Category: How We Grow

Dare to Be a Daniel?

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I recently spent 2 weeks reading the book of Daniel in my personal devotions.

Daniel seems to be an unblemished Bible hero, meaning that none of his specific sins or character weaknesses are ever mentioned. At first, I thought this made the character of Daniel seem rather unreal to me. I mean, I like how the Old Testament has so many guys who are portrayed as real, warts and all. Think of David with his adultery, Jacob with his trickery, Abraham with his lying, etc.

And since Daniel is regarded as the opposite of those flawed heroes, this leads to a heroic hymn like “Dare to Be A Daniel”:

Hold the Gospel banner high!
On to vict’ry grand!
Satan and his hosts defy,
And shout for Daniel’s band. 

Reflecting on this lionhearted song, I want to first give a warning and then an encouragement. My warning is of this danger: thinking that Daniel is just a good moral example for us; we should be brave like Daniel; we should copy him. We can triumphantly be just like him; indeed, something is very wrong with us if we are not this kind of shining example.

That’s sure hard to live up to, isn’t it!

But let’s move on to the encouragement: Daniel did have sin. And he confessed it.

While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel and making my request to the Lord my God for his holy hill— (Daniel 9:20)

Now, the rare and special strength of Daniel is that he confessed his sins quickly, before they got a chance to mess him up badly. In other words, what if David had quickly confessed the sin of lusting after Bathsheba, long before drifting into adultery with her and then murder to get rid of her husband?

So, Daniel shows us that if we do get entangled in a sin, there is repentance and forgiveness for it. And as Christians we understand the source of our forgiveness and power to live well is Jesus Christ. His forgiveness is there for us even if, like David, we have messed up big time.

Daring to be a Daniel includes knowing the ways we are weak and blow it, and having a repentant heart. With a humble, Spirit-filled perspective as a starting point, we avoid simply telling ourselves and others that we need to try harder to behave better.

Amazingly, by seeing how weak we are, we can begin to draw on the power and example, not just of Daniel, but of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Tear up that Contract!

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 “But he [the landowner] answered one of them [the hired workers], ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius?  Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you.  Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’  (Matt 20:13-15)

Every so often you will hear about an athlete under contract who wants his contract ripped up due to jealousy over a new player getting more money. “If you don’t tear up that contract and give me a better one”, he tells the team owner, “I refuse to play. After all, I am a star who deserves to be the highest-paid player on the team.”

Does the team owner have the right to pay the new player what he wishes and to say, “I can do what I want with my own money”?

 Does Jesus have the right to bless any other believer more than I?

In today’s parable, “The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard”, the later-hired workers get told by the owner “I will pay you whatever is right.”  So they went to work. They were glad to get any work, they didn’t even ask what they would be paid. The guys who worked all day got paid the same amount as the guys who worked fewer hours. But the first-hired don’t regard the owner as being generous to the new hires, but rather as being stingy to themselves!

Do I rejoice in others’ blessing, or does it tick me off a little bit?

How much of a feeling of entitlement do I have?

Notice how the Parable concludes:
“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” Matt 20:16
What a contrast between the thankful-for-grace person and the entitled person!

I can grow to be more and more thankful for any grace that is given to me, and less and less concerned about what someone else gets —- except to be rejoicing when they do receive more grace. 

May our thankfulness for Jesus’ grace working in our own lives life and others’ lives increase!

 

 

 

Wash Each Other’s Feet

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“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
 “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands 
and my head as well!” Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only
 to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean….  (John13:8-10a)

Jesus washing the disciples’ feet is a familiar New Testament story.  You may even have foot-washing ceremonies in your church. But today, let’s dig in and look at two symbols in John’s foot-washing story.

First, “had a bath” refers to what happens when we are baptized.  Baptism is a one-time event, and symbolizes how, once and for all, we believed that Jesus was crucified for our sins and resurrected, giving us eternal life and salvation.

But, does our believing mean we never ever sin again? No, we do sin in some manner every day.  And the foot-washing in today’s verses symbolizes repentance from our daily sins. Just as sandaled feet get dust on them every day and need to be washed, so we need a daily cleansing from sin.

Are we on our own in our daily fight against sin?   See what Jesus says in verses 14-15:

 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.

These verses show how we should lovingly serve one another. But I think they also show how we can help one other in our fight against sin, instead of each of us wrestling with it on our own.  My own natural inclination is to try to work things out as an iron-butted loner. But I think the Lord is telling all of us to encourage one another as we grow to make progress in the battle against sin.

It’s important to conclude by noting that the fight against sin isn’t an end in itself —no, we press on to remove any obstacles that hinder us in our quest for growth. Our end goal is to help each other to “trust and obey” — to give out more of Jesus’ love in an increasingly mature walk with him.

 

Why Did I Yell on the Phone?

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A few years ago, I yelled at someone on the phone and really let them have it because they had totally mishandled a medical bill.

That was not the first time I yelled like that, but it was the last time I yelled.

Why the change? I learned that a couple of key questions lurked behind my yelling.

First:  how do I behave in a confrontation when no one knows I am a Christian?

In other words, I must admit that if it were someone from my church who messed up the bill I would never have yelled at them.

Second is an even deeper question I faced:

Is my Christianity only a performance? Or is it a deep heartfelt conviction that wells from the inside out, and drives how I react to situations—-even when the person I am confronting really is wrong and no one else is watching how I am handling it?

Basically, the kind of crummy attitudes behind my yelling needed correction and change. My natural inclination, though, is to not welcome correction.

Look at this verse in Proverbs :

Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future.  (19:20)

I need to give a note of caution in quoting this or any Bible verse.  Because if someone overheard me yelling and simply quoted this verse to me, nothing would have changed. This way of firing a verse at someone can backfire.  Oh, someone might use it to shame and guilt me into not yelling for a while, but that does not lead to genuine repentance and heart change.

