Are we what we do or what God says?

“Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know you, because it did not know Him.” I John 3:1

When John uses the word “behold” (3:1a) it’s like holding up a flashing neon sign to get our attention. “Stop and take a look at this! Look with wonder at the amazing love that God has toward us in that we should be called His children.” It is an awesome privilege to be called God’s child. When we stop to ponder our new identity in Christ – that we are God’s children – it will take our breath away. When you believe in Christ, you are born of God and share in His divine nature (cf. John 1:12; I John 3:9; 5:1). At the core of your being you are God’s child no matter what you or others do, say, or think.

Many of us may believe the lie that says, “I am what I do.” We tell ourselves that what I do determines who I am. So if I sin, I must be a sinner. What Satan, the father of lies (John 8:44), tries to do is deceive us to believe this lie. So when I sin, he whispers the lie that I am a sinner so I will perceive that sin is the normal and natural outgrowth of who I truly am at the core of my being. But listen to what God says: “We know that whoever is born of God does not sin; but he who has been born of God keeps himself, and the wicked one does not touch him” (I John 5:18).

Our born again self (“whoever is born of God”), John tells us, “does not sin.” Sin can never be traced back to my new identity in Christ. At the core of my being, I am now God’s dearly beloved child through faith alone in Christ alone (I John 5:1; cf. John 1:12). I am defined by what God says about me, not by what I do. Satan cannot “touch” or defeat our born again nature (I John 5:18). This is important to remember especially after being humbled by our sinful failures. The evil one would like to trick us into thinking that we are not really God’s children after we have failed, thus leading us into more failures. But if we know and embrace the truth found in I John 3:1 and 5:18, we can avoid the devil’s deception, and rise from our confession of sin to the Lord (cf. I John 1:9) knowing we are the same inwardly holy children we were before we sinned.

God is righteous and we can now share in His righteousness. This new birth has changed who we are. We are now God’s child having been begotten by Him. The world does not understand this new nature because they have not experienced the new birth (I John 3:1b). John goes on to explain that the time is coming when this new nature will be the only nature we manifest (3:2) because our sinful nature will be taken away and we will receive a new glorified body like that of the Lord Jesus at the time of His return (Phil. 3:21). The certainty that we will be completely conformed (both spiritually and physically) into the image of Christ in the future motivates us to live holy lives for the Lord now (3:3).

Since I am what God says and not what I do, I no longer need to find my worth in the things I do but in my relationship with Jesus which can never be lost. Knowing this gives me the security and motivation to live for Him who loves me unconditionally and eternally.

Prayer: Father God, please replace the lie that says, “I am what I do,” with the truth that says, “I am what You say of me.” Thank You for the amazing way You have given Your love to me by declaring that at the core of my being I am Your dearly loved child no matter what I or others say, think, or do. Since I am Your child, I have all I need (Your nature, Your Spirit, and Your Word) to manifest Your righteous and loving nature. In Jesus’ name. Amen.  

Hope for tomorrow

“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11

As we close out 2019 and prepare for the New Year, we may feel that there is little hope for our future. Recent circumstances or past painful memories may leave us feeling alone and discouraged. We may ask ourselves, “Is there any hope?”

This question is asked everyday by thousands of people in thousands of different ways. When your home is destroyed by flood waters or a Typhoon, you ask, “Is there any hope?”  When you are sitting in the doctor’s office waiting for test results, you ask, “Is there any hope?” When you feel stuck in your marriage, you ask, “Is there any hope?” When you are unable to find a job, you ask, “Is there any hope?” When you keep struggling with an addiction, you ask, “Is there any hope?” When people keep rejecting you because of your commitment to Christ, you ask, “Is there any hope?”

I believe this was a question the people of Judah probably asked when they were taken into captivity in Babylon. The prophet Jeremiah sent his first letter to them while they were in captivity and wanted them to realize that God “caused” them “to be carried away from Jerusalem to Babylon” (29:1, 4) so they would trust that He is in control. He advised them to make the most of their time during their 70 years of captivity by building “houses,” planting “gardens,” marrying, having “sons and daughters,” and anticipating grandchildren (29:5-6). They were to “seek the peace of the city” where they now lived and “pray to the Lord for it” so they would be blessed as God blessed the city (29:7). God warned them not to let their “prophets and diviners who are” with them to “deceive” them into thinking their time in captivity was short (28:8-9) because He had already said it would be for 70 years (29:10; cf. 25:11-12).

God’s ultimate plans (“thoughts”) for His people were “of peace, not of evil, to give” them “a future and a hope” (29:11). At the end of their captivity, God’s people would “call upon” Him and He “will listen” to them and bring them “back” to the land He promised them (29:12-14).

