“Lord, Lord”

As I have been reading through the Gospels, once again I was impressed with a statement of Jesus. In Matt. 7:21 he says,

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father, who is in heaven.”

What does Jesus mean by the title “Lord, Lord’? It was common in Judaism to strengthen an address with a double title. This implies great honor. Constable suggests that when this title was applied to Jesus it “implied deity, messiahship, and sovereignty.”

Lenski gives more detail of the intended meaning when he says, “the sense would be lost if less were meant than ‘divine Lord.’ The point lies in the claim of a connection with Jesus as the divine Lord, Messiah, and Savior, which is spurious, because those who make it fail to do what he says.”

So Jesus is saying that not everyone who addresses him as the “divine Lord” will enter heaven. What does he mean by that statement? I think Luke 6:46 clarifies the meaning when Jesus says, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” This means that it is not enough to talk like a believer. A true disciples conduct is in harmony with his understanding of Jesus being the divine Lord! If I believe that Jesus is God the Son, then I will do what Jesus says.

Jesus continues his thoughts on this topic in the following verses. Those who do as he says will find they are on solid rock and secure while those who only talk a good game, but are not obedient to Jesus are on shaky ground. Luke 6:47-49 says,

“Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built.But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.”

Father, once again you have challenged me to live out my faith and not just talk about it. Evidence of my salvation will be a life of following you and living life the way you want me to. Enable me through the strength of your Spirit to follow you with my whole life.

Following Jesus with you,

Jeff

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One Accomplishment Is Missing

When I was recently reflecting on all the amazing things man has accomplished, i.e., space travel, technological wonders, architectural marvels, and more, James 3 reminded me of our frailty. Notice what it says in James 3:7-10,

“For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it, we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.”

Ouch! James’ observation that mankind has accomplished much, but is unable to control his tongue is so true! Mankind has been able to control every beast and accomplish truly incredible things, but he cannot control his words. The tongue speaks so inappropriately at times. Even so, we cannot blame the tongue because scripture also tells us that what comes out of the mouth is an expression of the heart (Mark 7:21). This teaching of James is a stark reminder that I still have a fallen nature, and I am in need or God’s continual transformation of my heart through the Holy Spirit, people and his Word.

Father, this truth this morning always hits home. There are so many times where I will speak inappropriately. Help me to remember this weakness of mine. Help me to remember that inappropriate speech is a reflection of my heart. May you be at work in my life to change my heart so that I can be a better reflection of your character. May the words I speak be refreshing and encouraging to others because I reflect you.

Following Jesus with you.

Jeff

Discipline or Regret

A couple of days ago I was listening to a radio interview of a former Navy Seal. One of the questions they asked him was, “As you reflect on all that you have experienced and learned in life, what do you tell people to make sure they do?”

I thought that was a profound question. His answer was even more profound. He said that everyone had two choices in life. Either you choose the discipline to have the kind of life you want, or you will have regret when you look back on your life and see what could have been. As a result, everyone chooses discipline or regret whether they realize it or not.

His comment led my mind to 1 Cor. 9:24-27 where Paul says,

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”

Paul used athletic metaphors to communicate the discipline required if an athlete wants to win his event. Just as an athlete goes through physical training that is sometimes uncomfortable to attain the goal of victory, so must we as disciples of Jesus endure physical and emotional hardship if necessary to live the life he expects of us. The primary sacrifice I must make is my self-will. I must choose to live his way and not mine, and I must do that daily.

Father, thank you for the reminder of the importance of discipline. I cannot change myself, but I can show up each day in the arena of life ready for you can change me. Help me to choose the discipline required to make the choices you want me to make and to live the way you desire me to so that I can be an asset to the expansion of your Kingdom.

Following Jesus with you,

Jeff

Clear Away The Obstacles

Today I was impressed by Paul’s simple prayer for the Thessalonians. He prays in a way that keeps the focus on the core of the Christian faith. In 2 Thes. 3:5 Paul says, “May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.

