Tests for Assurance: 1 John 2.3-14

How many of us would consider ourselves fathers or mothers in Jesus? How about young men or women? Or children?

In 1 John 2.3-14 we see that assurance in the faith grows when we obey God and love others. And, just like we grow in our faith in Jesus, it’s God’s plan that we’d grow in the assurance that we belong to God.

That’s why old Apostle John writes his first epistle to the churches under his care, and why he gives them (and us) tests to help us measure our growth in the faith. These tests (repeated in three cycles) make up the structure of John’s letter. We consider the first two tests in the first cycle today.

Test of Obedience (2.3-6). And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments (:3). John bases this first test of assurance on our habitual and continual desire for the things of God. Notice, he’s not basing our assurance on some experience in the past, or even our testimony including what we say, but on our watchfulness and observance of what God has said.

And here we’re thankful for Jesus, again, since Jesus didn’t recite all 600-some Old Testament commands and tell us to follow them. Instead, Jesus kept the law of God perfectly and then summarized the ruling principle of God’s Law into one command. In John 13.34, Jesus says: A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. 

That’s Jesus’ command that gives root to every one of our acts of obedience in service to God and others. And it leads to the second test.

Test of Love (2.7-11). This command is both “old” and “new”. It’s old in that it doesn’t add anything to what John has already taught his churches. It’s new in that it’s about Jesus who, in Himself by the Jewish and Old Testament way of reckoning things, divides the “present age” from the “age to come”. The darkness is passing away, because Jesus has been on the scene. Those who love, in Jesus, grow in assurance because they pass the test of belonging to God.

But here we have a practical problem. If you were to ask those on the street whether they love people, I’ll bet about 99% would “say” that they do. But, this test doesn’t measure what we “say”; it measures what we do, remember?

Have you ever known an emotionally wounded person? Maybe, you are that person. Certainly I’ve been wounded in seasons. It’s possible, when we’re hurting, to view all of life through our roundedness. You know how it works. Somebody hurts us; then we interpret every action after that through the original events, till, finally, we  … do not know where we are going, because the darkness has blinded his [our] eyes. The Test of Love allows those who have been wounded to hold themselves up to God’s character and ask God for help when they hurt. The hurt is real. Justice needs to be done, maybe. But, our responses can still be loving when we’re hurting. Healing doesn’t come right away, but we can grow through seasons of woundedness, and eventually healing comes because the true light is shining.

Application on Growth and Spiritual Maturity (:12-14). The third test waits while John provides a digression on the church. He speaks to “children,” “fathers” [and mothers] and “young men” [and women]. These refer to levels of maturity. Important is that each has achieved victory and is presently enjoying the result of victory. The perfect tense verbs (somewhat obscured in most English translations) talk about you “having been forgiven,” “having known him who was from the beginning,” “having overcome the evil one”. Past action with present results. As John Stott writes in his commentary, “John is laying emphasis on the assured standing into which every Christian has come, whatever his age of spiritual development”.

So, test yourself this week, why don’t you. Ask yourself if you’re obeying God, thinking especially of Jesus’ command to love others. The purpose of John’s tests is not to grow doubt (unless you don’t believe in Jesus’ work) but assurance. Throw yourself on Jesus’ God-the-Father-satisfying work yet again (2.2). And then, abide in God. Let Him grow you in assurance that you belong to Him. And know  that this assurance is rooted in the person and work of Jesus.

Here’s some questions to consider:

What about John’s teaching in this section do you find challenging to understand?

What about John’s teaching do you find difficult to apply? Like the Law of Love, it seems simple and straightforward, until we think of ways we become confused, right?

How have you grown in your assurance, since you first believed in Jesus? 

What level of assurance that you belong to God would you like to arrive at? What’s keeping you from going there?  

 

Walking in the Light: 1 John 1.5-2.2

In this over-busy Northwoods week, we continue our study in 1 John by looking at verses 1.5-2.2. Read through it, why don’t you? When you do you’ll note that walking in the light of who God is means thinking rightly about sin and acting on the work of Christ. 

God is light, not darkness (1.5). This verse is the anchor for the passage. It’s about who God is and what we have to be like, if we’re going to have a relationship with God.

Why do you think God is described this way?

What characteristic of light helps us understand something essential about God’s character? 