Listen carefully to what God is saying in verse 11. “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you.” God is thinking of you. When believers feel hopeless, they may feel that God has lost their address. They conclude that God does not care about them nor pay attention to them. But God is saying that you are important to Him, so much so, that He is thinking of you.

But you may wonder, “What kind of thoughts does God have toward me?” If you have unresolved trauma in your past, you may fear that God’s thoughts toward you are “evil,” and He is plotting to harm you. God assures us that His “thoughts” or plans for us in the future are filled with “peace, not of evil.” God is not making plans for you that are filled with chaos and evil. He is planning a quiet and tranquil “future” for you that is filled with “hope.” Hope is the confident expectation of good from God.

God may have led you to read this article today so He could say to you: “Don’t give in to discouragement or despair. Don’t give up, look up. Don’t despair, turn to Me prayer.” If you have believed in Jesus Christ for His gift of everlasting life, you need to know that Jesus Christ is thinking of you and believes in you. He is on your side and nothing can separate you from His love (Rom. 8:31-39). He wants you to see yourself through His eyes so that you can live a victorious Christian life that is filled with confidence and hope!

If you do not have Jesus Christ in your life, He wants you to know that He has been thinking of you before you were ever born. He longs to be in a personal relationship with you. But we all have a problem that separates us from God. Our problem is called sin. Sin is when we disobey God with our thoughts, our words, and our actions. But God does not want any of us to be separated from Him, so He provided a solution to our sin problem. The Bible says, “But the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23b). God loved us so much that He sent His only Son, Jesus Christ to take our punishment on the cross and rise from the dead so we could receive everlasting life as a free gift by believing or trusting in Christ alone (I Cor. 15:1-6). Jesus said, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life” (John 6:47). Christ now invites you to trust in Him alone (not your good life, baptism, or church attendance, etc.), and He will give you everlasting life as a free gift which can never be lost (John 10:28-29).

After you put your trust in Christ alone to give you everlasting life, you can be assured that God has a future for you that is filled with peace and hope! You can now talk to the Lord through prayer at any time and at any place about anything.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for showing me that I am important enough for You to think of me. Sometimes I feel forgotten and unimportant to You, but the truth is You are always thinking of me. Please help me to believe that Your thoughts or plans for me are filled with peace and hope, not chaos and evil, so I can trust You to do what is best for me. Each day when I awake, I can now anticipate good from You through the Lord Jesus Christ. Thank You for renewing my sense of hope through Him. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

What is the purpose of trials?

“Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved,  he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” James 1:12

James, the half-brother of Jesus, is writing to Jewish believers who “are scattered abroad” by persecution (1:1). He wants to encourage them to patiently endure “various trials” as a means of developing spiritual maturity (1:2-4). James informs his readers that a man is “blessed” (makarios) or fortunate when he “endures temptations.” The word “endures” (hypomenō) literally means “remaining under or bearing up under the load” of difficulties.  The word “temptation” (peirasmos) is the same word translated “trials” in verse 2. When Christians are facing trials they can also be enticed to sin (tempted) perhaps to escape the pressure or pain they feel when facing a difficulty.

Believers who successfully endure a trial without yielding to the temptation to sin out of “love” (agapaō) for the Lord, will be “approved” (dokimos) by Christ both now and at the Judgment Seat of Christ (1:12; cf. 2:12-13; 5:7-9). This word for “approved” denotes passing the necessary test and thus being approved or pleasing to the one doing the testing. All believers will stand before Christ at His Judgment Seat after the rapture of the Church to give an account of themselves before the Lord. Those who lived for Christ and endured trials and temptation to the end of their lives on earth will be approved by Jesus and “receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him” (1:12).

The word for “crown” (stephanos) refers to a circular garland awarded to the winner of an ancient athletic game like the Greek Olympics. Believers who faithfully endure trials out of love for the Lord will receive something much greater than a temporary reward. This “crown of life” refers to a greater capacity to enjoy life with Jesus both now and in the world to come forever.

When I ran track in high school, I trained hard because I wanted to win a medal in my race. Even though I had failed to win a medal in previous races, I still prepared for the next race thinking I could win. Keeping the thought of winning a medal in the front of my mind as I trained and eventually competed in the race, motivated me to do my very best and not give up.

The same is true in our Christian lives. To earn the crown of life from Jesus, we must faithfully endure trials and temptations for Him to the end of our Christian lives. To do this, it is important to train our minds to imagine Jesus rewarding us at the Judgment Seat of Christ, saying to us, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord” (Matthew 25:21). Like an athlete who visualizes himself winning a race, visualizing ourselves remaining faithful to Christ and receiving this reward from Him will actually create new neurologial pathways in our brain. And our brains respond the same way to mental rehearsing of a task and actually performing the task.

