How Shall Christians Be Known?

The mark of a relationship with Christ has taken many forms over the ages, but with one common factor: a self-sacrificing love.

In the book of Genesis, Joseph, son of Jacob, has a fascinating story.  Joseph was favored by his father, despised by his brothers, sold into slavery in Egypt, but eventually rose to a position of prominence under Pharaoh.  In Genesis 41, Pharaoh learns that Joseph has interpreted dreams and calls for his help with Pharaoh’s own distressing series of dreams.  Joseph interprets Pharaoh’s dreams as a prophecy of seven years of famine and recommends a plan to get through it.  After this interpretation comes Genesis 41:38, where “Pharaoh said to his servants, ‘Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God?’”  We connect Pharoah’s recognition of God’s Spirit in Joseph to the correct interpretation of dreams, but there is more to it:  Joseph also cared for the people of Egypt and oversaw the plan to survive the famine.

In the book of Acts, after Peter’s proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ to many “rulers and elders and scribes gathered together in Jerusalem,[1] Acts 4:13 records that “when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.”  These crowds knew that Peter and John had been with Jesus, that they had a similar spirit.  They had something that comes not from this world’s schools or from what it holds in distinguished, high regard.  Instead, “they were uneducated, common men,” but they carried the mark of Jesus.  They had a connection to an unknown source of boldness and were concerned for the spiritual needs of all people.

In the Psalms, a Psalmist (probably David) wrote in Psalm 119:97-98:

Oh how I love your law!
            It is my meditation all the day.
Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies,
            for it is ever with me.”

The Psalmist praises God’s commandment as a source of wisdom better than anything available to his enemies.  By meditating on God’s commandments, the Psalmist is “wiser than my enemies,” because he has a wisdom from an unworldly source.  He carries the mark of Christ, but what is this commandment and what is this wisdom?

In Matthew 22:37-40, Jesus says the greatest commandments are: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”  In other words, any and all commands of God are subordinated to the command to love God and neighbor, including our enemies.

In John 13:34-35, Jesus reiterates the rule, telling His disciples: “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.”  Therefore, how can all people “find a man…in whom is the Spirit of God?”  Where will the world find astonishing boldness and good news among even “uneducated, common men”?  They will find it in those who have the fruit of the Spirit, which begins with “love,” but also includes “joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”[2]

So, does someone have a physical need like those impacted by the famine in Joseph’s day?  Does someone have a spiritual need for hope that only the gospel can provide?  Love provides the answer to both needs, and by love will the world know Christ’s disciples.

Therefore, make Christ known today by loving someone as Christ would.

[1] Acts 4:5
[2] Galatians 5:22-23

“Consider Well Her Ramparts”: Participating in the Psalms

Reading the Psalms is a great devotional habit, and every now and then a Psalm or a section of a Psalm gives instructions to its reader.  The author is inviting us to participate in something about God that they have experienced by taking specific actions.  Earlier posts on participating in the Psalms (here, here, and here) have covered Psalms 96 and 100, which asked us to sing a new song and to give thanks, respectively.  Today’s post is about Psalm 48, which is a little harder to see how to participate.  Most of the Psalm praises God by talking about His city, Jerusalem, and His mountain, Mount Zion.  If our God’s dwelling place is worthy of praise, then He must be as well.  The “participating” part comes at the end, with verses 12-14:

Walk about Zion, go around her,
            number her towers,
consider well her ramparts,
            go through her citadels,
that you may tell the next generation
            that this is God,
our God forever and ever.
            He will guide us forever.

The Psalmist wrote in ancient times that it was worth it to take the time to walk around Zion, to consider the things of God and not just gloss over them quickly, but how do we do that when Christians do not consider Jerusalem and Mount Zion to be the dwelling place of God?  How do we “consider well her ramparts”?

Currently, what was represented by the temple in Jerusalem on Mount Zion is represented by His body of believers, indwelt by His Holy Spirit.  Peter wrote that members of the church, “like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”[1]  Therefore, do we participate in this Psalm by considering God’s strength through the church throughout history?  When we consider the “towers”, “ramparts”, and “citadels” of the church, do we consider the great “cloud of witnesses” listed in Hebrews 12, in addition to the faithful members of the church through the centuries since then?

Do we consider well not only the strength God has given His church through history, but also the strength that He protects it with even now?  Do we consider our own “ramparts” – the armor of God listed in Ephesians 6:13-17 –

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.  Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.  In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Consideration takes time, so to participate in this Psalm take some time, if not today then soon, to consider God’s strength as shown through a person in the Bible, in church history, or even your own community or family.  Praise God for His strength and protection over His faithful!