After introducing the broad themes of light and darkness, John gives us three denials that the false teachers in his churches were, doubtless, proliferating:

  • The denial that sin breaks our fellowship with God (1.6-7)
  • The denial that sin exists in our nature (1.8-9)
  • The denial that sin shows itself in our conduct (1.10-2.2)

With each of these deceptive teachings about sin, John talks about the work of Christ. Notice how the work of Jesus satisfies the requirement of our Holy God.

Which if these denials do you see most today?

How does reliance on Jesus by faith serve to correct the false ideas about sin that each denial includes? 

How would you put 1 John 2.2 into your own words? Why is this truth about Jesus so absolutely wonderful? 

When we depend on Christ and don’t take sin lightly, we can walk in the light like God is in the light. Fantastic, isn’t it?

Have a great week!

Fellowship in the Gospel Message: 1 John 1.1-4

Recently, I listened to the Packers play the Vikings. Great game! Five full quarters, and it came down to one, chip-shot field goal by the Viking’s rookie kicker. Do you know what he did? He shanked it!

After the game the poor guy explained why. By his own admission, he lacked confidence. Lacked assurance.

When we lack assurance in the Christian life, we shank it. That’s why Old John the Apostle wrote the letter we call 1 John. He wrote to churches he oversaw in Asia Minor (present-day Turkey) to remind them of the assurance they can have that they belong to God. 

In the first four verses of John’s heart-warming letter we learn that assurance is all about right gospel fellowship, with God and with other believers.

Proof of fellowship with God and other believers (:1-2). For John, fellowship with God is about something he calls “the word of life”. Proof of fellowship includes sensory knowledge of the “word of life”: we’ve heard the word, we’ve seen the word with our eyes, we’ve looked at the word and our hands have touched the word. This “word” existed before the beginning of all things. And, God has made manifest the “word of life”.

Do you get the feeling that the “word of life” isn’t a thing, but a person? You’d be right to feel that. John is talking about the fellowship of those who knew the Lord Jesus in this life. His Greek-speaking churches in the late 1st century needed to remember that God had revealed Himself in the man named Jesus who is the Christ. Jesus is 100% man, totally human, flesh-and-blood. No use searching beyond Jesus for some logos or ordering principle of the universe beyond Jesus. Know Jesus and you know God revealed.

But, it might have ended there. Why is the fellowship of those who belong to God not limited to those who walked with Jesus in this life?

Proclamation of fellowship in the Gospel message about Jesus (:3). … That which we have seen and heard we proclaim ALSO to you (:3a). In the key verse of the prologue to John’s letter we now see a shift from Jesus the word to the gospel as the word. John is widening the fellowship of those who are in fellowship with God to those who hear and believe the good news about Jesus! Why? … so that you may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.

“Fellowship” involves both personal relationship and common purpose. Through the gospel message we’re included in this fellowship of those who know Jesus! Through the gospel message we’re included with the Father and His Son Jesus. And that’s good news for us today!

Purpose of proclaiming fellowship in the gospel message about Jesus (:4). And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. John’s purpose will be accomplished through his writing. John’s purpose will make his “joy complete”.

This is a great reason to read John’s first epistle. John is the apostle of the heart. He’s going to show us how to be in fellowship with God and—through tests we can give to ourselves—to prove to ourselves that we are in fellowship with God and those who, likewise, love God. And that means assurance.

Fellowship with God and other believers takes place through the gospel message about Jesus the Christ. 

Here’s a couple of questions to consider as we prepare for the rest of John’s letter:

We’re going to find out in the weeks to come that the false teachers in John’s churches got the gospel message about Jesus wrong. What happens if we get the gospel message about Jesus wrong? Is it still good news? Does it still bring about fellowship? 

How would you define “the gospel”? What about Jesus do you have to know and believe to be in fellowship with God?

How can we be sure that we’re in this fellowship of those who rely and believe in Jesus? 

Look at the following references: John 15.11; 16.24; and 17.13. From whom do you think John got the idea of “complete joy”? 

 

 

Holiness Yet To Come: 1 Corinthians 15.20-23

This week’s topic finds us right where we are. All of us!

For a number of years, in my former ministry in Iowa, I served as our church’s pastor of care. That meant I got to sit with people as they were dying—while they were preparing to leave their bodies here on earth, while they were preparing their souls to meet the Lord. That’s a complex thing in every way, complex even for those who are ready and really want to be with the Lord.

One of my favorite saints was named Verne Joslin. Vern and I visited weekly during the last year of his life. We read Scripture together, we prayed together, and sometimes—when I just wanted to get out of the church office—we just passed time together.

When it came time for Verne to die, I visited one last time. With his vitals failing, he looked straight at me and asked softly, “What shall I do now?”