Prayer: Precious Lord Jesus, by Your grace I commit to following You and focusing on the surpassing joy of being approved by You at the Judgment Seat where I can receive the crown of life which enables me to enjoy eternal life with You even more. Please help me to mentally visualize remaining faithful to You now and receiving the crown of life from You in the future. Oh how I long to hear You say, “Well done good and faithful servant.” Thank You Lord Jesus for hearing my prayer. In Your name. Amen.

Where do you go when you feel insecure?

“The Lord also will be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble.” Psalm 9:9

King David praised God for being a just Judge who delivered him from those who hated him (9:1-20). He affirmed that “the Lord also will be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble” (9:9). The Hebrew word for “refuge” (misgab) literally refers to a “mountain refuge” or “a high place of security and protection.” When David was “oppressed” or bullied by his enemies who hated him, he often sought refuge in the mountains where he was safe and secure. But he regarded the Lord as the best Refuge of all. In His presence there was safety and security that could not be taken away from him.  

Where do we go when we feel insecure and vulnerable? Where do we turn when we face dangers and difficulties? Some people may turn to an addiction (e.g. alcohol, drugs, pornography, social media, work, worry, etc.) to medicate their feelings and forget about their difficulties. But addictions only numb the pain for a time and actually cause more pain and shame in the long run.

If King David were sitting next to us right now, I believe he would advise us to run to the Lord for the safety and security we long for during times of trouble and vulnerability. In fact, I believe the apostle Paul would echo that advice. In the book of Ephesians, the apostle Paul informs us where the Lord Jesus Christ is seated in relation to His enemies: 20…which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come” (Ephes. 1:20-21). Christ is seated far above all His enemies, including the devil.

According to Ephesians 2:6, where are you and I seated? “And raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” When God the Father looks to His right and sees His Son seated in a place of power above all other authorities, including the devil, He sees us sitting there with Him. What happened to Jesus 2,000 years ago happened to you when you believed in Christ for salvation. So if we are seated with Jesus, guess where we sit today in relation to the devil?  Far above him.

In God’s eyes, we are now seated in a position of power and victory over all the opponents of God. Satan cannot really get to us unless we let him. There is safety and security in the heavenly places. We need to go up high where God is located so the Enemy cannot get to us. We do this through prayer and abiding in the truth of God’s Word (John 8:31-32; 15:7). God wants you to know that in Christ, you are safe and secure far above all other authorities and powers.

Prayer: Precious Lord Jesus, when I feel insecure and vulnerable, I resolve to run to You because You alone are my Refuge. I can find safety and security next to You in the heavenly places far above all other authorities and powers. You are the only One I trust to always keep me safe and secure. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Revisiting Romans 8:28

“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28

I am hesitant to share what I learned this morning about this verse because it is so familiar to many of us. But God was gracious to show me some things that really blessed me and I would like to pass them on to you.

In the last half of Chapter 8 of Romans, the apostle Paul talks about suffering (8:18-39). After talking about the Holy Spirit’s intercessory prayer on our behalf when we do not know what to pray amid our suffering (8:26-27), Paul writes, “And we know that all things work together for good” (8:28a). The word “know” (eidō) refers to understanding or acknowledging something that is well known. What is it that is well known to Paul and his readers? “That all things work together for good.” Does “all things” include the good and the bad? The triumphant and the traumatic? Absolutely! Remember in the context Paul has been talking about suffering, so that is what he is primarily focused on here.

Notice that it does not say that “all things are good.” It says “all things work together for good.” Even in the bad things God works “together for good.” That means the Lord never wastes an experience in our lives. Even the bad experiences we bring on ourselves God can use for good. It is like mixing the ingredients of a cake together to make something delicious to eat. If we were just to eat a bowl full of salt or flour by themselves, that would not be so good. But mixing all of the ingredients together in their proper amounts makes something very enjoyable to our taste buds. God takes the good and the bad, the pleasant and the painful in our lives, and He mixes them all together to create something “good.”

The word “good” (agathos) refers to something excelling in any respect, something useful or suited to something honorable. In the context, the “good” that God wants to produce from all the things we have experienced, is seen in verse 29. “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son” (8:29a). God wants to take all of life’s experiences – the triumphant and the traumatic, the pleasant and the painful – to make us more like His Son, Jesus Christ.

Does this incredible promise apply to all Christians? Look at the last half of verse 28: “To those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (8:28b). Only those believers who continue to love God above all else and yield to His purpose will experience God conforming them to the image of His Son. The word “called” (klētos) refers to an invitation by God to fulfill His purpose. In the context, the purpose of our suffering is “to be conformed to the image of His Son” (8:29a).

