Month: October 2020

Extravagant Love – The Most Excellent Way

1 Corinthians 13 1 – 13 The Message
The Way of Love

1 If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.

2 If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.

3-7 If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.

Love never gives up. Love cares more for others than for self. Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have. Love doesn’t strut, Doesn’t have a swelled head, Doesn’t force itself on others, Isn’t always “me first,” Doesn’t fly off the handle, Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others, Doesn’t revel when others grovel, Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, Puts up with anything, Trusts God always, Always looks for the best, Never looks back, But keeps going to the end.

8-10 Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled.

11 When I was an infant at my mother’s breast, I gurgled and cooed like any infant. When I grew up, I left those infant ways for good.

12 We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!

13 But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.

1 Corinthians 13 New International Version

13 If I speak in the tongues[a] of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 
If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 
If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,[b] but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 
It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 
For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 
10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 
11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 
12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

The Church at Philadelphia and its Faithfulness to God

“She’s bright and she’s friendly with everyone in the class, but her mouth never stops!” “James is one of the most improved students in class this year.” “This student should go far, and the sooner he starts, the better!” Some students can’t wait to receive report cards from their teachers and for good reason. Others can only hope for divine intervention before Mom and Dad discover what they’ve been up to all year.

Can you imagine receiving a report card from Jesus? One day each of us will stand before Him and give an account for our life, but seven ancient churches received report cards from the Lord that are recorded for us in the book of Revelation. Of these, only two churches received praise for their faithfulness. The other five received warnings.

Each report contains valuable information for believers today. Even though Christ addressed the churches as bodies, His words provide instruction for every believer, then and now. The faith of individual believers determines the strength of their churches.

In the Lord’s favorable comments to the church at Philadelphia (Revelation 3:7-13), we find four signs of faithfulness that are often lost among the practices and programs of modern church culture. As we pursue our dreams, we can look for these signals to make sure our goals are in line with the Lord’s will for our life.

Sign 1: An open door

Christ opened His letter to Philadelphia by revealing His sovereignty. He is the One who “has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens” (Revelation 3:7). This alludes to Eliakim, a king in the line of David who held the key to all the king’s treasures (Isaiah 22:22). When Eliakim opened the door, it was opened. When he closed the door, it was closed. In the same way, Jesus possesses the key to the kingdom of God and entrance into eternal life. With that in mind, He told the church in Philadelphia, “I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it.” When the Lord opens a door for someone to hear His Word, nothing can prevail against it.

This notion of an open door appears several times in the New Testament. In each case, the “open door” represents an opportunity for ministry. Paul talked about doors for ministry that opened in Ephesus (1 Corinthians 16:8-9) and in Troas (2 Corinthians 2:12). In each of these passages, the door opened apart from Paul’s plans. When the door opened in Ephesus, it caused him to change his plans. When the door opened in Troas, it conflicted with Paul’s desire to find Titus. It’s significant that Paul did not force the doors open. Rather, the Lord opened these doors.

It’s significant that Paul did not force the doors open. Rather, the Lord opened these doors.

The late John Stott of England suggests great discernment when seeking open doors for ministry:

Christ has the keys and He opens the doors. Then let us not barge our way unceremoniously through doors which are still closed. We must wait for Him to make openings for us. Damage is continually being done to the cause of Christ by rude or blatant testimony. It is indeed right to seek to win for Christ our friends and relatives at home and at work, but we are sometimes in a greater hurry than God is. Be patient, pray hard, love much, and wait expectantly for the opportunity of witness. The same applies to our future. More mistakes are probably made by speed than by sloth, by impatience than by deleteriousness. God’s purposes often ripen slowly and if the door is shut, don’t put your shoulder to it. Wait till Christ takes out the key and opens it up.1

In Colossians 4:3, Paul encouraged praying “that God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ.” While believers cannot force doors open, we can certainly pray for God to open them. Such a door is a blessing to those who have the privilege of sharing the Gospel as well as those on the other side of the door who need to hear the message.

Philadelphia was a gateway city to a large region that included other cities. It was strategically located for ministry. How has God placed you in a strategic place? Where is God opening doors for you? Are there doors you are trying to force open? How will you commit to praying for God to open them?

Sign 2: Christ’s strength

After assuring the Philadelphia church that their door would remain open, Christ made a rather strange remark. He said that He would hold it open, “for you have a little strength.” What did He mean?