Most of us need two or three reps before we respond rightly to surprise questions, and I’m no different. But this time I paused a minute, asked the Lord for insight, and gave an answer I’m still happy with …

“Verne,” I said. “Don’t do anything. You’ve understood what Jesus has done for you. You’ve placed your trust in Him. You’ve cooperated with God’s Spirit all these years. Now, let Jesus take you. Let Jesus present you to the Father clothed in His own righteousness. Rest.”

And so Verne died, two days later.

We’ve been thinking about how our holiness is the provision of God in which those who have trusted Christ have been changed (in the past, when we trusted Christ), are being changed (in the present), and will be changed (in the future) to take on God’s character … Holiness Past, Holiness Present, Holiness Yet To Come. Through God’s holiness project, we’ve been saved from the power of sin, are being saved from the practice of sin, and will be saved from the presence of sin.

But, what will God do to bring to completion His work of holiness in us? That’s what we’re thinking about this week.

God will complete His work in our souls and bodies. We’re talking here about the work of God we call glorification. This is where God’s holiness project is going, the end-point we’re all waiting for. Except for those who are alive at Christ’s coming (and we might be!) glorification takes place in stages.

Holiness Present for our souls takes place at death (2 Cor 5.6-8; Phil 1.21-23; 1 Thess 4.14; Heb 12.22-23). As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, … we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yet, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord (2 Cor 5.6-8).

Paul recognizes that death involves a separation. While death would be good, in that he’d be with the Lord, it’s also bad (in the moment) in that he’d be divided, body from soul. For that work of future holiness in his body, Paul will have to wait for Christ’s return (Rm 8.11; 1 Cor 15.20-23, 42-49; 2 Cor 5.1-8; Phil 3.20-21). As Paul had written to the Corinthians in an earlier letter, But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive (1 Cor 15.20-23).

That’s true for us too. Christ’s return is the focal point for everyone who has trusted Christ and now struggles to learn holiness in this life. While we make progress, by the power of the Spirit, we won’t be fully formed in God’s character until we’re with Him, body and soul. And when we finally are, God will fulfill our hopes. God will provide final relief from sin and death. And, God will make us like Christ, in every aspect of our being. This is the completion of God’s divine surgery when my actual condition will match what God says about me in Christ.

My grandmother on my father’s side is buried on a hillside in a beautiful place named Pratum, Oregon. Soon after her passing, the family gathered to stand next to her graveside and reflect. Suddenly, my grandfather said, with finality, “She’s not here!” He was right. “She” was with the Lord. But, my grandfather was also becoming right, because her body was there with us. The exercise in standing there together proved hopeful, because it drew our attention from death to Christ. God’s completed work of Holiness Future for us lies yet in the future and is all bound up in Christ’s return.

What will God do to complete His work of holiness in me? God, at the return of Christ, will free me completely from sin making me like Himself in His own holiness. 

This is humbling. Apart from Christ, I have nothing I need to dwell with God. In Christ, there’s nothing else I need. And, this is hopeful. My life is really going somewhere because God is at work in me, in Christ.

 

Here’s some questions to think about as we consider Holiness Future. They involve some passages to look up together. No reason to look them all up, but pick a few.

How will God work in our souls and bodies at our death and at Christ’s return?: 2 Cor 5.6-8; Phil 1.21-23; 1 Thess 4.14; Heb 12.22-23; Rm 8.11; 1 Cor 15.20-23, 42-49; 2 Cor 5.1-8; Phil 3.20-21.

How will God fulfill our hopes?: Rm 8.23-25; 2 Cor 4.13-18; Titus 2.11-13.

How will God provide final relief from sin and death?: 1 Cor 15.54-55; 2 Cor 5.1-5.

How will God make us like Christ?: Phil 3.20-21; 1 Jn 3.2-3; Col 3.3.

And, have a great week in the Lord!

Holiness Present: Romans 6.12-14

Here’s a thinker for you …

Let’s suppose there is a couple who is living together. They’re not married, they don’t know Christ, and they aren’t following God’s plan for their lives.

Then, one of them (let’s make it the guy) gets invited to a small group or men’s ministry meeting. He hears the Gospel and trusts Jesus. Then, he returns home, goes to sleep and wakes up with his partner with whom he is certainly not serving God.

Question: Is this guy holy?

Well, YES … and NOT YET.