Let me illustrate what I believe the last part of this verse is saying. While living in the Philippines for more than five years, God gave me the opportunity to minister His Word in a provincial jail not far from where we lived just east of Metro Manila. Many of the inmates who came to chapel there were very thankful for their incarceration because God used that difficult time to show them their need for Jesus and His forgiveness and eternal life. Instead of becoming angry and bitter about their incarceration, they humbled themselves and opened their hearts to what God had to say to them. As a result, they put their faith in Christ alone to forgive all their sins and they began to cooperate with Jesus to let Him transform their lives.

Other inmates who also said they believed in Jesus, closed off their hearts to God, and became bitter toward Him. Instead of loving Him and yielding to His purpose for their lives, they withdrew from Him and lost their spiritual vitality. Did Romans 8:28 apply to them? Not as long as they refused to love God and not yield to His purpose for their lives. Did God still love them? Of course He did. And if they believed in Jesus, they still have eternal life, but I don’t believe God could bring good out of their lives and make them more like His Son as long as they remained bitter toward Him and their circumstances.

How do we respond to God when good and bad things happen in our lives? Do we still love Him and put Him first in our lives, yielding to His purpose even though what is happening to us may be very painful and traumatic? Or do we shake our fist at Him and become bitter? Do we listen to the lie that says, “If God really loved you, He would not let this happen to you”?Or do we dismiss the lie and embrace the truth that says, “God loves me so much He let this happen so I could experience His love on a much deeper level”? God wants to love on us and heal the brokenness in our hearts, but He cannot do that if we close our hearts off to Him.

I want to conclude with a story I read today about a six-year-old son asking his father, “If you can’t see God, how do you know that God will help you?” The father answered, “You don’t have to see God to know God is helping you.” Before the father could say more, the son offered his own answer. “God must be like a railroad track. The engineer can’t see a long way ahead, but he keeps driving the train because he knows the track is there.”

Remember the next time you see railroad tracks, that even though you might not feel God’s loving presence in your life, He is there to sustain you and make you more like His Son.

Prayer: Abba Father, thank You for the incredible promise that says You will take all the things I have experienced – the good and the bad, the triumphant and the traumatic – to make me more like Jesus as long as I continue to love You and yield to Your purpose for my life. By Your grace, I open my heart to what You have to say to me. Thank You for loving me more than I ever thought possible. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Where to turn when we are weak and afraid

“Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them: for the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6

To prepare the new generation of Israelites to enter the Promised Land, Moses presented Joshua to the nation as God’s chosen leader who would take over the leadership of Israel very soon (Deut. 31:1-5). He charged the people to “be strong and of good courage” and to “not fear nor be afraid of” the pagan nations who inhabited the Promised Land (31:6a). Why? “For the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you ” (31:6b). Israel’s strength and courage was based upon God’s continual presence, promises, and power in their lives.

Where do we look for strength when we are weak? Where do we turn when we are overwhelmed with fear? Today’s verse encourages us to look to “the One who goes with” us. God is always with us even though we may not believe or feel His presence at times, especially when we are overwhelmed with our enemies (i.e. Satan, the world, and our own sinful flesh).  Just because others have abandoned us or rejected us does not mean God is like them. He promises never to abandon  (“leave”) us or reject (“forsake”) us. And He never breaks His promises because He cannot lie (cf. Titus 1:2). The Lord has an endless supply of strength and courage to give us in our time of need.

It may be difficult for us to admit when we are weak and afraid, but God already knows this about us. It does not take Him by surprise. So let’s lower our guard and let our good good Father comfort and strengthen us with His unwavering presence and promises. Remember, 1 + God = a majority so there is no reason to be afraid or overwhelmed by the battles we face.

“The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Psalm 118:6). The Psalmist reminds us thatGod watches our back when we are doing His work. Since no one is more powerful than God, we don’t have to be afraid of what people think or do. For example, in between my second and third year of seminary, I had an evangelism internship in the inner city of Dallas, Texas. I would go house to house or apartment to apartment sharing the gospel with pimps, prostitutes, drug dealers, and addicts. Knowing that my heavenly Father was on my side and would not abandon me, emboldened me to go to some “shady” places. God was faithful to give me the strength and courage needed to share His gospel message with whomever would listen.Prayer: Abba Father, I can be strong (not weak) and courageous (not afraid) in the presence of my enemies because You are always with me and will never abandon me nor reject me. Please lead me to victory over my enemies so the world may know that You alone are God and are worthy of all praise! My hope is in You and Your unfailing presence in my life. I pray Your Spirit will renew my mind with the truth that says one plus God is always a majority. With You in my life, I can never be outnumbered by my enemies. Therefore, there is no need to be afraid. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Letting God’s light shine where darkness engulfs our brokenness

6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice  the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” I John 1:6-7

The apostle John is writing to Christians so they may have fellowship or closeness (1:3-4) with God Who “is light” (1:5a). Light provides a source of comfort and warmth. Light is necessary for growth. Light exposes what is hidden in the darkness but it also offers hope and guidance out of the darkness. John tells us “in Him [God] there is no darkness at all” (1:5b). There is nothing sinful or deceiving about God. He is pure and holy, loving and true, gracious and merciful. The more we see Him for who He truly is, the more open and honest we will be with Him.

