murder. But God tells us there is another way. We can master our sin. How? By doing the right thing to begin with.

God’s Word says if do well our countenance will be lifted up. This advice is amazing in its simplicity. If we want to guard against our sinful inclinations we should focus our lives and order our lived around the God who gave us life. This is the simple kind of advice that can apply to our spiritual walks in countless ways:

  • Is your prayer life suffering? Pray more.
  • Not spending enough time in the Word? Open your Bible more. 
  • Neglecting fellowship with other believers? Go to Church more regularly. 
  • Sin getting the best of you? Devote your life to God and live your life well according to His instructions.

It seems so simple yet we tend to disregard it. We moan and groan when our spiritual lives aren’t where we want them to be, but we don’t examine our lives to see if we are living as we should. All Cain had to do was repent and devote his life to God. He could of had a change of heart and brought an acceptable offering to God, but he chose instead to allow his anger and resentment to grow and blossom.

God’s Word tells us how a person devoted to God should live their life. If we do well, our countenance will be lifted up. We are not helpless in the face of our sin. We can live our lives proactively, according to God’s Word, and master the sins our enemy puts in our path.

We should live like Abel … not like Cain.

Read other posts in Lessons from Genesis.

Lessons from Genesis: A Talking Snake? Really?

1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?”2The woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; 3but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.’ ” 4The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! 5“For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate. (Gen 3:1-6, NASB)

This passage from Genesis records one of the most pivotal moments in the history of mankind and our relationship with God. There’s no doubt that the tempter in this passage is none other than Satan who the apostle John refers to in the New Testament as “the serpent of old” (Rev 20:2). However, as the story unfolds, the reader realizes that Satan apparently manifested himself in the guise of a snake. Not surprisingly, this causes many students of the Bible to take pause. A snake? Really? Are we expected to believe that a snake actually talked to Eve? How dense was she anyway? Let’s face it, if a snake slithers up to one of us on the street and starts talking, we’re going to know immediately that we shouldn’t trust it. Why? Because snakes don’t talk!

But let’s put ourselves in Eve’s shoes for a second … well, not her shoes for she was naked for the time being, but hang with me anyway – Eve was a relatively new creation at this point. It was Adam that God presented all the animals to so they could be named in Genesis 2:20; Eve wasn’t created until Genesis 2:22 – she had probably never seen a snake in her short life at that point. In her naivety, Eve was a perfect target for Satan’s ruse. And she fell for it hook, line, and sinker.

So are we to believe that Satan literally spoke to Eve through a snake? I believe we are. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians that Satan masquerades as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:14) and Peter adds that Satan prowls about like a lion looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8) so we should expect Satan to go to great lengths to fool us! But allow me to put this question into perspective just a bit. We can get so caught up in the question of rather this is a literal snake or not that we miss the principle that should be derived from the scene.

Satan, the father of lies, fooled Eve and he is still trying to fool us today. To see this in action, take a look at Acts 5:1-3:

But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and kept back some of the price for himself, with his wife’s full knowledge, and bringing a portion of it, he laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land?” 

Satan conspired with the inclination of Ananias and Sapphira’s hearts to cause them to sin. Peter immediately discerned this and asked, “Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit?” Satan baited their hook and they fell for it. And he is baiting your hook right now.

“You surely will not die!”

 Whatever sin your heart is inclined toward, Satan is trying to bait your hook with opportunity and reassure you with the lie that you won’t die. It’s all going to be okay. But Scripture reveals the truth. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23) and we are all called to respond to Jesus’s plea “repent for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 4:17).

We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Satan may not be appearing to you as a snake, but he is appearing to you in some fashion. It may be in the form of alcohol, drugs, pornography, a relationship that’s bad for you … there are countless ways he may disguise himself … but his  whispered lie remains the same, “You surely will not die.”

The challenge for all of us to hear Jesus’ voice above the whispers of Satan, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near.”