He’s holy because he has been joined to Christ. Just like we learned last week from Romans 6.1-11 in our lesson on “particular” holiness, those who have trusted in Jesus can say that they are holy because they’ve been joined to the death, burial and resurrection life of Jesus! Romans 5 tells us that, like a judge, God has changed our status or position. The minute we trust in Christ we’re declared righteous before God, based on Jesus and His work. But, Romans 6 tells us God has also changed our condition. Like a surgeon, God has gone into us and changed something about our moral condition. 

The guy in our story has been freed from the Power of Sin. He doesn’t have to sin anymore! But … He is not yet free of the Practice of Sin. And, frankly, like the rest of us, he won’t be entirely free from the practice of sin until he’s with Jesus. He needs to grow.

This week in our study on Holiness Present we’re asking: what is my part in the pursuit of holiness? The answer(s) are a scatter-shot gathered from all over the New Testament. They’re like a kind of irreducible complexity: you can say more than what we’ll say, but I don’t think you can say less.

We’ll drill down into the first answer, reference the others and let you discuss them with your small group or family.

  • Holiness Present begins at conversion and is the process in which the Christian practically separates from sin and YIELDS herself to God (Romans 6.12-14).

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions (Romans 6.12, ESV). Notice the heart-language here. The business of growing in holiness is a battle for our desires. And it’s a battle for what we want in the moment.

Imagine you’ve just settled down to watch the Packers. And then, at the opening kickoff, you remember that the kitchen is full of dirty dishes, and in the economy of your home that means you need to do the dishes. What do you want most in the moment? I bet you’d know the right thing to do and even what is best for you, but I also bet you’d actually follow your immediate desires.

Holiness is about growing strong desires for righteousness that we follow each moment. Sin doesn’t reign in us anymore. We have a new Master, and our desire to serve Him grows and overwhelms our desires for our former practices.

That’s still a struggle, isn’t it? But, the growing Christian who has been made holy in the past will make progress in the present, as he yields to God who helps him.

J.C. Ryle, in his book Holiness, writes of this struggle: Are we conscious of two principles within us, contending for the mastery? Do we feel anything of war in our inward man? Well, let us thank God for it! It is a good sign. It is strongly probable evidence of the great work of sanctification. All true saints are soldiers. 

Here’s six more truths about Holiness Present, along with verses to look up. They’re all about the ways that we make progress in holiness as we aggressively put ourselves in the place to be changed by God. They’d make a great study, for individual or group study:

  • Holiness Present involves the work of the Spirit who FILLS and controls the Christian (Acts 4.7-8; 13.52; Eph 5.17-19).
  • Holiness Present requires active PARTICIPATION from the Christian who depends on the Spirit to change her heart (Romans 8.13-14; 12.1-2; 2 Cor 7.1; Phil 2.12-13). 
  • Holiness Present affects the whole PERSON: the intellect (2 Cor 10.5; Col 1.9-10), the emotions (Gal 5.22), the will (Rm 13.14) and the body (1 Cor 9.27). 
  • Since the Christian will not be without sin till he is in Christ’s presence (Rm 6.12-13), Holiness Present will not be COMPLETED in this life (Gal 5.17; Phil 3.20-21).
  • The Spirit works through MEANS: Bible study (2 Tim 3.16), prayer (1 These 5.17), meditation on the Gospel (Phil 3.8-11) and endurance in suffering (2 Cor 1.3-4). 
  • The ultimate goal of Holiness Present is conformity to the IMAGE OF CHRIST (2 Cor 3.18; 1 Jn 3.2-3).

So, what is my part in the pursuit of holiness?

My part in the pursuit of holiness is to yield myself increasingly to God, becoming more like Jesus in His perfect obedience, until I’m with the Lord. 

Take some time to discuss Holiness Present with someone else: Which of the seven truths above do you find to be most significant or helpful for you? 

Can you point to moments or periods of time in your walk with Christ when that truth helped you? 

Next week, we’ll consider where all this is going. We’ll discuss the end of holiness—Holiness Yet To Come (1 Cor 15.20-23).

 

Holiness Past: Romans 6.1-11

This week at Woodland we begin a short season of thinking about holiness.

While we’ll be in the Book of Romans, we’ll start off with that picture of God’s holiness we receive in Isaiah 6.1-7. Read it, why don’t you? When you do you’ll realize what a special glimpse we’re given through the prophetic vision of Isaiah as he witnessed the presence of God, and became overwhelmed, even, by the angelic beings who spent their strength doing nothing but worshipping God.