One of the conditions for fellowship with God is to “walk in the light as” God “is in the light” (1:7). Notice John says to walk “in” the light, not “according” to the light. Walking “according” to the light would refer to sinless perfection as a condition for fellowship with God. But the preposition “in” refers to walking in the sphere of God’s light where there is no darkness or dishonesty. In other words, to have fellowship with God we must be open and honest with Him, not sinless, as we walk in the light with Him.

When I claim to be close to God (“have fellowship with Him”), but I am dishonest and distant from Him, I “lie and do not practice the truth” (1:6). But when I “walk in the light” where God is, being open and honest with Him, I have closeness (“fellowship”) with Him and other believers who are in fellowship with Him. And “the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses” me “from all sin” and shame so that I am not even conscious of it.

I believe I John 1:6-7 speaks to the process of healing that God wants all of us to experience. When we experience trauma in our childhood which may be intense (ex. physical or sexual abuse, etc. ) or less intense (ex. frequent moves, a hurtful word on the playground, etc.), we may retreat into the darkness of fear and shame, blaming ourselves for what happened to us. We don’t trust anyone nor do we believe anyone could love us. Often times we pick up where our abusers left off and we abuse ourselves with critical self-talk and/or addictions. We may feel engulfed in a sea of darkness and hopelessness.

But Jesus wants to shine His light of love and truth into the darkness that engulfs our wounds. He wants us to understand that when trauma took place in our childhood, He was there with us with tears in His eyes. And He is saying to us, “It was not your fault. I love you and I am so proud of you.” And even though we may abuse ourselves as adults, Jesus is still with us, waiting for us to welcome Him into the darkness where we have been hiding under the weight of our fear and shame. Jesus wants to shine His light of love and truth into the broken and wounded areas of our souls – not to condemn or shame us, but to heal us. And the more we permit Him to shine His light in the depths of our wounded souls, the more eager we will be to walk in the light of His love and truth, being open and honest with Him. 

Prayer: Lord God, please help me to perceive You as You truly are. You are light. You are all that is pure, holy, gracious, love, merciful, and true. There is no darkness or deceit in You. As I grow in my understanding of Who You are, I choose to be open and honest with You, Lord, because You are a good good Father who is eager to forgive me and cleanse me, not forsake me nor condemn me. When I focus on my sin and shame, I retreat into the darkness where You are not. I shut You out of my life because I perceive myself to be too bad for You to love me. But the truth is Lord, You know me better than I do and You still love me and cherish Your time with me. Please help me to say “good-bye” to the lies that isolate me from You and Your family. Please cleanse me of those lies and hold me in Your everlasting arms of love and mercy. Hold me tight my Lord and never let me go. I don’t ever want to be alone again. Thank You for letting me be open and vulnerable with You. Thank You for listening to me and loving me as I am. Oh how I appreciate Your gentleness and graciousness with me. I love You heavenly Father, Lord Jesus, and Holy Spirit. You all are the best. Thank You all for loving me far more than I deserve or can comprehend. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Facing fear with faith

“The Lord is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; Of whom shall I be afraid.” Psalm 27:1

What daunting challenge are you facing or about to face? Some of you are about to take final exams in school or in life. Perhaps you or a family member is facing a terminal illness. Maybe some of us are looking for a new place to live or work. Perhaps God has called you to serve in a capacity that exposes your inadequacies and insecurities. Whatever challenges we are facing, I believe Psalm 27 offers us unending encouragement. 

The writer of this Psalm, King David, is facing a difficult circumstance. Some Bible students think he wrote this when he was fleeing from his son, Absalom (cf. 2 Sam. 15:1-37; 17:15-29). Imagine having to run for your life to avoid being killed by your own rebellious adult child? This may have been David’s challenge when he wrote this Psalm.

Instead of choosing to respond with fear, David chose to respond with faith in the One who is the source of his hope (“light”), deliverance (“salvation”), and “strength.” Notice the personal pronoun “my” in this verse. The Lord was not just “a” source of hope and deliverance to David, He was his source of hope and deliverance. David’s relationship with God was personal and dynamic.