The word “direct” means “clear away the obstacles.” How appropriate! Paul was wise enough to know the importance of keeping the readers focused on the love of God. For the readers to be able to carry out the instructions of Paul, they would need to be convinced of God’s love for them. This truth would bring strength to their souls and give them the convictions needed to live out a life of faithfulness in the midst of trials and persecution.

In addition to clearing away the obstacles for the readers to focus on God’s love for them, Paul also prays in the same way for them to directed toward the “steadfastness of Christ.” This is either a reference to the example of Christ’s endurance through trials or Christ’s enabling as they go through trials. Both, of course, are true. You and I should be challenged and encouraged by the constant faithfulness of Christ as he followed God’s will regardless of the personal cost. We also should remember that only through the enabling of the Holy Spirit can we be faithful.

Father, thank you for Paul’s prayer. May you clear away any obstacles that would keep my heart from being encouraged by your love. May you also clear away any obstacles that hinder me from being encouraged and challenged by Christ’s endurance and faithfulness to your will. May you enable me to live a life of faithful endurance in spite of my circumstances.

Following Jesus with you,

Jeff

“I Will Not Leave You”

The Bible truly is an amazing book. In 2 Kings 2:1-10 we have a fascinating record of history. In this passage, we are told of the departure of Elijah. He had the tremendous honor of not tasting physical death like the false prophets he confronted but was supernaturally transferred to heaven. The account of this experience is worth a second look.

In summary, Elijah somehow knew from a revelation from God that he was going to be taken to heaven. Prior to this, Elisha has made a commitment to follow his mentor Elijah and serve as Elijah’s replacement. Elisha had made this vow to God back in 1 Kings 19:19-21. Elisha was “all in” in serving God as his new prophet and nothing would allow him to miss the event of Elijah’s miraculous departure, or learn from his mentor.

As the story unfolds, Elijah seems to test Elisha’s commitment to this vow by encouraging him three times to remain behind and be comfortable as he goes alone to serve God. This may not have just been a test of Elisha’s commitment, but some have suggested this was also evidence of Elijah’s struggle to accept the fact that God was replacing him with Elisha.

It was common in that culture for the first born son to receive a special blessing by their father as he was nearing death. When Elisha requested a double portion for of Elijah’s spirit, it most like was a reference to this practice. As Konkel clarifies, “Elisha is not requesting twice the prophetic spirit of Elijah, but rather the right to the office of Elijah, double the portion of other heirs of the prophetic office.”

So what can be learned today from this amazing story? For me, a few things stand out. The first is that God lives up to his promises. God told Elijah that he would be replaced by Elisha and we see that fulfilled. Second, our actions sometimes have consequences that cannot be reversed. Elijah’s choice to doubt God meant the end of his service as a prophet. Third, even though Elijah was an imperfect servant, God lavished him with the amazing blessing of his departure to heaven. This shows God’s amazing grace and mercy in the life of Elijah. Fourth, God’s work will continue with or without me. I am not indispensable. Fifth, we still serve a God of miracles today. Nothing is beyond his ability. Sixth, I love the response of Elisha when he could have taken an easier path than obedience to God’s service. He said, “I will not leave you.”

Father, what a story in the Bible! Yet, this is not a story, but history. Wow! You are an amazing God and to see Elijah taken to heaven must have been overwhelming! May I be as faithful as we see Elisha in this story. May I be able to say “I will never leave you” in relation to my commitment to you and your leadership for my life.

Following Jesus with you,

Jeff

Passions Of Lust

The phrase of the title of the blog today comes from 1 Thes. 4:3-8. This is a very complicated section in Greek because of some of the vocabulary used and also because it is one sentence! I do not want to try to dig into those complicated details here and rather would like to explore just one phrase that hit me. Verse 5 says, “not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God.”

The Thessalonians were young Christians who were excited about their faith, but the challenges of living out this faith in a morally bankrupt culture were looming. Barclay notes that “there never was an age in history when marriage vows were so disregarded and divorce so disastrously easy.”