A literal translation of the Greek text conveys the idea that the church had “but little strength.” Christ presents their situation as almost problematic—they had a big opportunity but only a little strength. The implication is that their strength is not what’s important—Christ’s strength is. This echoes Christ’s words to Paul: “My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Paul understood his weakness was not an obstacle because of Christ’s strength, which was more than sufficient. Likewise, the minimal strength of the church at Philadelphia was no barrier to Christ’s plans.

This is the message of Christ for His Church in all places and in all ages. Our own strength is insufficient for today, but Christ’s strength is enough for eternity.

This is the message of Christ for His Church in all places and in all ages. Our own strength is insufficient for today, but Christ’s strength is enough for eternity. How have you been relying on your own strength? What will you entrust to the Lord’s power today?

Sign 3: Study and obey the Word of God

Next, Christ commended the church in Philadelphia for its fidelity to the Word of God: “[You] have kept My Word.”

After my book I Never Thought I’d See the Day! was published, I was interviewed on several radio shows. The most frequently asked question was this: “What is the one thing that is most responsible for erosion of biblical standards in the Church?” I didn’t need to think about that for long. The greatest threat to biblical soundness in the Church today is the removal of God’s Word from the pulpits. When Christians don’t know God’s desires and standards, how can they obey Him?

Second Kings 22 recounts the story of Judah’s King Josiah. The record indicates Josiah was a godly king who sought to follow God. However, when Josiah assumed the throne, the Book of the Law was missing, so he did not know all that it contained. As soon as the Law was read to Josiah, he tore his clothes because he knew his people were in trouble. He instructed Hilkiah, the priest:

Go, inquire of the Lord for me, for the people and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that has been found; for great is the wrath of the Lord that is aroused against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us (2 Kings 22:13).

Josiah was right to be concerned. The Lord was furious with Judah, and His holy anger demanded a wrathful response. Recognizing Josiah’s humility and repentance, the Lord promised him personal peace, but Josiah’s reforms were too late to rescue his nation.

We have no such excuse. The Bible is readily available to us in many translations and formats with scads of study tools. How are you leveraging the opportunity to study the Bible? How will you make it a priority to keep His commands?

One of the reasons the church in Philadelphia was blessed by God was because of their faithfulness to His Word. Make a commitment right now to remain faithful to the Word of God. Hide it in your heart so that you might not sin against Him (Psalm 119:11).

Sign 4: Stand up for the faith

Finally, Christ commended the church in Philadelphia because they had not denied His name. They were faithful not only to the Word of the Lord but to the Lord Himself. Persecution was rampant in Rome. Of Jesus’s apostles, John was the only one who did not die a violent death, and he died imprisoned on Patmos. Like the apostles, the believers at Philadelphia would not worship Caesar or participate in other forms of idolatry. Even in the face of persecution, they did not deny the name of Christ.

America is blessed with a high degree of religious freedom. For us, persecution is subtle. It is more likely to involve delayed promotions at work or exclusion from social gatherings than physical harm, yet these circumstances often deter God’s people from proclaiming His name in the public arena. Let us resolve to worship the Lord no matter the cost and to serve Christ with our whole heart. Testifying to God’s grace and mercy to a lost and dying world is far more important than personal pride or promotional opportunities.

Testifying to God’s grace and mercy to a lost and dying world is far more important than personal pride or promotional opportunities.

In anticipation of coming persecution, the Lord warned us to be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16). We are to exercise discernment in our relationships, trust the Holy Spirit to speak through us when our faith is scrutinized, and endure hardships because God is our salvation (Matthew 10:16-25). He loves and protects us (Matthew 10:26-33).

Have you put your dream on hold because you’re worried about the costs? Are there unwise relationships you need to reconsider? How are you living in humility, gentleness, and integrity?

If you have placed your hope in the Lord, you will have nothing to fear on judgment day. And if you want to receive a glowing report from Him, make an impact for the kingdom of God as you chase your dream—walk through open doors of ministry, depend on His strength, and remain true to Him and to His Word.

1John Stott, What Christ Thinks of the Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1972), 111.

Nothing Is Impossible With God!

A young man in the army was constantly humiliated because he believed in God. One day, the Captain wanted to humiliate him in front of the army. He called out to the young man and said: Young man come here, grab the key and go and park the Jeep in front.

