Author: kennethstuartbaker

Me, A Righteous Man ? Are You Kidding ?

By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith.(Hebrews 11:7)

A number of years ago our church leadership said I was godly enough to be put on the list of those who were allowed to serve communion.  I was puzzled by it. Why did they think I was godly ? I was so aware of my many  shortcomings …. and figured that being godly was to be on a spiritual plane higher than I was on.

Well, over the following  years I have gotten a better idea about what it really means to be godly. Ironically, to understand what it means to be godly I needed a better understanding of what it means to be an idiot.

To explain how I can be both an idiot and godly, let me throw a Latin term at you : Simul justus et peccator. This means simultaneously righteous and a sinner.

Noah was called an heir of righteousness — even though he got drunk as a skunk.
And David was called a man after God’s own heart —- despite committing murder.

In today’s scripture verse, notice how Noah had faith first, and then righteousness was added. We go nuts if we try to do it backwards, and try to be righteous  without first moving in faith. No wonder I struggled to see myself as godly as long as I was thinking it depended on my own futile efforts !

Now let’s look at a command from Paul :
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. (Ephesians  4:1)

Paul welcomes us to one of those wonderful Christian impossibilities :
On my own, no way I  can obey the command to live worthily. But propelled  by faith, I can now  begin to live worthy of Christ. And then  it’s not that I am Mr. Righteousness, but rather it is the righteousness of Jesus living in me !

Do you realize you need to live by faith instead of  your own efforts ? Then — by the power of Jesus working in you — you are worthy of being called godly.

Not on My Own

Two are better than one,
   because they have a good return for their labor
If either of them falls down,
   one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
   and has no one to help them up. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)

The Bible is chock full of God’s great promises. We can take them to heart and meditate on them and treasure them and grow in personal piety. But if we think that means the Christian life is only “Jesus and me” then we are in trouble. Because there’s so much in today’s world that gives knockdown punches !

When I fall down, I need the help of others to be able to get back up. One of the great things about Christian life  in community is how God gives us each other to give and receive encouragement.

Here’s a recent example : Awakening in the middle of the night, something from years ago  started to infect my mind. I was replaying a very futile time in my life when my career hopes were getting dismantled; I was stuck about what my next step should be; and I had no one I could confide in for help. I felt heart palpitations start as those old thoughts combined with an ongoing fight with the cable company over billing errors and an intractable conflict in our small group.

In the middle of the night I knew that what God says is true, and that there were Bible verses available for me, but at that time, being able to quote Bible verses was not helping. Bible truth seemed elusive, abstract, and far away.

God provided the antidote : In the morning I requested prayer in my Thursday men’s group. A good friend and brother in Christ prayed that my physical heartbeats would be calm while at the same time I’d have more of a loving heart for the Lord and for people.

Are you stumbling and discouraged ? Is a friend stumbling and discouraged ? God loves it when we help each other back up !

Bible Knowledge : Helper or Killer ?

He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.  (2 Corinthians 3:6)

What’s the difference between life and killing as we read our Bibles ?

I recently  was stunned by something hurtful an individual who loved “Bible Knowledge” did.

One of my first reactions was to say of course I would never do something like that–but then  I was caught up short —- I must admit that my own life is not always consistent with my Bible knowledge !

So with that in mind here’s a scripture that  has good guidance :

Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies.    (1 Corinthians 8:1b, NASB)

Here are a few questions we can ask to see whether we are using our Bible knowledge wisely:

  • Do you not only read the Bible, but also allow the Bible to read you ?
  • The ESV study bible deliberately has its bible study notes in much tinier print than the Bible verses themselves…to remind people the difference between God’s word and man’s interpretation ! In a Bible study group, do you like to show your Bible knowledge by quoting from bible study notes or do you interact directly with what God is saying in the Bible text ?
  • Does your Bible knowledge fill people’s heads with Bible trivia  that has little or no connection to the trials of real life or does it provide shelter for them when they are facing the heat of tough situations?
  • The Spirit knows when to lovingly rebuke when someone is on their high horse and when to compassionately encourage someone who has fallen down. Does your Bible knowledge do this ?

Paul put today’s  admonitions there for a purpose, knowing how easy it is to drift from the Spirit into the Letter. We need a fresh reminder of this every day. Let’s ask the Spirit to continually  make our Bible knowledge life giving !

What Difference Does It Make ?

“‘But on that day I will deal differently with the land of Goshen, where my people live; no swarms of flies will be there, so that you will know that I, the Lord, am in this land.  I will make a distinction[ between my people and your people. This sign will occur tomorrow.’” (Exodus 8:22-23)

 

Because the Egyptians would not let God’s people go, they faced a series of God-sent plagues.

Today’s plague on the Egyptians : A plague of flies throughout your land. With one big exception : In the part of your land called  Goshen, where the Jews lived, there will not be flies.

Imagine if you were an Egyptian being eaten up by mosquitos in your yard and your Hebrew next-door neighbors are going  scot-free. That’s quite a sharp distinction between God’s people and those who were not his people.

Is there still a distinction like that for God’s people today ? If so, what does it  look like? Are we protected from disasters and layoffs and bugs ?

First, I will warn against a  bad distinction. That’s when our distinction is being known mainly for what we are against. We become  culture war fighters whose chief  weapon is condemnation. Given how much anger is in the land today, it is easy to get caught up into it.

Jesus makes a much better distinction :

 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

There surely will always be some things we are against. But a much better way to stand out is to live by showing what we are for: spreading the love of Jesus.

 

Revenge or Grace ?

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.  “Where have you laid him?” he asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
 Jesus wept.
 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”( John 11:33-36)

Lazarus was dead.