What about your relationship with the Lord? Is God simply a theological thought or idea to you? Is He just a distant and uncaring deity? May be you think God is a figment of the human imagination or a superstitious “crutch” for those who need a coping mechanism? But for David, God was a personal Savior Who offers unwavering hope and strength to those who will look to Him in faith? Can you say that the Lord is your light and your salvation, and the strength of your life? If not, what is keeping you from saying that?

If you are not in a relationship with the Lord, please understand that God has revealed Himself to us in the Bible. If you want to know what God is like, read the Bible with an open mind like you would read a newspaper. The Bible is God’s love letter to us. God longs to have a personal relationship with us. But He will not force Himself into our lives. He is waiting for us to come to Him just as we are, and He will welcome us into His family and give us everlasting life (John 1:12; 3:16; 6:35). All He asks is that we believe in His perfect Son, Jesus Christ, Who died on the cross for all our sins and rose from the dead (I Cor. 15:1-5) to give us everlasting life (John 3:14-16).

When God is my light, my salvation, and my strength, there is no one and nothing for me to fear or be afraid of. Why? Because one plus God is always a majority. Since God is for me and not against me (cf. Rom. 8:31), no one and nothing can successfully oppose me. Therefore, there is no need for me to live in fear.

Let’s remember that fear takes us to places that do not exist. It either takes us to a past that is over or to a future that has not happened yet. Neither of these places can bring peace to our lives.

A wise man once told me, “In Jesus we have nothing to prove, nothing to lose, and nothing to hide.” Let that sink in for a moment. Since in Jesus, I have nothing to prove, there is no need for me to live in fear of failure. And because in Jesus, I have nothing to lose, there is no need for me to live in fear of abandoment. And finally, since in Jesus, I have nothing to hide, there is no need for me to live in fear of rejection or shame. Let’s ponder these truths as we go to the Lord in prayer.

Prayer: Lord God, You are not just “a” light or “a” source of salvation, You are “my” light and “my” salvation, and this gives me everlasting hope and security. I pray Your Holy Spirit will persuade me to rest in the truth that says, “In Jesus, I have nothing to prove, nothing to lose, and nothing to hide.” Therefore, there is no need for me to fear anyone or anything. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Is it selfish to love one’s self?

29 The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. 31 And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:29-31

We see in Mark 12 rising tensions between Jesus and the religious leaders of Israel. After Jesus told a parable of the wicked vinedressers to show how evil Israel’s current leaders were (12:1-12), the religious leaders attacked His teaching three times in an attempt to destroy His credibility and popularity (12:13-34). They first questioned Him about the poll tax (12:13-17), the resurrection (12:18-27), and then the greatest commandment (12:28-34).  

When a scribe asked Jesus “which is the first (foremost) commandment?” of the 613 commands in the Mosaic Law (12:28), I was deeply touched by Jesus’ response. Christ focused on cultivating a love relationship with God, ourselves, and others. He said, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one” (12:29). The word “hear” means to listen or pay attention. God is saying to us, “Stop what you are doing and hear what I have  to say to you!” This love relationship begins with listening to what God has to say.

Some of us are so busy with life we do not know what it means to be still and hear what God has to say to us in His Word. We cannot cultivate a love relationship with anyone if we do not take time to listen to them. This is true in our marriages, families, friendships, and especially in our relationship with the Lord. When was the last time you asked the Lord what He wanted to say to you? God will not force His way in to our lives. He waits for an invitation to come to us and speak to us (cf. James 4:8). We cannot love God if we do not receive His love for us first. “We love Him because He first loved us” (I John 4:19). We cannot give what we do not possess.

In verse 29, Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy 6:4 when Moses was preparing the next generation of Israelites to enter the Promised Land. The Triune God of Israel (“Us” – Gen. 1:26: Father, Deut. 32:6; Son, Psalm 2:6-7; Spirit, Gen. 1:2) is “one” in essence unlike the polytheistic pagan gods of Canaan. Or another translation of verse 29 reads, “The Lord is our God, the Lord alone is the only one.”  The Lord God of Israel was to be the sole object of Israel’s worship and love.

When we have received (“hear”) God’s love for us, we can then love Him with all our “heart” (emotions), all our “soul” (self-conscious thought life), all our “mind” (thoughts), and with all our “strength” (energy). The Lord is worthy of receiving the very best that we have to give to Him. If someone or something other than God is receiving our very best, then we have set up an idol in place of God.   

Jesus does not stop here. The scribe had asked for the greatest “commandment,” but Jesus gives him a “second” commandment which flows from the first. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (12:31; Leviticus 19:18). The word “neighbor” (plesion) refers to “one nearby.” Our neighbor could be our spouse, children, someone living next door or across the street, a coworker sitting across the aisle, a friend, a church member, etc. What is the standard by which we are to love our “neighbor”? We are to love him or her as we love ourselves.