The young man replied:“i can’t drive!” The captain said, “Well, then ask your God for help!” Show us that He exists! The young man took the key, went to the vehicle and began to pray …….

He parked the jeep in the spot perfectly, just as the captain wanted. The young man came out of the jeep and saw them all crying. They all said together: – We want to serve your God!

The youngest soldier was amazed and asked – what’s going on? Crying the captain opened the lid of the jeep, showing it to the young man: the car had no engine!

Then the boy said, “Look?” This is the God I serve, the God of The impossible, the God who gives life to that which does not exist. You may think that there are impossible things, but with God everything is POSSIBLE.

YOU WHO READ THIS, PLEASE LORD WORK FOR SUPER WONDERS IN YOUR LIFE TODAY In the name of Jesus, I pray .. Say “Amen” to confirm this prayer!

Inclusive Love – Meeting the Needs of Others

Luke 10:25-37 New International Version
The Parable of the Good Samaritan

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[a]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]”
28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.
31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.
32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.
34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him.
35 The next day he took out two denarii[c] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him. ”Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Identify the Enemy, Part Two – 1 Peter 5:8-11

Identify the Enemy, Part Two by Chuck Swindoll – 1 Peter 5:8-11

Yesterday I pointed out that our true enemy, the devil, is relentlessly engaged in a strategy to bring Christians down. With deceptive stealth, he’s “like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).

But the next verse tells us that the shield of faith will protect us from him. We can resist the enemy (see 1 Peter 5:9)! We are part of the groundswell of God’s triumphant movement.

But this counterstrategy carries with it severe tests. They’re coming. Some have obviously already arrived, and we are to be aware of others to come. My task is to equip you for them and to warn you ahead of time that more are coming—whatever they may be. If I knew, I would make a public announcement.

But nobody knows. All we do know is that more will come our way. Our adversary never runs out of creative, deceptive ideas. But we will not fear, we will not be moved, we will not worry.

Peter offers even better news: “After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself . . . [I love these four promises; look at the words.] . . . perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you” (1 Peter 5:10).

Don’t miss the meaning of each term. He will “perfect” us in the suffering. This means He will restore us, bringing us to a new level of maturity. Next, He will “confirm” us in the suffering. At the heart of this term is the concept of being made solid in our character.

He will use the hardship to solidify our character. And then we’re told, He will “strengthen” us. The fatty flab brought on by easy living will be replaced with strong muscles of determination. Finally, He will “establish” us.

The Greek term suggests the idea of laying the foundations. The suffering will drive us deep to the bedrock of our faith. And in the end, who is going to win? Read verse eleven: “To Him be dominion forever and ever. Amen.” We could add Selah!

“I believe it,” says the apostle Peter. “I stake my trust in it. I stand on it. I can assure you when the hard times have run their course, your lives will be perfected, confirmed, strengthened, and stabilized.” The adversary will continue his assaults and take his cheap shots.

I need to tell you ahead of time, that’s coming. But in the end, God wins.In the amazing Book of Revelation, John vividly describes the enemy, his attacks, and the ultimate outcome. The war has already been won by the good guys.

When Jesus died on the cross and rose again, it was all over for Satan. He was and is ultimately defeated. Still, he fights on. And yes, he wins a few battles along the way. But it doesn’t matter, because he’s lost the war.

It reminds me of wars past, when communications were poor. Sometimes, armies went on fighting for months after the war had officially ended, because they didn’t know they had already lost. So it is with Satan and his armies.

John basically stands toe to toe with the enemy, spits in his eye, and says, “Take your best shot, Satan. Do your worst. And we’ll answer, ‘Hallelujah anyway!’ Because we know the victory is already ours.”

Still, when Satan and his lieutenants attack us, we must do battle. We must gather up our courage from the Word of God and march out to meet the enemy face to face. But we go knowing we are already victorious!!

Identify the Enemy Part I – 1 Peter 5:8-9

Identify the Enemy, Part One by Charles R. Swindoll
1 Peter 5:8-9

When you’re in a battle, before you can march out against the enemy, you have to know who he is. It’s called “gathering intelligence.” You need to know how he operates, where his base of operations is, what his tactics are. You have to be able to identify him in all circumstances. And while we certainly have a number of earthly enemies, they are not the enemy about whom we must be most concerned.