Mary was weeping because Jesus did not heal Lazarus in time to  prevent his death. When Jesus saw Mary’s  weeping, he was deeply moved and troubled. And the Bible’s shortest verse follows : Jesus wept.

I’ve known that Jesus experiences our weeping and sadness at what goes wrong in this fallen world.  But in this post, I wonder : Does he feel all of our emotions along with us ? Here’s what I mean: Say someone wrongs me and I am filled with rage, bitterness, and a desire for revenge. Now, Jesus does care very much about how I react, but I  don’t think he feels it with me when my emotions lead me to feeling that someone needs to have their face punched in !

I reflected on how Jesus reacted  to Judas. Surely Jesus mourned at what Judas did but here’s a temptation he probably had but did not give in to —- he did  not get all miffed  and say, “How dare Judas do this to me…after all,  I am the son of God.—I’ll fix him !”

This insight into Jesus’ compassion has helped me  with  my disappointment at a recent miserable ministry mess. Some individuals behaved in a very divisive manner. While knowing I should be forgiving , I felt  resentment, bitterness, and anger.

But then I started  to understand  how Jesus was looking at my situation. Yes, he shared my sadness and sorrow at the disunity in our group. But  he  did not share my  spiteful feelings and  he asked me to turn from my sinful resentment.

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Heb 4:16)

So I know that as I struggle with harsh feelings, I am able to approach Jesus in the midst of it to receive grace instead of seeking revenge.

And what a wonderful overflow comes when this happens : I now have a surplus of the Lord’s grace to pass on to you !

Heart or Brain ?

Heart or Brain Cut

Today’s blog post was inspired after a recent vibrant and lively meeting of  our men’s small group. We talk about serious truths of the Lord — but we also joke and tease each other as love grows amongst us as brothers .

Heart or brain ?  Love or truth ? Which one  drives you ?

Here’s how I  lean : I appreciate how much the gospel contains good ideas and concepts and doctrine. It’s truth. But I face a danger : even though truth is the most important part of what the gospel is,  it’s easy for me to slide into making  truth expand into  being all that the gospel is. Then, the gospel is reduced to being only a list of propositions to believe  or a set of rules governing  behavior. That’s rather cold, isn’t it ?

Other folks lean the opposite way. They are awed by and overwhelmed by God’s love, and filled with enormous compassion. They say, “The only law is the law of love.” But then they can slide into making love all that the gospel is. When this happens, just about any action is OK if it “feels like” love.

So, how can we join heart and mind, truth and love, together properly ? I think Isaiah gives us an idea.

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:8)

In this passage Isaiah volunteers after seeing a vision of God and his holiness. I don’t think you would ask Isaiah whether he was  driven by his head or his heart. No, his experience of God had both ; it was a call on Isaiah’s total being.

Isaiah received coal  on his  lips to symbolize his purification from sin ; and for us Jesus’ death on the cross purifies us. Due to this cleansing, we are able to push forward on Jesus’ mission :  Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. (Ephesians  4:13).

See how Jesus blends truth and love together ? We humans like to organize everything in life into little compartments —including the Lord himself ! But our God is not compartmentalized. We can’t split out either love or truth from the grand totality of who God is.  Our powerful encounter with the Lord Jesus drives us to serve him fully with heart and brain !

Can Christians Cure Cussing ?

Let me begin today’s post with  a clarification. There’s a modern trend that says that Christians should be free to cuss in order to be  “authentic.” I am not advocating that trend in this blog post.

But I do want to warn against putting too high a priority on having clean language, because over-emphasizing language implies that  being a Christian means we need  to “clean up our act.”   When that happens, we force ourselves not to cuss. We keep our cusswords bottled up and we stifle any vulgarities from coming out of our mouth.

But the problem with stifling ourselves is that it prevents us from dealing with the underlying heart attitudes of envy, anger, etc. which often do spew forth in cussing.

Matthew 15:10-20 talks about the interplay between our outer stuff and what is in our hearts. Here, the Pharisees were ticked off at Jesus because he criticized their emphasis on conforming to outer rules of behavior.  Specifically, they asked why Jesus did not follow their handwashing rituals.

Jesus replied by saying that the heart is more important.

“ But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them.  For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.” (Matthew 15:18-20)

I think Jesus’ words suggest that when we try to throttle cursing by our own willpower, we are putting on a nice outer appearance while avoiding dealing with the evil stuff which lurks beneath.

Take a guy I’ll call Seething Sam, who has quite an anger issue. Usually he has enough will power to bottle up his anger but eventually  he spews enraged expletives when he does not get his own way.  But what if, instead of trying to put a lid on things, Sam repents of being an angry man?

If he repents, Sam can stop suppressing his evil thoughts and start to see how Christ’s way can  renew his mind and begin to replace his evil thoughts.  He begins to understand how the spiritual gift of self-control works. Instead of Sam struggling to put a stopper in his bottle, Jesus, by grace,  replaces the vicious and murderous  thoughts he is bottling up with  the freedom to love, edify, encourage, be patient, etc.

As that kind of gradual grace-fueled  biblical change proceeds, Sam’s volcanic eruptions of vulgarities  become less and less frequent.

In my church we have a group of men in a Christian community  called Battleground who are very helpful in achieving change.  How so ? The group is not interested in  portraying a nice Christian image where our bad stuff is all bottled up or secret. Instead, we are seeing that curing cussing (or any area of our Christian life that needs repair) is like dealing with a weed. Do we only cut off the leaves on a weed or do we choose to pull it out by the roots ?

Good news : When we repent and want more than the mere appearance of righteousness, the Lord graciously transitions us from mere outer change  to deep-rooted, spirit-filled heart change.