I have heard sermons on this verse which say it is selfish or sinful to love yourself. But is it sinful to obey Christ’s command here which assumes that you love yourself? Why would Jesus say to love your neighbor as yourself if it is wrong to love yourself? Why would the New Testament quote this verse (cf. Matthew 19:19; 22:39; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27; Romans 13:9; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8) originally found in Leviticus 19:18 more than any other Old Testament verse if it is wrong to love yourself! This makes no sense!

I would propose that many Christians love their neighbor more than they love themselves. For example, do you talk to your neighbor the way you to talk to yourself when you make a mistake? You might say to yourself, “you can’t do anything right” or “you are such an idiot” when you spill the milk at the table or lock your keys in the car. But would you say that to your neighbor? Not likely. Why do we treat ourselves which such contempt? Whose voice is this that berates us? You might say it is the voice of a perfectionistic parent or preacher. But I think Jesus would say it is the voice of the evil one (cf. Ephes. 6:12; Rev. 12:9-10) who inserts these shame-based lies into our brains when we are wounded by a parent or preacher or some other authority figure.

Some Christian leaders refer to Jesus’ discipleship teachings to promote self-hatred or abuse. When Jesus said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Luke 9:23), I have heard some believers teach that self denial means to deny yourself the kindness and love Christ wants you to show to others. But “what” is it Jesus wants us to deny ourselves that keeps us from following Him? I believe one thing that keeps us from following Jesus are shame-based lies that say, “Jesus could never love you for who you are” or “you are not worthy to follow Jesus.” Like Jesus, we are to “despise the shame” (Heb. 12:2) that keeps us from enduring the cross we are to bear in our own lives for the Lord.   

The command “love your neighbor as yourself” assumes that we love ourselves. Isn’t this what the apostle Paul taught when he wrote, “So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For one one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church” (Ephes. 5:28-29)!?! Look at what God is saying to us. No human being in his right mind “hated his own flesh.” Instead he “nourishes and cherishes it.” According to what standard? “As the Lord does the church.” We are to “nourish” (ektrephō = bring up to maturity) and “cherish” (thalpō = warm someone up by nurturing or tenderly caring for them) ourselves just as Christ nourishes and tenderly cares for His church.

When we neglect and/or condemn ourselves, we are failing to reflect Christ’s love for us as members of His church. The purpose of Christ’s love is to purify us and make us more like Him (Ephes. 5:25-27). So if I am loving myself as Christ loves the church, I am becoming more like Jesus Christ. If I am loving my neighbor as myself, I am helping them also to become more like the Savior.

In the diagram above, we see then that cultivating a love relationship with God begins with receiving (“hear”) His love for us so that it will flow over to others. As we receive His love, we learn to nourish and cherish ourselves as He does so we can become more like Him (I John 4:19). So living under God’s love and grace promotes growth (Rom. 6 & 8). Living under the Law or self-hatred, promotes defeat and death (Rom. 7). When we love ourselves Christ’s way, we can then love others with the love He has freely and unconditionally given to us to help them become more like Him (I John 4:20-21).

Conclusion: Is it selfish or sinful to love ourselves? Absolutely not because God commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves. This involves receiving God’s love for us so we can nourish and cherish ourselves in a way that helps us to become more like Jesus. As we become more Christlike, we can then help others to do the same.  

Prayer: Lord God, forgive me for being too busy to stop and listen to what You have to say to me. Sometimes I think I stay busy because I am so afraid to slow down and feel. Thank You for loving me even though I have turned to other things and/or people in my search for Your love. Right now I invite You to speak to me with Your voice of love and truth. Please replace the lies that keep me closed off from You with the truth that opens my whole being to You and Your love for me. I am totally loved by You, Lord Jesus. This warms and nurtures my soul. Forgive me for failing to love myself with Your love. So often I feel like a baby Christian because I have neglected to nourish and cherish myself as You have nourished and cherished me. Please show me how to love myself with Your love so I may love You above all else and my neighbor more fully so they along with me, may become more like You. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

How can we have more peace during this Christmas season?

“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy – meditate on these things.” Philippians 4:8

Christmas time can be a less than peaceful experience for many people. Even though we celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace who came to bring peace on earth, our experience is anything but peaceful. How can we have more peace during this Christmas season?

It begins with what we think about. The Bible tells us, “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7). Our thoughts determine our feelings. If we think about confusing things, we will feel confused. If we focus on peaceful things, we will experience more peace. For example, if my focus is on nothing but a growing list of gifts and a shrinking bank account, I am going to have more anxiety. If I am preoccupied with a busy schedule trying to find a way to go to all the Christmas parties and programs, I am going to be more distressed. If I give more attention to painful childhood memories during the Christmas season, I am going to have more discouragement at this time. I am not suggesting we ignore our financial difficulties, busy schedules, or painful memories, but that we limit how much time we concentrate on these things.