No. “Your adversary,” Peter clearly states, is “the devil.” He is at the root of all evil. He is relentlessly engaged in a strategy to bring us down. With deceptive stealth, he’s “like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Last time I checked, hunters called the lion the “king of beasts.”

The last time I did an investigation of the devil, he was the highest of all the angelic creatures. Though he fell from that exalted position due to pride, he didn’t lose any of his brilliance. Make no mistake about it, when the highest of God’s angelic creations fell, he instantly rolled up his sleeves and entered into conflict with the divine plan.

Small wonder that we’re told, “Be of sober spirit” (v. 8a). There’s a war on! Once we identify the enemy and understand his wicked ways, we realize the world is a battleground, not a playground. Let me pause here and set the record straight.

First, we’re living in a culture that is politically correct but is theologically, ethically, and morally corrupt. To the very center of its being, today’s culture is corrupt. Humanity without Christ is totally depraved. The world will lead you directly away from the things of God, rather than toward them.

Second, we are now facing hardships, conflicts, and trials like none of us would have ever imagined, because we are encountering our adversary on his turf. Everything God’s people love, he hates. For instance, he hates your Christian marriage.

Chances are good that more marriages are in conflict in these stressful days than in days past. Chances are you’ve got troubles in your family—more than usual. Perhaps one of your children is in open rebellion. If they’re not there yet, it’s just because they’re not old enough. It’s only a matter of time. Why? Our adversary hates harmony in the family.

Chances are the conflicts occurring in your occupation have reached such an intense level, you’re ready to say, “I don’t even know if Christianity works anymore.” It’s all part of the enemy’s strategy. Chances are you’re going through a struggle emotionally or physically—either yourself, your mate, someone in your family, or one of your close friends. Chances are very good that a grandchild or a great-grandchild is very sick right now.

The devil hates strong minds, secure wills, and stable bodies. We shall encounter enemy attacks in any number of areas. While we ought not to live in fear of it, we’re not to be ignorant of it either. The enemy loves for you to be kept ignorant about him, to think of him inaccurately or with a shrug. He hates messages like the one in this devotional.

He is being identified for who he really is; he doesn’t go for that. Do you need some good news? It’s found in this same section of Scripture. We can resist the enemy! Look closely yourself at the opening line of 1 Peter 5:9. “But resist him, firm in your faith. . . .” The enemy’s attacks may be directed toward the vulnerable part of your life, but the shield of faith will protect you from them. You can resist him!

Furthermore, realizing that God is our refuge, we can go to Him immediately. There’s nothing like prayer to dislodge the darts of the enemy. And you’re not alone. Verse nine states “your brethren” are experiencing the same sufferings you are. You’re not unique. You are part of the groundswell of God’s triumphant movement. But this counterstrategy carries with it severe tests. We’ll talk more about that later.

Inclusive Love – Overcoming Self – Interest

Luke 6:27-36 New International Version
Love for Enemies

27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,

28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.

29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them.

30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.

31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them.

33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that.

34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full.

35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.

36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

The Spiritual Discipline of Simplicity – Richard J. Foster

Constantly the Bible deals decisively with the inner spirit of slavery that an idolatrous attachment to wealth brings. “If riches increase, set not your heart on them,” counsels the Psalmist (Ps. 62: 10). The tenth commandment is against covetousness, the inner lust to have, which leads to stealing and oppression.

Jesus declared war on the materialism of his day. (And I would suggest that he declares war on the materialism of our day as well.) The Aramaic term for wealth is “mammon” and Jesus condemns it as a rival God: “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Luke 16:13).

He speaks frequently and unambiguously to economic issues. He says, “Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” and “Woe to you that are rich, for you have received your consolation” (Luke 6:20, 24). He saw the grip that wealth can have on a person.

He knew that “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also,” which is precisely why he commanded his followers: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth” (Matt. 6:21,19). He is not saying that the heart should or should not be where the treasure is. He is stating the plain fact that wherever you find the treasure, you will find the heart.

He exhorted the rich young ruler not just to have an inner attitude of detachment from his possessions, but literally to get rid of his possessions if he wanted the kingdom of God (Matt. 19:16-22). He says “Take heed, and beware of all covetousness; for a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15).

He counseled people who came seeking God, “Sell your possessions, and give alms; provide yourselves with purses that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail.. .” (Luke 12:33). He told the parable of the rich farmer whose life centered in hoarding-we would call him prudent; Jesus called him a fool (Luke 12:16-21).