These young converts needed to understand the calling of their new faith in regard to these issues. Paul tells the readers that because of who they were as a result of their faith in Christ, they were to walk in a manner that pleases God. One thing that they must understand in this journey of faith is that they should not follow their “passion of lust” like the Gentiles do. They must not act in a way that was common in their culture and pursue sexual fulfillment in any way unintended by God. They needed to be different and this is one way that was and is expected of a disciple.

Zodhiates helpfully explains the meaning and relationship of the words “passion” and “lust” when he says,

“Páthos (passion) is the soul’s diseased condition out of which the various lusts spring. Epithumía (lust) is the active lust or desire springing from the diseased soul.”

Paul is reminding the readers that the life of faith is a battle and a long journey. The excitement that they experienced at their conversion is, or would collide with the morals of their culture. They must remember that even though they were believers, they still have a diseased and corrupt nature. This corrupt nature would be active in its pursuits of selfish pleasure. One way this was seen is in the pursuit of sexual sin.

Paul’s frank reminder for the Thessalonians is something we must remember today as well. We are very blessed to live in this country and at this time. Technology has made sexual sin rampant in our culture and in the church. First, we would be wise to remember that we are vulnerable people because we have a diseased soul and our soul’s passion will naturally pursue selfish fulfillment. Second, we must be very careful to control our exposure to anything that will excite that diseased soul within, because my corrupt nature is stronger than my will to obey. Paul talks about this in Romans 7:14-25.

Third, this realization should also force us to turn to God for help. He has given us the Holy Spirit to be our helper and enabler and the one who can overcome our diseased soul and its passions. We must walk in moment-by-moment dependence upon his enabling.

Father, thank you for this frank reminder of my own weakness. The world system is organized to lead me astray. I cannot live a life of faithfulness on my own strength. I need your enabling to walk worthy of being one of your disciples. May you give me the grace to live out my faith in a holy manner in the midst of a corrupt culture.

Following Jesus with you,

Jeff

Cool Under Pressure

Have you ever been faced with surprising and challenging news? How did you respond? Today in Daniel 2 we see the story of Daniel and his interpretation of the king’s dream. The catch with this story is that the king would not tell anyone what his dream was, and he demanded the wise men not only tell him the interpretation but the dream itself!

The wise men complained that no one could do as the king asked! This response enraged the king and he commanded that all the wise men be killed.

When the guards went out to find and kill Daniel as one of the wise men, notice how Daniel responds in verse 14,

“Then Daniel replied with prudence and discretion to Arioch, the captain of the king’s guard, who had gone out to kill the wise men of Babylon”

Daniel responded to the news of his imminent death with “prudence” and “discretion”! This is a reference to “wisdom and tact.” Wood explains that the word “discretion” “speaks of appropriateness, suitability. Daniel replied wisely and in good taste, in keeping with the occasion and importance of the visitors.”

Instead of hysteria, anger, or complaining, Daniel displayed great courage and kept himself under control. He responded wisely and in good taste and then sought the Lord. As a result of prayer, God revealed the dream to Daniel. The result was that the king was overwhelmed at the greatness of Daniel’s God!

Father, how easy it is to respond to challenging news in a way that displays my lack of faith in you. If I truly believed in your sovereignty, I could respond in crisis like Daniel with wisdom and appropriateness because of my trust in you. Help me to remember the example of Daniel the next time challenges come my way in life. May I be unruffled at challenges because of my trust in you and your will for my life.

Following Jesus with you,

Jeff

Like Mom and Dad

When you think of the apostle Paul, what kind of person do you think of? He is often portrayed as a fearless, strong and possibly, firm man that may have lacked a heart.

In 1 Thes. 2:7-12, Paul describes him in a different way. Notice what it says,

“But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.”

In addressing the readers, he reminds them that he treated them at times like a “mother” who “cares” for (literally it means, “cherishes” or “warms”) her children. This is implying the gentle loving care children often require. But, in addition, Paul describes himself as a “father” who exhorts, encourages and calls them up to walk in a manner worthy of their calling.