We also get a picture from Isaiah’s vision of what happens when we encounter God in His holiness. There is dread … confession of sin … and God’s provision that allows Isaiah (and us) to go on living. Then, we come to the New Testament and consider verses like 1 Peter 1.13-16, especially verse 16: … “You shall be holy, for I am holy”. 

So, here’s the question for us: How is this going to work? How are we going to be changed to share God’s character, so that we are holy like God?!

Our holiness, we’ll learn, is the provision of God in which those who have trusted Christ have been changed (in the past), are being changed (in the present), and will be changed (in the future) to take on God’s character. Holiness past … holiness present … holiness yet to come. 

That brings us to Romans 6. In verses 1-4, I come to understand that I’ve been joined to Christ in His death and burial. To see where Paul is coming from in Romans 6 we have to catch his meaning in Romans 5, especially verse 19: For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. 

Romans 5 teaches us that just as Adam brought sin into the world, Jesus entered the world and obeyed God where Adam had failed. We are, then, declared righteous when we trust in Jesus by faith. In biblical language, we are “justified”. Justification changes our legal position  before God. Before we were guilty. Now, we are declared righteous based on Jesus’ active obedience, since He kept God’s law for us, and declared righteous on Jesus’ passive obedience, where He took the sins of lawbreakers on Himself, and died in our places.

But something else takes place in time at the moment we trust Jesus and are declared righteous in Christ: We are also changed in our moral condition. That is the business of sanctification (or holiness). Holiness, as we’ll see next week, is a more-or-less thing in our lives. We grow in it, so we become more holy than we were. But it begins with a positional, bottom-line act of God in which He changes our moral condition and frees us from the power of sin.

One Anglican preacher from the last century said it this way: I fear that is is sometimes forgotten that God has married together justification and sanctification. They are distinct and different things, beyond question, but one is never found without the other (J.C. Ryle, in Holiness).

Paul argues like a rabbi in these verses with questions: How should we respond to God’s judgment about us? … Will saved people continue to live the same way? … How can a dead person continue to live as he did? … Don’t you know that we joined Christ in His death? But, his basic meaning is that we’ve been joined to Christ in His death and burial experience, and because we’re in Christ WE ARE DEAD TO OUR FORMER SINS, AND WE ARE CHANGED!

A second reason we ought to regard ourselves as having been made holy is that I’ve been joined to Christ in His resurrection life (:5-10). Christ’s death led to His resurrection (:5). My death (in Christ) leads to my new condition in which I’m free with respect to sin (:6-7). My life in Christ will lead to my future resurrection (:8-10). The result of being joined to Christ’s resurrection with respect to my sins is that I now have freedom not to sin.

The high point of this critical passage about holiness comes in verse 11. Here I learn that I am alive to God in Christ! So  you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. That’s our new reality. That’s where we need to live and the true place where we need to let our minds dwell.

I can say that I’ve been made holy because I’ve been joined to the death, burial and resurrection life of Jesus, so that (in Christ) I am alive to God. 

Take a few to consider holiness.

Are you, in fact, holy? Why would you say that you are? Or aren’t? 

If you don’t feel holy, why might that be?

What if you don’t experience regular victory over sin? Why might that be? 

As we’ll see next week, holiness is both a past provision for us (think Romans 6.1-11), but it’s a present, progressive and on-going process as well (Romans 6.12-14).

Why not cheat and look ahead at the rest of Romans 6 to learn how God is making His set-apart people more holy?

 

 

Pictures of Faith: Certain Faith—Hebrews 11-12.2

“Free advice,” the sign read. These were my student days. I was biking around our inner-city lake were I used to exercise, and there he sat—a man next to the bike path, comfortable, in his lawn chair and with his sign.

Not able to pass up a curious encounter, I stopped but didn’t get off my bike.

“Totally free?” I asked.

“No charge,” he answered.

“All right,” I said, thinking what I could ask. “I’m considering getting married. What should I do?”

“Do it!!” the man offered, with great enthusiasm, and for free.

“Right on!” I said and went back to riding.

While at that juncture in my life I don’t think I even had a girlfriend, the encounter had just confirmed one thing: faith is only as good as good as the object (or person) in whom it is placed. Lawn chair guy and his advice wasn’t going to change my life.

This summer at Woodland we’ve considered a number of the Old Testament historical figures we meet in Hebrews 11. While few followed God without fault, all of them trusted God with a kind of faith God finds acceptable.