He states that if we really want the kingdom of God we must, like a merchant in search of fine pearls, be willing to sell everything we have to get it (Matt. 13:45, 46). He calls all who would follow him to a joyful life of carefree unconcern for possessions: “Give to everyone who begs from you; and of him who takes away your goods do not ask them again” (Luke 6:30).

Jesus speaks to the question of economics more than any other single social issue. If, in a comparatively simple society, our Lord lays such strong emphasis upon the spiritual dangers of wealth, how much more should we who live in a highly affluent culture take seriously the economic question?

The Epistles reflect the same concern. Paul says, “Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and hurtful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction” (1 Tim. 6:9) … A deacon is not to be “greedy for gain” (1 Tim. 3:8). The writer to the Hebrews counsels, “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, ‘I will never fail you nor for­ sake you”‘ (Heb. 13:5)

Paul calls covetousness idolatry and commands stem discipline against anyone guilty of greed (Eph. 5:5; 1 Cor. 5: 11)…. He counsels the wealthy not to trust in their wealth, but in God, and to share generously with others (I Tim. 6:17-19).

Having said all this, I must hasten to add that God intends that we should have adequate material provision. There is misery today from a simple lack of provision just as there is misery when people try to make a life out of provision. Forced poverty is evil and should be renounced. Nor does the Bible condone an extreme asceticism. Scripture declares consistently and forcefully that the creation is good and to be enjoyed

Asceticism makes an unbiblical division between a good spiritual world and an evil material world and so finds salvation in paying as little attention as possible to the physical realm of existence. Asceticism and simplicity are mutually incompatible. Occasional superficial similarities in practice must never obscure the radical difference between the two.

Asceticism renounces possessions. Simplicity sets possessions in proper perspective. Asceticism finds no place for a “land flowing with milk and honey.” Simplicity rejoices in this gracious provision from the hand of God. Asceticism finds contentment only when it is abased. Simplicity knows contentment in both abasement and abounding (Phil. 4:12)Simplicity is the only thing that sufficiently reorients our lives so that possessions can be genuinely enjoyed without de­ stroying us.

Without simplicity we will either capitulate to the “mammon” spirit of this present evil age, or we will fall into an un-Christian legalistic asceticism. Both lead to idolatry. Both are spiritually lethal. Descriptions of the abundant material provision God gives his people abound in Scripture. “For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land . ..a land …in which you will lack nothing” (Deut. 8:7-9).

Warnings about the danger of provi­sions that are not kept in proper perspective also abound . “Be­ ware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth”‘ (Deut. 8: 17).The Spiritual Discipline of simplicity provides the needed perspective .

Simplicity sets us free to receive the provision of God as a gift that is not ours to keep and can be freely shared with others. Once we recognize that the Bible denounces the materialist and the ascetic with equal vigor, we are prepared to turn our attention to the framing of a Christian understanding of simplicity.

The Slippery Slope of Comfort

Relying on past success is a recipe for destruction—just ask the city of Sardis.

Strategically located on the banks of the gold-laden Pactolus River, Sardis was once the prosperous capital of Lydia’s empire. At its peak, history suggests Sardis’s king Croesus financed the construction of the Temple of Artemis—one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Croesus’s father, King Alyattes, who reigned from about 610 to 560 B.C., minted the world’s first coins from Sardis’s resources.

However, Sardis had a fatal flaw: its lower city lacked a defensive wall. Rather than fortifying his city, Croesus had fortified his political favor with the Greek world.

Sardis fell to Cyrus the Great of Persia in 547 B.C., Alexander the Great in 334 B.C., Rome in 133 B.C., and a succession of massive earthquakes. Its citizens trusted the towering rock cliffs surrounding them for protection, but this casual arrogance left them unprepared when disaster struck. You see, there was a cleft in the rock that allowed invaders to assail them, and in the wake of earthquakes, those towering rocks became their tomb. Somehow, despite all this, the city was repeatedly rebuilt and was prosperous at the time of Paul’s writing.

The same indifference that characterized the city of Sardis was also evident in the church at Sardis. Its believers grew content, complacent, and self-satisfied. They had created a name for themselves, but a spirit of smugness left them open to sin’s assault. Sardis’s church drifted into spiritual unconsciousness and died.