Related Posts: God Delights in Blessing Mankind, The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil

Lessons from Genesis: God Delights in Blessing Mankind

genesisIn the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” These are the words that open the Bible’s account of creation. Far too often, we read these words and immediately try to turn Scripture into a science textbook.

  • When did He do it? 
  • How old’s the earth? 
  • How did He do it? 

I don’t mean to suggest these question are not important, however, I do believe there is a more important and better question … Why did He do it? 

Why did God create the heavens and the earth? One answer I hear quite often is that God created the heavens, the earth, and ultimately mankind because He was lonely and longed for companionship. I’m not sure about this answer. God is presented in Scripture as living a perfectly harmonious and unified relationship of Father, Son, and Spirit. It is a relationship so closely knit that the three persons of the Trinity are defined as One God. Three in one. God exists in the most perfect relationship imaginable so I tend to reject the argument that He was somehow lonely and needed mankind to complete Him. I also believe Scripture provides us with a better answer.

Over and over, God is presented as declaring His creation as “good.” God created light and saw that it was good (Gen 1:3-4), God created the earth and the seas and saw that is was good (1:10), God created vegetation and saw it was good (1:12), God created the sun and the moon and saw it was good (1:18), likewise God goes on to create all the animals of the sky, oceans, and land and declares them as good. Good for what we might ask? What is all this stuff good for?

It’s good for us. Mankind. The one and only creatures that were created in God’s image.

Chapter 2 of Genesis demonstrates to us that God created mankind from the dust of the ground and then “breathed the breath of life into us” (2:7). Then God proceeds to create the Garden of Eden for mankind in verse 2:8. He didn’t create man for the Garden, He created the Garden for the man!

Out of the ground the Lord God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (2:9).

God cause to grow trees that were pleasing for food and sight for mankind. He wasn’t just concerned with feeding us, He also wanted us to enjoy ourselves. I can imagine God thinking to Himself as He created:

  • “Oh yes, they are going to love this tree! It is beautiful! it is good!”
  • “These tomatoes are so juicy and ripe … just wait until he sinks His teeth into them!”

God created the world the way He did to bless us. There is something innate to His person that wants to see mankind blessed. He created us in His image and placed us on a planet that is conducive to our survival and enjoyment. He blessed us because that’s the kind of God He is. He is a God who blesses. The prophet Isaiah described Him as an Artist:

“But now, O Lord, You are our Father, We are the clay, and You our potter; And all of us are the work of Your hand” (Isaiah 64:8). 

He is the potter and we are the clay. Carefully crafted in the image of the Father, Son, and Spirit and created to be blessed and to glorify Him. Isaiah also reveals we were created to glorify the God who created us (Isaiah 43:7). That’s the way it was meant to work. He blesses us and we glorify Him.

It’s easy to see how God blesses us. Just look out your window at the world we live in. Look up into the mystery of space in the night sky. Look at you family and loved ones. God blesses us. It might be harder to discern how we are supposed to glorify Him. Scripture tells us there is one vehicle between our blessings and His glory – Jesus Christ.

The apostle John tells us that nothing that has been created has been created apart from Jesus Christ for it is through Him that all things were created (John 1:1-5). All of our blessing came though Jesus Christ … He is the vehicle through which God the Father blesses us through creation. Likewise, it is through Jesus Christ that we glorify God. Jesus said that He is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life and no one gets to the Father but through [Him]” (John 14:6). God the Father blesses us through Jesus and we glorify the Father through Jesus. There simply is no other way.

And here is the wonderful part. The same God who delighted in creating the world to bless us is still delighting in creating for us. Revelation tells us that we will someday inherit a new heaven and a new earth to replace the one we have tainted with our sin. Guess where that new heaven and new earth is going to come from …

“If I [Jesus] go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:3).

Just as God the Father created the heavens and the earth through Jesus to bless mankind at the beginning of time in Genesis, He is creating a new heaven and a new earth through Jesus to bless us at the end of time. He will continue to bless us and we can continue to glorify Him through His Son Jesus.

“Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6). 

Our God is a God who delights in blessing His creation. How can we not have the desire to glorify His Holy Name.

Amen?

What Makes the Prayers of a Christian Different?

prayerhands
image found on xeon24.com

This subject came up in a class I was teaching at my church last night and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. I’m convinced that, given the right incentive, everyone prays. You could put the staunchest of atheists in a foxhole and they will call out for help once the bullets start whizzing. The Bible says that God has set eternity in the hearts of man (Ecclesiastes 3:11). We all know there’s something, we just don’t always know what that Something is. So when the chips are down, we have a tendency to pray … even if we’re not Christians.

So I asked this question, “What makes the prayers of a Christian different?

The most striking characteristic of a Christian’s prayers is the One to whom we pray to. We are praying to the God that has been revealed to us in the pages of Scripture. He is a God that we can know. When a non-believer prays, it’s like throwing stuff at a wall to see what sticks. Because their prayers aren’t specifically addressed to our Living God, they aren’t heard. A Christian’s prayers are voiced to a specific, living God that has made Himself known to us. Scripture says that Jesus is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15). In fact, it is through Jesus that we are allowed access into God’s presence. God is holy, and mankind isn’t (Romans 3:23). Christ accepted our fate on the cross (Romans 6:23) … we deserved death and He took our punishment. It was that sacrifice that tore the veil between sinful man and a Holy God (Matthew 27:50-51). Adam and Eve were expelled from God’s presence because of their sin (Genesis 3:23) and Christ’s sacrifice on cross allows us to step back into His presence.

When a Christian falls on bended knee, they are in the presence of God Almighty. And that makes their prayers different from those of the unbeliever.

Scripture commands the believer to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). An ongoing conversation with God, along with a familiarity with His Word, allows a believer to discern His Will through prayer. So our prayers become less about us and more about Him. When we approach God in prayer we are to ask for His will to be done with confidence (Matthew 6:10), because His will is always what’s best our lives.

The prayers of a believer are sincere, earnest, specific, obedient and unselfish. These characteristics should set the believer’s prayers apart from the prayers of a non-believer. A Christian can approach God in prayer through faith … and that makes all the difference. Hebrews 11:6 seems an appropriate place to end this post:

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).

Thank you Jesus for allowing my prayers to be heard.

Never Stop Praising Him!

Mankind was designed to worship God. Isaiah 43:7 says we were created to give God glory. That is the meaning of our lives, to give glory to the One who created us. In Revelation chapter 4 John is given a glimpse into the throne room of God Almighty. In verse 8, he details four heavenly creatures who praise God:

“… day and night they do not cease to say, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come'” (Revelation 4:8).

These heavenly creatures never stop praising God Almighty. John continues to write that whenever they whenever these creatures give God glory, the twenty-four elders seated around the throne fall down before Him in worship, cast their crowns at His feet, and say:

“Worthy are you, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created” (Revelation 4:11).

Can you imagine this scene of never-ending glory being given to God Almighty? Like these heavenly creatures, we were created to give Him glory. Why? Because He deserves it. He is the creator of all things! He is worthy to receive glory, honor, and power! God and God alone is worthy of our praise and we should never stop praising Him!

It occurred to me today that when I find myself struggling with all those familiar sins that seem to nip at my heels, it is during moments when I have stopped praising Him. It is in moments when I have taken my eyes off of God’s glory and placed them elsewhere. In 1 Thessalonians 5 Paul instructs us to pray without ceasing and to give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thess 5:16-18). I think we can safely add to this, praise without ceasing. I should live my life in a manner that is constantly heaping praise and glory on My Creator for He is worthy of that praise!

As I go about my business this week, I will be reciting Revelation 4:8 and 11 in my mind often to remind me who God is and why He deserves continual and never-ending praise … will you join me?