Faith God accepts embraces God’s real but invisible plan (11). This faith, we learn, involves confidence that comes from trusting in what is true. I like the NIV translation of verse 1: Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. Such faith operates like a kind of spiritual vision that helps us rest in what our eyes can’t see, possibly (like with Old Testament figures) because it hasn’t happened yet.

God accepted the faith of those who lived before Christ, even though He hadn’t revealed His entire plan. For by it the people of old received their commendation from God (11.2, ESV). They trusted in the God of Promise based on what He told them would happen, and this pleased God. Abel offered a better sacrifice than Cain, by faith. Enoch lived in obedience as one who walks with God, by faith. Noah believed when nobody else did, by faith. Abraham offered Isaac, by faith, believing God would raise him. Moses passed on the riches of Egypt to see God, by faith … God accepted their faith because they placed their trust in the right object.

But, what was that object, really? 

Verses 39-40 close the loop in Hebrews 11: And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect. 

Each of these Old Testament saints died with their heart’s desire yet unfulfilled, because God hadn’t finished His plan yet. God hadn’t finished His plan yet, because He wanted to include us. And what was God’s plan? It was to provide a Redeemer. Those whom God accepted in the Old Testament were saved by faith in a Redeemer who would come! These were saved not on the basis of the intensity of their faith but because of the One they believed in. Jesus was the object of their faith!

Faith God accepts embraces Jesus and endures in dependance on Him (12.1-2). So, we come to chapter 12 which is really an application for those of us who live after the cross. We’re to run with this “cloud of witnesses” before us. We’re to run putting away sin and impediments that distract. But, most of all, we’re to ” … run with endurance the race that is before us” (12.1b).

This is a reminder that the Christian life is a life of endurance. And, how do we endure? By looking to Jesus (12.2a). Jesus is the “pioneer” of our faith. Jesus is the completion of everything God is doing. Jesus endured the cross, because He wanted to please God. Jesus is sitting at the Father’s right hand. Jesus is the One we’re to look to while we respond to the circumstances God has allowed into our lives (the “race” or “course,” verse 1b).

The “race” has been particularly hard here at Woodland this past week. Floods in the southern part of the state stranded one Woodlander in a hotel as she was driving home from work. A three-year-old fractured his leg. Cancer is among us in the Westboro-Rib Lake community. (Three situations come immediately to mind.) And, one of our own at Woodland is presently at the Mayo Clinic having been diagnosed with Mantle Cell Lymphoma on Monday.

All of this calls us to think carefully about our faith in the object of One who is worthy. We’ll need to learn to depend on God and His plan and live the life of faith together, especially since we can’t see everything God is doing right away.

Mostly, we’ll need to look to Jesus, whom the Ancients longed for, but whom we know. This is what our summer study has prepared us for. Would that we go forward into the school year ready to endure with joy.

Faith God accepts embraces Jesus and endures in dependance on Him. 

How has trusting Jesus helped you endure in your “race”? It’s a personal question, but sharing encourages others. Why not hit the “comments” field at the top left of this article and encourage us with your story?

And have a great week in the LORD.

Do His Thing!

You haven’t seen me much on Facebook, have you? I lurk there a bit to see what I ought to know people are doing, but I won’t show you my lunch or make you jealous with pictures of my vacation. Still, I have my show-and-tells, and sometimes  a story has to be shared …

My staycation last week yielded a wonderful artefact of purposeful image-bearing in the shape and form of my authentic Westboro, barn wood and plumbing-flange shelves. (Special thanks to Dick and Viv Angelo for the raw material!) I don’t think I’m boasting here, except on God, but there’s some inventiveness going on here. Barn wood comes in the shape(s) it comes off the barn in. So, the only standard dimensions are unique ones. Plumbing flanges and nipples make the perfect mount, because they can be mixed and switched out individually to fit irregular lengths and depths.

Here’s where things spin off into theology. All this is like what God does. In the work of redemption, God takes all our irregular dimensions, and He adapts us, fits us, and repurposes us for His uses.

Reclaiming us is His Thing!

But, there’s more. Genesis 1.27-28 describes humankind’s creation in God’s image. Then, we’re told that God’s blessing carried the mandate to “be fruitful … multiply … fill the earth … subdue [the earth] … and have dominion …” Significantly, that’s basically what God had just done in the work of creation. So, our first purpose is to imitate God in His creative work. Imitating God in creation and doing good work in Christ is much of what we’re reclaimed by God to do.

Bearing God’s image in creation in imitation of God is our Thing!