Christ wastes no time confronting their sin. Here is what He says in Revelation 3:1: “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.”

Sardis was perhaps the first church in history with what we would call nominal Christians—people who claim to be Christians but are not. The church was full of people who made professions of faith, but it was clear the Holy Spirit was not present—they were not bearing the fruit of genuine faith. While the church appeared outwardly alive, it was inwardly dead, and the Lord was frank in His rebuke.

Jesus detected the same defective faith in the Pharisees when He was on earth. They gave alms, prayed, and fasted in dramatic fashion so that other men would notice how spiritual they were. Jesus confronted them in Matthew 23:27-28 saying, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”

God is never fooled by outward appearances, yet He is ever patient— “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Therefore, He graciously provided four instructions to the Sardis believers for correcting their ways. We, the modern Church, need to heed these four instructions as well. We must not allow our beautiful church buildings, bustling with activity, to disguise spiritual stagnation.

We, the modern Church, need to heed these four instructions as well. We must not allow our beautiful church buildings, bustling with activity, to disguise spiritual stagnation.

Step 1: Be Sensitive to Sin

First, Christ warns the church to “be watchful” (Revelation 3:2). This warning conveys the idea of chasing away sleep. In other words, stay alert! Or as the apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 5:14, “Awake, you who sleep, arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”

Jesus is not suggesting insomnia as some sort of spiritual solution. His point is to be watchful, to be perpetually on guard against sin. As the Lord instructed Cain, “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it” (Genesis 4:7, NIV). We must stand guard, remaining sober-minded and alert.

Step 2: Be Submissive to the Holy Spirit

In verse three, Jesus charges the church to, “Remember therefore how you have received and heard.” He is referring to the importance of the Holy Spirit. It is the power of the Holy Spirit that enables us to engage our sinful culture from a position of redemption and receive the Word of God in a life-changing way.

Failing to live in the power of the Holy Spirit while continuing sinful habits quenches God’s Spirit and separates us from our life source. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians puts it this way: “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30). Sin is personal to God; it pains Him deeply. Activities that grieve the Spirit include bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, evil speaking or slander, and all types of sinful behavior. These are to be replaced with kindness, tenderheartedness, and Christlike forgiveness.

So, living in the Holy Spirit’s power will transform our relationships. Living in the Holy Spirit’s power will also transform the manner of our worship.

Consider your attitude toward worship. Do you worship through music, giving, service, etc., out of ritual and duty? Or do you worship out of love and joy and excitement?

Scripture is clear that God values the spirit of our giving, not the substance of our giving (see 2 Corinthians 9:7, Luke 21:1-4). No matter what styles of worship we practice or how much we give, the power of the Holy Spirit should be evident in our lives.

Step 3: Be Subject to the Authority of God’s Word

The next instruction given to Sardis is to “hold fast” (Revelation 3:3), which means “to keep.” It is used four other times in the book of Revelation in reference to keeping the Word of God (Revelation 1:3; 3:8; 12:17; 22:7). I believe the greatest threat to biblical soundness today is the removal of God’s Word from the pulpits. The death of the church at Sardis bears testimony to this truth.

Jesus charges His people to know the Word of God and obey it. We must allow it to govern our corporate and personal lives, by this I mean the lives of our churches and the lives of individuals within our churches. Hiding God’s Word in our hearts is the key to avoiding temptation. It should form the foundation for our choices and actions.

Step 4: Repent

Finally, the church in Sardis is instructed to repent. This same instruction had been given to the church in Ephesus that had abandoned its first love, and the church in Pergamos that had been corrupted by their pursuit of immorality and idolatry. Recognizing that sin grieves God’s Spirit, we, too, are called to repent of our sins.

God’s method of recovery never changes.

God’s method of recovery never changes. For those of us in the process of spiritual decay, the only remedy is repentance. We must ask God to forgive us for abandoning His Word as we turn away from our sin and move in a new direction. We are called to love the Lord with all our hearts, souls, and minds (Matthew 22:37). There is no room for unrepented sin.

The church at Sardis lost its focus. Instead of viewing each day as an opportunity to serve the Lord, they were content with their past achievements. Even so, it was not too late for them to admit their sin, submit to their Savior and His Word, and repent. The same is true for us today. We need to be alert and guard ourselves against the inroads of sin in our lives. If we are diligent to live the truth we claim to believe, we will experience newness of life through Jesus (Romans 6:4). When we find ourselves drifting from the rock of our salvation, we can sharpen our focus by turning to this four-principled pattern found in Revelation 3, and we can trust God to restore us and equip us for new work.