As the “Sons of Korah” who wrote Psalm 48 believed, it’s worth the time and effort to:

Walk about Zion, go around her,
            number her towers,
consider well her ramparts,
            go through her citadels,
that you may tell the next generation
            that this is God,
our God forever and ever.
            He will guide us forever.

Many of this blog’s posts on History (click here) are a decent starting point.

[1] 1 Peter 2:5

Promises of Life, Godliness, and Excellence

Fellow travelers,

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” – 2 Peter 1:3-4

We do not, and cannot, depend on our own merit to convince God to love us, therefore:
“This consolation I would wish all Christians in their prayers: the testimony of a good conscience to assure them of God’s promises. But to obtain what they ask must only depend upon him, all opinion and thought of our own justice being laid aside.” – John Knox

Today in prayer, seek His power in His promises.  He wants us to have “all things that pertain to life and godliness” and He is faithful.

Post inspired by McKim, Donald K.  Everyday Prayer with the Reformers (2020).  P. 115.

Our Mighty God: What We Need for Christmas…Part 3

According to James Boice (see first post in the series), if you asked people to honestly describe their needs, they might describe one as: “We…have wills, and because we have wills, we want to achieve something. We want our lives to make a difference. To do that we need power.”[1]  This is a second need of us all, according to James Boice.  In Isaiah 9:6, Jesus, the Christ of Christmas, is described as our Mighty God, who Boice says “will empower us for life’s tasks” – those tasks He points us to in His wisdom.

The word Mighty probably calls to mind miraculous events, military victory, or superhero-like powers.  But ultimately, His greatest objectives for us – to love Him and to love our neighbor – are what He uses His might to accomplish.  When our Wonderful Counselor (see last post in series) gives wisdom to make a choice in life, He actually wants us to act on that choice because He knows how it will turn out – for our ultimate good – but what if we don’t agree with the choice, or don’t have the willpower to make it?

Photo by Hert Niks on Unsplash

God, unlike Lucy in the Peanuts comics, will not tell us to kick the football, then pull it away at the last second, leaving us on our back.  To those who trust Him, He will provide the ability to make a loving difference in the world.  As Mighty God, He puts His own resources and power behind His recommended wisdom to produce the desired effect of loving, godly living.

Put another way: “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence,” as written in 2 Peter 1:3.  He does not empower us to do just anything, or to do whatever we decide; He will empower us to “life and godliness.”  In wisdom, He knows this is what is ultimately worthwhile, and His power creates a new desire and a new influence in us, molding our wills that want to make a difference but may not know how.  His power also works in others to provide what we need, or works to put in our path someone who needs us.

The gift of Jesus as Mighty God meets one of our deepest needs:
“To achieve something worthwhile! Jesus is the Mighty God who enables us to do that. We accomplish worthwhile things through his power.” (Boice)

Do you want to achieve worthwhile things this Christmas and in 2023?  Our Mighty God wants to enable us to love Him and love others.  Seek the wisdom of Christ and become empowered by Him to love as you have never loved before.

This is the second gift of Christ in Christmas.

The next post in the series is here.

[1] From “May 10.” James Montgomery Boice and Marion Clark. Come to the Waters: Daily Bible Devotions for Spiritual Refreshment.  (2017).

Let Not Your Hearts Be Troubled

Chapter 14 of John’s gospel begins with Jesus saying to His closest disciples “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.”  Near the end of the chapter, Jesus says “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”  In between, He gives His followers many words of encouragement because they needed it.  Why?

Leading up to this, Jesus had just told them “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me,[1] predicting Judas would soon turn Him over to be killed.  Since He knew He would be raised again and ascend to heaven, He had to tell them: “Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’”[2]  Then, in front of all the others, He told Peter, who had just offered to die for Jesus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.[3]

In quick succession, this small group of 12 disciples were told that 2 of them would soon be unfaithful, and that their leader would soon be leaving them.  They must have felt devastated and troubled in their hearts.  Had they given up so much for Jesus, only for it to fall apart?  Likewise, when we’re bombarded with bad news in quick succession, our heart may tell us to be troubled, but “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)

Instead of listening to our gut feeling or our instincts, the only one in whom there is no deceit – Jesus – says to trust Him.  He says: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

If you’re troubled with something today, bring it to Him and ask Him for His peace.  It can overcome anything.

Sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean. I took this from a beach in Florida.

[1] John 13:21
[2] John 13:33
[3] John 13:38b