It’s vitally important to consider the real source of wisdom behind the book of Proverbs. This true wisdom is personified in Jesus Christ.  And thanks be to God we have union with Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Only by calling on God’s grace and being in union with Christ can we begin to override our unwillingness to accept correction.  And of course, it is a process. We don’t suddenly and instantly welcome correction in every area of our lives. But with the help of the Spirit and people we can trust, we do start to develop a teachable and correctable heart.

Building Our Dwelling

“Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others” (1 Corinthians 10:24).

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Pastor Mark Dever gave one overview sermon to his congregation in Washington, DC for each book of the Bible. His New Testament sermons are reprinted in The Message of the New Testament: Promises Kept. 1 Dever’s sermon on 1 Corinthians inspired me to write this post.

If only our Christian lives could be built up as easily as the house getting framed in the picture!

There must be some obstacle preventing that. Is it the fault of what other people do to us, those who do not appreciate us? That may be partly true, but today let’s look at what we might be responsible for.  What obstacles in us make it hard for us to grow in becoming a dwelling place for God?  Here are two scenarios:

  • We like to feel that we are anointed and talented and can be used by God. We can even legitimately enjoy it when someone recognizes that God is at work in us. But do we think we deserve such recognition? How do we feel when we don’t get it? Rejected, upset?
  • We feel that our pet ministry is especially important to the well-being of our church. And as we talk to others, we always let them know just how vitally important this ministry is. We imply that, if they really loved Jesus, they would be a part of that ministry too!

Neither of these scenarios helps us to build up other people. Yet they both are such easy traps to fall into. How can we avoid those traps?

It helps to learn to be secure in who we simply are in Christ. Each of us can say: I have been redeemed by Christ, I am a new creation, and I am loved by Christ, such that nothing I can do can earn me more love. Out of that security in our identity in Christ, springs true edifying Christian action. How very different from thinking I need to prove that I am worth something to Christ and his Church!

As I simply love Jesus, I become willing to quietly give myself in love for others, without concern that I’m right or get recognition or need to have someone join my team.

Ironically, if I don’t feel I deserve to be complimented, I end up receiving godly affirmation. And instead of shaming people into joining my ministry, my attitude of love is infectious and contagious and draws others to join in as they see that yes, the Lord is at work in this ministry.

I’ll never forget a memorial service for a certain man who did not have a prominent and public role in our church. He was someone who never sought the limelight or pushed himself forward. But – at the service, many testified at the quiet impact for Christ that he had on their lives.  He was a true blessing to others. Those testimonies together were like a chorus of angels singing his praise. Isn’t that what happens when we enjoy seeking the good of others?

 

  1. https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=The+Message+of+the+New+Testament%3A+Promises+Kept

 

 

What does it really mean to have more of Jesus?

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 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. (Colossians 2:9-10)

Does having more of Jesus mean getting all pumped up emotionally? That easily happens when we go to a retreat, mission trip, etc. Our balloon is soaring higher and higher.   But then —– we return home.

I remember one time driving to work the day after a 3-day retreat and someone did not think I was driving up the entry ramp to the Interstate fast enough. So, they gave me a long blast on their horn! Yes, after our return, somehow the realities and stresses of everyday life have not changed…soon we are swamped by them again and then we become like that picture of the deflated balloon.

How, then, can we have a more robust view of more of Jesus?

I think we need an encounter with our God of fire and holiness.

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:28-29)

Our God is a consuming fire. Should we be terrified about this? Am I throwing fire and brimstone at you?

Let’s look at what the Prophet Isaiah said after a frightening encounter with God.

 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” (Isaiah 6:5) 

Does this experience make Isaiah pull back in fear or give up? No, he next learns that God forgives him. And then see what happens next in verse 8:

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!” 

What if we too start at a place of “woe is me” and then become able to say, “forgive and cleanse me Jesus” and then “I want more of what you want?”

Then, we are empowered to be used and sent. As I often have said in my blog posts, this does not mean we must be doing wonderful and spectacular things for the Lord. The sending can be to tasks that appear to be ordinary.

These ordinary tasks begin to change what we want, care for, think we need, get annoyed at, etc.

So, even when the realities and stresses of everyday life have not changed, Christ is changing our way of reacting to them.  It’s these little changes that add up over time to a changed, maturing character that really does have more of Jesus.

Three Times

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Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? Very truly I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times! (John 13:38)

You’re probably familiar with the story of Peter denying Jesus three times and then the rooster crows. And probably you have heard that that is because Peter had not yet received the Holy Spirit to make him courageous and bold. And that, since we do have the Holy Spirit now, that means we rarely, if ever, betray Jesus or sin against him. Right?

Not really! Even now, when I walk in victory, I overestimate how well I can lay down my life to follow Jesus. I start to think of the ways I will never sin again. Unfortunately, in a sense it is inevitable that I sin today. That does not mean I plan to! But rather, in some way, I will miss all of God’s best for me today.

There are two extremes which are so easy to fall into. One is patting myself on the back for not sinning and walking in such victory. And the other extreme is feeling all beat up when I do sin.

 My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.  He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:1-2)

At first glance, these verses look like a contradiction. But not really. “Will not sin” refers to our old lifestyle before we knew Jesus where we sinned continually and never felt the need to repent.  That is over with. We are free from that.

But that does not mean we never sin. So, happily, when I do sin I have an advocate: the Lord Jesus.

Keep in mind that our freedom from sin is a process. The key is to know that we are on the pilgrim’s path. Then we can avoid bouncing between the extremes of either being puffed up with overconfidence or wallowing in the muck of despondency and defeat.

Lord, we thank you that you grow us as we persevere in following you.