A True Friend Intervenes

1 Samuel 19:1-7 New International Version
Saul Tries to Kill

1 Saul told his son Jonathan and all the attendants to kill David. But Jonathan had taken a great liking to David

2 and warned him, “My father Saul is looking for a chance to kill you. Be on your guard tomorrow morning; go into hiding and stay there.

3 I will go out and stand with my father in the field where you are. I’ll speak to him about you and will tell you what I find out.”

4 Jonathan spoke well of David to Saul his father and said to him, “Let not the king do wrong to his servant David; he has not wronged you, and what he has done has benefited you greatly.

5 He took his life in his hands when he killed the Philistine. The Lord won a great victory for all Israel, and you saw it and were glad. Why then would you do wrong to an innocent man like David by killing him for no reason?”

6 Saul listened to Jonathan and took this oath: “As surely as the Lord lives, David will not be put to death.”

7 So Jonathan called David and told him the whole conversation. He brought him to Saul, and David was with Saul as before.

One Man’s Dream Destroyed Thousands

Hugh Hefner, the founder of Playboy Enterprises and its chief ideological incarnation, died on Thursday at age 91 at the Playboy Mansion, immersed in the fantasy he created. He will be buried next to Marilyn Monroe, Playboy’s inaugural centerfold.

In 1953, Hefner pulled pornography out of the seedy back cultural alleys, dressed it up in sophisticated costume and speech, gave it a stylish, debonair set, made it look liberating and libertine, and pushed it into the mainstream as Playboy Magazine. He was not so much a revolutionary as a man who understood his times. He knew the “right side of history” when he saw it. He saw the weakness in the flank, struck shrewdly (and lewdly), and won the cultural battle: the old sexual mores have been decisively thrown down and pornography is pervasive. But at what cost?

Seeing People as Roles, Not Souls

Playboy (and the flood of increasingly explicit material that has followed it through the break it made in the cultural dam) is not an enterprise that exists to celebrate the beauty of the human body or the wonder of human sexuality. It is an enterprise aimed at financially capitalizing on the fallen human bent toward objectifying others for our own selfish ends. It encourages both men and women in codependent ways to view embodied souls as embodied roles in the private virtual reality show we call fantasy.

Hefner and many others have become very rich by objectifying women and turning them into virtual prostitutes — mere bodily images to be used by millions of men who care nothing about them, who ravage them in their imaginations for selfish pleasure and then toss them in the trash. Hefner gave these women the fun name of “playmates,” a wicked mockery of both a person and play, adding a terrible insult to horrible injury.

We call this wicked, for it is. But in calling it wicked, we must confront our own wicked proneness to objectify others and resolve all the more to war against it. We humans have a horrible, sinful tendency to view others as roles — too often expendable “extras” — in the epic moving picture of our story, not souls in the real epic of God’s story.

The fallen human nature, unhinged from God’s reality, seeks to construct its own preferred reality. And it uses other people to do it. Let me use as an example what at first might appear as a harmless, fun song, but is anything but harmless.

The Fantasy Girl from Ipanema

In the mid-60s, as Playboy was building steam on its way to becoming a media powerhouse, the Brazilian jazz/bossa nova song “The Girl from Ipanema” was building steam as an international hit, on its way to being the second-most recorded pop song in history.

The song is about a man who daily watches a beautiful girl walk by him on the way to Ipanema Beach in south Rio de Janeiro. She is “tall and tan and young and lovely” and “swings so cool and sways so gently,” passing by like a song on legs. He is intoxicated with her and “would give his heart gladly” to her, but “she doesn’t see” him.

The song is light and breezy and almost sounds innocent. But it’s not. The song is actually a man’s fantasy. The girl he thinks he loves, he knows nothing about. If she turns out to have a lower IQ than he imagines or a serious medical condition, would he still love her? If she heads to the beach daily to escape the sexual molestation of a relative, or suffers from a subtle mental illness, would he still give his heart gladly to her? This girl is not a soul to him; she is a symbol of something he desires and he projects on her a role in a fantasy of his own creation.