If we want to have more peace during this time of year, it would behoove us to listen to God’s advice through the apostle Paul to the Christians at Philippi. After talking about overcoming anxiety through prayer (4:6-7), Paul gives a final instruction about what to think about as we  pray (4:8). He writes, “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy – meditate on these things” (Philippians 4:8).

God is advising us to “meditate” or concentrate on “these things” addressed in this one verse as we pray. Let’s take a look at each individual quality. He says to focus on “whatever things are…”

  • “true” (alēthēs) refers to that which is authentic, valid, or undeniable reality. In an age of “fake news,” this object of our focus is so important to finding peace. Instead of focusing on lies which are probably the primary source of our anxiety and fear, we are to focus on what is true.  
  • noble” (semnos) means that which is honorable, dignified, deeply respected, or majestic. If we are focusing on dishonorable or disrespectful things, we will feel worse about ourselves. This is easy to do when we are bombarded by the media with that which is dishonoring to God.
  • “just” (dikaios) denotes what is correct, righteous, upright, or thinking, feeling, and acting wholly conformed to God’s standards or will. So much of what we hear or see on TV this time of year promotes the opposite of what is “just.” The world exalts that which is wrong as being right. And that which is right as being wrong. If our primary focus is on the world’s values, we will have a guilty conscience which robs us of peace.
  • “pure ” (hagnos) refers to that which is clean, holy, sacred, uncontaminated, undefiled, or sinless to the core. If we are giving attention to that which is impure, we will be plagued with guilt and shame.
  • “lovely” (prosphilēs) denotes what is agreeable, dearly prized, pleasing to God. Literally this compound Greek word means “friendly (philēo) towards (pros).” When we are pondering that which is pleasing to God, our hearts will be filled with His peace.
  • “of good report” (euphēmos) conveys the idea of something admirable, reputable,or things spoken in a kindly spirit with good-will toward others. With there being so much bad news  reported daily today, is it any wonder that people lack peace!?!
  • “virtue” (aretē) refers to the perfections of God, moral goodness or excellence which is displayed to enrich one’s life. Need we see any more?
  • praiseworthy” (epainos) means commendable, deserving of commendation and exaltation.

As you read through this list of virtues, what comes to your mind? Is there anything or anyone who fits all these descriptions? As I read this verse over and over again this morning, I could not stop thinking about the Lord Jesus. Only Jesus fits these descriptions perfectly!

Christ alone is… “true” (John 14:6; 15:1; Rev. 19:11), “noble” or honorable (John 5:23; Phil. 2:9-11), “just” (Matt. 27:19, 24; Luke 23:47; I Pet. 3:18; Rev. 15:3; 19:11), “pure” (John 8:12; 18:38; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15; I John 1:5; Rev. 15:4), “lovely” (Matt. 3:17; Mark 1:11; I Tim. 6:14-15a), “of good report” (Matt. 4:24; 9:31; Mark 1:28; Luke 4:37; 5:15; Rev. 4:11-5:14; 7:9-12), a Person of “virtue” or moral excellence (John 1:1, 14-17; Phil. 2:6; Isaiah 9:6), and “praiseworthy” (Rev 4:11-5:14; 7:9-12). If we want to experience God’s peace that surpasses human understanding, we are to “meditate” on the Lord Jesus Christ as we pray. This word “meditate” (logizomai) is where we get our English word “logic” or “logical” from. God wants us to give our left brain (prefrontal cortex) some ammunition to deal with the lies Satan inserts into our right brain (limbic system).

The more we think about the Person of Jesus Christ, the more He will set you free from the lies that rob you of peace this Christmas season. May I suggest you take one of these qualities each day for the next eight days and pray them back to the Lord? Praying these attributes back to the Lord will help to download them into your right brain. The more you focus on these attributes of Jesus, the more your brain will create neurological pathways containing these promoters of God’s peace.

For example, pray to Jesus who is “true.” You might pray, “Dear Lord Jesus, because You are true, I can trust what You say. You are faithful to keep Your promises. When Satan came against You tempting You by perverting the Word of God just a little (Matthew 4:1-11), You responded, “It is written in God’s Word. Here’s the truth.” You always countered falsehood with truth and I now ask You to help me do the same. When Satan tempts me to believe his lies, I pray Your truth Lord Jesus will dismiss his lies and renew my mind to what is true. Every word that You spoke on earth was true. Every action and every thought were true. This is why You could die for the sins of the world because You were the perfect Sacrifice. Thank You for paying the penalty for all of my sins. Please help me focus on what is true about You, myself, and the world in which I live. In Your name. Amen.”