Seg back to my shelves. There’s satisfaction here, because such inventiveness (the Latin root means “to discover”) involves careful planning, repurposing, adapting for new and good work, and filling (my house, in this case) with purposeful, creative design.

A woodworking craftsman could have built better shelves. But, anybody, working by faith in Christ, can connect his thing to God’s thing. And, there’s enormous satisfaction in that. It’s worth a staycation even.

How about you? What purposeful work are you doing this summer, or planning to do this fall? How does this work reflect our first purpose of bearing God’s image? How does it reflect God’s further work of reclaiming us in Christ?

Why not hit the comment link and share your thoughts for the good of everybody?

Have a great weekend. And find joy in doing His thing!

Watch it, slow …

Youth baseball has ended in the Northwoods, at least for now. But before we pack the gloves and balls away in the sports tub for the year, I have a thought, and it has something to do with the pleasant month of August.

There’s a saying in baseball (at least they used in say it to me) that when you’re batting you’re supposed to “Watch the ball come in, slow.” So, you anticipate the pitch, and see it (laces and spin and all) as though it were in slow motion. It doesn’t make a world of sense, really. The ball moves just as fast as if you’re not really “seeing it,” but, somehow, getting your mind around the spinning pitch this way can turn a batter into a hitter.

August is a month of goodness. Still, it spins toward us just as fast as any other month—and maybe a little faster, what with everybody breathlessly trying to slip in an eleventh-hour vacation, while getting nervous already and trying not to think about everything rushing toward us in the fall. But, it’s a month with an opportunity.

It’s an opportunity to consider our God, the Father of all goodness. And, to “Watch it, slow” … 

How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings. 

They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights.

For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light (Psalm 36.7-9, ESV).

Do we believe, in this month of goodness, that God is really the source of all goodness? If we do, and press ourselves to see the month of August in this light, I bet we’ll each take some time to ponder a bit—to sit in that lawn chair for an extra ten minutes, to putter in the garden an extra hour, and consciously give praise and thanks to our God of goodness.

We’ll take the time to “Watch it, slow”.

Pictures of Faith: Certain Strength—Judges 16.4-31

What’s the source of your strength?

That might sound like a funny opener, so just think of your strength as being your “thing”—that part of your life that gives you significance and helps you get ahead. Up here in the Northwoods, our “things” might be our connection to our possessions (especially boats, guns, wheelers), our ability to spend our time the way we want, or even our special relationships—families even.

This week in our annual Ice Age Days service in Rib Lake we at Woodland are thinking about an historical figure who lived in the 11th century before Christ in the Ancient Near Eastern nation of Israel. Everybody wanted to know where this guy’s strength came from. “How’d you get that ‘thing’?” they might have asked.

The account of Samson begins in Judges 13 when the LORD himself appeared to Manoah and his wife and informed them they’d have a very special child. No razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazarite to God from the womb, and he shall begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines (:5).

Nazarite. The word means “set apart one”. Ancient Israelites would take Nazarite vows (sometimes for only a period of time) and then abstain from alcohol and from the touching of dead bodies, and from cutting of the hair. This boy would be set apart for God’s purposes for his whole life.

Samson is born, but at age 20 and by the beginning of Judges chapter 14, he’s not grown into a choir boy. In fact, he’s like a tatted-up bar fighter. It’s my imagination, but I can see him walking the streets of Rib Lake—about 275 pounds, tattoos, really long dreadlocks. He’d once gone out for football, maybe, but now he’s flunked out of school, and he’s just mad. Alcohol doesn’t mix right with his meds;  he’s a little bi-polar, and the cops are scared to death of him. Samson.

The rest of chapters 14 and 15 describe Samson’s great strength. He meets and marries a Philistine woman from among Israel’s enemies. Leading to the engagement he kills a lion with his own hands. After the engagement he visits the lion’s carcass and extracts honey and eats it—so much for being a Nazarite! He throws a wild party with lots of drinking, then kills 30 Philistines, so that  he can give their garments to the 30 men who’d won a bet against him by bribing his new Philistine wife for the answer to a riddle. After his wife is given to another man he captures 30 foxes and ties torches to their tails so that they burn the Philistine crops and vineyards. Then, he hides in the wilderness. After the international incident, the Philistines encamp against Israel. Three-thousand Israelites find Samson who allows them to bind him, since he’d caused so much trouble for them. But, he snaps the ropes and kills 1,000 men once he’s delivered to the Philistines. He goes to Gaza where the Philistines find him with a prostitute. His enemies wait to catch him at dawn, but he slips out at midnight, wrenches the city gates from their moorings and plants them on a nearby hill.