This is precisely what we humans are so prone to do: to view others, and the world, as a projection of our own fantasies. Even we Christians can lose sight of the world as a battlefield of horrific cosmic warfare, with people caught in its crossfire needing to be rescued, and see it as the place where we want our dreams — self-centered, self-serving, self-exalting, self-indulgent dreams — to come true. The more we indulge such fantasies, the more inoculated and numb we become to reality and the less urgent we feel about the real needs of other real souls.

The Real Girl from Ipanema

The girl from Ipanema has a Hugh Hefner connection, for she was a real girl. The song’s (married) composers used to sit in a café near the beach, watch her walk by, and talk about the desires she inspired. She was a 17-year-old school girl, sometimes wearing her school uniform and sometimes wearing her bikini.

After the song exploded in popularity, the composers informed her that she was “the girl.” She became a minor Brazilian celebrity, a national symbol of sexual appeal. Eventually she became a Brazilian Playboy Playmate, posing for the magazine as a younger woman and later posing again with her adult daughter — two generations caught and exploited by Hefner’s fantasy. Now she’s 72, trying hard to stay looking as young and lovely as possible, for she is, after all, the girl from Ipanema.

And she’s an example that objectification of other people is not harmless. Her identity has been forged by two men’s lust for her adolescent body. The indulgence and propagation and proliferation of fantasies are not harmless. Real lives get caught in the gears; real souls are shaped and hardened and become resistant to what’s really real, to what’s really true. And they can be destroyed.

People Are Souls, Not Roles

It is tragically appropriate that Hugh Hefner will be buried next to Marilyn Monroe. Monroe was not merely the inaugural centerfold of Playboy Magazine; she became and remains the poster girl of 20th century American sexual objectification. Nearly sixty years after her suicidal death, she remains a sexual icon in most people’s minds, not a broken soul who knew the despairing loneliness of being a sensual image desired by millions, yet a person truly loved by very few. Hefner encouraged millions and millions of men and women to view people in the very way that destroyed Marilyn Monroe.

That’s why, men (and of course not just men), on the occasion of Hugh Hefner’s death, let us resolve all the more to abstain from fantasy passions of the flesh, which wage war against our souls — and not just ours but others’ souls as well (1 Peter 2:11). When we look at a woman, whether she’s Marilyn Monroe, the girl from Ipanema, a co-worker, classmate, fellow church member, another man’s wife, or our own wife, let us say to ourselves and, when needed, each other: “she is not your playmate!” She is not an object who at seventeen you might in selfishness wish to use for your own lusts and throw away, or at 72 you might in selfishness not notice at all.

She is not an embodied role player in your virtual reality show. She is an embodied soul whose worth in God’s eyes exceeds all the wealth in the world. She is God’s creation, not an object for your sinful recreation.

Hugh Hefner called himself “the boy who dreamed the dream.” Yes, he dreamed his dream, he lived his dream, and his dream made him rich. He died still dreaming. Only God knows how many souls have been damaged and destroyed by his dream. May God have mercy.

“Trust in God!”

TRUST IN GOD! by Varghese Augustine
A man just got married and was returning home with his wife. They were crossing a lake in a boat, when suddenly a great storm arose. The man was a warrior, but the woman became very much afraid because it seemed almost hopeless:

The boat was small and the storm was really huge, and any moment they were going to be drowned. But the man sat silently, calm and quiet, as if nothing was happening.

The woman was trembling and she said, “Are you not afraid ?”. This may be our last moment of life! It doesn’t seem that we will be able to reach the other shore. Only some miracle can save us; otherwise death is certain. Are you not afraid? Are you mad or something? Are you a stone or something?

The man laughed and took the sword out of its sheath. The woman was even more puzzled: What he was doing? Then he brought the naked sword close to the woman’s neck, so close that just a small gap was there, it was almost touching her neck.

He said,” Are you afraid ?”She started to laugh and said,” Why should I be afraid ? If the sword is in your hands, why I should be afraid? I know you love me.”

He put the sword back and said, This is my answer”. I know God Loves me, and the storm is in His hands.SO WHATSOEVER IS GOING TO HAPPEN IS GOING TO BE GOOD. If we survive, good; if we don’t survive, good, because everything is in His hands and He cannot do anything wrong.

Moral: Develop Trust. This is the trust which one needs to imbibe and which is capable of transforming your whole life. Any less won’t do! In Isa. 49:15 God reminds us “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!