Paul was not some gruff, authoritative apostle, but rather he loved his converts and treated them as we would our own children. He lovingly comforted and cared for them. He also was not afraid to call them “up” to a new standard of living that is in harmony with the high calling we have in God’s family.

How do we know this description of Paul is accurate? The readers saw him live out his faith before them. They were “witnesses” of his life and his model of hard work to meet his needs and also witnesses of his loving but challenging leadership style. Paul was “all in” and he expected the same of his converts because that is what Jesus expects (Lk. 9:23).

Father, thank you for the reminder that at times I need to function like a mother and father in relation to those you have given me to shepherd. I must stay balanced in this and not lean to one way at the expense of the other. Help me to shepherd well and model a hard work ethic like Paul did.

Following Jesus with you,

Jeff

Peaks and Valleys

A quick read of 1 Kings 19:1-18 goes from great victory in the life of Elijah to one of tragedy very quickly. Elijah had just experienced one of the greatest prophetic victories in the Old Testament only to end up replaced in prophetic service by Elisha.

This passage is too long to quote here, but here are a few observations that really struck me today:

  1. After great victory, we are vulnerable to great failure. Elijah doubted God and ran for his life because of the verbal threats of Jezebel.
  2. Before making rash decisions, we should consult the Lord for direction.
  3. God was amazingly patient with Elijah and even took great care to provide for his nourishment even as he ran from his service!
  4. It is easy to lose perspective when in significant leadership for God. Elijah felt sorry for himself because he thought he was the only one serving God. The Lord let him know that he was just one of 7,000 that were still faithful to him!
  5. When confronted with sin, we need to humbly admit our failures to God and ask for his forgiveness. There is no indication that Elijah did this. He experienced a conversation with God, supernatural provision of nourishment and a glimpse of the nature and power of God! With all of that, he was stuck in self-pity rather than admit his lack of faith in God.
  6. God can replace any of his servants at a moments notice! I am not indispensable in he service of the Kingdom. After all that Elijah experienced, God told him to anoint Elisha to take his place as his profit!

Father, how many times have I felt sorry for myself because of my sacrificial service for you! I am so sorry for that. It is a privilege to know and serve you. Thank you that I am on your team and you still call my number at times to get in the game and serve for your kingdom. Help me to keep the proper perspective of life as I live for you. Thank you for your patience with me and my imperfections. May you still use me for your glory.

Following Jesus with you,

Jeff

Serve and Wait

If you were to summarize the normal Christian experience, how would you do it? One of the ways scripture describes the daily expectation of disciples of Jesus is found in 1 Thes. 1:9-10. Notice how Paul does this as he praises the Thessalonians believers,

“For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.”

Barclay says it well when he states, “In verses 9 and 10 two words are used which are characteristic of the Christian life. The Thessalonians served God and waited on the coming of Christ. The Christian is called upon to serve in the world and to wait for glory. The loyal service and the patient waiting were the necessary preludes to the glory of heaven.”

The Thessalonians expected Jesus to return at any time. This gave them great hope and really was the basis of their waiting and serving. This also implies that his anticipated return would spare them from the coming expression of God’s anger toward all who do not believe. Although there are many understandings of this passage, it seems to imply that since they expected Jesus at any time, this protection from the coming wrath of God also meant they would not see the Tribulation period.

Constable notes the following about this passage,

“In 1 Thessalonians 1:10 the Thessalonian believers are pictured as waiting for the return of Christ. The clear implication is that they had a hope of His imminent return. If they had been taught that the great tribulation, in whole or in part, must first run its course, it is difficult to see how they could be described as expectantly awaiting Christ’s return. Then they should rather have been described as bracing themselves for the great tribulation and the painful events connected with it.”

However, we understand the promise of deliverance from God’s coming wrath, the expectation for the disciple is the same. “Serve and wait.”

Father, I thank you that the destiny of the disciple includes avoiding your wrath. Jesus experienced your wrath for my sin on the cross. May you help me to be like the Thessalonians. May I be found serving you and waiting for the imminent Return of your Son to take me home to be with you forever.

Following Jesus with you,

Jeff