Who is the source of Samson’s strength? What is the secret of Samson’s strength? His hair? … really? 

The story comes to a climax in chapter 16 when God’s enemies seek the source of Samson’s strength (16.4-22). 

Samson meets another woman named Delilah. As they’d done before, the leaders of the Philistines bribe Samson’s girl to get the secret of his strength. “Please tell me where your great strength lies,” Delilah pleads. In three separate incidents, Samson deceives Delilah and her fellow-conspirators. “Bind me with fresh bowstrings” (probably woven-up animal guts) … “Tie me up with new ropes” … “Weave my lovey-locks into the loom and pin them to the floor”. In three separate incidents Delilah puts Samson to sleep, performs the hinted-at action, then calls out “Samson, the Philistines are upon you!”

Samson responds with strength. He’s got the tiger by the tail, having a great time. But then, Delilah appeals to his love for her. Now Samson must choose between his God and and his girl. And here, he strays too close to the source of his strength.

“If my head is shaved, then my strength will leave me, and I shall become weak and be like any other man” Samson tells her (:17).

Delilah put him to sleep on her knees and has his hair shorn. At her signal to the Philistines hidden in the room, Samson thinks, “I will go out as at other times and shake myself free” But, as the text tells us, he did not know that the LORD had left him (:20).

The Philistines seize him, shackle him, put out his eyes, and put him to grind grain in the prison. But the hair of his head began to grow again after it had been shaved (:22).

Does Samson know the secret of his own, former strength? we have to ask.

Samson finds the source of his strength (16.23-31). God’s enemies boast over Samson. They gather at the temple of Dagon saying, “Our god has given Samson our enemy into our hand“. Big mistake. They call for Samson to have him perform for them. But after entertaining them Samson plays on his own weakness. “Let me feel the pillars on which the house rests, that I may lean against them,” he tells the boy leading him by the hand.

The temple would have been supported by two pillars with the majority of the 3,000 guests seated on a balcony above where they could view the courtyard below. Pretending to be exhausted, he rests his hands on the two pillars and prays, “O LORD God, please remember me and please strengthen me only this once, O God …” (:28). Then the Spirit of God returns, and Samson pulls the house down, on himself and on God’s enemies … so the dead whom he killed at his death were more than those whom he had killed during his life (:30).

The lesson of Samson is that God through His Spirit is the source of Samson’ strength, not Samson himself … and not his hair.

In the years that followed God would raise up the great prophet Samuel and the great king David, who prefigures the once and forever King Jesus Christ. Jesus came not to reign at His first coming, but to die and be raised from the dead to newness of life. That’s where we are today, awaiting Jesus’ second coming in power. And, those of us who live between Jesus’ two comings find our connection to Jesus through the Spirit of God.

One of the lessons I can take from the account of Samson is that God’s Spirit is the source of my strength.

Locating myself in God’s plan of redemption like this allows me to realize some truths about God’s Spirit in my life.

First, God’s Spirit enters my life when I trust in Jesus. (See Galatians 3.2). In contrast to the time before Jesus when God’s Spirit came on people for specific purposes and then left, we receive the Spirit who connects us to Jesus and then stays, preparing us for the time when we’ll really be with Jesus. Incredible!

Then, and second, God’s Spirit remains with me to remind me that I am set apart for Jesus. Romans 9.15-16 says, For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God. 

God’s Spirit is now the warm, internal witness to the truth of the Gospel. It’s like He takes up residence in me to say, “It’s real! It’s real. You are set apart to God!”

Finally, the Spirit of God brings about life change. We didn’t really see this in Samson, did we? But, when God’s Spirit enters our lives, He comes to make us holy in our thoughts, words and deeds.

And that’s really important for each of us in our situations. Some of us are in tough places. Maybe, we have a young adult child who’s rebellious like Samson. We just can’t see a pathway forward. But, God can change hearts, so we pray the our child will trust God and that God’s strength will be released in his or her life. Or, we’re in an impossible family situation where there appears to be no human way our family tailspin will be stopped. Here again, God through His Spirit can be the source of our strength, and God wants to be approached by faith.

God’s Spirit is the source of your strength! What do you have to trust Him for, in Jesus? In the end, it’s not your “thing” that gives you strength. He is the Lord, and He would do business with you today.

See you Sunday in Rib Lake. And, have a great weekend, in the Lord …!